Every year, hundreds of our European friends are interested in applying to work in U.S based consulting firms. And for good reason: the San Francisco Bay Area is the tech capital of the world, and almost every consulting firm and Fortune 500 client is based in the U.S. (Plus, is there anything quite like a hearty American breakfast?). But what’s the best way to apply for U.S. consulting jobs from European business schools?
However, there are some major hurdles to clear for those of you coming from European business schools. Unlike the early 20th century, you can’t just hop on a boat and stand in line on Ellis Island; gaining a work visa or citizenship is a bit more of a process these days. So unless your daddy plays golf with a friend at The U.S Department of State, odds are you don’t have work authorization and aren’t legally able to work in the U.S.
But never fear, hope is not dead! There are a few things you can do now to position yourself for a consulting job in the U.S.
1.) Study abroad/summer internships – The first option is to get U.S. work experience before or during B-school. This is, honestly, a must. It will show that you are resourceful and creative, and without any kind of U.S. work or school experience your resume will not get a second glance. There are a few ways that you can get “USA” on your resume. One approach is a study abroad program through your university or MBA program, which would be less desirable than other options, but would still be a great opportunity to network with people who can give you a leg up later on down the road.
Another way to gain U.S. work experience is to take a summer internship with any brand name U.S. company that will sponsor you. While U.S. offices of consulting firms won’t typically take international interns, other types of companies aren’t always as strict. If you’re persistent (read: network), this is not as hard as it seems, and is better experience than an exchange or study abroad program. This will also ensure that you have some kind of connection to the U.S. city you want to come back and work in longer-term.
2.) Network, network, network – The second option is to network with alumni of your particular program. We can guarantee that there are alumni from your program who have achieved the seemingly impossible task of getting hired in a U.S. office (we help them every year!). These people are your best resource: network with them, ask them for advice and a formal recommendation. One thing is true about almost every consultant: someone helped them get to where they’re at. Because of this, consultants are generally very “pay it forward” people, willing to help those coming after them. And if that’s not enough, many firms offer bonuses to current consultants who recommend someone who ends up getting hired.
One tip about networking with alumni – don’t wait to do it! The moment you decide to try to get hired in the U.S., reach out to them. If you wait until recruiting season, it’s already too late. Remember, these people will be insanely busy, and it may take a few weeks just to hear back from them, so it would be beneficial to have built a relationship with them already. Tip: Find them on LinkedIn, but do not reach out there! You want to email them directly, and make sure it is evident you are a strong candidate right from the top. That means no negatives in your initial email! You want to show them why you are head and shoulders above U.S. based candidates, so make sure your resume and cover letter are ready to drop at a moment’s notice!
3.) Skill up! – The third route is to have a skill you excel in. Something that makes you stand out from the masses of applicants. Coding, supply chain, STEM related fields, or business analytics are all great areas to skill-up in. However, be warned: this is the most difficult out of the all the options if you’re at the beginning of the process. However, if you are already the Godfather of a certain skill, this is your best bet to find your way inside a U.S. office. There’s really not too much more to say about this one other than experts stand out. To paraphrase Malcolm Gladwell, all you need to do is find something that you like and practice for 10,000 hours. It’s that easy… well, it’s that simple.
Bonus strategy – be sneaky: Land an offer in a European office and then transfer stateside. While this is the most surefire option, it is also the most long-term. Be prepared to wait years for your transfer, and even then, you’ll have to be a top performer the firm thinks will be useful in another office to get your transfer approved.
No matter how you look at it, due to the high availability of qualified U.S. candidates, landing an offer at a U.S. office as a European B-School grad will take hard work and long-term planning. However, for those of you willing to go through the process, the payoffs can be immense.