Welcome back!



Forgot password?

Don’t have an account? Subscribe now

We have listed some of the most common reasons applicants fail to get traction during consulting applications and during their networking as well.

Does not understand management consulting. This is very, very common. A candidate attended a business school dinner or presentation by BCG and was dazzled by the prestige, power, lifestyle, salaries, respect and awe inspired by the firm. Excited to be part of this establishment, the candidate wants to get in. There is nothing wrong with wanting to join the top firms for this reason. Yet it is not enough. It is like wanting to marry a woman just because she is beautiful. That is slightly insulting. Life in management consulting is tough and brutal.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to join the top firms for this reason. Yet it is not enough. It is like wanting to marry a woman just because she is beautiful. That is slightly insulting.

 

Candidates need to understand that the glamour is not a lifestyle but an outcome of doing demanding and not-so-glamorous work. See some behind the scenes stories here and here. The candidate needs to do proper research and understand the company. They need to understand the values and what the firms are looking for. If your reason for wanting to join the top firms is because they hire the best people, then you do not really understand management consulting. Have you thought about how this will impact your career trajectory, lifestyle, family planning, further education and so on? Candidates who can answer these reasons make it.

Does not know why they want to be in management consulting. This is linked to the point above but slightly different. Top firms are looking for people who are creative thinkers and can make up their own minds. They have sketched out a future of where they want to be and feel strongly that management consulting is part of this future and can state several clear reasons why they want to be in management consulting. The following reasons will likely lead to a rejection in your real interview:

• I saw the presentation and was impressed with the work you do.

• I think I can do the work and I am a fast learner.

• I studied marketing in school and this area is appealing to me.

• In my business studies we had a discussion about management consulting and I found it interesting.

• I like helping businesses succeed.

• I want to be a strategist. [Do you know the difference between strategy and operations? ]

• My friends work at Bain and I liked what they discussed.

These are all high-school answers. They sound like a teenager who knows nothing about the world and is just coasting through. You need to distinguish yourself from the pack, and have a reason for wanting to join. If you do not have a clear answer, then maybe you should not be in management consulting. Have you considered an investment bank, corporate or something else?

These are all high-school answers. They sound like a teenager who knows nothing about the world and is just coasting through.

Does not have the core attributes. We meet some really nice people. Unfortunately we find that some really nice people are that way in the hopes of making up for missing core attributes. You must have the following skills and track record to get in. Knowing a consultant or partner will not really help you. If you do not have the following, ask yourself again why you want to get in:

• A disciplined problem solving mindset. Management consultants solve problems. All kinds of problems and the ability to structure problem solving is a fundamental skill. See our video guides here. Could you do this?

• A track record of academic excellence. If someone spent 4 years undertaking an engineering degree and graduated with a C or B average I would like to know why. Why would this person be willing to spend 10% of their working life on something and not give it their all? Where is their pride? A track record of excellence demonstrates to the interviewer you can commit your mind to excelling even when you do not particularly like something.

• Balance. Top consulting firms do not want people who required every waking hour of available time to study and never had a life. They want people who were smart, but balanced this with a life outside of studies, developed social skills and learnt how to manage multiple things. Those who needed to study all the time just to make the grade will not make it.

Curiosity is a critical characteristic. It is a trait which separates the consultant who takes things at face value and the one who digs behind the scenes.

• Curiosity. Do you know how many times we meet candidates who are not curious? Curiosity is a critical characteristic. It is a trait which separates the consultant who takes things at face value and the one who digs behind the scenes. It separates the consultant who needs to be constantly told to do things and those who take the initiative. In 2008 we once met a US candidate who had never heard of Sarah Palin! Where did she live? In a vacuum! If you cannot pick up information that is being forced upon you, you have no hope of finding things. Moreover, it shows she is not aware of important issues happening around her.

Poor resumes. This is still far too common. Any cursory search on Google will pull up tons of information on the correct way to prepare resumes. Sending badly formatted resumes tells us this candidate is not serious. While we offer a résumé service, we would rather polish a good resume than convert a Lada into a Lamborghini. And what happens if you sent this bad resume directly to BCG? If your résumé shows a lack of pride and basic grammar, you will be rejected. Badly formatted resumes are a common, fatal and unnecessary mistake.

Does not understand the meaning of “experience”. Frankly speaking, management consulting firms understand problem solving better than anyone else and most likely do not need your experience. Candidates love waxing lyrical about the ‘experience’ they gained at Wal-Mart, Nabisco or some investment bank when they interned there. It’s okay to put this in, but do not for a second think this experience will make up for a lack of problem solving skills. Experience shows you can work in a corporate environment. That’s about it. You still need to show problem solving skills.

Not dressing the part. Frilly suits, glitter nail polish, colored hair, strappy high heel shoes with open toes, poorly fitting suits, overdone makeup and chino’s should only ever come out for a 70’s Show reunion or Halloween. You need to dress the part. When we coach candidates everyone is so brand obsessed. The brand is good, but the cut of the clothing is far more important. If you do not know what cut is, go to a suit store and ask them for two suits. One which is fitted and one which is not fitted or has a basic cut. Try them on, take a photo and look at which is more professional.

Not learning the case method. There is not a lot to say here. If you do not understand the case method perfectly you are doomed. You will not get an offer. MECE, 80/20, hypotheses, decision trees, logic tests and brain-teasers should be perfectly comfortable to you. Ignore this at your peril.

Lacking values and integrity. I particularly find it annoying when a candidate does not understand the importance of values in management consulting. Fortune 500 companies trust consulting firms with their deepest secrets. How can values not be important?

Unwilling to learn. This actually ties up many of the comments above. Business schools, engineering schools, investment banks and even Fortune 100 companies do not teach you the fundamental problem solving skills you need. Be willing to learn this. Do not be arrogant. If you want to make it in management consulting be ready to learn the core skills. Just because you were a top-notch lawyer from Harvard law does not at all imply you have all the skills. Create the right, positive attitude and be ready to learn.

So you’re already a top candidate in the fact that you’ve attended all of BBM’s info sessions, spoken with scores of consultants, gotten a few business cards, and maybe have had a phone call or two. While this is a great step in the networking process, there is still something missing. Think about it from the consultant’s perspective — while they certainly will be able to judge if you pass the airport test, it is impossible to assess your analytic and consulting skill through a few brief conversations. To take the next step in getting your personality and ability across to the top firms, enter what I call Client-Side Networking.

So, what if there’s a way to leverage this relationship by networking from the other side — to establish a connection with the client and through them, closely interact with the consulting firm you’re later applying to.

As you already know, consultants develop close relationships with the clients they serve. After working 60-80 hrs a week together, really it’s impossible not to. So, what if there’s a way to leverage this relationship by networking from the other side — to establish a connection with the client and through them, closely interact with the consulting firm you’re later applying to. Well, there certainly is, and you even do most of the necessary steps already.

By this point in your professional life, you should be reading the WSJ almost every day, and even better—following the weekly news surrounding BBM. A convenient tool to follow BBM is to use an RSS Reader (I have a BlackBerry and use XPRSS; for a simple summary of RSS Readers and where to download them, visit http://www.whatisrss.com/) and create RSS feeds for “McKinsey”, “Bain”, and “Boston Consulting Group”. That way, whenever a news story concerning one of the firms is published around the globe, you can read about it in one consolidated source. Even without the goal of Client-Side Networking, this is a great tool to stay informed on BBM’s (public) work. Now that you have an RSS Reader formatted, you have all the preliminary steps in place.

After reading an article on BCG’s engagement with the Boys and Girls Club of Boston (all hypothetical), you remember that you’ve been interested in youth mentorship since high school. So, you contact someone from Boys and Girls Club of Boston either through email or LinkedIn (read Max’s post on LinkedIn networking). You describe your back-story and genuine interest in youth mentorship, and ask to learn more about the organization and the strategic direction it is heading. (If the engagement is in the news, there won’t be heavy confidentiality and they should talk to you about it.) If you’re super lucky, maybe there will be some way in which you can support the project. Then, you have direct contact with the client, BCG, and meaningful experience to add to your résumé. Really, what could be better than combining a subject you’re passionate about with the industry you hope to enter?

If you are only normally lucky, Boys and Girls Club of Boston will talk to you about the initiative, you ask if you can get the consultant’s perspective on the project—they give you a BCG analyst’s email address, and you get to have an in-depth, legitimate conversation with a BCG employee.

If you are unlucky through Client-Side Networking, you get no response from the client. But—when that BCG interview comes and they ask “Why BCG?” you can cite a precise example of their work and how you aspire to do that one day.

(Remember the situation with Boys and Girls Club of Boston is completely hypothetical, but the steps are easily transferable to any client, and most effective with smaller companies.)

Networking is a way to differentiate yourself from your peers beyond the résumé. Once everyone has the same networking tricks and tips, they are no longer effective. Just like in consulting, you need to stay a step ahead of the competition. Client-Side Networking is just that—a unique way to differentiate yourself and develop a distinct relationship with consultants from your target firms.

Max is an aspiring consultant who is looking to secure an analyst role with one of the top firms for the upcoming recruitment cycle in September 2011. His interest in management consulting was sparked by a failed McKinsey interview last year. In this series of blogs, he will be sharing his background, case preparation process, useful resources, and any breakthroughs or setbacks that he experiences.

***

About two weeks ago, I attended a networking event at my university that included attendees from McKinsey, Oliver Wyman, Deloitte, and ZS Associates. All of the consultants were on stage together for about an hour fielding different questions from the audience one at a time, and this was followed by two hours of informal networking. Today I want to share with you some of the things I learned from these brilliant consultants! The format I will be writing in will include the audience question, and the collective response of all consultants. They elaborated much more than what I’m going to write, so I’ll do my best to get to the key points they mentioned.

Audience Question: What is the worst thing about management consulting?

Responses:

1) The travel

2) The hours

3) The fact that you’re there as an advisor and not an implementer – sometimes you just want to get in there and make things happen yourself

4) Not being able to see the impact of your work all the time

Audience Question: What is the best thing about management consulting?

Responses:

1) The people

2) The type of work – challenging, problem solving

3) The unpredictability – always something new

Audience Question: What are the skills/qualities needed to break into consulting

Responses:

1) Be a quick learner

2) Ability to innovate and challenge existing approaches – don’t do something because “it’s always been done this way”

3) Problem solving

4) Leadership

5) Communication skills, and willingness to participate

6) Intellectual curiosity that allows you to get to the core issue

7) Success in areas such as academics, athletics etc.

8) Be aware of world events

Audience Question: Are there any keys to networking?

Responses:

1) Be genuine

2) Be realistic about what you can accomplish in a short time period

3) Ask questions you actually care about, and don’t just ask things for the sake of saying that you had a chance to talk to someone in consulting

Overall I thought it was a very interesting event, and the consultants definitely offered some unique points of view. My favourite part of this Q&A period was when consultants got into stories of actual engagements in order to back up their responses. Unfortunately, I was so absorbed in the stories that I didn’t take good notes on them.

The networking session went very well, and the consultants stayed way beyond the original timeline in order to answer everyone’s questions. I won’t get into the details of what I asked them as it may give away who I am!

The Anatomy of a McKinsey Networking Event

A client was particularly interested in the mechanics and anatomy of a McKinsey networking session, so today we’re going to discuss and focus on what to do when you network in a group setting as part of your consulting case interview recruitment process. We will primarily focus on McKinsey networking but the information is also applicable to other consulting firms’ networking events, like BCG, Bain, Deloitte, PwC, KPMG, etc.

The group type of McKinsey networking is one of the most uncomfortable situations during the case interview recruitment process. The general etiquette is not really well known or easily found on the Internet since McKinsey, as well as BCG and other top firms, host and invite only a small number of people.

McKinsey Networking management consulting

Four types of McKinsey networking events (consulting)

First, it’s important that you understand what kinds of McKinsey group networking or other consulting firm (e.g. BCG, Bain, Deloitte, etc.) networking sessions you may be attending as part of the case interview recruitment process.

There are 4 major types.

The first two are where you will not receive a personal invite.

Let’s assume that you belong to a major university like the University of Pennsylvania where McKinsey is usually going to be on-campus during the recruitment period. They’re going to have an information session where they bring across some of their partners, associates, engagement managers, principles, etc. This is generally an open invite and anyone from a certain degree program / MBA class is invited to attend. So, you do not have to get a personal invite.

The second type is where only people from a specific degree program are allowed to attend. For this type, you will not receive a personal invite either. It’s just your class group. For example, all MBAs will receive an invite.

The other two are more specific where you will receive a personal invite.

The first one is where you receive a personal invite when firms have viewed your resume in the resume book of your school. For example, a business school in the US (e.g. Harvard Business School) or Ivey business school in Canada has put together a resume book to potential recruiters, and Bain looks at that and decides to invite 20 people to their private cocktail event. You look interesting on paper and firms decide to invite you along.

The final one is where you have already submitted your application and just before the interview, one or two days before, you get invited to a cocktail event or another type of group event. Only in this last type of McKinsey networking event are you guaranteed an interview.

In the other types of McKinsey networking events are usually not guaranteed an interview.

If you would like to learn how to carry yourself during the last type of McKinsey networking event we recommend to work through the McKinsey closed-list dinner (accessible if you are a Premium or FC Insider member).

Myths about McKinsey networking events

Second, it’s also important to understand some myths about networking events so you can set the right expectation for yourself and plan accordingly.

Myth 1: If you have a weak profile you still can go to a McKinsey networking event and, most likely, significantly change things

A lot of candidates believe that if they have a weak profile, weak resume, weak background, they could go to an event, dazzle and likely change things so as to secure them an interview. It rarely happens. It is very hard to change things because the group setting makes it very difficult for you to set yourself apart and look different from the pack around you.

So, if you haven’t invested enough time in building a proper resume, thinking through how you’re going to present your image and writing a very good cover letter, you are significantly lowering your chances to be invited for interviews. Resume and cover letter play a very big role.

You can learn how to edit your resume and cover letter by working through resume and cover letter related sessions within The Consulting Offer seasons (accessible to Premium members and FC Insiders).

Myth 2: Consulting firms are primarily holding these events to find out more about you 

To some extent it’s true, but to be brutally honest, the real reason consulting firms hold these events is for firms’ own benefit. Consulting today is a lot more competitive than it was 20 years ago. Consulting firms are competing with hedge funds, private equity shops, investment banks, and even NGOs, etc. who are also trying to attract very talented people. So these events are for you to find more about firms and firms hope that those candidates who are on the fence about applying will actually apply.

Myth 3: Attending a McKinsey networking event is mandatory

Well, it’s usually not. If you don’t show up at an event, it doesn’t mean that you’re no longer getting your interview. We know plenty of candidates who we coached and advised not to attend a McKinsey networking event. In some cases we advised them not to because they’re writing an exam the next morning and they needed to be fresh for that. In other cases we advised not to because we wanted them to show firms that they are not necessarily available immediately because they are traveling for other interviews; a deliberate strategy to show firms that you’re definitely not pursuing just one firm. Consulting firms like candidates who have options.

So, attending a McKinsey networking event is not mandatory. If you don’t attend it, it doesn’t mean that you’re not getting your interview and vice versa. If you do attend that doesn’t mean you will be getting an interview, or passing the screening round and passing the cases.

If the interviewer is not enthusiastic, it doesn’t mean that they are not serious about recruiting

Firmsconsulting partners have attended/hosted consulting networking sessions many times and typically it goes the same way.

As a consulting partner, principal, engagement manager, senior associate, etc. generally we have a lot to do. For example, even if I’m at these consulting networking events, my mind is on other things like a client’s issue, a document I need to complete and send to client tomorrow, whether I will have enough time to work on my presentation tonight if I stay here until 9 o’clock, or whether I will have enough time to sleep and work on it tomorrow morning, etc.

Interviewers do have conflicting demands on their time and attention. They could have been on the road the whole week presenting to other schools. So if they’re distracted, it’s perfectly understandable. And when you have done these sessions for a few years and seen many candidates coming up to you and saying the same thing like, “I’m very interested in joining McKinsey, or Bain, or Deloitte, etc. Can you tell me more about what it is like to work for McKinsey?” You will reach a point where you’re not hearing candidates saying anything but more like a background noise. So, maybe interviewers are not enthusiastic, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re not serious about recruiting.

A good partner will size you up very quickly

The moment you’re approaching the partner they generally are able to size you up very quickly. While you’re shaking hands they make a snap decision whether they’re interested a little bit in you based on immediate first impression you created.

They’ll decide if you’re worth talking to by looking at your confidence, posture, body language, eye contact, firmness of your handshake, the way you dress, what you’re saying, how you’re saying it, whether you’re simultaneously scanning the rest of the room to look for other more interesting people to speak to etc.

As partner, or even at a lower level all the way down to an associate, they usually can size you up very quickly. Of course, if you ask them questions they will generally respond with courtesy. But if they see that the kind of preparation you put together (e.g. via your level of questions) is average, they will move on.

However, it doesn’t mean that they are not interested in you at all because at the end of the day they are still going to screen you based on your resume. So, if you want to make an introduction, it’s fine. But keep in mind that it’s very difficult to stand out from the pack during a group McKinsey networking event. So introduce yourself, make it known that you’re interested and have something interesting to talk about.

It shocks us to see how many candidates arrive at a session and really have nothing to talk about. They just know the basics and couldn’t talk about anything more than asking about the office or about projects the consultants had done.

An anatomy of a McKinsey networking session

Now, let’s talk about the anatomy of a session. You arrive wanting to talk to a partner but it’s very rare that you can talk with the partner only by yourself. Under normal circumstances, you will find yourself among four or five other people also talking with that one partner and everyone gets a more or less equal chance to speak and the partner will try to answer all questions. So it’s very difficult for you to get something in, much less to bring out something unique about you.

Do your homework. Don’t just say you are interested in joining McKinsey. Show it

When you show up at a McKinsey networking event it’s obvious that you’re interested in joining consulting firms. Otherwise, you’d not be showing up in the first place. So, never go up to a partner or anyone and say you really want to join the firm. You could instead have spent time showing the partner why you really want to join the firm. Maybe showing an in depth knowledge of some of their work done in a certain office, or you have spoken to many people and developed some very insightful questions based on what those people have said, or you have read a few reports and have some interesting point of view about them. Or you just wanted to talk about how your profile would be a good fit in terms of culture, etc.

An analogy we could use is cool people never say that they’re cool. They show it in the way they act, rest, think, speak, where they hang out, what they do, etc. It’s the same with showing your interest in consulting firms. Never say you’re really interested. When partners hear you saying that, it automatically indicates that you haven’t done your homework and just trying to convey your interest by merely saying so.

Don’t get over-excited. Be calm and confident

Do not confuse showing interest with being over-excited. We have seen in every single consulting networking event bouncing male or female bunnies who have the glimmer in their eyes and are so excited to work for McKinsey, BCG, Bain, Deloitte, PwC, etc. because for them it’s the pinnacle of their careers. Consulting firms do not want those people.

Firms want ambitious people who see McKinsey as a stepping stone to greater things, who see McKinsey or Bain or BCG or Deloitte as a finishing/business school for their consulting careers to partners of that firm, or corporate leaders leading some major corporation later on. So do not join a consulting firm just to be an associate and if you believe that being an associate is the pinnacle of your career, and you show it, then many consulting firms will not want you.

More than that, consulting firms want people who are on par with their current associates. They’re not going to hire you as an associate or analyst if you’re below the level you’re applying for. And if they see your excitement to be a distraction to clients and other associates, they’re not going to hire you either. So do not overdo the excitement. You have got to be a professional who is quiet, calm and confident.

Manage your downside and look for an opportunity for a small upside

Let’s talk about your upside and downside in a group setting. Imagine you’re in a group with your five Harvard (or Ivey, or place your school name here) buddies talking to senior partners from BCG Boston office. You don’t have to manage your upside, but you’ve got to manage your downside aggressively. Don’t talk about something that’s political, racist, religious, bias or discriminatory in any way.

With regards to your upside, look for an opportunity to find a small upside.

On the other side, we generally recommend not to reveal a big advantage in a group setting. If you have certain attributes and certain knowledge of the firm that you know sets you apart from other candidates, it is generally in your interest not to bring it up in a group setting because if you do, your colleagues who are largely under-prepared will know that this is the angle you’re taking and will build it into their stories. So we generally advise our candidates who we prepped really well not to bring out their advantages in the group setting or they lose whatever advantage they had.

Do not go for big upside because chances are very slim that you can do something to make you stand out in the group setting in the eyes of a senior partner. For example, don’t go out there saying to a senior partner at McKinsey that you have read his report and disagree with him on 5 of the 8 points he had raised. We have seen people doing that. No matter how smart they think they are they had very little knowledge and understanding of the context, so they didn’t really know the objective of the analysis, or worse they didn’t really know how the analysis was done. And even if you are right, bringing up an error of a partners’ work in a group setting will most likely not help you be liked by that partner.

Know your spike and build it into your introduction

When you get an opportunity to introduce yourself to a partner, know what you want to convey to the partner. For example, “Hi, My name is Alina and I’m a Russian student. I used to be a grandmaster pianist of the Russian Federation and before I started my Harvard MBA program I used to run my own publishing company.” In 15 seconds, the partner knew her spike. What differentiates Alina from other candidates is her artistic background, she’s an entrepreneur and she’s going to Harvard. So she drives it home very quickly in the introduction.

So, you have to know what your spike(s) are, what will make you remembered. People don’t remember that you work at Goldman Sachs or went to Harvard because now there are too many people having that background. So think very carefully about what differentiates you from the pack, then deliberately build that into your introduction in private or even in a group setting if you have the opportunity to present yourself.

It’s easy to be remembered

Now, although we said that it’s very hard to distinguish yourself in these consulting networking events, it’s easy to be remembered and that’s where your spike in the introduction comes in. Make sure to have a very clear and compelling story discussing no more than 3 things that you can deliver in 15 seconds.

Why would you want to be remembered at a McKinsey networking event? Because you’d want to start building a relationship with them after the event. You’re going to follow up with them afterward. Building the relationship is the key objective of a consulting networking event. So, your goal is to get connected with those people so that you can start building a relationship with them.

The follow up is key. People usually send out follow up notes 2 or 3 days after the networking event. Some people even don’t bother to send out a thank you note.

We know some candidates who would sit in their car after a networking event to type up a thank you note on their iPhone. We are not saying that that kind of intensity is going to set them apart but all other things being equal, the fact that you sent out such a prompt follow up note does stand out in the eyes of interviewers. We are always quite impressed when candidates do that, especially when the event ends at 11 pm or 11.30pm but the candidate still stayed up to midnight to type it up. Many McKinsey representatives would remember that.

To recap, understand the type of consulting networking event you’re attending since they are different. Understand whether your resume has been screened, whether your application has been screened, whether this is an event where they already know you and want you to go through the recruitment process or whether this is just an information sharing session.

Understand the 3 major myths about consulting networking events. Which are, it’s very rare you can change things, it’s really for the firms’ benefit to get people to apply to their offices, and these events are not mandatory.

Understand the structure of the event. Understand the consultants’ background, what they’re up against, and the kind of demand on their time. And also understand that when you introduce yourself they’ve pretty much heard everything before. So you have to really think carefully beforehand about what your spike is, what are one or two things that would differentiate you and build that into your 10 to 15 seconds introduction.

McKinsey networking is basically a dance where partners are chosen

It really is. Your job at a McKinsey networking event or another consulting firm’s networking event is to find people that you could build a strong relationship with afterwards so that when the time comes that you need to submit your resume, they could do it or could provide you guidance on the interview process. So, never forget that the key of a McKinsey networking event is what happens afterward, not the event itself.

It’s basically a dance where partners are chosen. So you’ve got to know who’s interested. It’s easy to recognize who is disinterested in you when their eyes start glazing over when you start speaking. The trick is don’t spend too much time investing in them because it just becomes awkward. Just thank them for their time and move on to another person. Consultants are different people and not all see the same value in your background. The way you dress, the way you act, the way you speak, the way you have prepared all play a big role in whether you will build some kind of chemistry with a certain person.

Don’t let yourself be awkwardly left out

Also, remember that attending a McKinsey networking event or another consulting firm’s networking event is a bit like musical chairs. You don’t want to be the guy who cannot find a chair. You want to be the person who has managed to link up with someone, or two people if you’re lucky. And after the event, you can email them and say you had a good time last night, had a few follow-up questions, and whether they’d mind if you talk about it. Then you build your relationship. I found too many people seeing the McKinsey networking event as an end in itself. Well, it’s not. It’s a mean towards an end and that end is to build relationships further beyond the McKinsey networking event.

So have a strategy when going to a McKinsey networking event or another consulting firm’s recruitment event. Know how you’re going to introduce yourself, understand the objective of networking event is to building a relationship beyond the event and hopefully everything will go well. Just remember if the McKinsey networking event or another consulting firm’s networking event does not go well, it’s okay. There will be other events and there will be other partners. People understand the pressure you’re under and don’t hold you to such a high standard. Just remember to manage the downside and exploit the upside if the opportunity presents itself.

What is next? 

If you have any questions about our membership training programs (StrategyTV.com/Apps & StrategyTraining.com/Apps) do not hesitate to reach out to us at support @ firmsconsulting.com. You can also get access to selected episodes when you sign-up for our newsletter above. Continue developing your strategy skills or case interview skills. And if you are ready to put in the work required to build and strengthen a powerful skill-set we teach (all training is done by former consulting partners from major firms), become a Premium member here. We will send you a guidance email once you subscribe with a plan on how we reccomend to work through the programs.

Cheers, Kris

PODCASTS: If you enjoy our podcasts, we will appreciate if you visit our Case Interviews podcast or Strategy Skills podcast on iTunes and leave a quick review. It helps more people find us.

COME HANG OUT WITH US: YoutubeFacebook / Twitter / LinkedIn / Instagram

ENGAGE ON FC FACEBOOK AND LINKEDIN GROUPS: Strategy Skills (FB) / Case Interviews (FB) / Strategy Skills (LinkedIn) / Consulting Case Interviews (LinkedIn)

WANT TO LEARN FROM FORMER CONSULTING PARTNERS? BECOME A PREMIUM MEMBER

My fondest Michael Moment occurred during networking.

I sent an email to an MBB partner and I received a slightly aggresive response. I was really worried and not sure how to respond. I wanted to send a detailed response trying to salvage the relationship by explaining my choices of questions.

I was pretty sure my chances were finished and my dream of an MBB offer was finished.

Michael gave me the strangest advice. He said I should do nothing.

That was such bizarre feedback.

He told me partners are the face of the firm.

“A partner should always be polite and professional since they have such selective requirements and need to balance that with utmost professionalism.”

If I waited long enough the partner would try to correct the situation since he could not leave the situation as it was. Michael was right as usual!

2 days later I received an email from the senior partner saying he had reviewed my resume again and felt we should talk.

That call did not lead to an offer but I eventually got into Bain by using similar advice from Michael.

We have published the most useful client feedback. Our commitment to confidentiality prevents us from disclosing the identity of our clients and other confidential information, and we may alter details to prevent such disclosure. Some client feedback may be lightly edited for grammar, spelling or prose, though we never alter or remove any information. Clients in our consultants coaching program are forbidden from sharing sensitive client data with us.

Did you enjoy the program? If yes, how?

I enjoy learning; I enjoy being coached; I enjoy being challenged to grow; the program has done all of these. I have also enjoyed building a coaching relationship with Michael, and watching my own progress, from the resume rewrite to case interview training and networking success.

Regardless of the outcome, the program has been invaluable in shaping how I present and communicate myself, with immediately tangible and life-long professional & personal benefits — therefore the program is enjoyable even when I’m discouraged or challenged.

I would not have enjoyed the program if my expectations had not been met.

Did the program meet your expectations? If yes, how?

My expectations were met, but I did not expect an offer at a management consulting firm. I believed the desired result was possible, but remained neutral about my chance for success. This approach allowed me to stay confident even when the outcome is uncertain.

This is the same approach I used when applying to the program. While I was not shocked to receive an offer to join the Firmsconsulting program, it was something I wanted personally but did not have enough information to draw conclusions, so I intentionally held back my expectations – I did not trust them to be objective, and did not have a basis for setting any.

These were my original expectations when I accepted the offer to join:

• I would have a rewritten and improved resume, and be coached on how to network properly.

• The program would push me to improve communication; both on paper for my resume, as well as in writing for networking and in person for interviews and client engagements.

• The program would teach basic techniques to break down and solve business problems in the context of case interviews.

• The program would show me how to project confidence like a management consultant and understand my own image.

These expectations were set based on the claims and program description versus the price of the program relative to other communications coaching and case interview training, and I assessed the likelihood that these expectations would be met in two ways.

First, I judged my interactions with Firmsconsulting during the screening process, from the very first email to the Skype calls, to the decision letter.

Second, I read articles publicly available on the Firmsconsulting website. I judged this information against my own understanding of my development requirements, other case interview training programs, previous communications & leadership training, and past experience with high-quality coaching.

If I had expected to receive an offer from a target firm, with no other benefits to my personal or professional development, then I would not have accepted the offer to join the program.

What was the most important learning’s from the program?

The most important lessons I have learned are directly applicable to my management consulting candidacy, but they are also portable to other areas of my professional and personal development:

First, I learned about myself: that I did not understand my own image, that my behaviour was projecting a lack of confidence, and that my naturally conceptual approach needs to be filled in with detail to make my communication compelling. Basically, I learned my development needs.

Second, I learned how to network. I work in an organization where no one is fired, no one quits, and it’s possible to become a valuable technical specialist so that people come to you with problems, which means networking is not a necessary skill. The program’s approach to networking — starting from the beginning with a resume rewrite — and Michael’s coaching developed a new skill that will last a lifetime and open new career options that would have been otherwise inaccessible.

Third, I learned the principle of demonstrated competence, which affects resume writing, networking, interviewing, and which has had the entirely unexpected side effect of revolutionizing my dating life. I think very conceptually and had a tendency to make statements about my feelings or goals, as opposed to demonstrating them with appropriate action.

Fourth, I learned how to break down problems from first principles using the basic techniques of estimation, brainstorming, and decision trees.

Fifth, I learned what good looks like. The podcast videos are great examples to model my performance. At first, the complexity of the cases and the level of the discussion intimidated me, but now I believe these examples inculcate the right way of thinking and speaking directly from the start. I also learned what good looks like from interactions with my coach Michael and his comments during the resume rewrite and networking.

Do you feel the program provided an advantage for you versus your own/other preparation? If so, in what way?

Michael has provided the interpretation, context, and the perspective of a senior-level management consultant. This hands-on coaching gave me a model — based on his behaviour, I was constantly learning how to communicate like a management consultant, and this benefit is in addition to the content of the training program. Michael provided direct feedback on my communication and indirect hints — e.g. with off-hand remarks like “people who ask me if they can ask me a question are wasting my time; they should just ask.” Without these experiences, I would have had to pick up on things very quickly while networking and during interviews, where mistakes are costly.

It’s impossible to know what would have happened had I continued on my own, but the networking success I have achieved so far would have been difficult without a quality resume re-write. I would not have revised my resume effectively without Michael’s guidance, and once we had a decent resume, Michael pushed me to network far more extensively and confidently than I would have pushed myself on my own.

Can you recall any memorable moments?

I recall two memorable moments:

First, I remember the original pre-screening call with Michael— despite being labeled as a “practice session”, this was clearly part of the evaluation. Michael took an aggressive posture, directly questioning my background, fit responses, and communication. I suspect this was screening for my ability to handle pressure without becoming defensive, breaking down, or losing confidence. After the screen I was surprised at the positive decision, but I was happy to have direct, logical feedback, regardless.

Second, I was between Christmas parties, sitting in my car in the freezing rain just having left one function, but not yet on the road to the next. Michael and I had been chatting intermittently on Skype, and our conversation turned to how networking is similar to dating. This was the first time I really saw how the communication and confidence developed in the program could be adapted personally. A couple weeks later I had the chance to put this to the test in a personal context, and positive results were immediately obvious.

What would you like changed in the program?

I have no changes to suggest.

Do you believe your coach was effective?

Michael was an effective coach. First, his behaviour is a model to teach me how to behave. He gave direct feedback on what I was doing wrong. He expected me to think. He pushed me past where I was comfortable, but he was also patient and encouraged my progress.

I have experienced high-quality coaching only two or three times in my life, and the Firmsconsulting approach is comparable.

Do you personally believe the sessions were tailored for your own development?

The sessions were clearly tailored for my personal development. Not only the sessions, but also the training schedules, the networking guidance, and the resume revision — all of these have obviously been tailored. I can’t imagine anyone going through the program along an identical trajectory.

What are your thoughts on using former McKinsey/BCG worldwide practice leaders to coach clients?

I have mixed feelings — bringing in senior people with the right values can add value to the program and help Firmsconsulting do what it does better, but it also brings attention.

The confidentiality and low-key, under-the-radar style of the Firmsconsulting brand distinguishes it from other case interview training programs and material. Bringing in senior people publicly adds prestige and attracts clients, but that is not the reason why senior partners are engaged — it is because they support the Firmsconsulting reason for being.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Thank you for considering this feedback. I would like to know what the changes will be.

We have published the most useful client feedback. Our commitment to confidentiality prevents us from disclosing the identity of our clients and other confidential information, and we may alter details to prevent such disclosure. Some client feedback may be lightly edited for grammar, spelling or prose, though we never alter or remove any information. Clients in our consultants coaching program are forbidden from sharing sensitive client data with us.

While responding to the questionnaire for the strategic planning session, I realized there is a story I can share. It’s personal, not professional, but perhaps still appropriate:

One Sunday, a week before Christmas, I had been chatting with Michael intermittently while attending holiday functions. At one point I was sitting in my car, having left one party, but not yet on the road to the next party. A cold rain was smattering against my windshield as we chatted back and forth.

Earlier in our conversation, I compared professional networking with romantic dating. Michael was quick to agree, and our conversation moved on, but this point stuck with me. The thought wouldn’t leave my head.

I have lived most of my life single, and never had much success romantically, but I have filled my life with unique and rewarding adventures, so I cannot complain. Being alone occasionally bothered me, of course, but it was something I had grown accustomed to. But over the last few years my confidence has grown exponentially – this is one of the reasons I believe I can make the transition to management consulting. Still; I had left my personal life alone, thinking that I would make progress after moving to a new city and starting a new career.

Well, Michael was guiding me through the networking process, and encouraging me to put myself out there, past my comfort zone. And it was working, so when Michael and I were discussing the similarities to dating, the idea clicked into place; I understood what he meant, and could picture my mistakes now.

My approach to communication was undermining my success and hurting my image.

Just two weeks later, I had the chance to test out this theory and use my new approach to networking in a more personal arena. The results were immediate and tangible. The confidence and communication I had used to network worked in a romantic context.

This was the first time I saw the professional development Michael was coaching me through spill over into my personal life. This is a story I will remember for years to come, because it marked a turning point in my life.

We have published the most useful client feedback. Our commitment to confidentiality prevents us from disclosing the identity of our clients and other confidential information, and we may alter details to prevent such disclosure. Some client feedback may be lightly edited for grammar, spelling or prose, though we never alter or remove any information. Clients in our consultants coaching program are forbidden from sharing sensitive client data with us.

Nisha is a McKinsey business analyst in the U.S. She holds a degree in literature from a U.S. college where she graduated in the top 5% of her class, and had a strong leadership track record. She interned at a bulge-bracket investment bank and had an offer in hand before selecting McKinsey for its strong values. Nisha was a case coaching client before joining the consultants program.

Why did you seek additional help for your consulting career?

My experience in the case interview training was a highlight of my recruiting summer. I loved the Firmsconsulting value system of discretion, professionalism and caring for their clients’ needs. I had grown in the program, my case skills improved and I saw marked improvements in all aspects of my career planning skills. I wanted to continue this type of guidance and development and it seemed like the logical next step to apply for the consultant program.

The experience has been the same and I like to consider myself more a friend of Michael and the rest of Firmsconsulting.

What was your strategy for using the program?

As I mentioned earlier, it was a continuation strategy. Everything was going well for me and I am grateful to have received the offers I had. I wanted Michael watching over me and helping me think through the ideas and problems. Our sessions were very spontaneous. I was responsible for setting them up and choosing the topics for discussion.

I would drive the relationship and throw ideas or problems at Michael and we would brainstorm the best answer. We would debate them and plan the steps I should take. I did not feel the need to get advice on my project work and we discussed these at a very high level by looking at the project structure and creative ways for me to conduct some types of analyses.

The best value of the program was thinking about my career over 2 to 5 years and deciding what I wanted to do, why I wanted to do this and how I would get there. Michael was very good at this and making sure I had considered all the options I had. My decision to start an MBA was obviously pushed by McKinsey but I thought Michael created a case for why “I” should do it, irrespective of McKinsey’s wishes.

I am keen to enter the public sector one day and I had erroneously set my sights on the Kennedy School of Government without considering the type of government official I wanted to be. So we worked backwards from these points and put together a set of goals I needed to accomplish to reach my objectives.

Michael is good at building long term plans and chasing them.

How did the program help you, if at all?

The program is enormously beneficial. Within McKinsey many people don’t know what is happening and why it is happening. That is I suppose normal. It reminds me of recruitment at college. Rumors spread and take on a life of their own. If I am not careful I end up chasing ghosts. The overriding value is having a hotline to a partner who only has your interests in mind and is willing to cut through the fluff.

At each major juncture in my career I would call Michael and get his guidance. He always has an unusual perspective which seemed ridiculously simple, but only after it was explained. The importance of this is the advice has no strings attached. Michael would be so blunt at times that I was left reeling. I knew I was always getting the most honest possibly answer and he seemed fine if it upset me a little. This made me very confident that I was hearing the truth no matter what was happening. There was no sugar coating at all. Not even artificial sweeteners:-)

I do not want him to sound like a toughie. He is a great mentor. The best mentor I have ever had because things actually happen around him. Other mentors made me feel good but it took me time to realize that nothing positive happened out of those interactions.

The one strong benefit is Michael’s reminder of consulting values. You hear this at McKinsey all the time, but I learned more about Marvin Bower from Michael than McKinsey. So there is this complimentary teaching between Firmsconsulting and McKinsey. It is like the program is designed to support McKinsey consultants.

Do you recall any memorable moments?

I can recall some useful advice provided when I joined McKinsey. Throughout my studies I had had a strong involvement in extracurricular activities. I was keen to do the same at McKinsey and wanted to sign up for some firm/internal initiatives.

Michael pushed for me not to do it and forced me to stick to projects for at least the first year. This was useful advice since I would not have been able to do both well. The amount of work I had to do in my first engagement was difficult to manage. Picking up something else would have led to mediocre efforts on both or failure in one and success in the other. This would not have been good for my career.

Michael reminded me that new consultants are not kept around for their firm-wide activities. They need to do well on engagements and I saw young analysts get their priorities wrong and get managed out fairly quickly. I don’t think this would have happened to me, but my quality would have certainly been diluted.

The other thing that strikes me about the program is the high/impossible expectations Michael had of me. It was taken for granted I would graduate magna cum laude, that I would join McKinsey and I would excel.

Some of my casing sessions were moved back to ensure I had time to study for my finals!

For me, this was very encouraging that someone with such high expectations wanted me to go so far. In fact, when I failed to get into Bain a big part of me felt I had let down Michael and it took me over a day to forward the rejection email. If great things are expected of me, I tend to achieve them!

Would you like anything changed in the program?

I like the program and enjoy all my training. I therefore have no suggestions for any changes. I am happy to answer any questions you may have and look forward to the changes at Firmsconsulting.

We have published the most useful client feedback. Our commitment to confidentiality prevents us from disclosing the identity of our clients and other confidential information, and we may alter details to prevent such disclosure. Some client feedback may be lightly edited for grammar, spelling or prose, though we never alter or remove any information. Clients in our consultants coaching program are forbidden from sharing sensitive client data with us.

Edward, profiled and interviewed on a podcast on the Podcasts homepage, discusses the striking similarities between networking and building relationships. The podcast is a more detailed discussion, in Edward’s words, on the points below. Edwards developed the most successful approach we have ever seen with clients. He was successful because he spent 3 months learning how to develop and communicate sincere interest in his interactions. Our approach to networking is the opposite of that recommended elsewhere and, as you will see with Edward, is entirely appropriate for management consulting.

What is your philosophy for networking?

There is a joke about how to succeed at dating in two steps:

• Be attractive.

• Don’t be unattractive.

This is true for professional networking, but you have control over the factors that make you attractive or unattractive. Learn what they are. Learn how your actions affect them. Project an honest, accurate, positive image.

What were your objectives when you planned a networking call or meeting?

To build relationships with specific people in specific offices, so that when I applied, my resume stood out because it had a post-it on it from someone the recruiter knows.

To seduce the target firm into asking me out on a first date, also known as interviews – networking is like flirting!

To increase my chances of getting an offer after interviews:

• I built my confidence going in, with positive encounters.

• I learned to communicate like a management consultant.

 

You also need to evaluate a firm, which will see more of you than your life partner:

• Do you want to work with the people you meet?

• Do their actions show the values you are looking for?

• Are they smart enough and interesting enough for you?

• Are their professional stories genuinely interesting?

 

How did you use your training to improve your networking success?

The coaching is successful when you don’t need it any more. That said,

• Own your development.

• Think about what you are doing, why, and how.

• Think about what your coach is telling you, why, and how.

• Model your communication after your coach. He is an experienced management consultant, so you have a chance to practice communication in a safe environment. Make the most of it.

I listened to all the networking podcasts, took notes and reviewed them later.

 

You also need to keep your coach updated:

• Pass emails through your coach before sending them, especially when one is the first of its kind:

o First time responding to a new connection.

o First time setting up a phone chat.

o First time speaking with a senior partner.

• Updates must always be in real-time.

• Yet I tried to develop independence, but did it slowly.

 

Finally, do what your coach says and think about why he is asking for it and why you are doing it.

 

What do you consider to be the phases of the networking process?

First, build the best resume that is honestly and uniquely yours.

Second, build a LinkedIn profile from your resume.

Third, start networking:

• Send out connection requests.

• Thank people who accept and ask for a chat.

• Escalate communication based on mutual interest: email to phone to coffee.

• Give people who like you the chance to help. They may or may not decide to help you but that should not impact your views on them. You don’t care, because caring about the outcome makes you desperate. You must sincerely want to learn irrespective of the outcome.

 

How useful did you find the resume rewriting process?

Everything depends on your resume, so take the time to do it right.

• A strong resume leads to a strong LinkedIn profile.

• …leads to a greater connection acceptance rate,

• …leads to more contacts,

• …leads to more phone calls,

• …leads to more chances for mutual professional attraction.

The process is brutal – expect blood, sweat, and tears. Follow your coaching and listen to the podcasts.

 

How did you use LinkedIn? Talk me through an evening in front of your laptop.

First, I searched broadly:

• Sometimes you can hack the results to send a connection request to someone when it looks like you can’t. Try putting their name into Google—sometimes clicking on the search result lets you send a connection request when a LinkedIn search doesn’t. I don’t understand this but it works.

• Search for single vowels like “a” and “e”, then narrow the results to your target firm(s) and office(s).

 

Second, organize the profiles when you are searching:

• Tag people by office and firm.

• Tag people you want to connect with but cannot yet.

• Tag people when you send them invites.

• Use notes to keep track of your progress with each person.

 

Third, never send more than a single invitation:

• Don’t assume they check their email.

• Don’t assume they will connect.

• Never push against a dead end. You coach can help you identify when this happens, and pushing for progress in a dead end is very unattractive. Just because someone is a dead-end now doesn’t mean you won’t speak to him or her again. Therefore do not become dismissive of people who may not want to immediately talk to you. There could be many reasons for this and you need to always be diplomatic.

 

How did you move from these random connections into building a concentrated network of consultants in one office, who spoke to each other and brought more consultants into this supportive network?

First, connect with people liberally:

• On one hand, don’t become invested in any potential relationship:

o Some people don’t accept requests from strangers.

o Some people don’t check their email.

o Some people take time to initially get back to you.

• On the other, always have a reason why you want to talk:

o Do you have shared background?

o Do you have shared professional interests?

o Are you curious about their work or office?

• Don’t get defensive if they challenge your connection. One of the friendliest phone calls I had lasted 90 minutes, and was with a consultant who challenged my initial connection request.

 

Second, get people to like you by focusing on:

• Demeanor – be friendly, polite, and inquisitive.

• Scheduling – be flexible, accommodating, and understanding.

• Attitude – always stay positive / never go negative / don’t even joke about it

• Purpose – ask about their perspective, thoughtfully.

• “Don’t criticize, condemn, or complain.” Dale Carnegie.

 

Third, create openings for people to help:

• If you were leading the conversation, close by asking for questions.

• Never ask for help. If they like you they will offer. Even if an opening appears for you to ask for help, do not do it. It must be offered to you.

• You do not deserve anything, no matter who you are, no matter whom you are speaking with. This attitude is poisonous, and makes you very unattractive.

 

Fourth, don’t worry if there is no progress

• Someone may be having a bad day.

• Some people will click, while others won’t enjoy speaking with you.

• Remember why you are networking—it’s not just about an interview. It is about learning more about a firm/office and deciding if there is a fit.

 

Once you created this supportive structure, talk me through how you managed a single networking call?

I prepared well:

• I had a pen and paper and took notes.

• I had my opening questions and a few follow-on’s prepared.

• I had an exit strategy to wrap up the conversation neatly.

• I removed distractions, and paid 100% attention.

• I had at least 5 minutes to get ready. I took 2 minutes for a power-posture or positive meditation (see Amy Cuddy’s TED talk)

 

While on the phone:

• I stood up and walked around while talking.

• I didn’t let anything distract me.

• I listened to the other person and asked them questions to draw out their best experiences and lessons.

• I did not dominate the conversation.

• I treated the person as a peer.

 

Afterwards, ensure you:

• Follow up with a short thank-you note.

• Write up the call immediately. This is for your coach, but it’s also for you.

 

How did you project confidence when speaking to senior partners?

I have a few ground rules for achieving this:

• Be concise. Too many words waste time. It undermines your image.

• Do not undermine yourself with self-deprecating language.

• Do not apologize—first check with your coach to make sure it’s appropriate.

• Do not become defensive when challenged.

• Do not disagree—“Hmm, I’ve never thought about it like that”.

• Do not project arrogance by thinking you deserve someone’s help.

• Always be sincere.

• Read Dale Carnegie, “How to win friends and influence people.”

We have published the most useful client feedback. Our commitment to confidentiality prevents us from disclosing the identity of our clients and other confidential information, and we may alter details to prevent such disclosure. Some client feedback may be lightly edited for grammar, spelling or prose, though we never alter or remove any information. Clients in our consultants coaching program are forbidden from sharing sensitive client data with us.

We are using cookies on our website

Please confirm, if you accept our tracking cookies. You can also decline the tracking, so you can continue to visit our website without any data sent to third party services.