Networking, Practice, and Extreme Preparation

The following is a letter I received from a F1Y who took a calculated path and persisted, despite many setbacks, to reach the ultimate goal of a full time consulting position. This story highlights specific actions the F1Y took to be successful, and is an important read for anyone pursuing this same goal.

Success Story:

It is with great joy that I finally draft this e-mail to you. I first came across your materials [last year] as I was about to undergo undergraduate internship recruiting at [U.S. University]. I had been a part of an on-campus consulting group [for two years] that had exposed me to the type of work consulting firms do by simulating the experience for its members through quarterly engagements with student organizations as clients.

While that has been a great experience, I ultimately found my greatest training and instruction in how to prepare for case interviews from your website and materials. I'm going to embark on a lengthy description for you on my process, so I understand I run the risk that you might not read everything I say, but I feel compelled to truly demonstrate my entire path to finally securing an offer from BCG, which I have accepted for a full time position starting [this fall].

Much of what I say is in response to the hugely helpful e-mails I've received from you as a member of your CIB listserv and I can't thank you enough for those gems of wisdom. I want to preface all this with mentioning that I first became interested in consulting during my freshman year, when I had heard of a family friend who joined McKinsey.

With some more research and discussion with my family, I had learned about McKinsey's incredibly impressive reputation in the business world. Thus, from the start, I have always set a personal goal of making it through the McKinsey process and working for what I still believe to be the most prestigious management consulting firm...ever.

Firstly, I want to start by acknowledging your point about getting a big brand name on my resume early. I had gotten similar advice from others, specifically as it related to entering a career in the prestige-obsessed industry of finance and investment banking. Through a unique program at [my university], I was able to intern with [investment banking firm] after my sophomore summer.

It was a mind-numbingly dull experience in terms of the menial tasks I was assigned, but I got to meet some great people, learn about how an investment bank functions, and build up my financial literacy. I am confident that having the [firm's] name was a large factor in my ability to secure interviews from the only three consulting firms I applied to for internships - McKinsey, BCG, and Bain.

After my summer, I spent the fall of my junior year contacting anyone and everyone that was alumnus [from my school] at McKinsey. I managed to connect with two Associate Principals and they gave me a lot of valuable insight into a career in consulting vs. investment banking and what life was like at McKinsey specifically.

I also reached out to all the alumni in my fraternity that had had experience with consulting at the top 3 firms, which was again vastly helpful in my understanding of the process. After submitting my applications for summer internship between my junior and senior years, I was lucky to get first round interviews with all three firms.

At this point, I had done minimal case preparation and was quite anxious about quickly getting some preparation in before the actual interviews. After getting 30 pages into Case in Point, I decided to put down the book and found little value in the complicated system suggested. Instead, I found your website and read through the frameworks you have listed, watched all your videos, and began to practice with my friends from the consulting group I had mentioned previously. Needless to say, I was pretty bad and many of the cases were train-wrecks.

I interviewed with BCG first and felt I did a pretty decent job. Next was Bain, where I really hit it off with my interviewers, but made the fatal mistake of not solving the case at hand - a mistake you frequently identify as common amongst CIBs. Lastly, I had my McKinsey interview the following week and was quite clueless as to what I was doing. While I opened with your case, I didn't truly understand what I was doing, and I believe that came across to the interviewers.

Luckily, I progressed only with BCG to final rounds in their [U.S. city] office. I did not succeed in getting an internship offer and was quite disappointed. However, I was lucky not to completely tarnish my reputation with these firms, as they all gave encouraging feedback, which was to keep practicing and try again in the Fall for full time. I believe the internal term is that I was put on a "high potential list," as all three firms kept in touch with me over the summer and reached out to get me excited for full time recruitment [that fall].

I worked for [an investment management corporation] over the summer in their Risk and Quantitative Analysis group, partly to offset any perceived lack of comfort with numbers by my choice of majors (History and Economics). While I loved the internship and had a fantastic experience with the company, I knew that I really wanted to make it to McKinsey for a full-time position. I knew I needed to undertake significant preparation to get to the level necessary to succeed and found your discussion of being adequately intelligent but extremely prepared to be particularly valuable and accurate.

I purchased your LOMS program and listened to the cases daily on my 30 minute Sub-way rides, twice a day, 5 days a week, for 10 weeks. Now, I didn't listen to it every single trip, but I'd estimate about 60-70% of the time, which corresponds to approximately 30 to 35 hours. This was extremely, extremely helpful to start getting me comfortable with the pace, tone, and direction of case interviews.

I want to echo your sentiment that that is only half the battle and that it is necessary to sit down and listen to the cases with the transcripts out as well. I did this for the for the first 4 or 5 cases on the weekends and when I finished the internship and was at home over the summer. In hindsight, I should have done it more methodically to ALL your examples, but I guess that's where the regret sits in!

Alas, I interviewed with an early round sequence for Oliver Wyman's Financial Services Management Consulting Practice and succeeded in making it to the final rounds with them, but didn't get the offer. Again, I still didn't truly understand what I was doing, despite having significantly more familiarity with the process as a whole.

The real turning point for me came when I received a copy of your book Case Interview Secrets in the mail. That book was when all the dots finally clicked. I would highly, highly, highly recommend picking up a copy to anyone who uses your program, as it provides a unified, centralized source of your best advice about how to think about both the consulting industry and the recruitment process. That information was absolutely pivotal in my improved performance for full-time case interviews.

Two notable points I'd highlight are understanding the purpose of issue trees/frameworks, namely, to test hypothesis, as well as the importance of the 5 minute hypothesis rule. These were two concepts that didn't quite register with me, despite your repeated programming over a variety of media, until I read the chapters in your book.

After reading the book during my summer vacation after my internship, I set on the path to get approximately 45 live cases done with friends and my parents' friends who were in consulting. I managed to get live cases with a variety of people, ranging from my peers and friends at school going through the process to business analysts at all three firms, to Engagement Managers, Associate Principals, and even Partners!

By the time I was in my first interview, I had about 35 cases under my belt. This too was crucial in my readiness. For the full time cycle, I applied to more firms: McKinsey, Bain, BCG, Deloitte, and Booz. While I would not recommend casting such a small net when it comes to consulting recruitment, I did also have to split my time with finance, as I applied to both opportunities in investment banking, real-estate finance, and hedge-funds.

This strategy of diversification, despite extremely taxing and challenging to navigate during the process, helped offer me additional career options to consider, as I was able to receive offers from [three investment management firms], in addition to my consulting offers.

I didn't pass my Deloitte, Bain, and McKinsey first-round interviews, but did pass to final rounds with BCG and Booz and did get offers from both firms. When I think about what got me to this stage, I can think of [four] things that I think you mention through your emails, forums, books, and recordings:

  1. Get a brand name early in your internship career so you can stand out when it comes time for internships.
  2. Take the time to reach out to alumni through any networks you have (college, fraternity, student groups) and get a sense of what a career in consulting and at specific consulting firms is like, especially in reference to other industries you're considering.
  3. Read everything on your website, buy LOMS, and get the CaseInterview Secrets book.
  4. Practice at least 35 live cases before you get into the interview room.

I can't thank you enough for how much you've helped me. I know you get emails like this all the time, but I really want to convey how grateful I am for you, your site, and the time you put into helping people like me break into the consulting business.

I really consider you a guru and I would love the chance to grab a drink or coffee if you're ever in [my city]. You've really been a huge inspiration to me and I find all your articles particularly engaging (from your Michael Phelps rant during the Olympics to the perception vs. reality gap to the video on influencing people with your voice). I very much hope to get the chance to meet you some day. Could you add me to your future first year consultant list?

My Reply:

I offer my congratulations to you. Well Done!

I did read your detailed story and I love how persistent you were over multiple YEARS to achieve your goal. Despite initial setbacks, which nearly everybody I know has faced at one time or another (myself included), you kept your focus and worked hard (many people give up too early) to do all the right things... And it worked!

I love it when the most determined person wins in the end. There's something very fair about the outcome that appeals to me. I have been quite honored and privileged to teach people like you because (though you probably don't know it yet) the combination of a little bit of talent and disciplined work ethic will pretty much allow you to go anywhere you want in life. It's very exciting for me to see the journey as you so eloquently described.

Also, to join my email newsletter for new consultants, just visit:
www.caseinterview.com/new-consultant

Thanks again for sharing and congratulations!

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