I received an email from a CaseInterview.com student regarding an informal or “coffee chat” she was able to secure with a BCG Associate. What the student was asking about is what is the dress code for an informal interview like this and what would be the best use of the 20 minutes or, so they were being giving to “chat” with the consultant. 

My response about “dress code” is business casual is a good rule of thumb. That means long pants… preferably real pants, not jeans — though a nice pair of jeans would probably be okay in a pinch (no tears, markings, rips, etc..), and depending on local temperature, a long-sleeve dress shirt (preferably) or a short-sleeve golf/polo shirt – no slogans, drawings, at most a small brand logo. In terms of shoes, no sneakers or sandals. Either formal dress shoes or something in-between a dress shoe and a sneaker.

Definitely no tie, or blazer.

In terms of what to ask, you can ask anything you want. From an impression standpoint, it’s advantageous if you ask intelligent questions (defined as things that he or she actually has to think about the answer to because he or she hasn’t been asked that before, and preferably ask questions the answers of which cannot be found via Google). Also stay away from questions that answers can easily be found on the BCG website or by contacting the recruiting (logistics) coordinator questions like how the recruiting process works and recruiting deadlines.

In these things, I usually ask about their personal experience — because that’s definitely not on the BCG website.

Questions like:

* Why did you decide to get into consulting?
* Why BCG?
* What do you like the least?
* What did you do last week for work (so you can get an idea of the lifestyle)?
* What’s been the biggest surprise?
* What do you know now that you wish you knew then?
* If you had to do it all over again, would you do anything differently?
* Any advice for someone with XYZ background (perhaps one that you and he/she have in common — e.g., non-business majors, non-target schools, engineers, etc.) in terms of recruiting — especially any mistakes you can think of that people with this kind of background typically make?

The above questions are “safe,” reasonable questions. They aren’t “blow the other person away” type questions. Those types of questions are usually based on things in the news about the firm. Basically these “great” questions are ones where you have to be pretty well informed to even be able to have the background to ask the question. When I’m asked a question like that, I always pay attention to who is asking it. So do your homework and try to develop a few of these “great” questions.

Overall, you want the person to come away with the impression that you are:

1) personable and can be trusted to have a casual conversation with a client
2) someone who asks good questions

If you have certain accomplishments (class rank, some big fancy award, etc..) be sure to casually (i.e., deliberately) mention it. If you had a prominent internship last summer, mention who the internship was with.

You try to sneak stuff in like, “When I was at Goldman last summer, one of my favorite questions to ask everyone is ‘why Goldman?’ I’d like to ask you the same… so why BCG?”

Finally, try to get a business card — it shouldn’t be a problem to get one as culturally it’s rude to not give one when asked. When you get it, email a thank you. In the thank you email, try to mention something he or she said (really as proof that you were listening, paid attention, and that he or she had an impact on you).

THEN (this is important):

Keep an eye out in the news for anything you might come across that might interest this person. If the person has done a lot of work in book publishing, when you see news around the big lawsuit going in that industry (the U.S. government is suing everyone for price collusion), you can email him or her a link to an article about that.

In all likelihood, the person will find out about the news before you do. But you will get brownie points for staying in touch in a “client friendly” way.

If you happen to come across anything on campus that casts BCG in a bad light (or was a mistake that BCG made — e.g., some scheduling mix-up that everyone’s upset about), you can mention it and be the person’s eyes and ears on campus.

This is a useful relationship to maintain whether or not it becomes a useful relationship to have from a recruiting standpoint. If you do a good job over the next few months, if you have a quick question or need a recruiting suggestion, you might be able to email this person and get some help.

By and large, 95% of people who attend meetings like this do nothing with it after the fact. It is a missed opportunity. The likelihood of any ONE relationship being beneficial to you down the road is low. But if you make a habit of doing stuff like this with all your new business contacts, the likelihood that your network in aggregate will be useful to you is quite high… and almost always in unpredictable (but beneficial) ways.