How to network for a job – more so than even the case interview – is the key to landing offers at McKinsey, Bain, and BCG. When we share this insight with consulting candidates, many of them recoil in disbelief. They rightfully believe the consulting case interview to be the most challenging component of the recruiting process. But even before getting to the case interview, the first hurdle you must overcome is receiving an invitation for interviews. This is where learning how to network for a job comes in.
And even if it’s not the most challenging part of the process, it is the most important, because without this, there is no next part of the process!
Top consulting firms like McKinsey, Bain, and BCG receive thousands and thousands of applications per year. Only ~20-25% of applicants even make it to an interview. With the odds stacked against you, how do you ensure you are among them?
With competition growing increasingly fierce, learning how to network for a job has become more important than ever before. When done right, networking gives you an edge over other candidates and is a key component of the recruiting process that should not be overlooked. In fact, consulting firms like to talk to everyone they will eventually interview before making a final call on who makes the interview round. What does this mean? If you haven’t talked to someone, you seriously hinder your chances of passing the resume screen.
In addition, consultants, not HR, are in charge of the screening process at consulting firms, and they hire (from among the competent) those they like most.
Though you can alter the order of the steps below, here is our recommended 4-step approach to networking.
Step #1 – Perfect Your Consulting Resume
There are multiple reasons why perfecting your resume is the first priority when it comes to networking.
First…and Second Impressions
First, when you are networking for a job with someone at McKinsey, Bain, or BCG, your resume is your strong second impression. (Your writing style in a cold networking email is the first, and we’ll get to that later). If you send a strong consulting resume while networking, your chances of receiving an interview will vastly increase.
Why? Besides showcasing yourself as a competent, interesting candidate, many consulting firms offer bonuses to consultants who refer successful candidates. When you’re with a consultant, convincing him or her that you have the profile to navigate the interview process will exponentially increase your chances of getting a referral.
All About The Referral
Second, most consultants will expect you to send them a resume soon after you interact with them – and at least before an informational interview. Perfecting a resume takes time, and you should have your resume checked by peers and people you trust before sending it to a consultant. You can also have our expert team edit your resume. If you don’t have your resume ready, or you send them something that is not application-ready, the McKinsey, Bain, or BCG consultant will feel the burden of needing to help you too much. Before you network, you must showcase that talking to the consultant is the last necessary step you need before being ready to apply!
Remember, you want them to do one thing for you: refer you. Information is a bonus, helping with case interviews is a bonus. You don’t want any of those things to make them decide not to refer you. If you send them a resume that needs too much work, they’ll write you off right away.
For expert help, work with us on a consulting resume edit.
You As A Story
Lastly, working on your resume helps you craft your story. When working on your resume, you will be forced to think in detail about what you did – and achieved – in your various experiences. One of the points of feedback we most often receive from our editing clients is that we pushed them to rethink their experience in new ways. This helped them prepare for both networking encounters and fit interviews.
Step #2 – Know Your Ask
Before you send out any emails to consultants, you should have a clear sense of why you are reaching out to them in the first place. Are you just conducting research on the firm/office? Or are you reaching out to make a specific ask? This is key when learning how to network for a job.
If you don’t know which one you should focus on, you might be surprised by our recommendation. Contrary to popular opinion, consultants actually want limited interaction with you, so a specific ask is preferable. Building a relationship is for later – once you’re actually working at McKinsey, Bain, or BCG.
Of course, there is a dance – you have to introduce yourself sufficiently so they have enough context to answer your ask. But in general, prospective McKinsey, Bain, and BCG consultants are too gentle and not direct enough.
Our networking playbook? Write one email, with at most one follow up. Ask for 10-15 minutes on the phone. Spend that time asking up to three specific questions, and end with a request for a referral. Then – follow up, again, a maximum of twice.
During networking calls or chats, one of the first things you’ll do is exchange introductions. Take this opportunity to set the agenda for the call – you reached out, now explain what you want to cover in every segment of the call. This will help the consultant track with where you are going, and conveys executive presence.
Step #3 – Reaching Out to Consultants
There are three main ways to reach out to consultants when properly learning how to network for a job. Here, we present these options in the order you should pursue them.
1) Reach out to People You Know
Whether you know them from high school, college, a prior professional work experience, or through another friend / connection, you should always start networking efforts with people you have a warm connection with. Having a personal introduction almost guarantees you a response.
Speaking with people you know also gives you an introduction to McKinsey, Bain, or BCG in a much more informal setting. Networking can be awkward and challenging, especially if you don’t have much experience. By practicing with people you know, you’ll ease the pressure on yourself. More importantly, you can comfortably ask them to refer you to other people at the firm so you can expand your outreach efforts.
If you are still in school, a great way to start building your network early is by joining business organizations on campus that have a successful track record of sending students to consulting firms. These organizations will have students still on campus who have gone through the consulting recruiting process; they can provide you with a wealth of information and open up their own networks to you.
Plus, if someone previously interned at McKinsey, Bain, or BCG and received an offer to return, they actually help directly with the recruiting process – which will ensure your application is fast-tracked.
2) Reach out to Alumni
Whether or not alumni historically have strong ties to your school, the commonality of having attended the same school is often enough to merit a response.
One of the best ways to find these alumni is by searching the company name and your school name (i.e. “McKinsey Stanford”) on LinkedIn. Repeat this action to develop a networking list for McKinsey, Bain, and BCG.
3) Cold Email
After you have exhausted the two methods above, start cold emailing (or emailing people you don’t know).
You’d be shocked at the number of people who emailed me cold while I was at Bain. Want to take a guess?
If you guessed 80 or 100, you would be in line with my most frequent answers from our on-site bootcamps. But surprisingly, only around 8 people per year cold-emailed me. And if their emails and profiles were solid, I’d make time to speak with them. Cold emailing doesn’t always result in a high hit rate, but don’t discount it because you think “everyone is doing it.” They’re not, and if you do it right, you can stand out.
While LinkedIn is the most effective platform to find consultants, don’t reach out via LinkedIn. LinkedIn is where consultants go to find their next job, not where they are thinking about their current job. Find names on LinkedIn, and then reach out via email. How do you find their emails? Figure out the firm’s email moniker (i.e. [email protected]) and plug their name in. We have published the email monikers of 150+ firms in our free Consulting Firm Directory.
Don’t want to research specific names? We’ve done it for you. With the purchase of our premium application package, you get access to a Networking Database with the contact info of 5,000 consultants at firms and offices worldwide. Get access today.
Don’t forget to follow the 2 / 2 / 2 rule when networking for a job. Don’t reach out to more than two consultants in any office at any firm at one time, over more than 2 weeks, or to any one consultant more than twice.
Not sure how to write a cold networking email? We wrote about it here.
Step #4 – Convert your reach-out to a referral
What to Talk About During Networking Calls and Coffee Chats
The ultimate goal of networking for a job at McKinsey, Bain, and BCG is to land a referral. That’s it. It may not happen during the first conversation, but the whole point of reaching out is to have someone open a door for you.
Networking phone calls and coffee chats are a chance for you to showcase who you are beyond your resume – who you are as a person. Consultants spend so much of each day with team members that it’s important to find candidates who they can envision themselves working with. With that said, here are a few tips when it comes to networking conversations:
- There’s no need to oversell yourself. Experienced consultants have seen it all from candidates, so don’t try to list all your awards and accomplishments at every chance you get. Instead, focus on making the conversation fun, enjoyable, and focused on them.
- Don’t be afraid to talk about non-work related topics. Consultants spend a lot of time working on their projects, so they are likely to find conversations about outside interests and hobbies more interesting. This will also help you stand out in the sea of candidates who tend to ask only work-related questions.
- Pay close attention to the consultant’s introduction. In all likelihood, you and the consultant will be exchanging introductions at the start of a call or over coffee. A good way to carry on the conversation is by asking follow-up questions to the consultant’s introduction to show you are paying attention and are interested in who the person is. (Ex: “That’s really interesting that you grew up in Australia, I’ve always wanted to visit. How do you feel like your upbringing there compares to the culture in the States?”)
- Do your research beforehand. You should never be asking questions that you can find the answers to online. Consultants are taking time out of their day to speak with you, and you should respect their time by asking questions that only people working at the firm can answer.
- Be positive and sound excited. Consultants work on serious tasks on a daily basis. Therefore, it’s always nice to speak with a candidate who is excited about potentially joining the consulting industry, so make sure to showcase your enthusiasm!
Networking at Info Sessions
You should always make sure to attend info sessions held by consulting firms on your campus. Info sessions provide a great opportunity for you to learn more about the unique characteristics of a firm as well as a chance to receive firsthand exposure to a company’s culture. Of course, most already know how valuable info sessions can be, and so you’ll often find yourself amongst a sea of candidates at these events. With all those people there, the most commonly asked question is: how do I make myself stand out?
To put it simply, if you’ve networked effectively beforehand, the info session becomes your opportunity to reconnect with someone, instead of worrying about standing out for the first time.
In the madness of on-campus recruiting, a familiar (friendly) face will stick out to consultants you’ve interacted with before. If you are starting the networking process at info sessions, focus on being as personable as possible during each conversation, and don’t be the person who asks a million questions. Be cheerful, be concise, and move on. While a good performance at an info session won’t land you an interview, being annoying will land you on the blacklist. Plan on reaching out for a follow-up conversation either over the phone or over coffee.
While chatting with each consultant, do your best to remember what you talked about (we suggest taking brief notes on your phone after each conversation) so you can mention what was discussed in your follow-up email. This will help jog the consultant’s memory and make you seem like a thoughtful candidate, increasing your chances of setting up that phone call or coffee chat, which are much better opportunities for you to meaningfully connect.
Thank You Emails
Almost every interaction with a consultant should result in a thank you email. When in doubt, send a thank you email, and adhere to the following guidelines:
- Send within 24 hours of the interaction. It’s just polite.
- Keep it concise. There’s no need to write an essay thanking the person for taking 30 minutes out of the day to speak with you. Keep the email to 3-5 sentences max.
- Double check for grammatical and spelling errors. The only way a thank you email can hurt you is if it contains grammatical errors. It helps to draft an email and look at it with a fresh pair of eyes an hour later.
Networking for a job is an important, and necessary, aspect of the recruiting process. While the case interview challenges your intellect and determines your technical fit for consulting, networking is how you show a firm that you can fit within its culture. When done correctly, speaking with the right people will give you a huge advantage in receiving an interview, and ultimately, an offer.