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.
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