The 7 Steps to Becoming a Management Consultant
STep 3: Create a network of contacts
for each firm you are interested in
Now that you’ve got your elevator pitch down (see Step 2) you’re ready to start making contacts. Networking and building relationships is probably the most important thing you can do to land a job in consulting. Yes, you have to nail the interview, but you won’t get the chance if you aren’t invited to the interview in the first place. Firms receive hundreds, if not thousands, of resumes and applications. The truth is, no matter how strong your resume and how engaging your cover letter is, 90% of them look exactly the same. A recommendation or referral makes all the difference in ensuring your resume makes it through the initial screening. Now, make no mistake, your resume has to be flawless or no referral in the world is going to help you, but think of it as table stakes. Likely, most of your competition is going to have an equally strong resume, so the decision of who to invite to an interview usually comes down to whom they know. The good news is that even if you don’t know a soul, there are ample opportunities to build a network prior to submitting applications.
Two Methods to Building a Network
There are two main ways to make connections with potential firms: via official recruiting events and via informal informational interviews.
Method One: Official recruiting events
If you go to a larger school chances are most of the well-known firms participate in on-campus recruiting. Prior to actually holding interviews on campus, firms will hold an on-campus presentation where they provide an overview of the firm, their work, and the positions they are hiring for. These are typically held in the evening and consist of a short presentation followed by an open networking session. The firms will bring several consultants, typically alumni of the school, who are there to answer questions, talk about the company, and get to know you.
These events can be slightly chaotic and awkward as you could have 50-100 students angling to talk to 5-10 consultants. You’ll find some circles form around each consultant with eager students waiting to jump into the conversation. The key to these events is to find an opportunity to introduce yourself and engage one of the consultants. This is where the “hook” in your elevator pitch becomes crucial. You’ll also want to do some research prior to the event so that you can ask targeted questions specific to the firm and the work they do. This shows you’re interested in the company and have put the effort into doing your homework. Find out if they’ve recently published a book or whitepaper or research some of the case studies they publish on their website. This gives you the ability to ask very specific questions relevant to the firm that are much easier for a consultant to answer than a vague “what’s it like to work at XYZ firm?” or “tell me about a typical consulting engagement”. By asking specific questions you’re more likely to stand out and be remembered. Try to strike up an engaging conversation, but remember to be respectful of both the consultant’s time and your fellow students. They have lots of students to meet, so don’t trap them in a 45 minute conversation.
During the event you should look for the opportunity to speak with at least 2-3 consultants. After the event make sure to send an email thanking them for their time. If you’ve had a chance to establish a rapport, ask them if you could potentially have a follow up conversation, phone call or quick cup of coffee, to learn more about them and the company.
The on-campus presentation is a great opportunity to learn about a firm, meet potential consultants, and start to make a strong impression. However, it is difficult to build a strong network from official recruiting events alone. You’ll need to complement these with your own efforts at setting up informal informational interviews.
Method Two: Informational Interviews
The other major way to build a network is by doing the leg work yourself to find and reach out to consultants at firms you’re interested in. The easiest way to do this is to tap into your school’s alumni database. Your school likely has an active database of recent graduates that lists where they work and how to contact them. Sort through that database for alumni working at the firms you’re interested in. When you find one, send them an email mentioning that you’re a current student at XYZ University, are interested in going into consulting and was wondering if they would be willing to have a brief 10 minute phone call to answer some questions you had about their background and their experience at the firm (hence the term “informational” interview). You’ll have better luck reaching out to recent graduates than more senior partners, as they remember what it is like for students trying to make connections. Be prepared to only get a response from 1 out of every 10 emails you send, so it’s a little bit of a numbers game.
Once you do get a response, schedule time for a short phone call or a quick meeting at a coffee shop. On this call, go through your elevator pitch and then ask a couple of very specific questions that are relevant to both the consultant and the firm they work for. By now, you should have already done your research and have a good sense for what a consultant does and what that particular firm does, so don’t ask generic questions. This is your opportunity to both learn about firm and if it’s a good fit for you, as well as make an impression on the consultant. Try to find opportunities to get them talking about themselves rather than drone on about yourself the entire time. If you feel like the conversation’s gone well, ask if they think there is anyone else at the company you should speak with. Ideally, you can walk away from the conversation with 1-2 new contacts to reach out to. This is how you build a strong network.
In a perfect world, you will have already had a couple of good informational interviews before going to the on-campus presentation. That way, hopefully you already know some of the consultants attending which makes it that much easier to strike up a conversation and be introduced to even more consultants. After the on-campus event, continue informal networking to build more connections. Before application time, you want to be on a first name basis with at least 2-3 influential consultants at each of your target firms. When you do apply, mention in your cover letter that you spoke with so-and-so, who suggested submitting an application. If you’ve done the legwork and made the right impressions, you essentially skip the application screening process and go straight to the first interview.
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