Networking is crucially important step of applying into management consulting firms such as McKinsey, BCG or Bain, especially if the candidate comes from a non-target school or has average grades. With referral form an insider, a candidate’s resume has a much higher chance of getting noticed by the screener and selected for interview or screening test.
Why is this the case? Who can you network with to maximize your chances – and where? How can you leverage your network effectively for an offer? This article is dedicated to answering all of these questions. Keep reading!
1. Why is networking important for consulting prep?
Networking is important because most consulting firms start with official referral systems to recruit the best candidates without expending too much effort. Candidates with a referral have higher chances of getting their CVs screened and landing interviews, hence higher chances to be offered jobs.
What are consulting referrals?
Consulting referrals are references consultants make to suitable candidates from their network. Together, they form an internal candidate review system, where a candidate’s suitability is rated based on the credibility of her referees and the number of referees willing to vouch for her.
Most consulting firms have official referral systems that follow this process:
#1: The consultant makes you a reference in the system, uploads your resume, and specify why she thinks you’re a suitable candidate.
#2: You may skip some steps in the recruiting process (CV screening at McKinsey, Test at Bain)
#3: The consultant gets a referral bonus ($) if you are offered a job
Do consulting referrals work?
Consulting referrals certainly work because consulting recruitment prioritize them to save resources. This is precisely why the referral system was created – so that firms can save time by utilizing their consultants’ judgements to filter out the best candidates to screen first.
For example, a big part of consulting recruitment involves case interviews conducted by managers – these interviews are expensive because they take away revenue-generating hours from said managers.
To make the most out of these expensive interviews, consulting firms highly favour candidates with positive reviews from inside the firm or the alumni network, or referrals, for short.
When to start networking for consulting prep (McKinsey, Bain, BCG)?
You should start networking for consulting prep early on. The recommended period is 6 months to one year before applying. However, the most important thing is to maintain your connections. This means starting too early is not advised, as it consumes time and effort better used for consulting skill prep.
The most effective way to get referrals is to build genuine, trust-based relationships, not collecting business cards or connections you barely know. Besides, building a reputation for good quality work is recommended.
All of these take time, so start getting involved in extra-curricular, work events, clubs, volunteering, etc. From this, you’ll form deeper connections, which leads to real opportunities.
2. Who to network with for consulting prep – and where?
Networking with senior consultants greatly increases a candidate’s selection chances. This is because the senior the consultant, the more weight his referrals will carry. If you can’t connect with seniors, leverage a handful of non-seniors with genuine mutual connections.
At McKinsey, for example, one referral from a Partner is equivalent to multiple referrals from non-partners. If you can’t get a referral from a Partner, be sure many non-partners in that office are willing to vouch for you.
Anyone from any practice can refer you, so don’t worry too much about applying for one practice while being referred by people from other practices.
Now that you know who best to network with, where can you find these people? There are four common ways to start networking, from most to least effective: networking through your school’s consulting clubs; networking through acquaintances, networking through events, and cold contacts.
Networking through your school’s consulting clubs
Often overlooked, the most effective way to network is to build connections with alumni at your school’s consulting clubs. Connections made through this channel are easy to access and maintain, giving you better chances of getting mentorship and referral.
Networking through acquaintances
Start with the consultants you know, followed by anyone your colleagues, friends and family can introduce. The biggest limitation is accessibility – you might not find any potential lead.
Networking through events
This method is most convenient for applicants from target schools. Consultants here are complete strangers, but they do expect applicants to approach them after the events, so you do have a higher chance than the next method.
Cold emailing/ cold calling
The least effective, but the most scalable method. You find them through LinkedIn or similar means, send emails to establish contact and request for a meeting. Most of the time, you will be rejected, but if you play the cards right, you will get someone on your side.
3. How to effectively network for consulting prep
The key ingredients to effective networking for consulting prep is good preparation and genuine engagements. These ingredients must be consistently maintained throughout your entire networking process, even from the first cold call or email.
Suppose, after all the early hard work, you’ve successfully secured a 30-minute call from a senior consultant at a Big 3 firm. This is your one chance of getting a referral from that senior. How do you make the most out of the call?
Follow these three steps:
Step 1: Prepare everything in advance
As with every step in the consulting recruitment process, preparation is key. Have these ready before the first call:
- Prepare a good pitch to open the conversation. Not too long, but on point. The speech should also be interesting for the consultant to ask further questions
- Prepare some not-so-generic questions regarding the job, culture, specific office, experience, etc
- Get your CV and cover letter ready
Step 2: Be engaging and genuinely interested
- Start the conversation nice and polite
- Relax, engage in a dialogue, make sure the topic you intend to discuss come up naturally and that both of you have a good time
- Show your genuine interests and fit by asking questions that get the senior to talk excitedly about her career, the company, the role, etc
Step 3: Indirectly ask for a referral
It’s a common practice, so people are used to getting these requests. But if you don’t ask for it, you might not get it. To be sure, ask friendly without any expectations, using one of these two strategies:
Strategy 1: Say you’re curious about how the referral works, ask for more information and see if the person will propose you to give a referral
Strategy 2: Ask for a case practice. Or ask if they know anyone who can practice. Very often it leads to referrals.
While networking is certainly important, getting into consulting requires extensive preparation on all other respects, from building resumes, sharpening math skills, to practicing tests and case interviews.
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