Networking for Consulting Prep: Why, When, Where, Who & How?

Networking is a crucially important step of applying into big management consulting firms such as McKinsey, BCG or Bain, especially if the candidate comes from a non-target school or has average grades. The ultimate goal is to get a referral from an insider to make a candidate’s resume have a much higher chance of getting selected.

However, If you are not acquainted with anyone in the consulting industry, networking from scratch is quite difficult. Who can you network with to maximize your chances – and where? How can you leverage your network effectively for an offer? This article is dedicated to answering all of these questions.

Why is networking important?

You have up-to-date recruitment information

Firstly, connecting with professionals and industry insiders allows aspiring consultants to stay informed with the latest job openings and hiring news in a firm or even in the field.  You also can gain access to valuable insider knowledge about consulting recruitment processes, interview techniques, and potential case study.

Gaining all of the accurate information in an early stage will give you a competitive edge, helping you in better prepare and adjust the strategy to the general scenario

You gain realistic insights

Different from the recruitment information, there is insight that is not publicly shown online. Still, an insider can provide that type of data. 

Thus, engaging with current consultants and alumni from consulting firms provides firsthand accounts of their experiences, challenges, and successes at a specific company. Consequently, you gain a deeper understanding of the consulting lifestyle, project engagements, and work culture of the firms or even the office.

You get powerful referrals

Last but not least, the primary goal of networking for consulting preparation is to secure a referral, as most consulting firms have official referral systems to identify top talent efficiently.

Consulting referrals are references consultants make to suitable candidates from their network. Together, they form an internal candidate review system, where a candidate’s suitability is rated based on the credibility of her/his referees and the number of referees willing to vouch for her.

Candidates who receive a referral have an advantage during the recruitment process, as their CVs are more likely to be screened, and they have a higher chance of landing interviews and job offers. 

By building strong connections and leveraging referrals, candidates can significantly enhance their chances of success in the competitive field of management consulting.


When to start networking? 

You should network at the earliest opportunity

The answer is quite straightforward: you should network at the earliest opportunity. Getting acquainted at an early stage provides more time to establish meaningful relationships and gather valuable information for your preparation.

However, the real significance lies in maintaining these connections consistently over time. Simply making early acquaintances will not be beneficial if you can't sustain those relationships until you apply for opportunities. 

To strike the right balance,  you will usually be recommended to aim for connections around 6 months to 1 year before applying. This is a reasonable period that allows you to cultivate and nurture relationships effectively while ensuring ample engagement. 

During this period, you still should actively participate in extracurricular activities, work events or community to broaden your network further. By doing so, you will increase your opportunities and create deeper connections that can greatly enhance your career prospects in management consulting.


Where can you network?


When it comes to networking for consulting, the first option that often comes to mind is leveraging your personal network. Depending on the strength of that relationship, reaching out to them about your intent to apply, asking for information, or seeking a referral can be relatively straightforward. 

On the other hand, if you don't personally know anyone within the firm, you can tap into the networks of your colleagues, friends, and family. This approach in any circumstances is still more effective than cold contacting consultants. 

However, keep in mind that these connections are second-degree, so building and nurturing those relationships may require a bit more effort. 

School’s events

If you are from a target school of consulting firms, you are in a fortunate position. Consulting firms, along with your school's career department, often host numerous networking events throughout the year, especially during the recruitment season. 

These events are designed to spark your interest in the firm, but the consultants present are also on the lookout for potential recruits. After the event, recruiters may ask the consultants for their observations about the attendees. 

This is your chance to shine! Engage in meaningful conversations, ask insightful questions that can't be easily found elsewhere, and seize the opportunity to build connections with the consultants present. 

Demonstrating genuine interest and making a positive impression can significantly enhance your chances of securing a valuable referral and progressing further in the recruitment process.

Consulting firms workshops

If you are not attending a target school or have already graduated, you do not have to worry. Many consulting firms conduct information sessions that are open to the public, not just limited to their target schools. They now want to open their scope and seek top talent from various sources. 

Keep a close eye on their updates and announcements to know about these sessions and register promptly. However, it's essential to be prepared, as these events often involve a more rigorous filtering process, such as resume screening. 

Online community

Unlike the channels above that require certain conditions to join, online communities offer a unique channel accessible to anyone interested in joining the consulting industry. These platforms bring together aspiring consultants and even some professionals already working in the field. 

Joining these communities allows you to expand your network, connect with a diverse group of individuals, and gain valuable insights into the industry and firms. 

Moreover, these communities serve as excellent resources for obtaining comprehensive information, answering your questions, and receiving guidance throughout your consulting journey

At your own workplace

I will separate colleagues into a separate section instead of grouping them in the “acquaintances” section above since referrals from colleagues and individuals within your workplace have different values in the pursuit of a consulting career. 

These individuals have firsthand experience working with you and understand your capabilities and skills. Securing a referral from them can be highly advantageous, as they can provide valuable insights about your potential as a consultant.

Even if they are not directly involved in the consulting industry, they may have connections or acquaintances within it, which can be a valuable gateway for you. For instance, those working in prominent corporations or startups that collaborate with consultants may be well-acquainted with professionals in the consulting field. 

Moreover, their endorsement of your abilities can make a strong impression on potential employers, which will boost your chances of successfully connecting and receiving a referral.


Who should you network with?

Anyone in the consulting industry will benefit you 

As mentioned above, to expand your network in the consulting field, consider reaching out to various people such as friends, relatives, school alumni, colleagues, etc. Even if these individuals aren't directly connected to consulting, they might know someone who is and could serve as an intermediary to introduce you. 

In the worst case, none of your acquaintances have such connections, so do not be discouraged because you can always meet new people 

Nevertheless, many people are afraid and wonder about not being able to get referrals because they do not have close relationships with people in the industry. This is a myth because in reality, referrals are often a mutual exchange of benefits

When a consultant, manager, or partner refers you to their company, even if you've recently become acquainted, they receive certain benefits:

  • The most obvious advantage is the referral bonus they receive once you pass certain rounds of the hiring process.
  • Secondly, by introducing a capable and skilled candidate, they enhance their reputation within the firm, leading to potential long-term benefits.
  • Lastly, recruiting a competent employee improves the overall quality of projects and the company, indirectly benefiting them when they refer talented individuals to the firm. 

The hierarchy of position in big consulting firms

One fact you should know is that the value of referrals from higher-ranking individuals like: seniors, managers, directors, or partners hold more significant weight in terms of reputation. Those who have been with the firm longer tend to wield greater influence in the recruitment process. 

In fact, a recommendation from a manager or partner might elevate your candidacy, allowing you to skip certain stages, such as the resume or online test round. While rare, there are cases where exceptional candidates impress bosses to the extent that they are directly recruited without undergoing multiple rounds. These instances, however, are the exception rather than the norm. 

In addition, consulting firms maintain a network of alumni, including former consultants and employees, making it beneficial to connect with anyone in the consulting industry. Building connections strategically can be advantageous. 

There is one tip for building connections is to aim to secure second-degree, third-degree, or even fourth-degree connections whenever possible. For instance, you may know an analyst at a firm and ask them to connect you with a consultant they know, maximizing your network reach. 

A few times like this, and you will increase the likelihood of obtaining referrals with higher value from someone with greater influence.


Strategy to effectively network for consulting prep

Step 1: Find a way to approach

I have outlined above who and where you can go for networking. However, successful networking in the consulting industry requires certain considerations and approaches. 

Consultants often have busy schedules, and not everyone may be willing or available to assist you. Hence, try to reach out to multiple potential contacts in order to increase the number of responses. The more people you meet, the more chances you will succeed. 

First impressions matter, so whether you approach them at an event or through cold contact, try to show sincerity and respect. Establishing yourself as a reputable individual will encourage them to engage with you. 

Once you have obtained their contact information and arranged a meeting, be flexible and accommodate their preferences. A face-to-face meeting is always the best, but if it's inconvenient for them, online meetings or video calls are also fine. 

Select the option that makes them most comfortable will foster a positive interaction. Remember, building relationships takes time, so take gradual steps to nurture connections and demonstrate your genuine interest in their expertise and insights.

Step 2: Prepare everything in advance

Once you have successfully set up a meeting with a potential contact, a thorough preparation becomes essential. Create a concise and well-structured plan for the conversation, keeping it focused and to the point. 

More importantly, prepare a list of thoughtful and not-so-generic questions in advance. These inquiries should cover topics such as the job, culture, experiences, or specific office. Each question should not be too long and complicated, instead, it should be straightforward and address your genuine concerns. 

Remember to conduct thorough research to avoid asking questions that can easily be found online, as this shows a lack of preparation. 

Additionally, have your materials, such as your resume or cover letter, ready for review if needed during the conversation. Being well-prepared will not only impress your contact but also ensure you make the most of the meeting time

Step 3: Be engaging, interested and show prestige

When having a conversation with consultants, you always need to be nice and polite, but you do not need to be too formal. The atmosphere can become too serious and the conversation can become boring. Consultants are people too and they also want to have an interesting conversation instead of a boring “class”

Relax and let the conversation flow naturally, allowing topics to come up organically and fostering a more intimate connection. Show genuine interest in their experiences by asking questions that excite them about their career, their company, and their role. 

However, amidst the relaxed atmosphere, always maintain your professionalism and credibility. Remember, when a consultant refers you, they are vouching for your credibility, so demonstrate your seriousness and trustworthiness. 

If the consultant likes you, sometimes you do not even have to ask for a referral and they will informally refer you without you even knowing! So, be authentic, likable, and professional to leave a lasting impression.

Step 4: Indirectly ask for a referral 

Finally, while referral is an important objective for the meeting, you should not push it too hard, instead, gently guide the conversation towards referral-related topics. 

Express your curiosity about how the referral process works and ask for more information, allowing the person to suggest providing a referral themselves. Alternatively, inquire about practicing case interviews or if they know anyone who could practice with you, as this often leads to referrals.

One thing you should keep in mind is that the value of a referral can differ depending on the firm and office. While some offices highly prioritize referrals, others may view them as a means for additional attention. 

Therefore, avoid being too assertive in seeking referrals, as it is essential to strike a balance and maintain a positive impression during the meeting.

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