Last Updated on January 9, 2024
Breaking into the consulting industry, particularly at elite firms like McKinsey, BCG, and Bain, is a formidable challenge. With only 1-3% of applicants securing an offer, the journey begins long before you submit your application.
During the screening stage, 60-80% of applications are rejected based on CV/resume or cover letter alone. Overcoming this initial hurdle is crucial to landing an interview and moving closer to your dream job in consulting.
Securing a position at McKinsey, BCG, or Bain often requires long-term planning. Many successful consultants start laying the groundwork months or even years in advance. This might involve selecting relevant internships, engaging in strategic networking, and building a profile that resonates with these firms’ values. Every step you take should move you closer to your goal of joining these ranks of elite consultants.
In this article, we want to dive deeper into the networking aspect and how it can help you improve your application success.
Networking: Your Strategic Advantage in Consulting Recruitment
Consulting firms spend millions of dollars on recruitment activities every year to attract top talent and the war for talent is becoming ever more fierce with growing client bases and aggressive growth targets the firms have to meet. As a result, firms usually start to screen potential candidates way before their official job application.
Successful candidates recognize the power of early networking. This early engagement can take many forms – from attending industry seminars to participating in university-sponsored consulting events. Being proactive in these environments can set you apart from the crowd.
On top of getting a referral, a key benefit of networking is to get an update on the current recruiting situation in the office of your choice.
Leveraging the Power of Leads
Networking is more than just exchanging business cards or connecting on social media platforms; it’s about forming strategic connections that can advance your career. The value of networking lies in the quality of your connections rather than the quantity. Engaging with professionals, especially those in higher positions within your target firms, is crucial. These connections can provide insider insights, advice on application strategies, and even direct referrals. Platforms like LinkedIn, alumni networks, and professional associations are fertile grounds for cultivating these relationships.
Maximizing Observation Points
Every interaction you have with representatives from your target firms contributes to what we call ‘observation points’. These points are essentially instances where you make a positive impression on someone from the firm. Whether it’s asking insightful questions during a webinar, participating actively in a workshop, or having a meaningful conversation at a networking event, each of these interactions increases your visibility to the firm. The more you are on their radar in a positive light, the more likely you are to be remembered and considered favorably during the application process.
Once again, leads + observation points = the most powerful weapon in your holster to boost your application.
Getting to Leads
There are three ways to increase your leads and observation points at the same time:
1. Professional Networking
Reach out to consultants at the firm you’re eyeing through platforms like LinkedIn, alumni circles, or even local consulting groups and young professional networks. You might also think about people you already know and 3rd party introductions via friends or contacts. When you message them, be concise and respectful. Mention your interest in their firm, when you plan to apply, and seek specific advice for the application stage you’re in.
Being clear in your questions helps them give you the most effective guidance. If you follow this approach, chances are high that you’ll get a response. Most consultants are keen to discuss their company and can offer valuable insights. They might even take an interest in your progress, offering to pass along your application or give feedback on your cover letter. This not only helps with getting your name out there but also gives you a sense of the firm’s culture by interacting with different people.
Sample message (tailor it and make it your own)
Subject: Seeking Insights on Joining [Firm Name]
Dear [Consultant’s Name],
I hope this message finds you well. My name is [Your Name], and I’m currently preparing to apply to [Firm Name], specifically targeting the [upcoming application cycle/next fall/etc.]. I came across your profile on LinkedIn and, noting your valuable experience at [Firm Name], I was hoping to gain some insights from you.
As someone deeply interested in [specific sector/role] and impressed by [Firm Name]’s work in this area, I am keen to understand more about the application process and the qualities [Firm Name] looks for in candidates. Could you share any advice on how best to prepare for the [specific stage of application, e.g., CV screening, cover letter writing, etc.]? Any tips or common pitfalls to avoid would be incredibly helpful.
I appreciate that you have a busy schedule, so even a brief response would be greatly valued. Thank you for considering my request, and I look forward to potentially learning from your experiences.
2. Firm-sponsored events
Consulting firms often invest a good chunk of their recruitment budget in hosting various networking events. These events are where aspiring candidates like you and I can mingle with consultants and where the firms spot high-potential individuals. The events can range from straightforward company presentations, typically led by a couple of consultants and an HR representative, to extensive workshops and even exciting weekend retreats abroad filled with consulting professionals.
The standard presentations are pretty direct – consultants talk about their firm, followed by a Q&A session. These events are a solid opportunity to learn about the firm’s culture, their projects, and what life is like in consulting, especially if you’re new to this world. Given these events attract a lot of people, my tip for snagging a valuable contact is to arrive early.
Catch the speakers before they start their presentation. This way, you get a chance to chat with them one-on-one and make a memorable impression. That’s vital because, later on, when you’re applying or have further queries, they’re more likely to recall who you are.
Then there are the more exclusive, high-energy events, often hosted by the top-tier consulting firms. These can be lavish affairs, stretching over two or three days, sometimes in scenic nature resorts or bustling cities – and yes, they usually cover all your expenses. What sets these events apart is their blend of education with social and cultural experiences.
It’s not just about networking and meeting consultants; you get to dive into real-life case studies, often structured as team competitions. Plus, there are workshops covering everything from nailing interviews to polishing presentation skills.
However, getting into these high-profile events can be a bit of a challenge. You typically need to apply, sometimes submitting your resume and a cover letter, and the competition is fierce as the spots are quite limited. But if you manage to get in, it’s an incredible opportunity to immerse yourself in the consulting world and make some valuable connections.
These more elaborate events are especially beneficial when you’re just starting to prepare your application. Here’s why: Firstly, they give you a golden chance to interact with various consultants from the firm over a couple of days. This isn’t just about asking questions; it’s about getting a feel for the diversity of people you could be working with.
Plus, you get to observe how the consultants interact with each other, which is super insightful. Seeing them in their element gives you a sense of the firm’s working culture and whether it’s a place where you’d fit in and thrive.
Secondly, these events are like a goldmine for networking. You’ll come away with contacts not just among the consultants but also with HR folks who might help fast-track your application. And if you leave a good impression, say, by acing a case study or shining in a workshop, you’re even more likely to be remembered when it’s time for applications. Being a standout participant can really set the stage for your application process.
You should consider writing a follow-up email after these events (in case you are not contacted after 5 days).
Sample message (tailor it and make it your own)
Subject: Great Connecting at [Event Name]
Dear [Consultant’s Name],
I hope this message finds you well.
I wanted to extend my gratitude for the insightful conversation we had at [Event Name] last [day of the week]. It was truly enlightening to learn about [specific topic discussed or something interesting about the consultant’s work/the firm].
Your perspective on [specific topic/aspect of consulting work] provided a deeper understanding of the challenges and opportunities in the field, which I found particularly compelling given my interest in [relevant personal interest or career goal].
I’m keen on continuing to learn and grow in this direction, and I would be grateful for any further advice you could offer. Additionally, if you have any suggestions for resources or events that might aid in my professional development, I would appreciate your recommendations.
Thank you once again for your time and insights during the event. I look forward to the possibility of connecting again in the future.
Sometimes, especially in the earlier stages of your studies, ‘successful’ event participation might lead to the invitation to a firm’s mentorship program.
3. Firm mentorship programs
There are also mentorship programs offered by some firms, targeted at students who show a lot of promise. To get into these programs, you generally need to have a strong academic background, some internship experience, maybe some time spent abroad, and involvement in extracurricular activities – pretty much the same kind of profile they look for in their first-round interview candidates.
These talent programs differ for each company and region. For instance, you can check out some local talent programs below:
Once you’re in one of these programs, you get paired up with a mentor from the firm. This isn’t just about having someone to guide you; it’s about receiving specialized coaching and getting access to exclusive events and training sessions. The goals here are pretty clear: firstly, to build a strong connection between you and the firm well before you graduate, and secondly, to support your professional growth during that time, which could even include helping you with applications to other firms in the industry.
This approach is clever because it helps the firm keep tabs on talented individuals until they’re ready to apply for a consulting role, which often leads to a job offer. Even if mentees don’t end up applying, or if things don’t work out, they’re likely to hold the firm in high regard as they progress in their careers. Who knows, down the line, when they’re in a position to hire consultants, they might just remember the firm that played a significant role in their early professional life.
If you get into a mentorship program, you’ve pretty much got one foot in the door for an interview. Sometimes, you can sign up for these programs directly on a company’s website. Other times, it’s a bit more exclusive – firms might only extend invitations to students who stand out at their events, like those who excel in a case study or a unique challenge.
But here’s the thing: just being a top-notch student or having the right kind of internship and extracurricular experience isn’t always enough to land you an interview. There are a lot of factors at play, like a firm’s specific hiring needs, the economic climate, or just plain old red tape, especially in smaller firms. That’s why the tactics discussed in this article – like building leads and making yourself known to the firm – can really up your chances of getting that coveted interview invite.
Once you’re in for an interview, remember, that everyone’s on equal footing, regardless of their background. It’s all about how you perform in that moment.
Get Ready for Unexpected Interview Questions
During your networking endeavors with consultants, be prepared for the possibility of ad-hoc interview questions. It’s important to confidently discuss your background, work history, passions, and career aspirations.
Equally crucial is having a well-thought-out response to why consulting appeals to you, and specifically, why you’re drawn to their consulting firm. Taking the time to prepare for these questions can help you come across as both authentic and insightful, significantly boosting your chances of making a lasting, positive impression.
Additionally, if you’re looking for more insights on how to handle these kinds of interactions effectively, check out our article on ‘Mastering Consulting Coffee Chats.’ It’s packed with strategies and tips to help you navigate through these informal interviews successfully.
Six Essential Strategies for Effective Networking
- Track your outreach: Maintain an organized record of your networking contacts to avoid mix-ups or forgetting past interactions. Use an Excel sheet to keep track of everyone you’ve reached out to, and note who you need to follow up with, especially if they haven’t responded yet.
- Keep your resume ready and polished: Before diving into networking, ensure your resume is updated and well-crafted. Be prepared to share it, as some consultants might offer to forward it to a recruiter, allowing you to quickly capitalize on these opportunities.
- Be strategic in your approach: Identify key individuals at your target firms and plan your approach to connect with them. Utilize mutual contacts, professional groups, or industry events to establish these connections.
- Offer value in your interactions: Remember, networking is a two-way street. Consider how you can contribute value in your interactions, such as sharing your candidate insights or offering assistance in your areas of expertise.
- Follow up thoughtfully: After connecting with someone, send a personalized follow-up message. Refer to specific points from your initial interaction to strengthen the connection and show your attentiveness.
- Stay informed and engaged: Keep yourself abreast of the latest trends and developments in the consulting industry and within your target firms. Demonstrating up-to-date knowledge in your conversations shows your commitment and genuine interest in the field.
How We Can Help You Break into McKinsey, BCG, and Bain
We have specialized in placing people from all walks of life with different backgrounds into top consulting firms both as generalist hires as well as specialized hires and experts. As former McKinsey consultants and interview experts, we help you by
- tailoring your resume and cover letter to meet consulting firms’ highest standards
- showing you how to pass the different online assessments and tests for McKinsey, BCG, and Bain
- showing you how to ace McKinsey interviews and the PEI with our video academy
- coaching you in our 1-on-1 sessions to become an excellent case solver and impress with your fit answers (90% success rate after 5 sessions)
- preparing your math to be bulletproof for every case interview
- helping you structure creative and complex case interviews
- teaching you how to interpret charts and exhibits like a consultant
- providing you with cheat sheets and overviews for 27 industries.
Reach out to us if you have any questions! We are happy to help and offer a tailored program to help you break into consulting.
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Interested in learning more? Reach out to us for a tailored program designed to help you navigate the consulting world. Check our website for detailed offers and begin your journey towards a successful consulting career.