Management consulting is one of the most sought-after industries for ambitious college graduates. It is very competitive for its high levels of compensation, interesting work, and fantastic exit opportunities.
In order to get a job at a top consulting firm, you have to know people. Networking for consulting is different than other, similar fields. From coffee chats to cases, the entire process is very formulaic. In this article, we’ll provide you with a guide to consulting networking, so that you’ll be in the best possible place when recruiting season does roll around.
What Do You Need to Break Into Consulting?
Before you start networking, however, it can be beneficial to get an idea of what a strong candidacy looks like. You won’t be jumping straight into cases or other technical prep. Also, if you want to start meeting people at major firms, you should be able to do so confidently.
From a macro point of view, this is how you can build a strong application from the beginning:
- Start early with your preparation
- Research all your target firms and the differences between them
- Network with industry professionals
- Maintain a high GPA and ACT/SAT
- Gain relevant work and leadership experience
- Communicate impact on your resume
- Take the cover letter seriously (if the firm requires one)
- Apply to several firms to cast a wide net
When you actually start putting together your application, you’ll need to weave all these parts together to create a compelling reason they should hire you. Your standout candidacy will not come from a jumble of accomplishments, but rather from how they interact with each other.
Networking Tips and Strategies for Consulting
How to Approach Networking
I decided I wanted to pursue a career in consulting when I was in my sophomore year of my undergraduate degree. I researched the industry and top firms and learned what a case interview meant. However, it wasn’t long before I realized that many consulting firms did not typically hire students from my university. There were only a few on-campus recruiting events for consulting and alumni who had successfully landed a consulting offer before me. I realized that in order to get my foot in the door and make sure my resume was considered, I needed to network effectively. This took extra effort but paid out in the end as I not only received an offer from one of my target firms, but also made close connections with consultants across firms that have become invaluable later on.
Prior to reaching out to people, there are a few things that you should do that will ensure you are going about the process both efficiently and effectively. First, figure out your motivations for pursuing consulting, and what attracts you to each firm. Insincerity is not difficult to spot, and knowing your “why” will help you present a cohesive story.
Relatedly, research the firms and the recruiting process so that you come off as informed and prepared. In addition to improving your overall experience if you do get hired, having background knowledge will give the recruiter another reason to help you. As a consultant who has hopped on many calls with prospective applicants, I can tell you that conversations about what an applicant is passionate about and why they are interested in our firm are much more compelling and impressive than answering questions that could be found on our website.
Once you actually start networking, be intentional with whom you reach out to as well as how you do so. Find connections and connections of connections that have a similar background to you so that you have some common ground on which to build a connection. This could include an alum of your school, or maybe someone from the same geographic area, or perhaps they studied the same, non-traditional subject in college. We’ll go into this in more detail below.
After you’ve reached out to them, come prepared with thoughtful questions. As a general rule of thumb, don’t ask questions that you could have found the answer to online, for example, specificities about the application, consulting timeline, etc. Instead, talk about their unique experience with the firm. How did recruiting from a non-Finance major effect the process? What would they have done differently? Similarly? With X background, what has their experience with the firm been?
Finally, after you’ve had a conversation, follow up with a thank you note. For any chance of continuing the relationship, you’ll want to show real gratitude to the consultant for their time.
How to Decide Who to Reach Out to
When I was first learning about the consulting industry, it at first felt like I did not know anyone who I could naturally reach out to. However, through several conversations with family and friends, and a quick search through LinkedIn, I quickly identified several people in my extended network who had experience in the industry.
When deciding who to reach out to, think about the following characteristics:
- A spectrum of roles: Ideally, you’ll want to reach out to people in a variety of stages within the company, from entry- to mid-level. It may be helpful to start with those in more junior roles, as they are more likely to remember being in your shoes and therefore may be more willing to take their time to chat with you. Depending on the firm, they may be more connected to the recruiting function, and would be a good person to ask more logistical questions or application advice in a low-risk setting. Once you have made a good connection with entry-level consultants, you can be more confident reaching out to those with more tenure.
- Natural connections: The consultants most likely to work with you are those the closest to your first connections, the people you know directly. In other words, try to find first or second connections at your target firms rather than cold reaching out to strangers.
- School alumni: School alumni are a great resource to use because you have a shared background from the very start.
- Consultants from a wide net of firms: In tangent with researching the different firms, talking to consultants from a wide variety of companies will give you a better idea of what working at the different ones would actually be like.
- Those who are a part of school networking teams: These are great people to reach out to because it is part of their job to talk to you. However, keep in mind that when recruiting season arrives, they will be swamped with requests. Start demonstrating your interest and building the relationship from early on so that it has time to naturally progress.
How to Reach Out to People
At this point, you know how you should go into networking and decide who to target. So, how do you actually go about contacting them?
It is a good idea to build the relationship far in advance of when you actually need help. It is a terrible idea to email a consultant and say, “Please refer me, the deadline is next week.” If you can, reach out six months or more before recruiting season and start by learning about their experiences. This allows the relationship to develop organically and provides you with the opportunity to maintain contact up to and beyond the time when applications are due. You will have a strengthened relationship with an increased likelihood of getting their referral or advice.
When you reach out, put yourself in the shoes of the consultant. Their time is very valuable to them; they’re likely traveling at least four days a week and are probably sleep-deprived. To keep this in mind, I suggest being friendly and concise with any communication you have with them (e.g., email, LinkedIn message), and if they agree to meet with you, schedule the call for 20-30 minutes or less.
Remember: when you are networking, consultants want to see that they can be friends with you and that you can be trusted when communicating with their colleagues, and ultimately, a client. Be friendly, approachable, and most importantly, professional. In everything, though more so with consulting networking, you are being judged for every action. They are watching to see if your language and emails are professional, if you provide the Zoom Link ahead of time, if you show up to meetings punctually, etc.
Make a good impression, and they will want to help you! The people you are reaching out to at consulting firms have a strong interest in finding people they like to work with.
What to Talk About in a Networking Conversation
When going into the conversation, recognize that the time you have is limited so you’ll need to prioritize what’s most important. The majority of that conversation’s content should come from homework you’ve done beforehand. Learn about the person and let them know why you chose them, in particular, to reach out to.
If you’ve followed the steps up to this point, then you’ll have chosen someone with some kind of similar background, interests, etc. and this can also help direct the conversation. As mentioned above, don’t talk about things you can find out on the internet. As one of our expert coaches, Jeremy S., says, “Always lead with genuine curiosity and authenticity.”
Consulting Networking: What NOT to Do
Now that we’ve covered how to successfully network for a role in consulting, we’ll talk about a few things that you should not do.
1. Over-pitch yourself
Because you know that you’re constantly being evaluated, it’s easy to go into networking conversations like a behavioral interview. For example, they ask a question about your background, and you immediately launch into a repetition of your resume. Don’t do this. Remember that it is not an interview, but rather a conversation.
Similarly, when responding to questions, don’t answer in a way that you think the consultant wants to hear. There is no correct answer during a coffee chat. They’re trying to get to know your background, interests, and goals, and not answering naturally will only hurt your candidacy later on.
2. Request too much
Oftentimes, if the first few coffee chats go well, the consultant/recruiter will offer to help with case prep. One faux pas that many applicants make here is taking advantage of that offer by requesting too much. It’s okay to take them up on it, but don’t ask for five cases over the next two weeks. This point relates to the general tip of being aware of the consultant’s time.
I would also be careful to not be too eager to request a referral or introduction to other colleagues. Hopefully, these referrals or introductions occur naturally. However, if you force this request, it can put the consultant in an uncomfortable position as they may not have the right relationships or it may not be the right timing for them.
4. Coming unprepared
Finding someone with a similar background and then getting them to accept a meeting is only the very, very beginning of networking for consulting. If you’ve started early, then the first meeting will primarily be for getting to know each other. Even then, you should come with topics to talk about and thoughtful questions. A consultant’s time is valuable and one way that you can show you recognize this is by making the most of every second.
Also, the questions you ask will be clear indicators of how prepared you are. They’ll know how much you looked into their background, the firm, the industry, and the recruiting process based on the topics you choose to talk about.
Emilie W. is an MBA Candidate at Harvard Business School. She was accepted as a deferred applicant her senior year in college, and worked at Oliver Wyman before matriculating. She is passionate about helping you shape the future you want! Book a FREE intro call with Emilie today!
Browse the rest of our consulting coaches here.
Here are some other articles you may find helpful:
- A Day in the Life of a Management Consultant
- An Expert’s Guide to Resumes: 5 Tips to Make You Stand Out
- Best 30 Free Resources to Get Into Management Consulting
- How to Negotiate Your Salary - with Example Emails
- Five Tips to Break Into Management Consulting
- From No Offers to Multiple Offers: How to Take Your Casing to the Next Level
- What to Major in for Consulting
- How to Succeed in a Consulting Career - An Expert Coach's Guide
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