University Career Fairs: How Not To Fuck Up

It's that time of the year again. At least here in Europe, university career fairs are starting and an army of eager potential candidates is approaching. As someone who has attended a few of these from both the student side and the employer side, here are some ways to help you not fuck up the first impression.

The Essentials

Know what we do: This may seem obvious to many but I can't tell you the number of times people have said "oh cool, strategy consulting - like McKinsey!". No. There are many types of consulting out there but the three main ones (technology, strategy and management) are quite different both in terms of work scope, client types and seniority of client contacts. Each have varying dynamics which will affect how much or little you like this job and your day-to-day tasks. At the very least, I except you to know which bucket we are in and some basics about that type of consulting. Ask anything else; that's what I'm there for.

Not too hot, not too cold but just right: There is an art to asking questions. Being too vague or specific won't help either of us so it is key you find a middle ground. What is too vague? Rocking up and asking "so what do you guys do?". What is too specific? "So I saw that you guys implemented Strategy A for a client in Industry X one time which yielded 1,2 and 3 Results - can you tell me more about that?". If the firm has more than 30 people I can guarantee the chances of someone remembering such as specific detail of an engagement are slim. Asking about projects done by industry, geography or strategy type make it more likely I can come up with a few examples and show more the project variety we offer. This also gives you a better idea of the project mix you'll be likely to do yourself.

Make yourself memorable, without being remembered as THAT PERSON: I understand you're there to make a good first impression and that at times the nerves get in the way of making that initial chat go as smoothly as you wanted, but don't take this as a chance to ONLY talk about yourself - you'll come off as arrogant and cocky. Here's a tip; if you give me one unprompted fact about you, wait for me to ask a follow up. If I don't, stop giving me unprompted facts. Also, this is not a chance for you to recite your full CV, we have a very simple online portal for that and it can wait. What you can do is tell me something unique about you (skill, language, hobby etc.) which will help me remember you by. When I'm screening dozens of CVs I'll be more likely to take a longer look at yours if I spot the thing you told me about. If we chat about say... Skiing for 2-3 minutes and I see you're good at it or have some awards for it, I'll be likely to remember you as "skiing guy/girl". But what if we don't share a hobby? Not to worry; I don't give a flying fuck about badminton but if you told me you almost went pro and I see that on your CV then I'll remember you. But what if I have nothing unique? You do. This isn't one of those touchy feely life coach messages but I guarantee you have something pretty unique - just think long and hard about what is is and use it to market yourself better.

Following up: Following up can be tricky but generally here is how I see it. If I gave you my card or contact detail or spoke to you for quite a while and suggested we connect then let's connect. If you were in a group of 5 people listening to me ramble on about the work we do, feel free to add me on LinkedIn but chances are I may not remember you. Sending me a personal LinkedIn message is fine; you just have to figure out whether you were memorable enough for me to remember. DO NOT cold email me; I won't be impressed with your investigative skills of finding my email if I didn't give it to you and it'll only end with me putting your LinkedIn photo in a "Creep" frame in the HR office. If for some reason I don't have business cards and ask for your details, I promise I will follow up. If I promised and haven't done so in a week, ping me on LinkedIn.

Personal Preferences

Business Cards: I personally find it a bit strange if a pure university student has business cards. If you work on the side, have your own company or anything similar then feel free to give me a business card. If all you do is study, it just seems a bit strange to me. Give me your email by asking to connect on LinkedIn or for me to give you mine.

Ask HR-targeted Question: I am 90% sure I won't know or can't disclose the answer but it can't hurt to ask. If I don't know, I'll email to give you the HR contact details so you can ask them directly. Yes, this includes VISA sponsorship and yes this includes compensation. Ask about compensation carefully. Don't walk up going "Yo, how big is the signing bonus?" - Fuck you, that's how big it is. More along the lines of "I've generally found that boutiques pay below average when compared to MBBs or T2s - can you comment on which you are generally more aligned with in terms of total compensation?". I find nothing wrong with questions like that, but try to feel out the person before asking.

Ask/know about where we are located: This may be a very personal preference, but if you don't know our main locations, you haven't done your research. I'm not saying that you need to have chosen one in your mind to apply to right now with rock solid reasons, but perhaps have an indication of why you want to work in X, Y or Z and know that we have these locations (at least at the country level). If a firm has less than 15 offices, you should know the countries they are in at the very least. It's also a super easy thing to ask questions about and it makes you seem interesting e.g. "I saw you have 2 West Coast Offices and 3 East Coast ones - is there a large difference in the client types each office sees or do you have a more collaborative company staffing model?". Impressed.

Feel free to ask/know about our competitor: Not in the sense of referrals; If I'm at McKinsey, don't ask me "Hey, I bombed my interview with BCG, do you know anyone at Bain?". It seems ridiculous but people can behave like this. If you know who our main competitors are, feel free to ask some targeted questions about how we compare, the work we do and how we differ in our work approach. I'm there to sell you the company so it's fair you ask me about day-to-day things also in comparison to other firms. If I ask you about what other companies you're applying to, feel free to be honest with me. No one applies to 1 company only, so if you're applying to our competitor too feel free to disclose that and I will try to sell my firm even more to show you what the main differences are. I can't shit on my competitor or speculate on their shortcomings so don't ask me about that, but ask me in what ways we differ (this relates to my second point - you should know some of the basic differences).

At the end of it all, you're there to try and find a job and we are there to scout talent/sell the company. If you make your time during those 2-3 minutes we have to chat, it'll make all the difference when it comes to applying.

Happy Hunting!

Comments (7)

Sep 30, 2019

Feel free to shit me, but I just think it's just straight bullshit that they are called "fairs". It is a deceiving term that leads me to think I am in for some fun instead of an "interview before the interview".

    • 1
Oct 1, 2019

I guess it depends how you take then. Don't see the term 'fair' as something to have fun at but more as 'exhibition' where you get to learn quickly about many different firms

Oct 2, 2019

It is though. The influence of these events on your chances of getting an offer are near zero and so is the likelihood that the consultant you spoke to can remember you the moment you walk away. Only the close list events are evaluative to some degree, and there again its minimal, unless you really stand out in the positive or negative sense.


Oct 2, 2019

Surprised by the amount of MS; it's a pretty decent post imho.

Oct 2, 2019

I'm honestly curious to hear from either a student or fellow consultant why they threw MS and where they disagree

  • Analyst 1 in IB - Gen
Oct 4, 2019
The Pharma Guy:

DO NOT cold email me; I won't be impressed with your investigative skills of finding my email if I didn't give it to you and it'll only end with me putting your LinkedIn photo in a "Creep" frame in the HR office.

Is cold emailing not normal as part of consulting networking? Or is it just one of those differences between US and Europe? I know that in banking, its a normal and even expected part of getting your foot in the door, just a little surprised that it isn't similar in consulting.

Oct 4, 2019