Networking is an essential part of nearly every hiring process, and in consulting, it’s more than just being friends with people. A good contact will be able to help refine your resume, get your resume looked at by the recruiting team, give you case practice, and perfect your professionalism. There is simply no substitute for having a solid contact in your choice firm.
Since networking can be an awkward, artificial, and cloudy process, I thought I would offer some tips to help you become as natural, efficient, respectful, and enjoyable a networker as possible.
Keep Track of Who You Know
Hopefully you’ll be talking with many people in many firms. Since getting a consulting job involves lots of chance, you’ll also hopefully be networking with people in other industries. It will be imperative to keep some sort of record of everyone you’re contacting.
I suggest keeping an Excel document with a different tab for each company. In each tab, keep track of the name, contact information, position at the company, info on how you met, and any other notes on the person. It’s also worth tracking the last time you contacted the person to make sure you aren’t overly taxing anyone’s time, nor forgetting to keep in touch.
I still remember one phone call where I was talking to a consultant at McKinsey. At the time, I felt that Bain would be the best firm for me (I have obviously since decided that BCG is my ideal place). Since I had multiple calls that day and many more throughout the week, I lost track of who I was talking with. Thinking I had a guy from Bain on the line, I let slip that Bain was my favorite.
It isn’t typically a good move to say that you prefer another company more than the one with whom you are speaking. Stay better organized than I was at the time to avoid making the same dumb mistake. (note: If he had asked me straight which firm I preferred, I would have told him Bain, but offering that info at the start is not a good first impression. He didn’t hold it against me and seemed to try to change my mind more than anything, but you may not always get so forgiving a person).
Get Introduced by an Intermediary/Ask for Referrals
I do not discourage reaching out to cold contacts. However, there is no denying that it is FAR better to be introduced to a consultant by someone who the consultant trusts.
When you get introduced, you instantly have some credibility based on the credit of the intermediary. You also have some greater importance, if simply because the consultant wants to be nice to his or her friend.
Be aware that the intermediary is putting his or her own reputation on the line by recommending you. A bad recommendation can weaken or break a line of trust and hamper future opportunities to refer promising candidates. As such, you need to make sure that you are as prepared as possible to be introduced, and that you treat the relationship seriously. Make sure the intermediary can be confident in you before you ask for the referral, and don’t push things too hard if they seem hesitant to make an introduction. You can’t do yourself any favors if you start meeting people before you’re ready, or if you come off as obnoxious or unprofessional in your persistence.
Send Your Resume in the First Email
Your resume is basically an advertisement of you. Hopefully it does a good job at convincing people that they need to hire you. As such, it can be helpful to send your resume with the first contact so that the consultant can immediately see that you’re not riff-raff (assuming, of course, that you’re not riff-raff).
Your resume can also provide some decent starting points for a conversation. Once, I sent a cold email to the general email address at a specific office for Bain. I attached my resume, and in Bain’s response, the consultant mentioned some interesting commonalities in our interests (we watched some similar YouTube channels. Yes, I had my favorite YouTube channels on my resume, and it got me a much more interesting conversation with a consultant at Bain).
When you do send your resume, make it clear that it is primarily for the consultant’s information. Make sure they know that you aren’t already expecting him or her to revise it. Normally you can just let them know that you attached it in case they find it helpful to have it upfront, but when I sent my cold email to Bain I was clear that I sent it so that they could evaluate whether I would be worth a greater time investment. Whether or not that was a good idea, I got some great conversations going with that office and it at least didn’t harm me.
Have a Q&A Before Doing a Case
Whenever I reached out to someone new, I would typically ask for a 15-20 minute phone call for a Q&A, and then ask if they would have time for a full case at a later date. This did a few good things for me.
First, it helped me establish a relationship with the person before we did a full case. I do better in cases when I feel some sort of camaraderie with the interviewer. This made Q&A’s ahead of time perfect for me, and also made me really glad that the “fit” portion of the interview comes before the case in the real deal.
Second, it will hopefully make the interviewer more confident that you’re worth some time. If you have good questions, show respect for their time, act professional, and demonstrate your intelligence, then the interviewer will open up more resources to you.
Finally, a Q&A is an easier ask than a case. You can do a good Q&A in 15-20 minutes, and it requires no preparation on the interviewers part. A case requires 30-45 minutes (or an hour when I give them), requires the consultant to find a case, and then requires the interviewer to pay enough attention to give decent feedback. Use a Q&A to prove that you’re worth this investment.
Have Prepared Questions
Consultants tend to be crazy busy. This means that you will likely only have one Q&A with them, and you don’t want to waste time with poor questions. You also need to make sure that your questions aren’t easily answered online. A Q&A with a consultant should consist of questions that only a consultant in the firm could answer.
It can be tough to come up with good questions, especially since almost everything you truly need is online. I recommend coming up with categories of things that you want to know, and then identifying specific questions within the categories. I had categories like “Office Specific Questions,” “Lifestyle Stuff,” “Being Great on the Job,” and “Beyond Consulting.” I had 3-7 questions in each of my categories to make sure I was ready for any person on the other end.
I did not ask all of the questions I had prepared to each person I talked to. I would go through my question list beforehand and highlight the questions I wanted to ask. If I had more time to prepare, I would also put them in an order so that I could get all the information I needed while letting our discussion flow naturally instead of bouncing from topic to topic.
It’s also worth taking some notes on what the person says. You’ll probably be talking to a lot of people, so you don’t want to forget who said what.
Nail a Case With Your Contact
There seemed to be few things that better helped to build my network than absolutely dominating a case interview. If a consultant gives you a case that you rip to shreds, that consultant can be confident that you won’t be a wasted interview slot. Good case skills shows that you may have what it takes to get the full-time offer more than any question you may ask or experience you may have had.
This is why you should typically have a fair amount of practice behind you before you start doing cases with people in the firm. You will usually only get one case with the contact (some offices even seem to have rules about how many cases they can give any one candidate), so you want to make sure that you hit it well the first time.
If you do bomb a case, learn from it and move on. I bombed many cases with full-time consultants, but I took what I learned and avoided making the same mistakes with them again. Just try to nail a case with at least one consultant in an office you want to break into.
Use Professional Language
Here’s a non-comprehensive list of words that you shouldn’t use: sweet, cool, tight, awesome, sick, fo-sho, heck yes, boo-ya.
Just make sure you sound as intelligent as you are. In consulting, you are your product, so you need to make sure that you convince your clients of your capacity to solve difficult, complex, and abstract problems. Language is going to be the primary way they judge you until the slide-deck comes out, so make sure your language is hecka-awesome.
Be Respectful of Time
If you ask for a 20 minute phone call, be the one to end it when you approach 20 minutes of the conversation. The consultant might tell you not to worry about it, but until they say so, worry about it.
Also, don’t try to get an excessive amount of contact time. Some will be willing to do multiple cases with you, but recognize that most won’t, even if they like you. Many of them won’t be able to have 30 minute chats every month either, but they might be available to answer some short emails. Don’t lose contact with your friends in consulting, but recognize that they can be incredibly busy, and will typically want to spend their off-time with their families or friends.
Treat Partners and Associates with Equal Respect
Treating partners and associates equally doesn’t mean that you should treat the partners with less respect than you might normally, but that you should up your respect level for associates. As far as I can tell, it seems that many associates have greater sway over who gets interviews than some partners, so don’t walk over an associate to talk with someone higher-up in the firm.
Keep seeking truth.
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