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How to Network for Management Consulting

Learn tips and tricks for networking so that you can land a coveted consulting interview, including who to reach out to, how to approach them, what not to do, and more.

October 14, 2022

Management consulting is one of the most sought-aft 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

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.

Once you actually start networking, be intentional with who 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

If you’re trying to get into consulting, there are very likely many people in your direct and extended networks who have experience in the industry. For this reason, it can be difficult to know who to target.

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.
  • 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? First and foremost, 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. Keep this in mind as you reach out.

You should also build the relationship far in advance of when you actually need help. It is a terrible idea to email them and say, “Please refer me, the deadline is next week.” If you can, reach out a year or more before recruiting season and start by learning about their experiences.

In addition to allowing the relationship to develop organically, this provides you with the opportunity to showcase your professionalism. In everything, though more so with consulting networking, you are being judged for every action. They are watching for whether you send follow-up notes, provide the Zoom Link ahead of time, show up to meetings punctually, etc.

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.

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.

Where Can I Start?

We know that applying for consulting jobs can be a very stressful experience. For the best guidance, work one-on-one with an expert Leland consulting coach. They have experience at some of the world’s best firms–including BCG, McKinsey, Bain, Accenture, LEK, and much more–and can provide guidance at any point in the recruiting process. Practice cases, strategize networking, learn about the firms from a first-hand perspective, and polish your resume with someone who’s been through the same things.

Below are some of our top recommendations, but you can browse them all here.

Final Note

Leland provides you with the content, community, and coaching that you need to build your dream consulting career and accomplish other ambitious goals. Sign up today to gain access to additional free resources, community events, small group classes, world-class coaching, and more.