Chris was a brilliant engineering graduate of Cornell with a Yale MBA to complete the pair up. His impressive resume included stints in Goldman Sachs’ proprietary trading desk, as well as a leadership profile which made him a likely candidate to get called in for interviews. He, in fact, networked quite aggressively to get his BCG and Bain interviews, and was well prepared by the time he arrived for the first interview. Chris apparently aced his interviews and the interviewer told him he “would be surprised” if Chris was not called back by the recruiters for the second round.
Chris was never called back. In fact, Chris could get no responses when he tried to follow-up with the BCG recruitment manager who arranged the first flights for his interview. Chris was at a loss and was upset, and distraught in trying to determine why his dreams were being help back. In all honesty, at the time, we could also not understand why Chris’s progress was being delayed. Three weeks after his first interview, Chris received a rejection letter from both Bain and BCG. Both firms decided not to proceed.
Chris was a client we took on at the last-minute, literally 10 days before his first interview and we spent some late nights prepping him. Nonetheless, he was a quick study and he was definitely able to handle the interviews. To help understand the potential reason for the declines, we asked Chris to send us all communication he had had with both firms.
And there it was. Chris had a major ego and had treated the Bain and BCG support staff like insignificant people. Here are some choice lines he used in his emails:
“I spoke to the partner and he assured me BCG would try to accommodate my schedule. I am not sure why you cannot get the diaries to mesh.”
“I am not going to change my schedule just to accommodate this mix-up. I sent you an email yesterday and it is your fault this was not done on time. I see no reason how I can help if you do not read my emails.”
“Please call me in the next 20 minutes. I would like to discuss the seating for my flight.
These are all unedited. It is easy to see why Chris was rejected. He was arrogant and forgot how powerful the functional staffs are at the top firms. There are six things you need to remember about recruiters at the top firms.
• If you thought consultants were secretive, you have no idea how secretive the HR department is. Have you ever seen any articles about them or their policies (beyond the conjecture and speculation you typically see written)? No. And yet they guard the gates to future wealth and influence.
• These are not people who cannot get jobs elsewhere.
• These are not people lacking graduate degrees.
• These are not people who lack influence and power.
• These are the gatekeepers.
• Ignore their influence at your peril.
Bain, BCG and McKinsey invest a huge amount of time and money in developing the systems to deliver great work. One of these systems is HR and they hire the best people, people who want to be career HR specialists and who take their jobs seriously. I am surprised Chris was even allowed to go through the first round with these emails. They probably gave him the benefit of the doubt.
It is important to understand that the recruiters at the top consulting firms are not support in the traditional sense. They are functional specialists and play a major role. Alienating them will hurt your chances and for Chris, his behaviour was probably brought to the attention of the recruiting manager.
Always remember this when engaging the HR team, including assistants (it’s good advice in general):
• These are probably career specialists who take their job seriously and do not expect to be talked down to.
• When the office has Baker scholars, rocket scientists, McKinsey Award winners, presidential advisers and CEO’s in training, your credentials are hardly impressive. They, therefore, magnify your intolerance, should you show any.
• HR in the top firms is powerful. I know Deloitte and Accenture will argue their HR is just as powerful. They are not. At BCG, you are assigned to projects by the career planning team. At Deloitte, the partner puts you on a project and then HR complies. So treat HR staff like the professionals they are.
• There is nothing more memorable than a pleasant, friendly, professional and brilliant person. People are drawn to them.
• Once you commit something to writing, it is stored forever in a server waiting for Google to win the rights sometime in the future to make it public knowledge.
• Always, I cannot stress this enough, give people the benefit of the doubt and be nice to them. Titles do not convey power. The ability to influence does. HR has this influence.
Even with great grades, it is just so difficult to network into an interview. Do not mess it up with 19th century English pub antics.
Elsa was a BCG recruitment manager for 5 years in Europe before leaving. According to her, it was easy to see which candidates truly fit the firm’s culture:
“I quite clearly remember helping out one day, when I was recruitment manager, by sitting at the reception area, during a particularly nasty week when 30% of the staff where away due to the latest [bout of] flu. So this guy comes in. Very professional. As they all are. We got into a conversation about the office design and I noticed he seemed really interested. Many people will immediately try to speak to a consultant coming by and, by default, treat the receptionist like she was less important. That small thing showed me that he treated everyone equal and as important.”
And the dead give-away of an ego?
“It’s always ‘I’ this and ‘I’ that. It is as if the person worked in a company of one. The ones who are best are those who speak about ‘We’ but explain their role in the success of ‘We’.”
Chris is not a fictitious character. He, sadly, represents about 3/10 aspiring consultants we meet. Don’t be like Chris. It does not matter if you graduated 1st in your class at Wharton, there is always someone better out there. And if you think grades make you stellar then there is definitely someone better out there.