Reader FAQ: Building your bridge to MBB, questionable hairstyles, and why we don’t date our posts

The good news keeps coming! Many of you are moving through interview rounds quicker than you thought you would – congrats!  Make sure you email us or comment on our 2012 Salaries Post as you get your offers – we’ll do a 2013 Salaries post later next month.

Take a few minutes to break, grab a cup of coffee, and enjoy this latest list of reader FAQs – it includes some interesting topics that may take you by surprise, like how to handle dreadlocks in the consulting world and keys for breaking into MBB from another consulting firm.

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Q:  I’m subscribed to your mailing list and have just been browsing the Consulting Roadmap – it’s brilliant, thanks for providing it free of charge! I also invested in The Consulting Bible. 

I have just completed my degree with Honors in IT Management for Business at a university in the UK. Next month I commence as an IT Analyst at a consulting firm in London.

My question is prompted by the fact that the firm I’m starting with is not among Vault’s top 50 firms, and the fact that my educational background is a poor fit (using the MC Roadmap, I gave myself 13 for education fit, 70 for experience due to 2 internships at IBM and SAS Institute, and leading a group of 26 students to the summit of Kilimanjaro).

In my position, what steps would you take to work towards landing an MBB management consulting role? My initial hunch is that setting the short- to mid- term goal of breaking into management consulting within the firm I’m starting with is a good step. Any advice you can provide would be greatly appreciated.

A:  Great question…let me elaborate a bit.

First, congrats on getting a role in IT consulting – having a professional job is the first step, so you’re on your way. Now, if you want to break into MBB, you have a few paths you can take.

1.  Current Firm + Networking – You can become a top performer at your current firm, gain relevant experience (in management consulting as much as possible, instead of IT consulting), and within the year apply to MBB – but only after networking and gaining an invite to apply. Firms in the UK are very Ox-Bridge centric, so you’ll need to be convincing in informational interviews – demonstrating why you’re capable and why the firms should take a look at you. (This is something our Networking Bible covers really well).

2.  Current Firm + Boutique Firm + Networking – As a top performer at your current firm, you can consider moving into a firm that’s on Vault’s Top 50 list – especially in a high-demand practice (like health care or energy consulting) – and then make the (less drastic) jump to MBB, also via networking. This approach is higher probability but longer term – it can be pursued in parallel with #1.

3.  Current Firm + Business School – Regardless of your approach, you might have a challenge breaking in now because you come from a non-target school. Your best bet, especially if you try 1 and 2 together, might be to look into a top business program (such as LSE or INSEAD).

Q:  I had a quick question about the power of name-dropping in cover letters. Is there a preferred amount of inside firm contacts to mention in your cover letter? Let’s say you have informational interviews/growing relationships with 4 consultants that are at your same level at any given MBB firm — would it be best to mention two of them? Three? When does it become too much?

A:  2-3 should be the max number – any more sound like a laundry list (you can’t possibly know them all well), and the goal is to first put the people first who know you best and would advocate for you – and secondarily, include those who are most senior. If they are asked about you, you want them to be able to add something material about how great you would be – it’s this pull that gets you into the first round, especially if they’re on the fence about you.

Q:   I’m an undergrad  this semester and would like to hear your take on the timing of mock interviews. From my vantage point I see the need for having the interview mocks as soon as possible – the sooner the better.

A:  We agree with you – the sooner the better. Generally, a good rule of thumb on interviews is that practice should begin at the latest by the time you submits your resume for consideration to the firm, and ideally 1-2 weeks prior.

Q:  I am a recent Engineering grad from a large public university in Canada with a 1-year internship at Dept. of National Defence. My position was primarily project management. I’ve also worked as an electrician for the past two summers.

My question is whether it is advantageous to include electrician experience on my resume or cover letter (or both)?  I understand that I can highlight my problem solving and client dealing skills through this but at the same time, it is not a corporate/office type job. Can you please provide suggestions?

A:  The experience as an electrician, while relevant in practice, probably should be left off the resume because of the implications it has for the perception of the reader. All of a sudden, instead of picturing you in a boardroom, they picture you in a cobweb filled attic looking at electrical boards. Not the mental image you want to convey!

The exception would be if you worked in a management or sales role and can share metrics – that could add power to the resume and show your leadership and business/entrepreneurial skills.

Q:  I was wondering what hairstyles may be acceptable for interviewing/working in management consulting. I was especially curious about acceptance of dreadlocks or tightly curled ethnic hair. I would appreciate any insight.

A:  Consulting firms charge hundreds of thousands of dollars per month for the services of a 4-8 member team. Literally. It’s astronomical, and you can imagine the microscope they are under when it comes to bringing results to the table. The clients are demanding, and so are the bosses.

As such, you can expect that the cultural environment – in contrast to, say, an edgy advertising firm that is charged with coming up with the newest, cutting-edge idea – is focused on proof and safety. It’s more along the lines of a stodgy legal firm than a PR firm, and more blue-shirt and slacks than tight jeans and hipster shoes.

Your hairstyle needs to make the interviewer feel comfortable with putting you in front of a senior level client at Coca-Cola, or P&G – most likely a Caucasian male in their mid-50s. Again, the goal is to make that senior client contact comfortable.

So…you’re going to need to stay away from anything in your appearance that is edgy, fringe, or otherwise questionable. If you’re asking me, you probably shouldn’t wear it to an interview. You’re looking for the Michelle Obama look – sleek, classy, and safe. Dreads are a definite no, as are piercings and most likely even facial hair – the rest is a matter for interpretation.

Q:  I am trying to decide whether or not to take a full-time audit offer. I’ve always been interested in consulting/advisory, but never thought that my grades were good enough. I go to a well-known private school in California with a cumulative GPA of 3.4. I had a decent internship experience, mainly accounting related. Should I even bother applying for a full time consulting position?

A:  It’s worth it, if you’re willing to put in the effort.  It will be an uphill battle for you, and your 2 main areas to focus on are networking and your resume (it has to powerfully tell the story of your professional and leadership experiences). Also, consider applying for boutique or second tier firms — they are a great place to start.

At the end of the day, you have nothing to lose and you have one of the greatest opportunities of your life – these top firms are coming to you.  Make the most of it.

Q:  You say not to “hand your resume to recruiters or consultants unless SPECIFICALLY ASKED.” I was curious about the reason for this. What if we have built a really good rapport but they never ask?  

I always see a bunch of people throw in their resumes. Wouldn’t I be at a disadvantage for not at least having my resume in their hands?

Also, I was curious why there aren’t any dates on the posts.

A:  We’re really splitting hairs here!  Of course, if you build rapport, it’s great to ask them if you can give them your resume, but some people just say, “here’s my resume.”  That’s offensive, obnoxious, and not savvy at all.  Consulting recruiters are abused by rabid job-seekers – just act like they are real people with real feelings, and make real judgement calls – and you’ll do well.

Our site is built as a blog, and a darn good one at that, but the advice we offer isn’t time-specific – it’s more durable and timeless. That’s why we don’t date our posts – to say we posted something 3 years ago doesn’t mean it’s out of date in our world.