Question:

Thank you for your regular emails, they are extremely helpful and I only wish I knew about your site earlier. I learned about it only one month before my interviews, where I should have been heeding your advice one year before.

I am not doing an MBA program, but I attend the top masters program in International Relations, where I study international business. Not many firms come to my campus, but I managed to network my way into interviews with three of the top consulting firms in the Middle East (Booz, Bain, BCG).

Like you mentioned in your last email, I did the same thing wrong on all of them (they were one day apart). All of the firms said I excelled in strategic thinking but I lacked organizational structure, which is not surprising given my educational background. I made it to Round 2 or 3, but didn’t get an offer.

What I have been waiting to hear from your emails is something for people in my situation, who interviewed with the big firms but didn’t get an offer. I am graduating in May, and don’t want to wait a year, so I was wondering if you could talk about smaller firms. I am applying to Monitor, but to be honest, it’s the only one I know because I was so focused on the big firms.

Thanks so much for your help!

 

My Reply:

You have a few options.

First, if you made it to Rounds 2 and 3, I interpret that as your raw ability is high enough to work at a Top 3 firm, but your performance was not.

Performance = Ability + Preparation

This has several implications for you to consider:

a) You can work in consulting and be successful.

b) Had you started preparing much sooner and more aggressively, your outcome likely would have been different.

c) If you plan to continue focusing on consulting, start preparing more extensively right now.

On this last point, the tendency most people have is to secure the interview and then to prepare for the interview.  Now in most professions, that’ll probably work. But consulting is extremely competitive.

You are competing against people who have be preparing three, twelve, or in some cases eighteen months in advance. Quite often these are people who have just as much raw ability and talent as you do…and in some cases even more than you do.

I remember exchanging emails with one of my F1Y who was a student at Harvard Business School (might have been Harvard Law School). He spent 300 hours preparing with my materials and practicing with friends… that is a lot of preparation (and talent).

Second, given that you’ve missed out on the most recent opportunity with your Top 3 firms, you have two options. One is easier than the other, but both are possible.

a) Look to interview at other Top 10 firms. Some may or may not have a strong presence in the Middle East, but here are some companies that are well respected, do very similar work to the firms you’ve been considering, but are a little less competitive on the recruiting side:

  • AT Kearney
  • Monitor
  • LEK
  • Oliver Wyman
  • Roland Berger
  • Deloitte – Strategic Planning Practice
  • Accenture – Strategic Planning Practice

Also I noticed that you did not interview with McKinsey. You should try to interview there as well.

b) The other option is to re-apply at the firms you’ve already been rejected at.  The stated policy at most firms is to wait two years, but there’s another way to get re-considered sooner than that.

First, you need to work ridiculously hard to “ace the case”. Do not even bother attempting this strategy until you’re willing to get extremely good at cases… because it will take you potentially an enormous amount of energy to secure a second chance interview.

If you will not be prepared for it, don’t even bother.

The key is to network with these firms (ideally in about three to six months), say you’ve learned from your mistakes, were a little under-prepared the first time, and would like another attempt.  You have to develop an advocate who is an insider who will push for you to get a second chance.

Most people in consulting will not risk their reputation internally to get you another interview unless they are very sure that you’re much better than you were last time.

I have my CIBs do this successfully, but it is not easy to pull off for the reasons I stated above.

Regardless of your choices, good luck on the rest of your recruiting process.