|Mike Mascarenhas, International Campus Recruiting Lead at BCG
|Published: March 8, 2022
Self evaluation | Rejected in the application phase | Rejected in the interview phase
It’s over. You’ve spent countless hours networking, writing cover letters, prepping your fit, and trying to master the dreaded case interviews. But at the end of the day, you don’t have any consulting offers in hand. Now what?
In my role as the International Campus Recruiting Lead for the Spanish MBA ecosystem, it is something I hear frequently. When Consulting recruitment doesn’t work out, candidates’ mindsets often move to the worst – that none of this matters, and Consulting will never work out for them. But hope is still not lost! For candidates in college or at a 2-year MBA, you were likely rejected for internships, meaning you can still reapply for full-time roles in a few months! The question then becomes, “what can I do to make sure this does not happen again?” The answer, like everything in Consulting, is “it depends.” You will never be able to guarantee a top-tier Consulting offer. That being said, there is a lot you can do to mitigate the risks in your profile.
In this post, we will dive deep into how you can first perform a self-assessment of what worked, and what didn’t, in your Consulting application process. We will break the process into component parts - namely the Application Phase and the Interview Phase. I will then help you understand some of the most common reasons things don’t work out, and provide suggestions on what you could do to perform the most complete self-assessment possible (given you will never know 100% what happened). . Then, in a second post, I will focus on how you can spend your summer months to optimize your reapplication odds.
Performing a consulting self-evaluation (Top)
Step Zero in your “Consulting Debrief” should always be rest. Time heals all wounds, and it will often be difficult to do a proper debrief of what worked and what didn’t right after you receive a rejection. Most candidates at the end of Consulting recruitment are exhausted, regardless of the status of their offers. If you are just finishing an intensive recruitment cycle, I would always recommend taking at least a month off. Most Consultancies will not allow rapid reapplication, so you always have a bit of time to decompress before refocusing to break into Consulting once more. If you have recently been rejected, bookmark this article and come back!
Once you have refocused and are in a better headspace, then you can begin to truthfully analyze what went wrong in your processes. As we all know, there are two major phases of Consulting recruitment – the Application Phase and the Interview Phase. Based on which phase of the process you received your rejections, there are different elements that you can analyze to move forward.
Rejected in the application phase (Top)
If you received the bulk of your rejections in the Application Phase of the process, there are three main things you can assess to understand the status of your candidacy for reapplication: Profile, Networking, and Luck.
Understanding your Profile
It is no secret that top-tier Consulting firms are looking for candidates with strong profiles. Many Consultancies recruit many of their candidates from ‘target’ schools, meaning your university (undergraduate or graduate) can have a significant impact on your odds. But what other questions can you ask yourself? How much analytical experience do you have, and how well represented is it on your resume? Have you ever worked at a large firm before, have you ever made it through a different competitive application process? Do you have a gap in your work experience, and is it well explained? Have you ever had any prior Consulting or Client Service experience? What are your personal or professional achievements, and how are they represented?
I do want to take one moment to say that profile fit is not everything in a process. There are many ways to mitigate perceived risks in a candidate, but it is important to understand what in your profile may stand out.
Tips to assess profile
- To understand if your universities are target schools, the easiest thing to do is as your Career Services staff. Ask them how many students have been recruited into the firms of your choice in the last three years. Additionally, you can download your university’s Employment Report, something that most top schools publish annually. Finally, if you are still unsure, try a LinkedIn search. Mark the Consultancies of your choice and add a filter for your school. How many results come up, and how many of them are relevant (your location of choice, the specific staff level you are targeting)?
- Take a long look at your resume, and make sure you are best representing yourself. For instance, I find a lot of candidates who receive promotions but do not add a separate section to save space. Recruiters often review resumes quickly; make it easy for them to understand the major professional accomplishments you’ve had! The resume is a sales tool, not an autobiography. Don’t be afraid to remove content with the goal of better marketing your biggest accomplishments.
- If you do have a significant gap on your resume (>6 months), consider listing in the Experience or Additional Information sections what you were doing. Did you travel the world? Tell us! If the content is more personal, you may want to articulate that in your networking process.
- In terms of prior Advisory experience, many candidates assume they do not have any and choose not to list it. But many of these candidates have worked in client-facing roles. Focusing your content on interfacing with multiple stakeholders, leading others, etc. is a great way to stand out.
- Lastly, it’s really important to understand your analytical experience. If you have never worked with numbers in any capacity, this could be a major challenge. But again, many candidates undersell themselves on their resumes when it comes to this. If you’ve worked in Marketing, you likely have spent time in Excel, but perhaps it wasn’t listed on your resume because you were prouder of other experiences. Try to diversify your experience content as much as possible!
Understanding your Networking
Networking is an art, not a science. Candidates often ask me how much networking they should do, and, as always, it depends. Rather than focusing solely on how much networking you’ve done, it is often better to think about the quality of your networking process. Many candidates also assume that the reason they should network is to get referrals, and that also isn’t exactly the case. The process to refer candidates varies wildly between firms, and it could be the case that the company you are targeting doesn’t refer candidates at all.
That being said, recruiting at any firm is a deeply human process, and if you’ve made a strong impression on someone, they are always more likely to move you forward in the process, hence why we network.
Tips to Assess Networking:
- Quantity v/s Quality – How many meaningful conversations did you have? Were you able to truthfully connect with some of the people that you talked to? Did you ask generic questions that could have been found on the internet? It is always best to focus on connecting with the person you are networking with, rather than rattling off a list of prepared questions.
- HR/Recruiting v/s Consultants - Many candidates who they should reach out to. The truth of the matter is that almost everyone in the ecosystem has a sort of influence on the process, and even different regions have different processes in terms of how they screen candidates. The best strategy is to have a connection with the local office Recruiter, as well as a strong connection with one or two Consultants from the office of your choice.
- In doubt? Ask for honest feedback! Feedback is a huge part of the Consulting ecosystem, and it is okay to ask about how you were perceived. Of course, it would be best to do this with safer contacts. Perhaps your university Career Services or the Recruiter would be a good place to start.
- If you are targeting areas that are not your native markets, assess cultural differences in networking. If you are targeting US-based Consulting jobs but from another country, ask American friends about their cultural perceptions of networking. Cultural norms can and do lead to miscommunication in the networking journey.
Ultimately, there is a lot of luck in this process. You may be screened out for reasons you will never understand. It is important to do a deep dive as to why this may not have worked, but you will never know for sure. After a thorough self-analysis, it is incredibly important to move on, and begin your search anew.
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Rejected in the interview phase (Top)
The Interview Phase of the Consulting process is, undoubtedly, daunting. If you got many interviews but no offers, it is clear that most of your self-assessment needs to happen here. To simplify, we will look at three major factors that could harm your candidacy: failing the fit, failing the case, and luck.
Why might you fail the Fit Interview?
- Structuring the fit - Many candidates view structuring as a purely case-related element. However, Consulting firms look for structure in the fit interview as well. Are your stories clearly organized? Do they have a beginning, middle and end? However, some candidates will take this to the extreme, and end up as too structured – sounding like robots. If you delivered the Tell Me About Yourself interview question to a parent, would they say it represented you? Do you have your answers so memorized that you can still recite them now? Focusing on learning how to structure a fit question, then learning your themes and answers (as opposed to memorizing them) is always best practice.
- Clear & Concise Narrative – Are your messages direct and straight to the point? Do you lead your responses with the answer to the question? Would someone that knows nothing about Consulting be able to understand your competency stories? If you answered no to any of these questions, you may consider trying to refocus your fit to be clearer and more concise. Try timing your answers or filming a mock interview on Zoom to better understand if you can get to the point quickly.
- Connecting “person to person” – Consulting is a very human-centric job. Try to reflect on if you were able to truthfully connect with your interviewer. We often refer to this in the form of the infamous “beer test” – if you’re stuck in an airport during a strong, is this candidate someone you would want to get a beer with? While this is a bit of a joke, the ability to build connections with your interviewers is anything but one. Most Consulting firms will give you your interviewer’s names beforehand, make sure to research them. Look for a way to connect before the interview – perhaps via their LinkedIn interests, or in the more free-form parts of their profile. You can also check to see if they’ve been involved in any research that you could relate with. But even if that isn’t a possibility, you can always just try to connect in the interview. Try to build some rapport, especially at the beginning and end of the fit interview. Even just a small connection can go a long way!
Why might you fail the Case Interview?
- Simple lack of preparation – Many candidates will ultimately fail because they simply did not prepare enough. Casing is particular, and often requires 50+ hours of running mocks, drilling, and refining your skillset to be successful. Most Consulting firms will never tell you outright that you were underprepared - but look for some signs. Did the interviewer skip exhibits when you were in the case? Was their feedback broad about “structure” or “organization?” Did you finish strangely early, or not finish at all? These are telltale signs of under preparedness.
- Lack of structured thinking - Most aspiring Consultants know about frameworks, and the core concepts of smart framework building (MECE, bespoke frameworks, etc.). Some don’t recognize how important structure is throughout all phases of the interview, however. For instance, if an interviewer asks you to brainstorm why a company is losing money, did you just rattle off answers, or did you try to organize your brainstorm, starting with price drivers, followed by quantity drivers, variable cost drivers, etc. etc.
- Lack of creativity - Sometimes the candidates that leave feeling most positive about their processes actually do not succeed. Some cases are, in fact, relatively straightforward. If you found yourself in a case, progressing easily, you may have gone for too easy of a final answer. Perhaps the interviewer was looking for you to inject a bit more creativity or for you to take more chances. Especially in the brainstorming phase of the case, many candidates opt only for safe solutions, when creative options are often even more appreciated
- Poor analytical performance - The most common reason candidates fail in the case interview, in my opinion, is weakness in quant. Many candidates are simply unprepared for this topic (not knowing basic business formulas, no mental math preparedness), but others fall into the snowball problem. They make one mistake, but then become so flustered that they never recover. Most candidates will make a math error in cases, even those that receive the offer! Try to reflect on how you performed analytically, and particularly think if you got in your own way during the process.
- Weak recommendation - Once candidates get to the end of a case, they are often exhausted. Particularly for those who do not feel they performed up their capabilities, they often will give a recommendation that sounds bland, or almost defeated. This is the last time you have to make an impression! It’s always very important to treat the recommendation seriously, with energy and aplomb.
Much like Fit, there is luck in Case interviewing as well. Perhaps you got an industry you really knew nothing about, or maybe you got a case type that was truthfully your weakness. Luck in casing is a bit easier to assess than in Fit, however. Simply put, there are finite options in this process. If you did get an industry you didn’t like, you can reflect on that and prepare a bit more for next time!
If you’ve made it to this part of the post, congrats! You’re clearly engaged in trying to best understand how to make this process work for you next time you apply. While we covered a lot of content, I would suggest re-reading this post after you have a bit more time for self-reflection. From there, hopefully you will have a hypothesis – or hypotheses – as to what went wrong. Once you have that understood, you can move forward with a plan – a plan to reapply, and to find new experiences that can mitigate some of your risks and maximize your chances of future success. Rest assured, reapplication works.
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