You put in the hours, gained the experience, practiced the cases, and still didn’t get the offer. Maybe you tripped-up on your final round (been there); maybe you didn’t even get invited to interview (been there too). Now you need to execute your plan B, or perhaps figure out what that plan B should be! If you still want to take that shot at consulting, here are my tips.
You may still have a shot
First, you need to know your options. If you just got turned down for an undergrad or MBA internship, the answer is clear – apply during the full-time sequence.
If instead you were turned down for full-time undergrad opportunities, your straightest path is to get in a top MBA program. Consulting firms take most of their hires from MBA programs, so this has always been your best-odds shot.
Otherwise, most consulting firms also actively recruit “experienced hires.” Firms shed less light on how to maximize your chance at this opportunity, but with some serendipity its possible to get an offer.
Alternatively, you could go back for more school for a PhD, JD, or other Master’s program and try to hop in as an “Advanced Degree Consultant.” I wouldn’t recommend doing this with the intent to become a consultant, but its your choice.
How to make the most of your next shot
I have 4 big tips for making the most of your next shot.
1. Try to get feedback
There are three groups of people you should pursue for feedback. First, see if you can get feedback from your interviewers (if you had an interview). Many will be willing to tell you what kept you from getting the offer.
Tread this one carefully as firms approach post-interview feedback differently. Some firms provide feedback standard, others ask their interviewers not to provide it. If I felt comfortable with the interviewer during the interview, I would typically ask if they would feel comfortable getting in touch later on.
The second group of people to seek out will be your contacts in consulting. They may hear things about your performance that they consider appropriate to share. They’ll also likely have insight from knowing and working with you.
Last, consider hiring professional guidance. Some ex-consultants have started businesses entirely focused on helping applicants get into consulting. I’m sure they’re expensive (I haven’t used them myself), but if your attitude is “consulting or bust,” they could be worth a shot.
2. Get additional experience
You didn’t need me to tell you this, but we should cover the kinds of experiences to focus on. You have four big things to think about here.
First, act on the feedback you received. If they told you an experience you need for an offer, go get that and ignore the rest.
Second, when in doubt, get a good brand-name – especially if you did not get asked to interview. It means a lot for recruiters when they can instantly know that you worked somewhere with its own rigorous hiring process. They know that doing corporate level work at a well-known company requires passing some level of capability.
Brand-names can speak louder than well-articulated impact on a resume. Recruiters know that not every capable individual has learned the art of sharing impact on resumes (or even know that they should). Recruiters also know find it challenging to accurately compare impact across individuals. But a solid position at a well-known firm is a pseudo-endorsement by another firm’s recruiting team that you were worth taking a chance on.
Third, in spite-of what I just said about impact, make sure you do make an impact and practice articulating it. Plan from the beginning of your experience on how you will leverage your skills to make measurable changes to the firm you go to. Even if this doesn’t get your resume through, you must articulate your impact clearly to pass the interview itself.
Finally, focus on getting a position you can see yourself enjoying long-term. First, you’ll do a better job if you enjoy your work, setting you up well for consulting applications. Even better, you might decide that you would rather stay in that job then go through the consulting gauntlet again. Don’t forget – consulting is a great job, but it is just a job, and not one that everyone enjoys. If you find something you love, don’t be afraid to stick with it.
3. Articulate how you changed
You already exposed your heart and soul to the consulting firm, and they said no. When you put yourself out there again, you will need to show them why they should say yes this time.
If you received feedback, lean on it, but don’t stop there. For example, if they felt that you lacked necessary leadership experience, clearly articulate the leadership experience you’ve gained since and how it applies, but add other ways that you’ve grown as well. Show that you throttled the time between now and the last interview (just don’t come off as cocky as you do so).
4. Keep practicing – eventually
If you got turned down for an internship, then it won’t be more than a year before you find yourself at interview season again. That will fly by faster than you think, so try to keep your skills up. Don’t keep the same pace you had during recruiting season, but do things like
- Find a friend with whom you can practice occasional cases.
- Download a math game on your phone to keep your mental math skills sharp.
- Drill frameworking on occasion.
- Read business articles like the WSJ.
- Listen to podcasts/read books on case interviews.
If the firms turned you down for full-time opportunities, you won’t likely find yourself under the microscope again for 2 or more years. It probably isn’t worth doing much practice for a few years until you confirm that you want to go for it again. Try to make those decisions a few months before any real application comes due to make sure you have time to practice. Experienced hiring often goes on a rolling basis, but firms do seem to look for experienced talent the hardest in the January to April timeframe.
You’re not out yet
Rejection hurts, especially after you put so much time and energy into getting the offer. Take advantage of this time to better yourself, find other things you love, and keep your head high for another round.
Keep seeking truth.
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