How to network at management consulting company presentations and information sessions

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I summarized the management consulting recruiting process in this post.

This is the beginning of my deep-dives on each piece of that recruiting process and will be focused on the “execution specifics” – showing you exactly how to master the recruiting process.

The overview:

Far more common if you’re currently in school (undergraduate, MBA) where consulting firms ranging from Boston Consulting Group to Mercerto Deloitte will swarm campuses, giving presentations and holding social mixers in an effort to publicize their firm and identify “high-potential” candidates. Handling a company presentation is like being the heavy favorite as a nationally ranked, Division 1 team in a game against an unranked, Division 2 team. In other words – there are 10,000 ways you can mess up, but very few ways to truly beat expectations.

Your goal:

  1. To make an impression on consultants involved in your recruiting process
  2. To gather valuable information about the company, its culture, and its people
  3. To develop firm contacts that will be sources of advice, interview and case prepand potential references

How to be prepared:

Follow my Key Do’s and Key Don’ts from this post. Dress sharp and avoid mingling with friends and prior associates. That’s 80% of the work.

Who are the important players:

The consultants – focus on getting to know the consultants, not the recruiters. While recruiters are helpful when you have questions about firm particulars, they play a limited role in the decision-making process when deciding who receives interviews and offers.

If this is a university information session, look for consultants from the same university and/or from nearby offices. These are good indicators of their involvement, and resulting influence, on your university’s recruiting process and applicant pool.

If you’re at a UC Berkeley campus mixer and find yourself speaking with a consultant from the Chicago office who graduated UPenn, you can bet they probably won’t be heavily involved with your application come decision-time.

This may seem too prescriptive for some, but avoid spending too much time with the most senior/white-haired consultants in the room. Most likely they are partner-level, and they come into contact with so many potential applicants that it’s hard to separate yourself from the pack unless you’re in an intimate setting or it’s a very long information session and they’re not swarmed with other applicants.

Exactly what to do at the information session:

Meet at least 4-5 consultants. Follow my above guidelines to choose whom.

When speaking with a consultant,

  1. Introduce yourself with your FULL NAME. This is the most important, as you want them to remember your name when they’re screening resumes.
  2. Ask several interesting, open-ended questions.
  3. Stay for no longer than 10 minutes, unless you have particularly good rapport.
  4. Shake hands at the end, and ask for a business card. No exceptions.

What questions you should ask:

Have solid, open-ended questions prepared. It’s ok to ask the same questions of different groups. Good ones include:

  • What was your background before working at Boston Consulting Group?
  • What’s been your most challenging project since joining Bain?
  • Have you noticed any significant changes affecting McKinsey since the economy started struggling?

The “quality bar” for these questions is lower than for post-interview questions, because there are idiots at company presentations who ask all sorts of silly/inane/time-occupying questions.

What you should do after the session’s over:

You now have 4-5 business cards. FOLLOW-UP THE NEXT DAY. It’s like dating – email them too soon, and they’ll be a little surprised. Take too long to email them, and they’ll forget.

Your email should:

  • Thank them for their time
  • Mention one or two topics you discussed with the consultant at the firm event
  • If you have a burning question, ask them. Otherwise, simply say “I hope to stay in touch with you during the recruiting process” and follow-up with them later if you have news to share (for instance, you were selected for an interview, you received an offer, etc.).
  • Include your full name and contact info in the signature.

What are the benefits to you:

  1. You’ve made a positive impression on several consultants who influence the resume screen and interview process.
  2. Through your questions, you’ve learned valuable lessons about the company, its employees, and the management consulting business. It’s ok to back out now if you realize consulting is not for you.
  3. You’ve begun building relationships with firm employees – which will be helpful should you have specific questions that recruiters can’t address; further, the majority are willing to help you prep for interviews and serve as unofficial mentors/guides through the recruiting process. Take advantage of this.

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