You have a look at your calendar and you see a meeting at 2pm, a lecture at 3pm and a consulting coffee chat at 4pm, which you had totally forgotten about.
Now, the temptation might be just to rock up straight from your lecture unprepared - it's just coffee, right? Wrong!
It is not at all easy to get hold of consultants from top tier firms, so you need to make sure to make the best of this opportunity. As with every important meeting in your life, you need to go in prepared to approach the exchange correctly.
For those unfamiliar with the reference, we have called this article our “Galateo” after the historical guide polite behaviour written by Giovanni Della Casa. That book instructed young Italian noblemen how to impress in society and be accepted at the court of a Prince. Times have changed, but the fundamental truth still remains that if you want to be welcomed into an institution, you need to know the practicalities of how to behave correctly in context. That's what we'll teach you here.
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Now, at My Consulting Coach, we like to begin with an end in mind. That’s why we start by asking ourselves:
What is the purpose of this coffee chat?
For most applicants, this will likely be:
1. Making a good first impression: never forget that one of the most important parts of a consultant's work is dealing with clients, so a good first impression is very important
- Appearance: as obvious as it may sound, make sure clothing, make-up/grooming etc is all on point. There is no need to overdo it, as you will NOT be judged on how you dress. Just look tidy and professional, like you didn't just roll out of bed.
- Soft skills: being friendly and pleasant to talk to is very important. The person on the other side of the table will be thinking:
Can I work with this person 12 to 15 hours a day Monday to (if it all goes well) Friday?
- Avoid obvious questions: asking a consultant why they decided to work in consulting - despite being a safe question - does not show any intellectual curiosity. Never forget that you don’t have much time to impress, so don’t waste your small word allowance on dull questions.
- Don’t be boring: put yourself in the shoes of the consultant conducting the coffee chat. More than likely, they have another 10 candidates who are going to ask the same questions (plus 10 hours of work when they get back to the office). Try to keep the conversation as natural and spontaneous as possible.
- Ask about them: an introduction will give you some crucial insights about the individual you are dealing with and enable you to tailor your personal stories based o the consultant's perceived background, focus and interests. Try to make the conversation flow seamlessly between their story and yours.
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2. Talking about your experience in an achievement-oriented way: avoid bragging but, as you are conversing, make sure you highlight (subtly or not) your accomplishments. In particular, highlighting the impact you had and the difference you made. Say you are asked what you are doing and you happen to be a PhD student working on racing vehicles. There are a couple of ways you could respond:
Bad answer: "I am doing a PhD at XYZ university, working on the mathematical modeling of driver-vehicle interaction, focusing on the behaviour of vehicles at the handling limit due to tyre non-linearity" - In other words, a bunch of useless technical details nobody cares about!
Good answer: "I am doing a PhD at XYZ university, where I developed improved metrics to quantify vehicles handling qualities, providing manufacturers with a starting point and benchmark to design safer and more comfortable vehicles" - Technical yet insightful information with emphasis on impact.
3. Gathering information about the recruitment process
Again, try to ask meaningful questions about recruitment. You should avoid at all costs questions which Google already knows the answer to. This is useless as you can get the information anyway. More importantly, though, it shows that you are either not very interested or not capable of gathering information - which is a fundamental skill for consultants (and any worthwhile employees generally). Instead, you should ask questions relative to your background in an action-oriented fashion. So, for instance, if you are an undergraduate who did an internship in the energy sector your questions be:
Bad question: "I am an undergraduate who did an internship in the energy sector. How should I include the skills I acquired on my CV?" - Too broad, lacks background information and will only annoy a busy consultant.
Good question: "I am an undergraduate who did an internship in the energy sector. I worked on a variety of projects, including strategic sourcing. I read that [your company] operation practice is heavily involved in procurement, so do you think I should mention it on my CV and try to bring it up in a PEI interview?"- Well posed, insightful question, useful for you and impressive for the consultant.
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4. Expanding your network
You want to make sure that the consultant on the other side of the table will actually remember you. The best way to make your coffee chat memorable is finding a common interest outside of work that you are both passionate about (perhaps you are both following recent cricket or football matches, for example). Besides this, you should:
a. Have a business card ready
b. Have a copy of your CV ready
c. Send a follow-up e-mail after the meeting thanking the consultant for their time
d. If you manage to establish a good relationship, keep them updated every month with a short email on how you are doing
On top of what you should do, there are also some DON’Ts to remember.
Being late, checking your phone, yawning, swearing and so on are all obviously going to make a terrible impression. You will no doubt realise this already, but we include it as a reminder to pay attention to how you present yourself.
2. Displaying your ignorance
Again, for every question you have in mind, just ask yourself if Google can tell you the answer. If it can, skip that question and move on to the next.
Consulting is about teamwork. Never try to talk over anyone and avoid any attentions-eeking behaviour.
4. Appearing low energy and lacking confidence
A good team player is not an arrogant attention seeker, but at the same time they are enthusiastic, interesting to talk to and very assertive. Especially, in any group work, make sure you are not the indifferent, low energy type, sitting in a corner and not talking to anyone.
- Do some research on the company's recent projects
- Prepare some insightful questions about both the company and your interaction with the selection process
- Review your resume, considering the achievements you should highlight. If you are not sure your resume is up to scratch, check out our comprehensive resume guide and free templates.
Follow these tips and you'll ace the coffee chat. However, that's just the beginning of your story.
If you are going to make it into consulting, you have much bigger hurdles to clear and soon all the usual suspects will occupy your mind: the fit interview, the case studies, consulting math... Where to find everything you need? How to handle it all? Don't worry, we're here to help!
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Our case interview method
Our MCC Academy case interview course was developed with a single goal in mind – to help candidates succeed by teaching them to think, act and communicate like a world-class strategy consultant. After completing our course, you’ll be equipped not only to ace the interview process, but also to hit the ground running on day one of the job.
The idea of getting hired by acquiring the fundamental skills associated with the job might seem obvious. However, our approach is actually in stark contrast to the old-fashioned case interview systems you have probably have run into already.
These other methods simply have you memorise perhaps a dozen “standard” frameworks. This shortlist of generic recipes is supposed to allow you to answer any case question the interviewer comes up with. This is in spite of the fact that that cases will be based on real engagements, where major firms were forced to call in consultants as they couldn’t solve the problem in-house… In short, frameworks are unlikely to give you correct answers.
Our unique Problem Driven Approach allows you to tackle each case on its own merits, developing a bespoke solution to capture all of the problem’s unique complexities – just like a real consultant! We equip you with everything you need to know, starting from the ground up. Specifically, we can support you in:
- Understanding business fundamentals: Get your mini-MBA with our Marketing, Strategy and Economics, Accounting & Finance modules
- Learning how to crack cases: Identify the problem, build a bespoke problem driven structure, lead the analysis and how to provide recommendations.
- Accelerating your approach with our building blocks: Master profitability analysis, competitive dynamics, pricing discussions, among others to let you deal with recurring themes in cases without restricting you to simplistic frameworks.
Our coaching sessions
Coaching from a real MBB consultant can help even the best candidates pinpoint their weak points and turn them into strengths. As well as helping you master case studies, a coach will give you a new self-awareness of your profile and how best to position yourself for an MBB offer. Just as importantly, they will give you the confidence to know for sure you can succeed against such a formidable challenge!