The Consulting Coffee Chat Galateo

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 totally forgot about. 

It is not easy to get hold of consultants from top tier firms, so you need to make sure to make the best of this opportunity.

At My Consulting Coach, we like to begin with an end in mind. That’s why we would ask ourselves

What is the purpose of this coffee chat?

For most applicants, it will likely be:

1. Giving a good first impression: never forget that one of the most important tasks for a consultant 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 is on point. There is no need to overdo it, you will NOT be judged on how you dress, you just need to look tidy and professional
  • Soft skills: being friendly and pleasant to talk to is very important. The person on the other side of the table will probably think:
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 word allowance in dull questions. 
  • Don’t be boring: put yourself in the shoes of the consultant doing the coffee chat. Probably he’s got 10 candidates left who are most likely going to ask similar questions (plus 10 hours of work when he’s back in the office). Try to keep the conversation as natural and spontaneous as possible. 
  • Ask about herself: an introduction will give you some crucial insights about the individual you are dealing with and enable you to tailor your personal stories based on her perceived background, focus and interests. Try to make the conversation flow seamlessly between her story and your story.

2. Talking about your experience in an achievement oriented way: avoid bragging but make sure you highlight, subtly or not, your accomplishments as you are conversing, especially highlighting the impact you brought and the difference you made. For instance, if you are asked what you are doing and you are a PhD student working on racing vehicles 

Bad answer: I am doing a PhD at XYZ university, working on the mathematical modelling of driver vehicle interaction focusing on the behaviour of vehicles at the handling limit due to tyre non-linearity – which is a bunch of useless technical details no one 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 the recruitment. Avoid at all costs questions Google knows the answer to. It is both useless (you can get that information anyway) and, most importantly, shows that you are either not very interested or not capable of gathering information, which is a fundamental skill for consultants (and anyone in general really). Instead, 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 could 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? - The question is too broad, lacks background information and it 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.

4. Expanding your network
If your network is your net worth, you want to make sure that the consultant on the other side of the table will remember you. The best way to make your coffee chat memorable for consultants is finding a common interest outside of work you are both passionate about. Beside 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 call thanking the consultant for their time
d.    Keep them updated every month with a short email on how you are doing (Only if you managed to establish a good relationship)

On top of what you should do, there are also some DON’Ts to remember.

1. Rudeness                                                                                                                    Being late, checking your Facebook, yawning, swearing and so on is as obviously wrong as damaging for your reputation so we thought we would just include it. No need to add anything here.

2. Displaying your ignorance
Again, for every question you have in mind, just ask yourself if Google knows the answer. If it does, move on to the next one.

Being late, checking your Facebook, yawning, swearing and so on is as obviously wrong as damaging for your reputation so we thought we would just include it. No need to add anything here.

3. Selfishness
Consulting is about teamwork. Never try to talk over anyone and avoid any attention seeking behaviour.

4. Appearing low energy and lacking confidence
A good team player is not an arrogant attention seeker but at the same they are enthusiastic, interesting to talk to and very assertive. Make sure you are not the indifferent, low energy type who sits in a corner and does not talk to anyone. 


Now that you know what to do and what to avoid, how do you prepare? 

  1. Do some research on the company recent projects
  2. Prepare some insightful questions about the company and about yourself
  3. Review your CV, thinking about the achievements you want to highlight. If you are not sure your CV is up to scratch, you can download My Consulting Coach guide for free
  4. Print a copy of your CV and have a business card ready. 
  5. Hope this helps. Feel free to visit MyConsultingCoach blog for more on soft skills in consulting