Elena joined the Boston Consulting Group directly out of school and has now been with the company for two years.
Nicolas: Readers are probably wondering why I am interviewing you. After all I announced that I was going to interview 300 finance experts, not consultants. So can you tell everyone briefly why I contacted you?
Elena: I did my internship in Investment Banking at a Bulge Bracket bank so I know the world of finance and can compare finance to consulting. But most importantly I “interview” with clients very regularly to get consulting missions. So I had to become a very good networker!
Nicolas: Exactly! Let’s dive in then. What is your best strategy when networking with clients to win their business?
Elena: I can be a bold networker at times. For instance at the end of a presentation I went to see the client and asked me directly what he thought about the proposal which could have been a very awkward question. But actually he liked it and we had a good discussion and in the end we won the business. My advice is don’t be too normal, go for it and if people like your personality and your attitude they’ll go to the bat for you. If you stay “bland” then everyone will sort of like you but no one will put their neck on the line for you.
Nicolas: I like that. Guy Kawasaki advises start up founders to “polarize” people because it creates fanatical supporters for your product. What other advice do you have for people when it comes to driving an informal interview?
Elena: The thing you absolutely need to do before an informal interview or any meeting actually is to write down what you want out of this meeting. Maybe it’s a referral to someone else, maybe it’s information, maybe you’d like to get them to give your resume to HR. Whatever it is write it down to stay focused and steer the conversation in the right direction.
Nicolas: If you don’t have an idea of where you want the conversation to go then you’re at the mercy of your contacts. If they’re not in a good mood it can get real ugly real fast. What about telling your story during networking events or interviews, any thoughts on that?
Elena: Back to what I said about networking, be yourself. I know it’s a cliché to say that so I’ll give you an example. If you tell your story or answer questions just the way the interviewer expects you to even though that’s not who you are then they might hire you even though you’ll HATE the job. So focus on what’s important for you and the experiences that really shaped you in your story. Talk about the strengths you have you and are the most proud of and sell them! If that doesn’t work out maybe you avoided a job that really isn’t the best fit for you.
Nicolas: Now let’s say I want to break into consulting, what is the best way to get in touch with you or other junior people in big consulting firms?
Elena: Consultants tend to be very busy, especially the junior people. So the best way to contact me is via email. It’s also more efficient for me because based on the questions I get, I can recycle emails I sent to other candidates. I don’t get a lot of “cold” emails though, mostly friends of friends interested in the industry. It’s very hard to get on the phone with me and I only do it if someone close me refers the candidate.
Nicolas: I’ll keep that in mind if I’m tired of coaching and want to try my luck as a consultant! So now let’s say we exchange a few emails and I sound smart enough. What do I need to do for you to refer me to BCG HR?
Elena: I don’t know! What do you mean?
Nicolas: Wow, that’s the first time ever I hear a consultant say “I don’t know”. I’m really impressed! I mean in the past in what kind of situations did you make the
decision to refer someone?
Elena: I was a bit surprised by the question at first. But thinking about it there are two things I need before I refer someone. The first thing I need is to see their resume. Sometimes at recruiting conferences I get 100 resumes and I can’t help but laughing when some of them are three pages long with a one page “Summary”. So before I refer you to HR I need to be sure your CV is solid both in the format and the experience.
Nicolas: Ok what’s the other thing?
Elena: The second thing is personal empathy. A lot of people contact me with questions and a referral but if I don’t think that I could be a friend with the candidate I don’t refer them. At the end of the day I want BCG to hire people I would love being on assignments with so it’s a very important criteria.
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June 18, 2015