Python, R: Languages Key to Jobs at Consultancies Like McKinsey & Co.

Getting your foot in the door at one of the top consulting firms is no easy task. At McKinsey, for example, more than 750,000 people apply in given year. Fewer than 1 percent are accepted. That trumps the lowest acceptance rate at top investment banks such as Goldman Sachs (~ 4 percent) by a wide margin.

So how do you stand out from the crowd? One pathway: Learn how to program with R and target these consulting firms’ growing analytics teams.

As with banks and hedge funds, consulting firms are on the hunt for data engineers and data scientists who can design algorithms and build complex models. All the MBB firms (McKinsey & Co., Bain and Boston Consulting) have dedicated analytics teams that work alongside their consultants to analyze huge datasets to help drive business decisions for clients. McKinsey also has the spin-off Quantum Black, while BCG has BGC Gamma.  

These firms are all hungry for junior- and senior-level engineers to work in their analytics departments. And they’re particularly hungry with engineers experienced in a particular language: R.

New roles within McKinsey’s advanced analytics team specify Python and R  as prerequisites, as do roles for the firm’s data operations specialists. In a recent LinkedIn post, Keith McNulty, a digital and analytics leader at McKinsey in London, explained R’s appeal:

  • It’s open source.
  • It’s built around packages in the tidyverse, which itself was constructed around data structures and the grammar of data manipulation.
  • It has a strong community of passionate users.
  • It has strong options for document and app publication and deployment.
  • It’s easy to teach. 

McNulty is so passionate about R that he’s written his own starter guide to R packages (a package is the name for a fundamental unit of reproducible R code) that you can access for free on Github. If you want to go deeper into R, he suggests you acquire the book “R Packages by O’Reilly,” which you can access online here or buy from Amazon. 

Knowing R won’t just get you a job at McKinsey & Co.. Data from Burning Glass suggests that banks such as RBS and HSBC are also big hirers of programmers with R knowledge in the U.K., while Booz Allen, Deloitte and Amazon compete for R expertise in the U.S..

As a rule of thumb, banks are typically more interested in candidates with Python and Java experience. However, if you want to get an analytics job at McKinsey or other consultancies, you probably need to focus on learning R and Python.

A modified version of this article originally appeared in eFinancialCareers.