Below is a story from a student who participated in the making of my Look Over My Shoulder program about his road to success after rejection. I also am including my response where I elaborate on the role of determination in obtaining a consulting management offer.

Student Success Story

I wanted to take this opportunity to thank you for your immense help, encouragement and guidance throughout my case interview preparation process. Working with you on the Look Over My Shoulder program creation was very helpful.

I reached final rounds and got dinged by Accenture Strategy just a few days before our LOMS practice case was to be recorded, but even though I got rejected and had nothing in the pipeline, I couldn’t miss out on the opportunity to speak to you after you offered me a spot to be one of your selected few.

Thank you for your honest feedback both right after the call and then again in the LOMS audio.

After practicing over 150 live cases with a single friend of mine (who worked full time) and who I truly believe cannot be matched by anyone else, I started feeling confident that although I wasn’t in the top 5% of my school, I actually had a shot at consulting.

While going through the case interviews, I realized that I enjoyed them and most importantly, that this is something I could do well in.

I felt that with every new case, I was sharpening my raw talent of analysis, creativity, structuring and quantitative/qualitative skills.

In particular, I felt that I improved upon asking the “right” questions, mentioning “why” you need this data and always giving a “risk” element to my final answer – because within the 45-minute case, you cannot do a full analysis that would allow you to give a 100% solid recommendation that has absolutely no chance of failing.

In real life, we always protect our recommendations with: “this has a % accuracy/success rate, and such and such are side effects or potential risks”.

However, you still have to recommend your solutions in a confident manner and with poise.

After our LOMS session things really turned around for me. All of a sudden, companies started actively recruiting again. Between October to early November, I had at least one interview every week.

Six interviews later with Oliver Wyman, I was offered the opportunity to finally launch my career on a high note.

Having endured some rough patches in the previous four years, and now being financially independent, and most importantly genuinely happy with what I am doing, I am consequently very grateful to you.

My Response:

This is wonderful news indeed.

Congratulations on the turnaround of your situation from what I recall was a big disappointment for you (not getting the Accenture offer) to a big win (getting the Oliver Wyman offer).

I’m glad my guidance and advice were useful in helping you launch your career.

Also let me recognize you for the enormous effort you took to improve your skills.  I think 150 live practice cases is close to a record of the most practice cases by any one of my students.

It is very significant that you participated in my LOMS program (with your interview actually being in the LOMS program and receiving the LOMS program as a participation gift) and you did the majority of your 150 practice cases before you even knew if you had another chance at an interview.

It takes a certain kind of determination to decide to do that… a kind of determination that frankly most people (even those that are very smart, talented, and accomplished) do not have.

Many people choose to start their case interview practice after they find out they get an interview.  This often does not leave one with much time.

As you discovered, once you start getting interviews — they come fast and furious.  This is very common.

The various firms typically are on a similar recruiting cycle. Once you hit the cycle, all the interviews from all the firms come at the sametime.

This is definitely true of any on-campus recruiting at the college, MBA, or PhD levels… and equally true if you are applying directly, but still competing with on-campus candidates.

It is less true for experienced hires, which has more of a rolling recruiting process.

I get a lot of emails from my readers commenting on how useful and inspiring they find success story emails like yours.

As you know, the recruiting process is often full of emotional ups and downs.

It is useful to know: 1) this happens to a lot of candidates at every caliber of firm, 2) it is possible to start with a major disappointment yet still end up with a big win.

I think your situation very much illustrates this point.

Just for “fun,” I decided to look up my notes on your case performance in the interview I gave you.

It is relevant to keep in mind that interview #1 for each case is the example of “what not to do” and typically represents the candidate with the worst performance.

From my notes of the case I gave you, here were the big problem areas:

1)  Incorrect application of the 80/20 rule (you solved the wrong part of the case.)

2)  Ran out of time (in part because of the wrong 80/20 focus)

3)  You didn’t outline your problem-solving structure at the start of the case… so it was very hard for me to follow what you were planning to do analytically, and I suspect you didn’t know exactly what you were planning to do analytically either.

4)  Your synthesis was not particularly concise or sufficiently frequent enough.

In short you did a lot of things wrong.

It is important to note that this was from an interview I gave you before your 150 live practice cases, and before your multiple interviews with six firms… so clearly you got a lot better!

This is a significant point.

Nobody is born knowing how to do case interviews.  It is very much an acquired skill.

My youngest daughter is only a few years old, and despite what is hopefully good DNA, she does not know how to do a case interview!

The two other aspects of your story that I’d like to emphasize are:

1)  the realization that you really like this kind of work and career, and

2)  despite the fact that you came to the conclusion that perhaps you were not in the top 5% of the most talentedgraduates from your school, you decided to make sure you were amongst the top 5% most prepared with enough talent to do the job.

This is useful for others to keep in mind.

It also happens to mirror my own mentality during my interview process. The more I interviewed, the more I liked consulting.

“You mean you actually get paid to solve business puzzles all day?  How cool is that?”

At the time, I had no idea if I had any talent.  My GPA was good, but by no means excellent.

I did not graduate in the top 10% at Stanford.

My degree did not carry the “honors” designation reflecting unusually high achievement academically.

But I did end up preparing a lot… and basically started a year before my classmates did in:

1) networking,

2) preparing, and

3) practicing.

I had a very poor recruiting performance in my third year of college, so I decided to start preparing for fourth year recruiting within weeks of my poor performance in my third year.

I am very certain that I was one of the most prepared applicants my year, but I had no idea if I had any talent.

Keep in mind this was many years ago, and I had no role models to emulate. Case interview preparation materials really did not exist at all.

I basically had to beg people, friends of friends, and alumni to help me.

In fact, one of the very first people to help me was a woman named Josie Parr who was a student at the Stanford Business School.  Before business school, she was a consultant at the firm now known as Oliver Wyman. (Quite ironic, don’t you think?)

In hindsight, there were probably 6 – 8 people who helped me — it is one reason I do what I do for others, because someone before me did the same for me.

Now in hindsight, I realized I did have a lot of talent for consulting… and I further realized that academic talent/performance is different than talent for consulting.

While there is certainly some overlap, they are definitely different skills.

As partial evidence of this, while at McKinsey I noticed that there was no difference in on-the-job performance amongst consultants whose college GPAs were between 3.5 – 4.0 (out of 4.0 scale).

In other words, once your academics were “good enough,” higher grades in school did not correlate to stronger on-the-job performance.

This is why firms do not just hire the candidates with the highest grades.

The big lesson in this that I very much do want to highlight is if you really like the profession of consulting, then just decide you’re going to figure out a way into it and don’t quit!

I do receive emails from people who 1) have come to like the work that consulting represents, but 2) have had some kind of major setback.

They often have come to discover that they like the consulting work much more than the current field they are in, and they ask me what should they do?

In these situations, I usually encourage people to keep going. If they really like the work that much, then don’t let a rejection to two be a permanent setback.

Consider it just a temporary obstacle.

Recently, I have been receiving many success stories from people who had a major setback but overcame it — treating the major obstacle as a temporary one, not a permanent one.

It speaks volumes of one’s character to set a goal, persist past multiple obstacles, and ultimately prevail.

And in particular, to do all of this and to actually “be happy” doing what you’re doing is the ultimate accomplishment of all.

Congratulations to you on multiple fronts. It is very much well deserved.