MBB Europe English-only landscape

Will be somewhat lengthy post but as the title suggests the topic is about English speaking offices throughout Europe. and I just want to emphasize... this is not a rant :)
I've done a lot of reading here and over the internet and I am yet to have a clear picture of how things really work for particular offices. Just to be clear we are talking about pre-MBA positions (as of course the higher you go, the less of a problem the language barrier becomes).

I am trying to establish what is the true English only office (apart from London) and how much are you actually disadvantaged (let's say percentage wise after the screening stage) when you don't know the local language. I see people say that Nordics are English only and while I can't dispute that, I can certainly dispute the fact about Amsterdam being English only.

But let's start first with Nordics - Ok, so they are English only - does that really make a difference for anyone outside of that region? I feel like target schools in European countries are more or less region based and they lose their relevance as you cross borders (I am not talking about MBAs now) - which would mean that non target schools have absolutely zero relevance and I don't see how someone who is say studying in Germany can successfully apply to Nordics if he only knows English and actually get the offer.

On the other hand, a lot of people said Amsterdam is English friendly however I have collected evidence to the contrary. McK for instance has every single networking event advertised with "Dutch fluency required" so you cannot even communicate with them, and when I went further and actually sent an email to requirement to inquire about English speaking events and their recruitment policy I was literally told they expect C2 fluency!!! I mean C2? seriously? so basically they only recruit native speakers then. By the way, don't get me wrong, I get the local language thing, but C1 should have been more than enough, this was just so typically arrogant and pompous real McK way yet they proclaim "diversity" everywhere you go.

Next, BCG has similar situation (if we are talking about Amsterdam) - where virtually 90% of the networking events are in Dutch so you cannot network and upon my inquiry to the recruitment I got a far nicer response than McK, but got told straight up that they favor Dutch speaking candidates and that they might consider non Dutch if the candidate has the right set of skills..... I have my own way of thinking why all of this is bullshit but I'll save it for conclusion.

Bain apparently accepts English only, but since there aren't enough networking events (compared to other MBB) and I haven't been in touch with them yet, I cannot make any conclusions.

Regardless, taking all of this into account, what I did, I used LinkedIn to search for all entry level position profiles in all 3 firms in NL. Not a single non Dutch person. Now I might have made some errors or "overlooked" something, but I just don't see enough evidence to support that they are English friendly.

Now you might think omgoat start learning Dutch(I can't bring it to fluent in <1 years time especially not to C2!!!)... well see that's the thing, what I am actually doing is learning German, as I already have previous knowledge so my chances are much higher to be fluent in time for the interview, even though I would face the same problem with my schools not being known enough but the real problem I see is I don't actually feel like working in the DACH region (please correct me if I am wrong, would be appreciated haha) as from what I could read, hours are much tougher and the culture is much less informal than West/North... the last point really bothers me, but I've heard that Zurich is probably the best in DACH from that standpoint + the tax situation is more favorable too!

So guys and girls, what do you think is the true situation here? this isn't meant to be a rant (if I have offended anyone, I apologize in advance :) ) but just a brainstorm topic to figure out the likely course of action. I would really like to get on board in NL, but the only likely candidate is Bain here, and I am pretty confident that my language decision is the correct one as it opens doors in far more countries for a lot more opportunities, but also in consulting in general whilst thinking on an international level. I'm not about to spend my free hours learning a language to a sub par level so I could get told to fuck off by some douche bags who expect C2 but are not man enough to admit that they take only native speakers.

Sorry for the last "ranting" point, but I've had to fight prejudice all my life for every single thing I had to do.... I never wanted this, all I ever wanted was a nice place under the sun so to speak (decent job, decent whatever blabla), but soon I figured out that things don't work that way and that you have to be aggressive to take what you want and that 'decent' just isn't enough, and well yea then by applying myself I soon realize that I can perform better than others and now I just want to keep going. which is why its so incredibly frustrating to not be even able to network due to language requirements in a place for which "allegedly" English is sufficient!!!

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Comments (18)

May 1, 2020 - 2:19pm

Not knowing a language is not really a prejudice, is it. It's like a skill and if you don't have a skill to serve a particular market effectively, you don't really have a case.

Consulting is a service sector job, and you've to work--speak/ write--according to whatever client is comfortable with.

"all I ever wanted was a nice place under the sun so to speak (decent job, decent whatever blabla)" You can always work in those MBB office in a non-client facing role

May 1, 2020 - 2:38pm

We're way past "decent job"

and once again it is not me questioning language policies, but merely cross-referencing with everyone else.

It is a prejudice if you claim you accept English speakers yet you do not even want to interview me.

I don't want to end up chasing a pipe dream if the so called English office isn't an English office at all.

also wanted to validate whether my observation of DACH vs Nordic/Ams is right or wrong.

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May 5, 2020 - 7:28pm

(This is long, but I think it'd be helpful for the discussion)
I can give you some insight since I was more or less in the same situation years ago. Basically, you are right, for McKinsey and BCG, you need to be native-level fluent for their European offices. This particularly relevant for countries like France and Spain, but less so for Switzerland and Brussels (they will take you at C1, not C2... or so they claim at least). Generally, I think Switzerland and Brussels are better at not disqualifying you for a C1 because their own population speaks many languages. BCG Amsterdam does claim that they take english-only speakers, and having talked to a recruiter, this all checks out. However, even in an office that claims to take only-English-speaking people, they want you to have a personal reason/connection for that specific office--something that ties you to that particular location. You can't just apply because you prefer Amsterdam yet you have never lived, worked, or studied there.. or to your point, have never networked there. They are very set on this, and this mentality is basically the reason why they seem to have "target schools" for specific offices. They are not really target schools; it's just that MBB does like to keep it regional. But (and this is a big but! and your window of opportunity) if they identified you as a desirable candidate in one office (through networking events), then you can leverage that on your favor to get the office you actually want, given that you have the language skills of course.

Now, I'll share with you my own experience and give you some hope! Due to personal reasons, I wanted to relocate to France, but at the time I was working in the US (American citizenship) and only had a B1 French level. I networked in the States and got an invitation to interview. Once I had that, I immediately started emailing all MBB European offices. BCG Brussels spoke with me to test my French level, and while they said it wasn't bad, I think they were just being nice. BCG Switzerland rejected me. In fact, BCG flat out told me that I had to interview for American offices because the European ones wouldn't take me (they phrased it nicer). McKinsey was more open to the idea; the recruiters really try to help me make it happen with their European offices, but only McKinsey London accepted to have me. Bain, on the other hand, was surprisingly completely on board. I didn't get a chance to connect with Bain European offices since my efforts were split between BCG and McKinsey, so I sent my application cold (but with some networking contacts in the States). Bain Brussels (only English language requirement) accepted to interview me and did a great job putting me in contact with only-English speaking consultants in their office to connect before my interview. At the end, unfortunately, I didn't pass round 2 of McKinsey London or Bain Brussels.

This was only possible because I had secured interviews will all 3 in the States. It is, in fact, actually your local office what matters the most on whether or not you get an interview. If I lived in Paris, it would be the Paris office who gets my application first and decides whether I get an interview or not (regardless of office preferences). If they do decide I have potential and they want me, then they will send my application to my office preferences and they will decide whether to take me or not. Your local office is the gatekeeper. What this means is that you can't ignore networking heavily at your local office. They are your point of reference, and they can help you network with other offices if that's what you are interested on.

May 6, 2020 - 4:08am

This is relatively consistent with moves I have seen in Europe, for example a Paris recruit who then moved to the Nordics/ DACH without knowing the local language. Once a company wants you, they will be much more open to office changes.

Some offices have weird revolving door recruiting policies as well, like BCG DACH allowing you to join after working first in the Middle East. I sadly do not know much more about those, but maybe that could be relevant as well.

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May 6, 2020 - 10:19am

Didn't phrase it clearly then, my bad. I was also talking about recruiting, where people receive offers for a specific office and then "negotiate" their way into another geo.

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May 6, 2020 - 8:43am

we have had only English speaking consultants as service providers. while they did their job ok and we liked them, there is always a preference from a client to speak their own language, understand their culture and needs.

I personally don't care, but others actually do.

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May 6, 2020 - 11:56am

I'm guessing you are from Stockholm as I doubt Frankfurt would recruit english-only people but I can't shake the feeling that those consultants you talked about are viewed very differently even from inside the firm.

Simply the way you address them as "people who did their job ok and we liked them"

its like you are meant to say that instead of actually believing in it. no offense :)

May 6, 2020 - 3:27pm

Despite what you read online the US is much more open to immigrants in high level jobs than Europe. If a guy comes from Chile to work in MBB no one is going to get wrapped around the axel if he has an accent or makes a couple spelling or grammar mistakes. Good luck with that in Germany.

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May 6, 2020 - 7:01pm

I don't think that is entirely accurate. Anyone speaking German as well as internationals in US MBB offices speak English would have no problem in German MBB offices. Those people had top GPAs in top schools while doing it all in English. I'm not Italian but had plenty of interviews in Milan from Bocconi, even though my Italian was not quite perfect.

May 7, 2020 - 1:37am

I think his point was that Germans are quite sensitive when it comes to their own language and less susceptible to English. Have you ever been to Germany? DACH is completely different culture. I guess your overpriced MBA/target school never taught you that. I am inclined to agree with him.

and we are not talking here about MBA post entry as your Bocconi example describes. and please don't start dick measuring with these "top schools top GPA". There's a SHITLOAD of people who are just as good or even better with far limited resources and they get the shit end of the stick thanks to that type of thinking.

Nov 17, 2020 - 3:34pm

I have an internship experience in Amsterdam, and I can say that in most cases being English should be sufficient to get you through everything. I guess a B2 in Dutch should be good enough to deal with other daily things though. Most Dutchies are fine with talking in English as far as I'm aware

Dec 9, 2020 - 6:21pm

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