Management consulting, like banking, has its own hierarchy of job titles. Here, I outline the different roles in a management consulting firm that you can apply for.
It's worth noting that these are 'front office' consulting roles only (I plan to cover non-consulting roles at a later date) and that these titles are McKinsey specific- although most other consulting firms have equivalent roles, with slightly different titles. If you're curious about what you'd earn at each level, have a look here.
Business Analyst: The most junior team members, business analysts (BAs) have typically just finished an undergraduate degree and are entering the workforce for the first time. A minority of BAs will have had some work experience, but this is usually not substantial.
BAs normally work at McKinsey for 2 years, after which they leave to either complete an MBA, take a job in industry or join or found a startup. Those going to MBA school are often sponsored by the Firm, on the condition that they return afterwards and work as an associate for 2+ years.
Some of the best performing BAs are asked to stay at McKinsey as a Business Analyst for a third year with the option of transferring offices (not all of them accept this offer) and the very best ones (about 5%) are offered direct promotion to associate after they complete 2 years.
Junior Associate: Junior Associates (JAs) have an advanced degree (normally a PhD or a medical degree) and possibly 1 or 2 years of work experience. Whilst they're obviously older than BAs as a result of this, they typically don't have enough commercial experience to join a firm directly as an associate.
An important difference between BAs and JAs is that JAs are not required to leave McKinsey to get experience outside the firm before transitioning to higher roles. Most JAs are promoted to the Associate level within 2 years.
Not all consulting firms offer a JA position and even within firms that do, not all offices will offer it. Those that don't will either ask advanced degree holders to start as BAs or let them join directly as an Associate. If you have an advanced degree, it's therefore worth finding out how different consulting firms will treat you before you apply.
Associate: Most MBA graduates, or candidates with significant relevant experience (i.e., several years in another consulting firm or several years in industry), will join MBB as an Associate. Even those who've held managerial responsibility previously will normally start as an Associate, so they can learn how consulting works and build a consulting 'toolkit' before becoming a project or Engagement (in McKinsey speak) manager.
Most people will spend 2 to 2.5 years as an Associate before becoming a manager. However, at least at McKinsey, the timeline varies considerably by office, so if you're deciding between several offices, it might be worth factoring promotion timelines into your selection process.
In general, these are the roles that 95% of applicants will apply to. A very small minority of people with extensive experience (e.g., those who have been partners in other consulting firms) will join at a higher level (i.e., junior partner or partner).
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I'm a ex-McKinsey London EM who recently left the Firm