How a 29-year-old social worker leveraged a part-time MBA to land a 6-figure consulting role at Bain
Courtesy of Victoria Celano
- You can land a consulting job at Bain & Company - even with a non-traditional background.
- At Bain, consultants get divided up into teams and solve company cases across industries and countries.
- Bain is also known to be one of the best places to work, having earned spots in national workplace rankings and diversity awards. The firm is also highly selective.
- Business Insider recently spoke with Victoria Celano, a former public health manager at a nonprofit organization, on how she leveraged her social work background and landed a consulting job at Bain.
- Click here for more BI Prime stories.
Breaking into consulting from a non-traditional background can be challenging - and Victoria Celano knows first-hand what it's like to beat the odds.
Originally from Chicago, Celano graduated from St. Olaf College in Minnesota with gender studies and biomedical degrees in 2013. She went on to work as a public health manager at Zacharias Sexual Abuse Center, a nonprofit that provides resources for sexual assault survivors. Celano spent four years in social work before deciding to attend a part-time business school program at The University of Chicago's Booth School of Business studying economics and strategic management.
Within three years, the 29-year-old landed a job at Bain & Company, where she'll work as a consultant starting this fall. Celano is still an MBA student at Booth, and she will be graduating in June 2020.
"It was exciting when I realized my social sector background was not necessarily going to be detrimental," Celano told Business Insider. "A lot of consulting firms were interested in hiring people whose backgrounds are different. And I learned that my prior career actually brought a unique view and allowed a different kind of approach to solving problems."
According to Fortune's annual list of the 100 best workplaces, Bain is among the best companies to work in the US. In fact, the consultancy frequently lands the top spot on national workplace rankings such as Glassdoor's Employee Choice Awards, at which the firm has been in the top four for the last 12 years. MBA graduates can earn up to a $165,000 base salary at Bain. And the company shared that it's welcoming 600 hires and 200 interns this year - one of whom is Celano.
During a job search, you need to effectively convey the arc of your story, Celano said. While completing her business school studies, she went to My Consulting Offer, a consulting careers resource and coaching company, for help in honing her skills and bolstering her confidence for interviews. Celano learned how to emphasize her transferable skills - something that ultimately paid off, she said.
Here's exactly how Celano leveraged her non-traditional background and landed a consulting position at Bain.
Highlighting her problem-solving as a cultivated skill
When Celano was working at the nonprofit, she was helping people solve problems.
"I realized I had quite a lot of frustrations with the efficiencies of nonprofits," she said. "And because it was a small organization, I was able to say, 'Hey, I can make this better,' streamline operations, and triple our client base in a year."
The MBA graduate explained that taking the initiative to change things within her company sparked her interest in applying for business school. At Zacharias Sexual Abuse Center, Celano's role involved advocating for hospitals and local ERs and helping sexual assault victims navigate through the complexities of police, state attorneys, and medical check-ins.
Running operations at a nonprofit requires you to be an effective problem-solver, and you also need to be intuitive, she added.
"My social background actually has a lot of the same needs, the same skills, and the same competencies that I'd need in consulting," Celano said. "To be able to get in front of a client, be analytic, and solve cases - those are all things that I've done even before business school."
When you're stepping into a consulting interview, make sure you showcase your problem-solving capabilities, and prove it with previous examples.
Build relationships within your network
"The recruiting process can feel really transactional, but you should find whatever ways to make it feel relational and personable," Celano added. "I think that's truly what people want - to make a connection."
Though most business schools host career fairs, she recommended that you polish your résume, cover letter, and LinkedIn frequently, and that you go on informational interviews with people working in the industry. Part-time MBA students should also prioritize networking because the curriculum is less structural compared to full-time students, where they have to complete a summer internship before graduation, Celano said.
"It's your best bet in really understanding the ins and outs of your targeted field, and you get to show a consultant at the firm that you're interested in a way that's authentic to you," she said.
Networking is really about getting on people's radar and demonstrating why you want the job.
In an interview with Business Insider, Bain's recruitment head Keith Bevans shared that one way to stand out among the applicant pool is to know exactly why you think Bain can get you closer to your goals.
"I think a lot of people out there don't know what they want to do with their lives and can't really focus on anything," he said. "Step one is understanding how Bain fits into your career journey, and step two is understanding the value proposition and own it's different than other consulting options."
Networking and reaching out to consultants helped Celano figure out what consulting really is, she told Business Insider. Though she's currently enrolled in business school, she explained that there's not really a consulting concentration or consulting-specific classes.
"That's actually one of the things that I thought was complex about the industry - that there wasn't a class that really defined what consulting means," the MBA student said. "But Booth really focused on training students to be critical thinkers, well-rounded, and ultimately expert executors for big ideas."
Bain wants to hire someone who's willing to go the extra mile for the job, Bevans said. Informational interviews can give you more clarity about what a consulting job entails, and it also helps hiring managers put a face on your application.
Learning soft skills in business school
Booth's MBA curriculum teaches students how to build their interpersonal, communication, and leadership skills. In fact, those are the classes that Celano found most helpful.
For example, she's taken courses on negotiation and the principles to managing small and large teams. Though these lessons are meant to teach students the business frameworks and aren't meant to help their job search, Celano explained that soft-skill training prepared her for interactions with recruiters.
"I think it's really powerful when you've practiced the people skills, and you understand the importance of building a connection with people - it gives you an idea of what a great interview is like, how an informational interview should run, and how you can be a storyteller in that way," she said.
Nevertheless, Celano stressed that attending business school and reaching out to a careers resource company opened the door for more career opportunities.
"The whole point is to enhance what you have," she said. "It's about understanding what you have to offer, and also practicing the skills you've learned."
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