Consulting Networking: How to Talk Your Way into an Interview

consuliting networking. guy doing research on consulting networking on his computer.
Liz Kenny
Liz Kenny

Former McKinsey

If you’ve applied for a consulting job any time after Netflix launched a streaming service, you’ve probably submitted a resume and cover letter through an online portal or sent an email to that elusive contact, [email protected] 

And if you’re like many of our clients, you wonder if anyone actually read that pithy observation you made about your leadership skills in your cover note. Or did it all just disappear into the ether?

My Consulting Offer is here to provide a systematic, proven approach to consulting networking that won’t leave you guessing. 

In this article, we’ll share our approach to help you get out of that huge stack of resumes on HR’s desk, and into the priority candidate pile so you can get that coveted first round consulting interview. 

We’ll also talk about why consulting networking is so important to getting your foot in the door at top firms. This is especially true for anyone who needs an extra nudge to get a first round interview – maybe you come from a non-target school, have an unusual background for the consulting industry, or your qualifications are weak.

Even if you’re at a target school, you may find these tips helpful if you want to connect with consultants at distant offices who can’t attend on-campus events, or with smaller firms who do not have a full-blown recruiting program on campus. 

In this article, we’ll discuss:

  • What networking is,
  • Why networking for consulting jobs is important,
  • When you should network,
  • Who you should network with,
  • Where to network for management consulting jobs, 
  • How to network, and
  • Lastly, we’ll provide our top 7 consulting networking tips.

By the end of this article, you’ll be ready to take the next steps that will land you your first consulting interview.

Let’s get started!

What is Networking?

If you’re reading this page, you probably already know that the way to get a consulting job is to ace your case interviews. We have a ton of content on this site to help you prepare for the case

But in order to get one of those sought-after case interview slots, you’ll need to do a great deal of consulting networking. The approach we outline here will increase your chances of getting an interview via a referral. 

Referrals have always been important to getting a job, but they’re even more important in the digital age. Electronic applications have increased the number of people applying for jobs, so recruiters can be overwhelmed when trying to select which candidates warrant an interview. 

When you get a referral, someone who has a connection to the company vouches for you and indicates that the firm should take a good close look at your application. A referral provides recruiters with confidence that you will be a good fit for the firm. 

At My Consulting Offer, we often compare consulting networking to dating. To be clear, there’s nothing romantic about it: no candlelit dinners or picnics in the park. 

Many of our clients start the process of consulting networking with the wrong expectations. They often ask for a referral before they really know someone, and more importantly, before that person knows them. That’s like asking someone to marry you on a first date.

Networking is a long-term game. Don’t expect big outcomes from one or two interactions.  

We’ve found that some of the mechanics of getting a date (and getting them to go out with you again) are similar to finding a way to connect with a consultant at one of your top firms. We’re here to demystify the approach to finding and connecting with consultants at your target firms in order to pave the way to a first round interview. 

Why Is Networking for Consulting Jobs Important?

guy doing research on consulting networking on his computer.

To get that coveted job at a top consulting firm, you often need at least one person, ideally two or three, who are incredibly excited for you to join their firm. 

If you’re at a target school and your qualifications leap off the Calibri font of your resume, you will probably snag a consulting interview with little effort.

But that doesn’t mean strong candidates should ignore networking. Through networking for consulting, you will learn a lot about a firm’s culture. This will help you come across as a great fit during interviews. 

And if you didn’t get a 4.0 G.P.A. at an Ivy League school while playing point in Olympic Water Polo and founding a new local chapter of the Red Cross? Me neither but I received an offer from McKinsey!

There is a great path if you are not at a target school or need some help to stand out: consulting networking.

To get an interview at one of your top choices, you should strive to connect with consultants who will champion you during the application process. At Bain, some people use the expression, “You need someone to pound the table for you.” 

Consulting firms receive so many applications and resumes, and there is always a set of applications that come with a referral. If your resume is in a referral pile, the threshold for getting an interview may be lower because someone is vouching for you. 

So let’s focus on how to get started with consulting networking.

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Consulting Networking: When Should You Do It?

The best time to begin management consulting networking is at the very beginning of your job search process, before you begin applying to firms. You will learn so much from the contacts you make that will improve your applications and allow you to tailor cover letters for each firm. And hopefully, someone will give you a referral to move your resume into the VIP pile.

 There are 3 stages to getting a consulting interview: 

  • Preparation and outreach, 
  • Building relationships, and 
  • Applying. 

In this article, we’ll highlight elements of the first and second stages of consulting networking. You can find more about the third stage, applying, in our consulting cover letter article. 

The first stage is all about research, preparing your resume, and reaching out to consultants who may be able to give you a referral so you land that interview. 

In this stage, you want to be comprehensive in your search for the firms that are the best fit for you. 

Many clients want to check out the big names, but there are some great boutique and niche firms that might be right up your alley. Check out a lot of firms so you don’t miss an opportunity to find the perfect fit. 

Keep track of all the firms you want to get to know in a spreadsheet so you can track your outreach and what you’re learning in one place. 

When you start reaching out to consultants, you’ll want to draft different types of emails for cold and warm connections. 

For warm connections, make sure to jog their memory about what you have in common. Share about any big life events that may have occurred since you last interacted. If you ran a marathon, started business school, or got married, they may be more inclined to engage to congratulate you, and you can go from there!

In a cold email, be sure to be succinct, polite, and curious to hear about their experience with the firm. Consultants who love their firm will be excited to share the great things about where they work.

You’ll want to have a polished draft of your resume ready before you start reaching out to consultants, just in case someone asks for it. 

Consulting Networking: Who Should You Network with?

There are two dimensions to consider when you’re looking at who to network with:

  1. Who you know (or can get to know) and
  2. What role they play at your target consulting firms. 

Let’s start with consultants or firm staff who you know or can get to know. You’ll want to connect with the following types of consultants who are in or adjacent to your network:

  • Friends who work at the firms you’re targeting,
  • Alumni from your college or business school who work at consulting firms,
  • Interest groups (your toastmaster’s group pays off again!),
  • Colleagues from past work who now work in consulting,
  • Representatives from the firms hosting networking events and meetings at your school or online, and
  • People who currently work at the firms you’re targeting and you are able to connect with.

 

Management consulting networking

You also want to think about what role these contacts play at your target firms. Consider the following: 

  • Stature at the firm: a higher up referral will get you out of the pile and priority attention. The generic hierarchy for consulting firms from most senior to junior is Partner, Principal, Manager, Consultant, Analyst (Pre-MBA), Non-Consulting Roles, 
  • Depth of your relationship: a 2-page note from an Analyst will be more valuable than a one-liner from a Manager,
  • Tenure: The longer someone has been at the firm, the more influence they have in recruiting,
  • Current employees: people who are still with the firm have more sway than people who have left,
  • Presence in your target office: consultants in the same office you’re applying to will typically be more plugged into the firm’s local recruiting process. If you know someone in a different office, you can get a referral across offices. 

These are just guiding principles – you don’t have to check every box above.

Networking for Consulting: Where Should You Do It?

Most consulting networking (outside of on-campus recruiting at target schools) takes place one-on-one. Relationships begin over email, then transition to phone calls. 

If you’re really hitting it off, they can lead to a coffee chat (or a Zoom call in this environment). 

Consultants are super-busy. While they often want to pass on their knowledge about the consulting industry, they have really limited time in the day.

Make your ‘ask’ easy to say yes to, like a 10-20 minute phone call at their convenience. Don’t ask for an hour of their time or give the impression that they ought to prepare any formal thoughts or insights. 

If you have something to offer them, include it in the message. For example, if they went to your college, you can mention how great the new building is or something that may catch their interest about their alma mater. 

Typically, a consultant can manage a 20-minute phone call during one of their commutes. During the Zoom era, it is easy to succumb to Zoom fatigue and consultants are often on video with their teams or clients all day. So don’t feel discouraged if you only connect over the phone.

No matter what, you want to be hyper-conscious of respecting a consultants’ time, and meet them where it is most convenient.

Consulting Networking: How to Do It

OK, so how do you get someone to “pound the table” for you to get you that first round interview? 

First, find out if you’re at a target school. Your career center will be able to tell you this or you can look up your school in McKinsey On Campus or a similar list for your other target firms.

If so, you’re in luck because the consultants will come to you. Your school’s recruiting team will set up large group presentations, one-on-one coffee chats, and small group chats. 

You can get ahead of this by learning about and connecting with recruiters your school/region’s recruiting team. For example, you can find the Bain team at Kellogg on Bain’s website. 

At Kellogg, we even had group case prep with an on-campus consultant. Take advantage of these sessions to find common interests with the consultants you meet!

If you’re not at a target school, you’re going to need some strategies to help you with consulting networking. Our approach is pretty straightforward: 

  • Connect with a lot of consultants across your target firms, 
  • Build relationships, and 
  • Ask for a referral (when appropriate). 

It may sound simple, but it is a lot of work.

1. Create a List of Management Consulting Firms to Target

How do you know which firms you want to target? 

You can use sites like Consultant Bench to identify all the consulting firms in a major metro city. We’ve also compiled lists of the top consulting firms and top life-science consulting firms you can apply to.

Review firm websites, Glassdoor reviews, etc., and narrow a list down to your top firms. 

Back to the dating analogy from earlier – if you only reach out to a few consultants and no one responds, it can be disheartening. If you reach out to a lot of consultants, you are likely to hear back from at least some of them. 

But don’t just go emailing the entire Seattle office of your target firm. That would show a lack of respect for consultants’ time, since you’re clearly just hoping to get anyone’s attention. 

If recruiters get wind of this, it may reflect poorly in your application. 

Create a plan to reach out to consultants who you have or might have a connection with. Reach out to a few at a time. If you don’t hear back, you can reach out to more consultants in that office. 

2. Connect with Consultants at Those Firms

You can use LinkedIn searches to find the kinds of contacts we mentioned above. You can either reach out directly to them on LinkedIn or use  RocketReach to locate their likely email address. 

It’s best to use a different message to reach out to cold contacts vs. warm contacts. 

The goal of this outreach is to ask some consultants to agree to an informational interview. 

Once you’ve made contact, it’s incredibly important to build a relationship with people based on common interests. If you can connect on a topic that you’re both passionate about, you’ll really shine and the consultant will remember you. 

Here’s an approach that was helpful for me when I was networking for consulting. At the time, I was also considering working in the travel industry. I would casually work that into conversation with consultants. If they didn’t have any travel experience, they’d either call someone over or agree to connect me with travel experts over email. 

They wanted their consultants to be able to share the difference between working as a consultant in travel, or directly in the industry. And maybe they also wanted to prove that consulting was better than industry. I was able to learn all about the travel practice and connect with many of the consultants who I’d work with on a travel project that summer. 

Don’t try to force a connection. Be your best-prepared self, and the right fit and firms will become clear. 

As you prepare your application, you’ll want to continue to build a relationship with your contacts. If there’s any relevant news about their firm, feel free to send a congratulations. Keep the email short and don’t force a response, and if you don’t hear back, be patient with your follow-ups since consultants are very busy and non-client emails are their last priority.

Ask for a Referral – Should You or Shouldn’t you?

The best-case scenario is that the consultant you’ve connected with several times will offer to make a referral for you! 

Don’t worry if they don’t offer. Be sure to let them know when you apply, and thank them for all their support as you prepared your application. If you’ve formed a solid connection, ask if they would be willing to give you a referral. 

Sometimes you don’t even have to ask for a referral and they will informally refer you without you even knowing! All this takes is for them to send a quick email to the recruiting team letting them know to look out for your application and this happens all the time behind the scenes!

Ultimately, if the consultant is going to refer you, they need to be confident they would want to work with you, and that they could trust you with an important part of any project they are working on. So be professional, curious, and engaging in your interactions.

And remember, no amount of networking will help if you fail your interviews. Invest time in networking, but not so much that you don’t have time to practice case interviews and prepare strong fit interview stories.

7 Tips for Effective Consulting Networking

1. Cast a wide net. 

Reach out to multiple potential contacts in order to increase the number of positive responses. You’re unlikely to get a 100% response rate, but those who respond are predisposed to help you. Be sure to reach out to consultants who are likely to respond and avoid sending an email blast to everyone in an office on the same day.

2. Identify the right mix of connections at a firm.

More senior and more in-depth referrals are likely to land you in the preferred resume pile. Current consultants have more sway than alumni.

3. Build relationships.

This is not a transactional process. If you ask for too much upfront, you’ll scare people off!

4. Make it easy for consultants to connect with you.

Consultants are very busy, so make your ‘ask’ super-easy to say yes to.

5. Focus on common interests.

You’ll really shine when you connect about things you’re passionate about. Consultants will remember you when you connect on things they care about.

6. Seek your champions.

That’s right: build a relationship so strong that someone will pound the table and say “I really want that candidate at our firm! We can’t let any of our competitors have him or her.”

7. Balance networking with case and fit interview preparation.

No amount of networking will get you an offer if you can’t pass the consulting interview, so balance networking time with interview prep.

In this article, we’ve covered:

  • What networking is,
  • Why networking for consulting jobs is important,
  • When you should network,
  • Who you should network with,
  • Where to network for management consulting jobs, 
  • How to network,
  • Lastly, we provided our top 7 consulting networking tips.

Still have questions?

If you have more questions about networking for consulting jobs, leave them in the comments below. One of My Consulting Offer’s case coaches will answer them.

Other people interested in networking for consulting jobs found the following pages helpful:

Do You Need Help With Networking for Consulting?

Thanks for turning to My Consulting Offer for advice on networking for the consulting industry. My Consulting Offer has helped almost 85% of the people we’ve worked with to get a job in management consulting. We want you to be successful in your consulting networking so you can land those interviews. 

Here’s how we helped Shawn land his McKinsey consulting offer:

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