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The right way to reach out to a consultant for the first time

Posted by Khaled Kteily on in Networking & Reputation
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This is one of the most common questions that I receive from students - "How do I network with a consultant?" Let's face it, it's a tricky situation with a high upside and a dangerous downside - below I discuss some of the right and wrong ways to network with consultants for the first time.

Reaching out to a consultant you don't know is always delicate. I won't go into details of how you should start your search (It's all in the '6 Steps to Success', available to the public for free) but I will discuss how to actually start the communication.

You want to do three things: First, keep it short, make it personal, and show your value. Long e-mails will get continuously (and guiltily) pushed off until eventually the recipient thinks "ah screw it, it's been too long it's awkward to reply now". Not proud to admit that I've done that a couple of times myself, despite good intentions.

Secondly, make it personal! Throw in something about yourself that will help them relate to you - your university, your educational background, your work experience, how you decided to reach out to them, etc. Otherwise, you're just a stranger. It's worthwhile to try to reach out to people of the same background (e.g. university or extracurriculars), ethnicity, or gender as you'll generally get a higher response rate.

Finally, show your value! I guarantee that if a student e-mails a consultant saying "I'm president of my faculty", "I have a 3.8 GPA", or "I interned at a consulting firm/bank last summer" then that immediately gives you credibility. Consultants (generally) want to help out worthwhile students, and will be far more hesitant to spend time on students who don't demonstrate this.

Now here's the thing: one e-mail is completely acceptable. If they don't reply within 2 weeks, I'd recommend sending a follow-up email. If they don't reply, do NOT send another follow-up e-mail. It's fair for a consultant to forget your first e-mail or let it slip, but if they haven't replied to either of your e-mails, it is for a good reason! Either they're too busy, they're not interested in helping, or they just don't like you. Any further e-mails will be seen as pushy and will definitely be counterproductive.

Next, if they respond pay attention to the tone of their e-mail! If they don't want to meet or discuss, they'll skirt the topic e.g. "my schedule is packed right now" or "I'm not sure when I'd be able to chat". This is generally because they don't want to. Don't push it.

Also remember, the consulting world is SMALL. I have friends at almost every other consulting firm, as do most of my colleagues. I've already heard stories about pushy McGill students, and it's not uncommon for friends to share these stories - "wait, she e-mailed you too? Yeah I got the exact same e-mail. She kept sending me follow-up emails". At best it shows a lack of tact, and at worst it shows a lack of professionalism. Remember - if 2 consultants work at the same firm or graduated from the same university, there's a good chance they know each other well enough to discuss students who have contacted them. How would you feel if someone sent the exact same e-mail to you and your friend?

Just a few thoughts based on experiences that my friends, colleagues, and I have experienced. Hope this helps.

 

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Guest Dec 15, 2018