Non-Target to Bain/BCG Intern

1600mPenn's picture
Rank: Gorilla | 514

Hey WSO,

Since this site has been instrumental in helping me break into Consulting from a non-target, I wanted to share my experience with the community. Hopefully this post will be helpful to someone else looking to break in to Consulting, as many previous posts have been for me.

To provide some context, I'm a junior at a state flagship university. While it's a very respectable school, there is no OCR for any Consulting firms, Investment banks, etc. Despite this, I was able to network my way into interviews with LEK, Oliver Wyman, BCG, and Bain. I made it to the final round with all four firms, was waitlisted at LEK, and received offers from the other three. This summer, I'll be interning at an office of BCG/Bain, and I'll be the first undergrad in my school's history (to my knowledge) to do so. I say this to let anyone out there know that if you want it bad enough and work hard enough, it is possible to break in.

Here's how:

1. Start Networking Early and with a Purpose

I started networking in May for internship recruiting, which really kicked off for me in October. Throughout summer, I must have sent cold emails or LinkedIn messages to over 50 consultants. The format of these messages was something along the lines of

"Hi Mr. x, my name is x and I'm interested in your firm. I see we have x in common. I'd really love to set up a quick chat to talk about how you've gone from x thing we have in common to now working at your firm."

Surprisingly, my response rate was something like 70%. I attribute this to me just being honest about my interests in consulting, and not being afraid to ask for help. From an email, we'd agree to set up a call to chat. From there, since I was interning in my target city this summer, we'd get coffee. At the coffee meeting, most people would offer to write me a referral without me asking. That was cool by me.

Takeaway: Don't be afraid to ask for help! Networking freaks a ton of young people out, and it shouldn't! Most consultants would be happy to help out a kid they believe has potential. So just show them you're interested and have done your homework, and 9/10 times they'll be an advocate for you.

2. Be Relentless

My school is within driving distance of a major target (think Harvard, Wharton, Stanford). In September, I found out when their career fair was, and made the drive myself. Essentially, I snuck in and spoke to recruiters/consultants at every firm I was interested in. To be honest, I wasn't sure if they would be too keen on talking to me in that situation, but everyone was actually really impressed. I had multiple recruiters tell me that took a lot of balls, and they respected my tenacity. In fact, I met a consultant at BCG during the career fair who ended up referring me. I had no prior contact at BCG, and thanks to him I got my foot in the door, which eventually led to an offer.

Takeaway: Be bold and tenacious. Show some confidence in yourself, and take some risks. People respect the hustle, and if they don't, you don't want to be working for them anyway.

3. Practice Cases Until you Can Do Them in Your Sleep

As a non-target candidate, I recognized there may be a slight bias against me in an interviewer's mind, even if it's unintentional. The way to combat that for me was two-fold:
1. Connect during fit interviews (which I'll talk about later) and
2. Crush the case.

In order to crush the case, I doubled down on case interview practice all summer/fall. I began by getting my hands on all the case prep books I could. I would recommend the WSO Consulting Case Interview Prep Pack and Case in Point. By the time I started interviewing, I completed over 60 live cases, gave an additional 60 to peers, and read through about 100 on my own. This may seem like overkill, but it helped me familiarize myself with the types of cases and some general patterns as to where each case was likely to go. Most of all, it helped me develop good habits and case instincts. When I interviewed for real, it felt like I had seen something similar to every case I did. This made a world of difference to me.

Takeaway: Practice practice practice. I was fortunate to have a few friends who were also pursuing consulting, so we were able to give cases to each other. Even if you don't, spend the money to get on preplounge and find partners like yourself. If you're serious about getting into consulting, it's worth the money.

4. Know your story and your experiences

Before I started interviewing, I spent a couple hours refining my story to make sure it encompassed "Why consulting, why x firm, and why me" all in one. It made mine a bit longer than I think most stories are, but by keeping it relevant I was able to keep the interviewers engaged the whole time. Each time I told my story, it got better and more refined. By this time, I was so confident in my story that if I got the "tell me about yourself questions" first (which happened about 50% of the time), I knew I was golden. I was immediately able to position myself as an interesting, likeable guy, and that made the rest of the interview go much more smoothly. It even made them more willing to roll with a small mistake on the case, of which I made a few.

In addition to that, I feel that I was able to answer most other fit questions pretty well by just having 5 rich stories to tell. For each story, I made sure I knew it well enough to tell it from a leadership side, a teamwork side, a failure side, and a creative side. By just having 5 stories to choose from, it made my life so much simpler in fit interviews. If you think 5 is too limited consider this: is it easier to order from an ice cream place with 10 flavor, or 100 flavors?

Takeaway: Know your story, and craft it in a way that paints a vivid image for your interviewer as to who you are, why you're interested in consulting AT THEIR FIRM, and why they should give you a shot. Additionally, keep 5-10 rich stories in mind that you can use to answer any fit question.

5. Use your backup interviews as practice

Before I interviewed with any consulting firm, I had gone through about 5 interviews with F500 companies that do recruit on my campus. Not that I was super interested in any of the companies, but I just wanted to get a few interviews under my belt before heading into the big ones in October. While this may be unfair to those companies, that practice helped me tremendously. They got rid of the interview butterflies and helped me just get calm and relaxed for later interviews.

Takeaway: Schedule some less important interviews before your consulting ones. They'll help you solidify your story, and gain confidence in your ability to interview.

6. Understand that the process is variable and unpredictable

As a non-target candidate, there was no set recruiting timeline for me. For my first round interview at Bain, they emailed me 3 days before and asked if I was available for a 1 hour timeslot. That was all the time they had for me, so I jumped on it. That interview was on a Monday, I found out I moved on the next day, and the final round was that Friday. These things can happen quickly, so just be ready to adjust your schedule accordingly.

Another point I want to make is that some firms may just not like you. I had Deloitte and Strategy& tell me they simply don't take non-targets for internships. I had an EM referral for McKinsey, and they still didn't want to interview me. I was rejected from some OCR positions, waitlisted at LEK, yet ended up received offers from both BCG and Bain. It's a variable process and that is why you need to increase your chances by networking with consultants at multiple firms.

Takeway: As a non-target, you're going to be at the mercy of recruiters. Be flexible, and don't take rejection personally. If you're truly good enough, you will land enough opportunities for you to have a chance to get that offer. Just keep keeping on.

That's all I have for you. I'm sure there will be people out there who disagree with some of what I've written, and that's fine too. Ultimately, it's about finding what works for you. This is what worked for me, and I hope it helps someone else too.

Mod Note (Andy): Throwback Thursday, this was originally posted Nov 2016

Comments (32)

Nov 26, 2016

As a fellow non-target student who made it to a tier 2 (Strategy&, LEK, Parthenon, etc.) - this post is great! You really hit on a lot of the key points of getting an offer. I almost tried sneaking into a target's career fair but never ended up pulling the trigger on that, glad it worked out for you though. But congrats and SB for the insightful post!

Nov 27, 2016

Thank you! And congrats to you on Strategy&, LEK, or Parthenon! All of those are incredible firms, and as a non-target you should feel proud.

Nov 27, 2016

thanks for sharing your story!

WSO's COO (Chief Operating Orangutan) | My Linkedin

Nov 27, 2016

Hard work pays off this is awesome.

The answer to your question is 1) network 2) get involved 3) beef up your resume 4) repeat -happypantsmcgee

WSO is not your personal search function.

Nov 27, 2016

Great story man. Congrats.

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Nov 27, 2016

What previous internships did you have and what was your gpa?

Nov 27, 2016

Thanks for the support, guys! To answer the question above, I have a 3.9 GPA and interned at a F500 last summer. My internship experience was definitely a positive and I had a lot to say about it during interviews, but it wasn't anything eye-popping.

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Nov 27, 2016

It's encouraged to learn social cues and a sense of mannerism. This will enhance your success on both pre- and pro- interview stages. If a prestigious firm does not hire you because of your school credentials, then that is to your benefit. A true realist and competitive recruiter hires based on merit, tenacity and the impressions a candidate exhibits. They extrapolate your future potential in regards to the contribution you might make by your individuality, your client relationships, and your mere existence at their floor.

In other words: don't be a fucking socially awkward dingbat. (Not sure why the bulk of my post is in red.)

Best Response
Nov 27, 2016

Goddamn I love reading stories like this. Good for you man - the part about sneaking into other school's recruiting resonated well with me. Coming from someone who was in an almost identical situation as yourself in terms of school, I will say this: pay it back. If someone cold emails you with intentions to network, always give them five minutes of your time at some point over the phone going forward. Congratulations.

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Nov 27, 2016

Absolutely. I won't ever forget where I'm from. Great advice.

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Nov 27, 2016

You will go places, because you believe.

Respect.

    • 1
Nov 28, 2016

Thank you for sharing. Congrats on your offer!

Nov 28, 2016

Congratulations! Your post was incredibly helpful and inspiring! I am in a bit of a similar situation as well. I am currently working in Advisory in a Big 4 as a first year. I also graduated from a non-target state school and I too was the only person from my school (that I know of ) to land an advisory position at a Big 4. During my senior year I also applied to MBB online (as I had no contacts at any of these firms) and surprisingly got a call back from McKinsey to take their initial round of tests. Sadly, I did not make it past the first round but now my next goal is to land a position at an MBB. What do you recommend doing to network with people apart from LinkedIn? I have reached out to recruiters , one alumni, and emailed my past professors and have not had much luck. I emailed a local college near where I work to see if I could potentially go to their networking events. Any tips as to how I can better network for MBBs?

Array
Nov 27, 2016

Thank you! Congrats to you as well on Big 4 Advisory; that's a great gig as well. What worked for me for MBB was focusing on actual consultants (Analysts, Associates, Consultants, Managers, etc.) as opposed to recruiting personnel or knowledge analysts. A lot of my contacts weren't even people I had a strong connection to. For example, I reached out to one guy at Bain because on his LinkedIn he listed PE projects, and I'm interested in PE. Once you get one connection at a firm, you'll suddenly have second degree connections to hundreds of people there. Don't be afraid to reach out to someone that isn't an alum. If you can find ANYTHING in common, go for it.

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Nov 28, 2016

Great post. Tried to PM you because I have a few questions -- not sure why WSO won't let me reach out.

Gimme the loot

Nov 27, 2016

I just tried to PM you as well, but mine wouldn't work either. Feel free to post any non-personal questions here!

Nov 29, 2016
1600mPenn:

In order to crush the case, I doubled down on case interview practice all summer/fall. By the time I started interviewing, I completed over 60 live cases, gave an additional 60 to peers, and read through about 100 on my own. This may seem like overkill, but it helped me familiarize myself with the types of cases and some general patterns as to where each case was likely to go. Most of all, it helped me develop good habits and case instincts. When I interviewed for real, it felt like I had seen something similar to every case I did. This made a world of difference to me.

Spot on. Facing similar cases during practice really helped, especially if they try to add a weird twist to it during the interview.

Nov 29, 2016

If it's all true, then very impressive. If the kid doesn't forget this kind of hustle, he'll go really far.

Dec 4, 2016

I interned at MBB over the summer coming from a regional target MBA program. My 2nd tier state school undergrad had an intern I met at the summer conference. This type of story is more common than people think because as you noted, that kind of hustle is very valuable and exists quite a bit outside of targets.

Nov 30, 2016

Great work! Resonates with me as I went through something very similar :)

Dec 1, 2016

What advice would you give to a fellow non-target in NYC with a not to stellar GPA (around 3.1)?

Nov 27, 2016

First, I'd say that all the advice from my original post still applies. Second, and this is obvious I know, but crush it this year in class to get that GPA up. Even if it means taking easier classes now and pushing off the harder classes until later, you need a solid GPA for full-time recruiting (or whatever you'll be doing next year).

For this upcoming summer, I'd try hard to go for smaller boutiques or even F500 positions. You want to get a brand name or interesting experience on your resume that will make someone want to refer you/interview you next year.

Since I personally don't have experience recruiting with a less-than-stellar GPA (I went into recruiting with a 3.9), I'll leave it open for others to comment as well.

Dec 2, 2016

Well done bro! Thanks for the post.

Dec 2, 2016

Thank you OP for this awesome insight. Can I inbox you with some specific questions? Thank you for doing this.

Nov 27, 2016

Absolutely!

Dec 6, 2016

I had a 3.0 going into junior year internship recruiting, got nothing (in hindsight, was very good in whipping me into full on crazy mode for the summer and fall semester of senior year) and settled for a BofA back office internship but made sure I picked a recognizable name.

By the time full time recruiting rolled around spring of senior year, I had pulled my gpa up to a 3.2 (good enough for to be considered as "honors" at my engineering school). I double downed on submitting my applications, both on campus and off, triple downed on networking. Most places, big and small, turned me down right away. But few places offered me a shot (probably due to the 3 big leadership positions I held on campus). Took zero chances with the interviews, and prepared hundreds of hours, 9 full stories, etc. The whole shabam. Ended up receiving offers from every firm I interviewed and got 3 FO offers, including an ibd.

TLDR: had shitty gpa, had to over-compensate with leadership roles, prepping for interviews, networking. ended up going from a BO role to a FO role at a 70bn fund. It's doable guys! (of course, if I the chance to do college again: not do engineering and studied harder)

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Dec 9, 2016

I think the most important takeaway of all is #6: Understand That The Process Is Variable And Unpredictable.

And I would take this even a step further and say that there are fewer internship spots than full time ones, so don't get discouraged by not landing the perfect summer job. Kill it at whatever internship you do land at, then use the near misses as fuel for the fire in preparing for full time recruitment.

Dec 27, 2016

If I'm looking for an internship do you think asking for an internship straight up in the cold-email is a good idea? It seems more direct but I've also heard that you should just ask for an informational interview kind of thing.

Which is better do you think?

Dec 6, 2016

latter

Nov 27, 2016

I would strongly advise against straight up asking for an internship in a cold email. Instead, tell then you're interested in learning more about them, their firm, and consulting. Get them on the phone/in person to chat.

If that chat is going well, you can say, "I'm really interested in the type of work you're doing at X and think the culture there seems to resonate with me. Now I'm wondering, what advice do you have for someone in my situation as far as getting a look for a job.internship?" This is when they'll typically offer too refer you.

Aug 29, 2018
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Jan 23, 2019
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