Dumbest questions to ask a consultant

Westcoastie's picture
Rank: Baboon | 139

I'm starting an MBA in a couple months and I've set up a few meetings over the summer with people I know or have been introduced to at a few MBB and D offices I'm potentially interested in. I'm just wanting to learn more about the process and the industry since I come from a non-business background. I realize that likely the best I can hope to get out of these interactions is a good word put in to the recruiter assigned to my school. It's a relatively low-risk situation in my mind, but what are some major mistakes I could make in these conversations?

Comments (7)

Jun 5, 2014

You can't really go wrong--just relax and make a connection. Does this sound like a place where you could tolerate 60 hours a week with your co-workers in the basement of the client site?

Though, as is true with most jobs, asking about comp is gauche. Asking about the differences between the firms is a high-frequency, low-value type of question (unless you're asking about something specific, like staffing model). If I haven't worked at Bain, how can I tell you what it is like to work there?

Jun 6, 2014

I just finished MBA intern recruiting a few months ago and plan to do a full consulting networking post like I did for fit interviews. I've got a wedding this weekend and final project on my plate so these tidbits will have to do for now. Before I jump, let me say I think you're doing the right thing by networking early, especially if you're targeting smaller offices. Just be mindful of a few things. Advice I would have given myself a year ago.

Objectives - Don't worry about someone putting in a good word now. If you're at a target program, you'll have plenty of chances to do this. Focus on learning as much as you can about the industry, the firm, and the experience of the person with whom you're speaking. Be deliberate in developing the relationship.

Risk - While I wouldn't call these interactions high-risk, I would assume there is the possibility that every chat you have is being tracked and logged. In 5 months, you will have had tons of coaching on resume, cover letters, and crafting your personal story. To some extent, I think there is a risk that your current self will be judged against your future classmates (or fully polished candidates from last year). Don't go into these half-assed. Make sure your story is tight.

Quantity - If you do a bazillion of these, you will burn out before recruiting is over. If you don't have a really solid reason to meet/chat with someone, don't put yourself in that position. When interview selections roll around, you need 1-2 champions at each firm who will vouch for you. 5-6 lukewarm connections may not cut it. If you click with someone, stay at it. If you don't, thank them and leave it at that. You don't need, or have the stamina for, 50 BFF's.

Dumb questions - Any ones you already know the answer to. Don't ask just to ask. During the process, there will be a time a place to ask about compensation; it's not now. Also, any questions that are likely to evoke negative emotions should be avoided. Asking what things the firm is developing to make it a better place is fine. Asking how the firm is recovering from the blow dealt by Raj Rajaratnam is probably a bad idea.

Jun 6, 2014

@"Laocoon" and @"brj" Thanks for the insights! Yeah, definitely not going to ask about comp or the downsides. Easy enough to get from peers and online sources. Correct that I'm targeting mostly smaller offices. My school (target) is not close to the offices I'll be pursuing though so that's why I figured it could be helpful to make some face-to-face connections and then if they go well to perhaps see them again over Christmas break if possible and makes sense. Won't have many chances for that in the Fall outside of the on-campus events with whoever is sent.

Brj, I appreciate your breakdown and look forward to future posts. Some of your points remind me a lot of some of the stuff Stephen Pidgeon notes in his book about getting a job in consulting.

Jun 6, 2014

Here's a question that would be really dumb to ask them:

'Do you think what you do actually adds value or is just done to get a third party verification to the board of directors of the conclusion that management already has?'

Jun 6, 2014

The way Dick's question is phrased could be seen as calling into question a consultant's value and maybe even his scruples. Definitely don't ask it that way. I did ask a few consultants a variation of it though. "Have you ever had an engagement where you realize part way in that you don't have the latitude to pursue the right answer and are being asked to rubber stamp someone's decision?"

It takes blame for the situation off the consultant, but still addresses a pretty common scenario. I got wildly different answers, including: "We do what the client wants," "We present the right recommendation; it's their job to take it or not," and "We've cancelled engagements when we've found ourselves in that scenario." It was a pretty rich answer space, but definitely a question for later in the game.

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Jun 6, 2014

"Want to have sex?" Although,I guess this could go very well in certain situations.

Jun 12, 2014
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