Reader Success Story:

I am an avid reader of your emails. Reading your email,forms a mandatory part of my reading list, which also includes Business Week, Economist, FT, Wall Street Journal, and the Quran.

I wanted to send you a quick note on how I have been able to secure a McKinsey interview, despite not knowing anyone in consultancy.

I have recently graduated from [Top Western European University]. Whilst writing my thesis on [A topic related to economics in Islamic Countries], I desperately sought the “World Islamic Banking Competitiveness Report”, co-authored with McKinsey & Co. I cold called an array of Islamic Banks to secure a copy of this very exclusive report. My pursuit was fruitless…

Alas, my search was ending, when I thought, “Why don’t I go straight to the source? Why don’t I just contact McKinsey?” Whom to contact? The report was co-authored by a McKinsey partner who is based in the UAE.

I contacted the McKinsey Director for Middle East offices (He is the most senior fellow I could find — my strategy was to start from the top). He consequently got me in touch with a Director, who, after understanding why I needed the report, consequently posted a hard copy of the report from the Middle East to Europe.

I naturally appreciated this kind gesture. Having concluded and submitted my thesis, I felt obliged to return the favor by emailing a copy of my thesis across to this director. My paper was very well received!

I have consequently been invited for an interview. I am now utilizing your online materials to prepare. I have three months to crack the case!

To be quite honest, I had never thought about a career in consulting until I:

A) Read a McKinsey report

B) Noted the swift professionalism demonstrated by the folks at McKinsey.

They are real people, wanting to add value.

As to my progression, I shall keep you posted.

The objective of this email was to simply highlight that there are several alternatives to securing an interview.

My Thoughts:

This is a great example of how the management consulting interview process works. The business of consulting is very much a relationship business. There are two ways to get an interview with a management consulting firm.

1) On campus / Send in your Application – Recruiting

2) Use networking or relationship building to have someone within the firm to get you an interview.

The story above is an example of #2. Now granted this story is unique, and difficult to replicate, but the underlying principles can be replicated.

Here’s the principle:

Meet as many people who work in the management consulting firm you are trying to get into, and eventually good things happen.

I have a very similar story to how I got my interview with McKinsey.

When I was at Stanford, McKinsey would come on campus to recruit in December or January each year (I forget the exact month).  In the summer months, I was busy using principle #2 above — trying to meet as many people as I could in the industries and employers I was targeting.

That summer, I spent a few hours in Tim Draper’s office — a Stanford alumni, and now a very well-known Venture Capitalist (who backed Hotmail).

I spent time talking to a bunch of ex-McKinsey people at Wells Fargo (I had met one of their former colleagues who was a Stanford alum and the Stanford alum was sufficiently impressed by me that he introduced me to the ex-McKinsey people now working at Wells Fargo).

I met someone who was working at the now defunct Bear Stearns. Had coffee with someone at Lehman Brothers… and wanted to meet this one person who worked in private equity who happened to be a McKinsey alum.

Now what you’ll notice about my story so far is there’s an awful lot of activity around meeting people with no direct linear approach to getting an interview.

And by the way, many of the people I met were Stanford alumni who agreed to talk to current students about their career and professions. And what I found very interesting was their response when I asked them how many people had contacted them. Virtually all of them said, “You’re the first one.” Or, “Someone calls every third year.”  In other words, most people just don’t make this kind of effort.

Well to finish up my own story, the woman who worked for the private equity firm didn’t have time to take a call or meet with me to talk about how she liked her time at McKinsey, and for me to learn more about what she does now.

I guess she noticed how much effort I was putting into doing my homework that she sent my resume to the head of Stanford recruiting and said, “You should really interview this guy.”  Keep in mind this was in August prior to the start of the school year, and nearly six months before first round interviews started.

Well the recruiting coordinator called me, said this person suggested I be given an interview, and she went on to explain that McKinsey would be on campus in about six months.  Hint – recruiting coordinators have a slow season, and I had contacted this person during her slow month… so she had plenty of time to call me back.

Long story short, my consulting resume was the very first resume received out of 400 Stanford applicants.  And when the recruiting coordinator came on campus to do the information session, I went up to say “Hi,” introduced myself by my name… and she says, “Oh…. You’re Victor Cheng… it’s so nice to finally meet you.”

Considering this woman was mobbed by a dozen aspiring consultants, they all swung their heads to look at me and their jaws dropped open (who is this Victor guy and why does the head of Stanford recruiting at McKinsey know who he is at the very first on-campus McKinsey is hosting).  Well now you know… but they sure didn’t!

Anyways, McKinsey came back on campus for a case interview workshop, held a dinner event, and every time, guess who would show up to every single event (and to every single event for every single firm) and say, “Hi.” Yup, I would say, “Hi.”

Now fast forward to when resume screening happens. Guess whose resume is getting considered first? Mine!  I was the first to apply. I was recommended by an alum. I met all the key people at every single event. I had a great cover letter. And I had a decent (but by no means stellar) resume.

I had a good enough resume + great cover letter + strong networking.  And I got the interview.

Now is any of this something you could replicate.  This specific path probably not, but the general idea of meeting lots of people and doing what I call, “Put Yourself in Play” (meaning letting lots of people know what you are trying to do) is — and eventually something happens to help you.

It is hard to predict what that something is, but in my experience, with enougheffort, something always seems to materialize. Go figure.

No point in all this is that everybody tries to take the easiest, shortest route to something. There is something to be said for taking the “road less traveled,” and the big benefit is there is much less competition along the way.

For other suggestions on networking, consider my guide on How to Network to Get a Consulting Interview, for a specific process you can start using right away towards securing an interview