Getting Case Interviews - Factors and Timing

Question:

First of all, I would like to say thanks to you for everything you do. I admire you and surely would love to meet person like you.

I have completed my undergraduate degree (BSC hons in Accounting and Finance from the best university in [my country]).

I applied to consulting companies in UAE but was only shortlisted by BCG, and two days before my interview, I found your website and saw videos day and night, which means I did not get enough time to prepare, and honestly I did not ever know that case interview preparation require so much time.

I applied again after six months, but none shortlisted me.

What I want to ask is should I improve on my skills, and try to find another opportunity for an interview with one of the consulting companies? Or should I go for my MSc program in United Kingdom, and apply after completing my post graduation in 2012?

And also, please let me know - what is the highest recruitment time at consulting companies?

Thanks again, and I wish you all the best for whatever you do in your life and all your great endeavours.

 

My Reply:

Thank you for your kind note.

As you have figured out, it is hard to get good at case interviews in a single day or two (even if you stay up all night).  It is very much a skill that takes a considerable amount of time and effort to develop.

I've received emails from some readers who were able to do this in one week, where they did nothing else in their lives other than prepare.  Clearly these readers are much smarter than me, as it ultimately took me 18 months of preparation before I got my first offer.

Keep in mind when I was recruiting many years ago, there were no resources available on case interview preparation -- not the Case Interview Secrets free videos that you referred to, and certainly nothing remotely close to "Look Over My Shoulder®."

Incidentally, this was one of my motivations for creating both programs. These are the resources I wish I had when I recruited. In hindsight, I've always thought it was ridiculous to need 18 months of preparation to get a job offer.

While today it doesn't require 18 months of effort, it still does require some effort -- it's just that competitive, and the case interview process is just that different from regular job interviews.

Now with respect to your question on whether you should re-apply to firms now or go get a Masters / MBA degree before applying again:

My answer depends on 1) whether or not you personally feel like you could have done much better in interviews with more time to prepare and 2) knowing what you know now, whether you think you would enjoy consulting.

If the answers to the questions above are yes, and yes, then I generally encourage people to make another attempt to get into consulting -- this time with more time devoted to preparing, and in your case probably working on improving both your cover letter and networking.

Now to your question of timing - do you do this now or get a Masters and apply again in a year?

I would say if you were planning to get a Masters degree and/or study abroad anyways, then certainly applying again as you graduate from your graduate studies would be a good idea.

If you're asking should you do another degree for the specific purpose of trying to apply to consulting one more time, that's more a personal question and decision than anything else.

The only way I think it makes sense to do this is to consider the following scenario: If you did the additional degree, tried again to get into consulting, did not get in, would you be okay with the decision? Or would you feel like you "wasted" a year of your life?

Basically, the question for you is would you regret studying abroad and getting an additional degree if the consulting career did not work out?  That's much more of a personal question and decision than it is a situation where there is a definitive "right" answer for everyone.

If you decided to do the additional degree, you would definitely want to invest time in networking and finding ways to meet or speak to people who work in the firms that you are targeting -- preferably working in the specific offices and countries you would like to target after graduating.

The fact that you didn't get any interviews in your second attempt at applying could be due to one of three reasons:

1) Your application was borderline (which is driven by career history that's good, but perhaps not excellent) or more commonly, your cover letter was not strong.

2) BCG saw that they already interviewed you, and did not see the value in re-interviewing you when so little time has passed the first time around.

3) You are recruiting "off-cycle" for the firm -- meaning they made all their decisions already for the upcoming year, and unless someone inside the firm is really pushing for you, they are reluctant to make an exception.

Improving your cover letter improves #1 above, and also gives you the option to apply to other firms now or in a year or so.

Networking also improves #1 above and can take an application that would be considered only good and make it stand out.

I had one person who emailed me the other day who was called by the head of recruiting for Bain in this person's country.

The head of recruiting for the entire country called to say, "I know we declined to interview you a few months ago, but we clearly made a mistake. Could you come in for a first round in a few weeks? And if our schedule works out, I would like to personally meet you as well. I've had five colleagues of mine talk about how amazing you are."

(Hint: The person networked like crazy and went from knowing nobody in Bain to having lunch with five Bain consultants who submitted his consulting resume to recruiting, along with a recommendation to interview this person.

Why does this work?

Because nobody else who applies is crazy enough or determined enough to put that much energy into getting an interview.

See more tips on getting an interview through networking at http://www.caseinterview.com/networking-to-get-mckinsey-interview

Finally, in terms of the recruiting "season", it varies.  If you are talking about on-campus recruiting, there is a definitive schedule.

You would need to either ask the firm directly (most will tell you if you call them when they are not very busy -- usually early summer) or ask the career services people at your school if they know when XYZ Company usually does their recruiting. You can also ask friends who are a year older the same question.

It is not impossible to get an interview off-cycle, but it is substantially harder -- not because the standard is higher, but because their entire recruiting process is geared towards a particular time of year, and even getting someone to interview you requires them asking someone internally for a favor.

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