Networking and expectations for a student from a target school?

Hi everyone, I've been lurking for a while but I'm technically new, so I apologize if I'm breaking any etiquette (and please let me know if I am). I'm a current sophomore at Princeton looking to go into management consulting, but I'm completely lost when it comes to actually making that happen beyond simply filling out applications– and as I've heard time and time again, this alone is not enough to get a position, especially at a top firm. Specifically, I have no idea how networking actually works. Friends and WSO posters always say "network," and I understand the textbook definition, but I'm utterly confused on how to put it into practice. What, in practical terms, is "networking?" I understand it's not just meeting people, it's establishing a relationship– but how would I go about doing that? Where do I find these people to network with in the first place? I'm not looking for a cut-and-dry guru method, just some realistic advice.

For context, I have no family network (I come from a lower class background and professional connections are literally nonexistent), so I can't simply ask around to see what opportunities there are; I'm pretty much starting from scratch. I am not a URM. I also don't know any friends with current consulting positions. I don't have any work/internship experience (and to be honest I don't know what this even means for top consulting firms, or what type of experience they're looking for), though I have leadership roles in various goal-oriented/project-based groups on campus, including one related to entrepreneurship. I have what I think is a solid GPA– 3.78, with an upward trend and high likelihood of increasing to 3.85/3.9 by the time I apply to jobs; this puts me in the top quintile of my class currently. I have a 1520/1600 SAT, though it's split 800 Verbal, 720 Math (I heard MBB only accepts applicants with 750+ on the math section).

Given that I come from a target and given my stats, could anyone offer me advice (in practical, non-vague terms) on how to start networking/who to look for/how to contact them? Thanks in advance!

Comments (10)

Jan 24, 2016 - 9:13pm

When companies come on campus, just have normal conversations with the folks who come in. Grab a few business cards and connect with them after the events for more of a one on one over the phone.

Also try to find upper class men who have interned or will be working with the companies your targeting. They'll likely be at the company events anyway.

Jan 25, 2016 - 7:46am

As a sophomore, the on-campus events that are occurring aren't geared to you yet. Maybe that makes you feel a bit behind, but I wouldn't be worried. Just get connected with the career center to make sure you are aware of the info sessions for the various firms; that's your entry point. Attend, talk to people, get their info and follow up. That's all you have to do at a basic level; the rest sorts itself out.

If you want to be more aggressive, find out who the juniors/seniors are who have interned or landed full time roles and go grab coffee with them. Get the info you need and hopefully build some rapport; they will often bring you deeper into the firm. Start with those two steps and you'll be fine.

Jan 25, 2016 - 2:43pm

First off, relax. The biggest mistake I see people make from my side of the table (currently at one of the MBBs) is being way too overeager in an attempt to differentiate yourself and coming across as a weirdo.

Networking matters a lot less than you think for entry-level MBB jobs. Broadly-speaking, networking is a valuable skill, but when it comes to MBB, the process is a lot more standardized, and who you know isn't really that important. As a student at a top target with a solid GPA and test scores (whoever told you 750+ is the bar is an idiot or a liar), your odds of at least getting an interview are very good if you don't come across as a total dweeb who would be miserable to work with. For students who don't have a clear and compelling resume (either they're at a non-target or they don't have a strong GPA/work experience), networking becomes a lot more important to get a foot in the door, but you're just fine. Don't stress out about getting the GPA to 3.85 vs. 3.78 either, because honestly, it won't matter. Fractions of GPA points will not impact your odds.

What I would recommend doing are two things: 1) demonstrate that you're interested in consulting by joining business/consulting ECs on campus. This should also help with the networking component as you'll meet upperclassmen going to the top firms. 2) start practicing cases. The earlier the better. My understanding of Princeton from talking to friends there is students there are generally woefully underprepared for the interview process. They're obviously smart, but they don't start thinking about jobs until way too late in the process and just aren't ready to do cases since there's no established business program.

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Jan 25, 2016 - 3:08pm

Hah, like @humblebot" said, don't stress yourself. I'm sure that's easier said than done at a place like Princeton, but you have to remember that regardless of your background or anything else you deserve to be there. Self confidence goes a long way further than anxiety.

Most 19 and 20 year olds don't know how to network. I've seen so many act far too informal in speaking to professionals or far too formal. Most lower class people don't know how to network either for a variety of social reasons. Luckily, you can overcome both of these rather easily.

"Networking" is just making a connection with someone. That's it. When you talk to your favorite professor in his office and the conversation drifts from class topics to life topics, that's networking. When you have a guest speaker present in one of your classes and you shoot her an email after saying you appreciated it, that's networking. Hell, especially at Princeton, when you go out and get shitfaced with your classmates, some of whom are worth billions and will probably be CEOs and Senators some day, that's networking. Again, it's just making friends and personal connections.

What you can do when you are your age is just get more used to it. When companies come for OCI, even if you're "too young," talk to them. If there is an internship fair, talk to them. If there is a job fair, talk to them. Send thank you emails. Offer to grab coffee with them sometime (if that's realistically possible.)

The entire purpose of a network is for something to think of you when they are in need. A plumber wants his name in a person's head first thing when that person's toilet breaks. A pizza place wants their name in a person's head first thing when that person is hungry. Likewise, "networking" in your case is getting to know people well enough so when they need an intern they think of you. As someone who has hired people and sat on hiring committees, you would be amazed at the sort of things that get a person into the "interview" pile versus the "reject" pile.

Commercial Real Estate Developer

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Best Response
Jan 31, 2016 - 5:23pm

CRE gave you some great advice already. So I echo his thoughts.

I will also add:
1) Find a way to be unique and to brand yourself, then be able to tell that story very succinctly. Recruiters sift through hundreds of resumes and meet hundreds of people. We often heard them talk about people referring to their experiences (the ex NFL player, the guy who was an airline pilot, the nonprofit entrepreneur, etc.)
2) Networking events - don't hog the airtime. I can't tell you how many times I was in the awkward circle of death with 15 aspiring consultants all waiting their turn to ask a question and there was the one douche who kept talking about himself and dominated the conversation. Don't do that. Be courteous to your peers.
3) Networking events - you're an undergrad. It's ok to take the posture that you are exploring career avenues and to ask educated, informed questions as such. You don't have to come across as 100% all in on consulting guy.
4) Re: your question on internships: Do what you are passionate about. I know that at McK they would much rather you pursue what you are interested in, then articulate why consulting is a good next step for you rather than tick the boxes on what you think will get you in the door as a consultant.

Jan 25, 2016 - 9:00pm

Thanks so much for the responses, everyone. I really appreciate the advice, and feel much more confident knowing that there are things in my control– and finally a straightforward explanation of what networking actually is! I do have a question about internships, though. Is any sort of internship acceptable as "work experience," so long as it is challenging and I can argue how it has prepared me for various aspects of consulting, or do firms only care about business-related internships exclusively? The internships I have available are mostly public policy research, and I would actually be doing all of the research itself, not just sifting through data or shadowing employees, so in my mind this is "real" work experience– but I have no idea if firms give any weight to non-business internships.

Jan 25, 2016 - 10:40pm

In general consulting firms tend to be a bit less picky about what type of experiences you've had, so long as it's at a high level. I can only imagine this is the case even more so at a school like Princeton.

That said, is there a reason those are the only internships available to you? I would imagine you would have all kinds of opportunities to do a solid business related internship even as a sophomore.

Feb 5, 2016 - 2:26pm

Thanks for getting back to me. I realize now I wasn't quite clear on what I meant by "available." I simply meant that I hadn't applied to any business internships, and it seems that most of the application windows are already closed. Meanwhile, NGOs and think-tanks, which offer internships where I'd have a much more hands-on and (I believe) more rewarding and valuable experiences, have either made me offers or have not yet finished accepting applications. So I suppose it's a mix of not being sure what opportunities are still out there (and whether any that would accept a non-quant major with little experience such as myself would look good in the eyes of consulting firms), and just honestly not caring much about the opportunities compared to internships where I'd actually be doing research and developing a much deeper set of skills that I think would apply to a wide range of disciplines and entry-level jobs. But of course all of this is conjecture, since I don't really know what firms want to see– would it be better for me to take an offer at an influential think tank or NGO and conduct independent research and potentially influence real policy, or do a more immediately relevant internship at a non-influential business where I'd be doing more clerical work? I see value in both (personal/intellectual development vs. learning how a business works in real terms), but I'm not sure which would be better, because I'm not sure how hiring managers would weigh them.

Feb 6, 2016 - 1:41pm

That kind of stuff should be fine, especially for a sophomore internship . Multiple people who started at my MBB office with me had only that type of experience prior. My two cents on networking would be that a one or two "deep" connections trump multiple "shallow" ones, so while networking through official channels is good, don't neglect just doing things on campus that will help you meet upperclassman and make friends with them.

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