A client was recently 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.
First, it’s important that you understand what kinds of McKinsey group networking or other consulting firms (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 other types of McKinsey networking events (BCG, Bain, KPMG, Deloitte, PwC, etc 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 working through the McKinsey closed-list dinner (accessible if you are a Premium or FC Insider member).
Second, it’s also important to understand some myths about McKinsey networking events (BCG, Bain, et al.) so you can set the right expectation for yourself and plan accordingly.
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. A 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). And, if you are not a member, you can benefit from this article+video on resume editing.
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.
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.
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 the 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 background noise. So, maybe interviewers are not enthusiastic, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re not serious about recruiting.
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 the 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 a 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 (BCG, Bain, Deloite etc. 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.
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.
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.
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, BCG et al. 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.
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 revealing 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 a 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.
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.
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 (BCG, Bain, Deloitte etc 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, BCG, Bain, Deloitte etc. 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.
Your job at a McKinsey networking event or another consulting networking event is to find people that you could build a strong relationship with afterward 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, and consulting networking in general, 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.
Also, remember that attending a McKinsey networking event or another consulting 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 / consulting networking as an end in itself. Well, it’s not. It’s a means towards an end and that end is to build relationships further beyond the McKinsey networking event (BCG, Bain, Deloitte etc. networking event).
So have a strategy when going to a McKinsey networking event or another consulting networking recruitment event. Know how you’re going to introduce yourself, understand the objective of a consulting networking event is to build a relationship beyond the event and hopefully everything will go well. Just remember if the McKinsey networking event or another consulting 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.
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