Rejection from Top 3 Consulting Firms


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.


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2 comments… add one
  • Frustrated Student Jan 13, 2013, 2:08 am

    Hi Victor,

    I have a question that I feel affects a number of students looking to get into consulting.

    I have had to opportunity to gain experience in the consulting field through a number of pro-bono opportunities, and I absolutely loved the opportunity to solve problems for clients. However my academics weren’t quite high enough to elicit interest from the major consulting firms.

    My question really comes down to one simple fact.

    How do I show how excited I am to work in the consulting field to these firms. While my marks may not have been the best, I can promise them that I would work harder and longer than any other summer student they hire, because that is how much I love working as a consultant. If I don’t know an answer I would work tirelessly to study the subject until I have an answer.

    How can I show these firms how I want this without sounding so crude in my cover letter.


    Frustrated Student

    • Victor Cheng Jan 14, 2013, 2:19 pm

      Frustrated Student,

      1) I would suggest a slight change in point of view. It is not how much you want consulting that matters, it is how much STRONGER a candidate you are than the other person that matters (from the firm’s point of view).

      It is generally assumed (somewhat incorrectly) that everyone wants to get into consulting. It’s like telling Harvard you really want to get in — it’s not a distinguishing trait since everyone else says the same thing.

      2) You need to PROVE you can do the job. Further, if your grades aren’t high enough, then you have two options: a) step down in terms of prestige level of firm, or b) PROVE you can do the job BEFORE they even grant you an interview (yes, I know it sounds like a contradiction).

      On the latter point, the key is to meet someone via an unofficial phone call, meeting, lunch, or coffee that works in the consulting firm you are targeting.

      This person should be a working consultant of the same type and caliber (or higher) that you are applying for.

      Using this networking meeting to express interest and your enthusiasm (here’s its perfectly fine to do so). Ask questions about how they got started, what they like about consultant, day in the life stuff.

      Then hope they are impressed enough between meeting you in person, your interest level that they wonder if you’re “smart enough” (their words, not mine)… and hope they give you an informal on-the-spot case.

      If you bomb that case, that’s the end of that interaction with that particular person. If you ace the case, then the might pass your resume on to recruiting with the following note: “We should interview this person despite the low grades. He/she is very strong in person”.

      This “networking” approach works best if your grades are a bit lower than desired. It doesn’t work if your grades are dramatically lower than desired. It also works if you have high grades from a non-target school. If you’re way off the mark, use the same process by target less competitive firms.

      For more info on networking, search for “networking” and “non-target school” at

      Good luck!

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