Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Case Interview pet peeves

We recently conducted interviews at target schools for first and final rounds. After seeing thousands of resumes and nearly 50 interviews, we noticed the following case interview mistakes coming up very frequently (even among the best candidates). The aim of sharing these tips is to help many of you who are still interviewing for consulting gigs.

1. Students who force fit frameworks -- if you recite Case In Point, you'll get the ding.

2. Students who ramble on and on with no structure -- as a business analyst or associate, you'll need to communicate your thoughts when you're walking with a client to a conference room. If you can't communicate the most important messages under pressure, you won't get the offer.

3. Students who communicate creative, but impractical, strategies and solutions -- the main job of an entry level consultant is to get the analytics right. By trying to be too creative, students' recommendations become unfeasible for clients. And you only have 30 minutes or less to impress the interviewer with strong business insights. Overly florid strategy recommendations may detract from the "test" of the case interviews.

Good luck with the recruiting season!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

And the positive results are in

"Just wanted to say thanks to the whole team for helping me out with my resume/cover letter. I already landed 2 interviews (one BB and one Boutique) making it 2/3 on applications so far with many more responses coming down the line." --- Student at a target school

"Feeling a lot more confident now! Thank you and keep up the good work. Will definitely refer your service to my friends in the future." --- International student who broke into a bulge bracket

"I applied unsuccessfully for internships my sophomore and junior years. Finding your site was a gold mine: the insights were dead on. I incorporated your thoughts to my cover letters and resumes. Not only did I land 5x as many interviews, but I also made my resume appeal to my interviewers. I'm fortunate to say that I'll be working at Goldman Sachs IBD next summer! Keep up the stellar work!" --- Student who broke in from a non-finance background

"As you already know, I'm a career shifter, interested in either research/IB or MC. I feel that I have the skill set, acumen, but not the ideal pedigree. I came specifically to you so that you could help reposition my past experience in the most favorable light- you have done a fantastic job, and I can say that you have far exceeded my expectations." --- Experienced candidate who used our services to make the transition

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Cold Calling

(1) Is there an ideal “plan of attack” for cold calling?

Be professional and persistent in every interaction. First exhaust any personal connections through family/friends/classmates/professors/alumni. You have a much higher success rate working through your existing network. Then turn your efforts to cold-calling. Also, don't give up if you aren't able to get through to a recruiter/hiring manager at a firm that you're excited about -- you can always try to talk to a banker (someone working in the position you want) and then keep asking for referrals until you get to the right person. Be flexible with your plan of attack because firms operate differently. Would be best to start as soon as you can.

(2) An American BB has an office located a few floors below in my building. I was thinking of developing a short elevator speech. Is this a good idea or should I stick to cold calling?

If you run into a banker at your building, make some small talk with them about something other than work. Once you've made a personal connection, then it becomes more appropriate to talk about your interest in banking.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Know Your Audience

We've spoken with readers who over the last recruiting cycle interviewed with Blackstone, JP Morgan, BoA/Merrill, Goldman Sachs, and others.

These were applicants who ranked at the top of their classes at target schools. Their resumes and cover letters were in top shape, yet they still didn't land offers.

What was the problem?

As good as these candidates looked on paper, they did not understand their audience -- the interviewers.

Here are some important insights on unsuccessful answers to the commonly asked questions in finance interviews.

(1) Why investment banking?
Unsuccessful responses:
"I want to work in an environment where I have social impact -- and given the level of capital and advisory services that your bank offers to clients, I will be in a great position to influence the financing decisions of clients."

"I like the excitement of working with smart people and contributing my background in science to conducting rigorous due diligence on target firms."

These responses, though true, do not convince the interviewers that you understand the significance of your role. Yes, banks in theory do have a social impact, but this is a macro-level view of IBD. The second answer is much more on a micro-level, but it doesn't convey a full perspective of what the IBD role entails.

In our experience, it's essential to communicate that you understand the nature of the IBD role. Here's a strong answer to the question (note that this response is more or less what we said to land offers at GS and other firms):

"As an analyst, I'm looking forward to excelling in a team culture where I get to deliver the highest-level quality in advisory and financing solutions to a broad base of clients. Moreover, from speaking with alumni who work here, I am confident that I will find the work intellectually simulating for the following three reasons..."

(2) Why Blackstone/JP Morgan/another firm?
Unsuccessful responses.
"Your firm is versatile in its specialties - from IBD to risk management."

"Blackstone is always on the top of the league tables."

If you're too broad, it becomes apparent to the interviewers that you didn't do intensive research on the bank and its reputation among those who work there.

If you're too specific, you risk the chance of being completely wrong. As the financial landscape changes, it's important to have the most current, up-to-date information on how the firm stands out.

The best way to understand your audience is to talk to people who work at the firm - get on the phone and speak with alums, friends of friends, and the like. You will pick up on what is important to employees, senior management, and ultimately your interviewers.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Preparing for Fall Recruiting

The journey to landing a summer internship at your desired investment bank or management consulting firm starts now.

There is usually a rush of students asking for help in August/September. It is better to get on the application and interview preparation process earlier. July is the ideal time to begin.


  • Starting in August, bulge bracket firms have a "short list" of candidates to interview. Banks can fill up their entire classes by the end of the month.
  • Many schools start in August and banks are busy preparing for on campus presentations. Their resume drop deadlines are also in August.
  • If you wait to contact an alumni at a bank in August, chances are that you won't have time to develop that relationship for it to be an asset for you in the resume review round.
  • For consulting, you need to practice, practice, practice! Case interviews test presentation skills, natural quantitative ability, and analytical skills. It takes time to develop and refine these skills.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Breaking in from a non-business Graduate School

From a reader:

I graduated from a top 25 public school in 2008 with a degree in Neuroscience. I will be graduating with a MS in Biomedical Science this June from a top research school (not a target). Prior to this year, I never had much exposure to the financial field. However after taking healthcare administration, management, and law courses, I found business to be much more aligned with my goals.

1. As of right now, I would ultimately like to end in finance. Does this require me to start in finance, such as IBD?

Since you will be graduating from a Masters Program in the sciences, it may be difficult for you to directly break into a finance position at a bulge bracket firm. However, alums from your undergrad are well represented at many finance firms, and it would be your best option to start getting on the phone and emailing them about your interest. The more people you talk to, the more likely it is that you will get to assess your fit for the industry and figure out exactly what part of finance (sales, trading, asset management, banking, etc.) that you would like to pursue. Once you figure that out, you will be more successful in telling your story and can begin applying anywhere and everywhere you can. Start at the local to medium sized shops, since you are graduating from a non-business oriented program. You can make the switch to banking/consulting, but you need to be strategic with how you describe the evolution of your interests and why you want to pursue those fields only now and not as an undergrad.

2. I know there are consulting firms, such as PWC, that cater towards health industries. Hopefully my experience in the medical field will help make me a stronger candidate. However will this help my application for IBD?
Yes, definitely look into consulting shops that focus on science, medicine, pharmaceuticals, and other areas that relate to your academic background. You can leverage past consulting experience in the sciences to an IBD role in technology, healthcare, or another relevant field. The transition is made easier once you have some business background on your resume.

3. How possible is it for me to get hired by top firms if I apply now?
Honestly, it's very unlikely to get hired at this moment since A. we're still in a downturn and B. most of the hiring at bulge brackets has been completed (full time hiring begins in August and finished around December). That said, if you get on the phone and tell your story to alums or your other contacts, you may have a good shot at landing positions at firms with less formal recruiting cycles. Don't just rely on submitting resumes through company websites though, as firms receive literally thousands of applications and it's difficult to be noticed that way.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

How to make the most of a rejection

Summer internship interviews are well under way.

Those who will interview at bulge brackets and management consulting firms have most likely received the good news.

Some firms receive over 1,000 applications from a target school for a summer internship position. They don't even bother notifying rejected applicants of their status.

How do you get a response?

Human Resources may have passed up your resume/cover letter. When deciding who to interview, the recruiting team divides candidacy into three groups:

1. Definitely interview
2. Interview time permitting - the wait list
3. A definite no

Those who are in the waitlist bucket often did not know that they just fell short of getting the interview. It happens that one student we've worked with was in the waitlist queue at several firms.

How did he find this out? He emailed a contact he had made at a networking session about his candidacy, and followed up with a phone call - asking for his status. The contact got in touch with HR and found out that he was on the wait list. This may have been a "nice no", but the student followed up a week later and asked if he was still in the running. He didn't get the interview slot.

BUT he made the effort to ask what he could have done better. He didn't have finance experience and those who received interviews did. The student made a point to get an unpaid internship that summer, and come full time recruiting, emailed the contact he had made to let him know how his internship went. He received the full time interview, second round invite, and the offer.

I'm surprised at how few people - if any - reach out to their interviewers or recruiting teams and ask what they could have done better to get selected. Most banks and consulting firms are looking for a similar skill set, give or take, and you would have no clue how they perceive the strength of your candidacy had you not asked.

If you were just short of receiving an interview invite or the offer, follow up and ask what you could have done better. Not only does that give you the opportunity to improve for the next recruiting cycle, but I guarantee someone - HR, an alum, a contact - will remember you, and most likely give you another shot over someone they don't know.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Second Round interviews at McKinsey, Bain and Boston Consulting Group

Congratulations to those who are preparing for final rounds for the super selective summer internship spots at MBB.

It's been stated how few the spots are at these firms. There are literally only a handful at some of the smaller regional offices.

So this is what you should expect to position yourself optimally to nail the final round:

1. The second round case interviews will be more in-depth and complex in testing your business sense. The structure or framework that you use to attack the problem will have to incorporate more concepts exhaustively - being MECE will be more difficult, as the case will not be straightforwardly a declining profits, increasing cost, or merger strategy case.

2. Since the second round interviews are longer, there is more room for error in how you set up your initial plan of attack. For example, if you get a market sizing question, there will be several ways to answer it, and having the right approach is essential to doing well. These are not cut and dry the same as the Case in Point examples, as you want to essentially replicate or refine upon the market sizing approach the consultant used in his/her actual work.

3. The people interviewing you will be more senior at the firm - you are guaranteed to meet with at least one manager or partner. The more senior people will have insight on the continuity of certain people they want to hire. So, utilize the resources the firms provide you - they often give you an alumni contact or interview buddy who will go over mock interviews. They will emphasize to you the core competencies the particular firm is looking for. Thus, it's essential that you not only hit home those points, but also convey an understanding of how McKinsey is different from Bain/BCG, and vice versa.

4. Nailing the behavioral part of the interview becomes even more important in the final round. The firm is potentially hiring you as a full time employee, as the conversion ratio from internships to a FT offer is incredibly high - from 90 to 100% according to office and year. So, you need to get along with the interviewers on a more personal and conversational level.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Behavioral interviews at McKinsey, Bain and BCG

Nailing the case is necessary but not sufficient for landing you the offer, especially since there are an extremely small number of internship spots open.

The behavioral interview is just as important.

Behavioral questions are designed to see how you will perform in a professional, team-oriented environment. They also give the interviewer an opportunity to determine what your strengths and weaknesses are.

The format of the behavioral interview varies according to firm:

McKinsey has the most structured behavioral interview. The interviewer will ask you to go in depth into a leadership experience, and he or she will probe you on all the details: how others reacted to your ideas, how you were able to overcome resistance to your leadership, what the ultimate impact of your work. There are other common behavioral questions that will be asked, as leadership is one of them

Bain will take an experience off of your resume and ask you pointed questions on what you did, in the same vein as McKinsey's interview.

Boston Consulting Group asked the most questions on different experiences off interviewees' resumes. These questions were less in-depth than the previous two. These questions seemed the most "rapid fire", as the interviewers were very precise in their questioning and were looking for clarification or explanation on specific traits - leadership, collaboration, discipline, public speaking skills.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Ace eight common technical questions for finance

In preparation for those interviews, here's a list of the more technical questions you should know how to hit a home run on. These were actual questions asked at numerous bulge bracket investment banks in the past two years.

Especially if you had a behavioral / all fit first round interview, you can bet that the second round will have more technical curve balls. These were asked in both sales and trading and investment banking positions.

Share your mock answers in a comment, and we'll critique them.

1. What are the ways to value a company? Which method generally offers the highest valuation for companies?

2. How have deals in the industrials [or any other] industry been financed in the last two years? How do you predict that financing will change in 2010?

3. Explain the percentage of debt and equity used in a current M&A deal. What valuation did the target have? Do you think this was a reasonable valuation? What changes to this valuation would you have made? Why?

4. Which industry would you go long on for 2010? Short on?

5. What omissions on the financial statements led investors to believe that Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, and other firms were not only illiquid but insolvent?

6. What is the difference between a firm that is illiquid and one that is insolvent? Which problem was more prevalent in late 2007? Which problem is more prevalent in 2010?

7. What will be the Fed's response to continued weakness in the economy in early 2010?

8. What are regulatory problems governments are trying to resolve with impending legislation?

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Steps to interview success in finance

A decent amount of preparation is necessary to succeed in a first round 30 minute interview. Don't be overprepared and script your answers. But, there are five key actions you should take to set yourself up for success.

1. Know your story.
If you don't know why you are applying for the job and how to articulate that, don't bother reading the rest of this.

2. Know the firm you're applying for and know the news.
Yes, it's easy to get firms confused and their cultures may all seem the same. But, they have executed different deals lately and you need to show that you are interested in that firm.

3. Take advantage of all interactions with employees, especially your "interview buddy", prior to your interview to get as much information on what to expect.
Many firms set you up with an alum from your school when you are preparing for your first round interview. This means you should ask all those questions you were too embarrassed or unwilling to get answered in other forums. This is an opportunity to learn what the job is really about, and how the firm selects those who advance to get the offer. For example, Goldman Sachs employees will emphasize how important it is to know how to succeed in a team-oriented environment; so when you have to answer the question "what is your greatest accomplishment," choose something that you are obviously take pride in but also demonstrates your collaboration and leadership. Every alum will emphasize something different at each firm, and try to pick up on what they are saying not explicitly but implicitly. Many times these alums don't have a say in your decision, so they are there strictly as resources.

4. Practice talking aloud when you go over mock questions.
When you try to go over the logic in your head, everything may become muddled together. Speak aloud when you are thinking of what to say, as you will know what to emphasize based on importance and how it will sound.

5. Be confident.
At the end of day, just be confident. If you have the right attitude people will come to listen to what you have to say.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

McKinsey, Bain and BCG cultures

McKinsey, Bain and Boston Consulting Group are known as the premier management consulting firms. They are extremely selective in who they let in, and offers are handed out not only on merit but on your fit for the firm.

So, if one had to generalize, what are the cultures of these firms? Be forewarned that these are not completely accurate, but rather one way of looking at things that are not necessarily true in every context.

McKinsey sells itself as a "team of leaders." They also have a huge public service bent, serving as a platform for budding politicians. McKinsey tends to hire charismatic, people-leaders who know how to sell anything and everything. A potential drawback at the firm is the level of toolishness, and the inclination to talk crap about the two the B's. They do think they are the gold standard of management consulting, given their strong brand. McK operates on a Monday through Thursday traveling model, where teams and consultants spend most of their time on ground at the client site. This makes for interesting and global travel.

Bain is the youngest of the top three firms, both in firm history and corporate culture. Others may call the firm fratty, as the bulk of hires each year tend to be recently minted college grads. The main drawback is the need to socialize and hang out with colleagues. Bain has made a huge rise as of late and is known for being incredibly entrepreneurial and innovative, creating affiliated organizations in specialized practice areas. Bain Capital, a private equity firm, and Bridgespan Group, a non-profit consulting arm, are two well-known and industry leader spinoffs from the firm. People are known to be extremely personable and the most well-balanced in terms if having a life outside of work.

Boston Consulting Group is an business practice innovator, with their consultants penning many of the frameworks used by all consulting firms in analyzing client data. As a result, BCG tends to have a more academic and intellectual bent than the other firms. BCG is all about the consultant, a post MBA position, though Associates (undegrad hires) are known for getting high-level responsibility almost tantamount to the consultant line of work. BCG is often called the high society of consulting, with a professional and proper attitude of its consultants in everything they do.

Friday, January 29, 2010

How to write a memorable "Thank You"

MDs get hundreds of thank you emails over a week, especially if it's recruiting season.

Most of these fall into the "standard," boring category. In other words, these emails rip the style and content of what the university career center tells them to do. Toolish, impersonal writing will not leave a memorable impression in your favor.

Thank you emails are extremely low risk but have the potential to be high reward.

If you hit it off with the interviewer, and mention something personal you took away from your conversation, he or she will remember you. At the end of a interviewing day, when the banker/trader/consultant has seen at least 20 rehearsed applicants, it's hard to stand out. And the interviewer knows a good chunk of the interviewees were not that interested in the first place.

Beyond including a personal shout out, we've helped students in the past who used the thank you email to keep in touch with their interviewers, regardless of whether they advanced or not.

If the interviewer just didn't like you, it's not worth staying in touch or trying to convert your conversation into a networking opportunity.

But I'd say that 80% of the applicants interviewed just didn't have enough industry, inside knowledge to land the job, and that with more practice and knowledge they landed positions for full time. Part of that recruiting success comes from knowing people who will go to bat for you down the line. Some people are willing to mentor or give advice to young people more than others!

So, what should a great thank you email look like?

First, keep it short - no more than 5-6 sentences. No one will read beyond that.

Don't use flowerly language or be over the top with positive words describing the firm, especially since everyone does that and it makes you sound insincere. Consider the 1 or 2 things that YOU found unique to the firm/interviewer, and highlight those.

Contain a short reminder of what you talked about during the interview, which gives the other person the opportunity to recall what you said and his/her impressions of you.

Last, include a closing line that shows you're interest in the interviewer -- that you'd be sure to let them know of what happens, etc. If the interview was extremely personal and all-fit, and you both had a shared interest, maybe include an interesting article link or something to that effect. That always runs well!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Thinking outside of the box when you're inside one

Cracking the case interview for management consulting positions is an acquired skill.

The common pitfalls are
  • to memorize Case In Point or any other preparation guide.
  • to try to be too creative and confuse the interviewer completely
  • fail to justify your arguments and ideas with the evidence presented to you
  • to forget how to crunch and apply numbers to substantiate your claims
  • to forget to apply a "sanity check" on your solutions and recommendations
My advice is to practice around twenty cases to become familiar and comfortable with the process.

Beyond that, when you are in the interviewing room and need to separate yourself from an already accomplished set of students, you will need to think outside of the box while delivering your thoughts in a linear, articulate, and professional manner.

Remember that the cases given to you were actual problems the consultants have solved over the past few months or even year. They know what were terrible approaches, average approaches, and exceptional ways to solve the problem.

To "crack the case" means that you will go through a similar process of research, analysis, and delivery as the consultant did in his actual work.

Always drive yourself to get to the final answer - and directly nail the question the interviewer posed at the very beginning. Don't get sidetracked if you miss a sub-part of the question. The point is to stay focused and explore the most high impact avenues to arrive at the final answer.

Remember to think about the ramifications of the question that was asked -- this is what interviewers think as being "inside the box", as parts of the process of solving a problem is duplicable from one profit cutting case to the next, from one merger strategy to the next, and so forth.

However applying one way of thinking to every problem will not get you the job. As I said, don't memorize frameworks and force fit them into a problem you get. This is the number one pet peeve interviewers have.

The most successful interviewees demonstrate that they can "think outside of the box" -- they come up with client recommendations that were better, meaning more original, feasible, and client-friendly, than the actual ones that were delivered by professional consultants.

There was only one summer business analyst hired to work at McKinsey from Wharton last year. There are literally only a few slots open from each school for consultant interns at the other top management consulting firms. Some years, zero interns are hired from some top target schools.

The way to stand out is to not only nail the case but to kill it. Doing that requires original thinking and getting the basics right.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Crisp, Concise and Compelling: How to win with your cover letter

We've had the fortune of reviewing a ton of cover letters since the site started.

On the whole, most cover letters from applicants fall into the "average" and "generic" range. They reiterate something taken from the firm's website, talk about their leadership in X club, and say that they have always been interested in banking or consulting since an earlier internship.

This type of content is perfectly fine and shows your genuine interest in the field.

However, just listing a few main points to answer questions doesn't do enough to "sell you."

Where most cover letters fall short of being exceptional is framing their background in a way that is crisp, concise and compelling.

How to be CRISP

Firms are obsessed with their culture. But that doesn't mean you should talk about culture incessantly in the cover letter.

Make your points strongly and boldly, and then move on to another point. Don't refer back to culture more than once, or to one of your skills more than once. Recruiters have THOUSANDS of resumes and cover letters to read through, and if you make your writing longer or more complex than it needs to be, they may just skip over your documents and automatically reject you.

There's a term known as "MECE" in consulting speak -- meaning Mutually Exclusive, Collectively Exhaustive. Be as MECE as possible in your cover letter -- choose those activities and experiences that say everything you want to say while avoiding repetition.


Don't repeat words, phrases and buzz words just to sound like you know what you're talking about.

It's irritating for a reviewer.


When answering the question of "why work at Goldman/any bank?" nearly 90% of applicants mention a business principle that they are impressed with.

To make the cover letter even stronger, the most successful applicants demonstrate that they have met or even exceeded the business principle in the past -- through work at school or with an organization. Reviewers will be impressed with the applicant's understanding of the principle and how they've applied it in the past. This applicant will have higher chances of getting the job because the recruiter recognizes he or she will be a great cultural fit for the firm.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Advice for Sophomores wanting to break in, nailing the "weakness" question, and more

Today I'll be answering readers' questions, which are really helpful for those going through interviews -

1. I am sophomore at an Ivy League School and have a 3.4 GPA. I know there are no consulting internships for sophomores and good marketing ones are hard to come by. I am open to doing banking but it isn't where my true interest is--honestly I don't find the material that fascinating. What do you recommend I look for in a market that truly prefers juniors?

If your end goal is to land a summer internship as a junior or full time job at McKinsey / Bain / BCG, here's a list of what you should look at, in order of priority:
  • Look at consulting boutiques in every industry -- marketing, management, operations, technology, and so forth. By having consulting experience under your belt, the top management consultancies and marketing firms can see demonstrated interest and that you are serious in pursuing it as a career. Also, by having prior consulting experience, McKinsey / Bain / BCG and other firms will recognize that you are NOT one of the thousands of Ivy Leaguers who applies without knowing what consulting is. Many times some top boutiques do the same work as MBB but in a specialized industry (i.e. just healthcare, just media, you get the idea). So the type of exposure you'd be getting is similar to that at MBB and will prepare you well for junior year recruiting.
  • Second, management consulting firms look very highly upon finance internships, and in particular investment banking internships. This is because those with very strong quantitative skills tend to do very well in consulting -- it is an industry largely filled with those who can demonstrate linear, structured thinking to clients. I'd say as a consultant you are bound to work on a case where you need to make financial projections, and those coming from investment banking have familiarity with doing that.
Something to note here is that, if you can, you should really aim to get a position at a well-known firm, or a bulge bracket for finance, since it will do more to get your resume noticed and selected for a first round interview. A top notch internship will often overcome concerns about an average GPA.

In other words, if there are two candidates, MBB will often choose the 1st person over the 2nd.
Person 1. Ivy League, 3.5 GPA, junior summer internship at Goldman Sachs Tech, Media, Telecom Banking

Person 2. Same Ivy League school, 3.9 GPA, spend junior summer doing science research at school

2. How do you answer "what is your greatest weakness" in an interview?

First off, choose a real weakness -- don't try to twist a weakness into a strength because they know you're bullshitting.

Choose something distant (at least a year back) and something that doesn't reflect badly on how you would do on the job. Make sure you address how you have taken steps to improve.

Be anecdotal so that the interviewer understands clearly and easily what you are saying. Being specific also lets the interviewer know you are being sincere.

For example, for sales & trading, one student talked about a group project at school. He said that he is a hard worker and at times very intense, to the extent that sometimes he can be short to others and come off as abrasive. He then added that ever since that group project he has taken effort to develop good working relationships with others early on, and then was able to drive stronger results as a team.

3. How do I answer the "Why consulting / Why IBD / why finance?" question?

Your answer should be unique, as I've written about before.

Beyond that, stylistically, you should be as linear and clear as possible.

It should be logical, well thought-out, self-aware, and really hit home the elements of a firm's culture, work, and employees (to show that you've done due diligence on the firm).

At the same time, don't "spin" too much because you may seem naive and insincere.

Ranking your office preferences for McKinsey, Bain, BCG

So some of you have asked about how to rank offices to max your chances of getting the offer, getting into business school, and to achieve other ends.

Here's my advice:

If you want to break into private equity: Boston, New York, and San Fran have the most exposure to those clients.

If you want to get into Harvard business school / Graduate School of Business at Stanford / Wharton: from my view it may be harder to get into NY or Boston office of MBB, but that doesn't mean consultants from NY / Boston have a higher chance of getting into a top business school. MBB all place very well in top B schools, regardless of office location. Keep in mind, for B-School , the location doesn't matter as much as the type of experience and level of exposure. It can be argued that a candidate is slightly more attractive for B school if he's in SF/ NY -- with exposure to large PE clients, F50 first, instead of Miami or Dallas where there can be local clients.

IF you want to land an internship offer or full time offer: IF you aren't an exceptional candidate relative to other applying at your school, I recommend that you place one of the less-sought regional offices as your top choice(s). For all three firms, there are more and less selective offices - meaning many applicants apply to the NY / SF / Boston offices but may not get them if it's a difficult year recruiting-wise. In that case, candidates can get offers for the "less selective" locations.

I don't normally comment on prestige of offices because I think it doesn't mean that much. Here are general thoughts on industry exposure according to office location (not necessarily true in every or most cases, so consider them for what they're worth):

  • For McKinsey, it doesn't matter so much which office you are staffed in since cases are staffed globally. For example, you can be based in Dallas and be working from San Fran, Atlanta, Hong Kong, or another international office.
  • For Bain, offices tend to do as much local work as possible, meaning there tends to be less travel than McK and BCG. So if you want to media, don't go to Atlanta.
  • For BCG, it is in-between McK and Bain in terms of case mix and amount of travel.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Standing out for the right reasons

"Why should I hire you?"

You are guaranteed to get this question in all your interviews. Answering this in a unique, compelling way will increase the chances that interviewers will remember you. Otherwise you are another nameless face in a pack of resumes when it comes to making offers.

We have given examples of outstanding stories that people used to land their jobs.

The point in answering this question is not to say something that you think is impressive. An interviewer has listened to bullshit pretty much all day. The last thing they want to hear is a wannabe banker/consultant regurgitate the Vault guide or something they heard from an informational session.

Studies have shown that people only listen to about 40% of what is said in a conversation. There's a higher probability that what you say will stick in the interviewer's head if your story is unique and personal while being interesting.

There is one caveat. Many readers have emailed us asking if they could spin their stories in a certain way to make themselves more interesting. In some cases, this "spinning" makes them sound like a complete tool. I can say from my experience that those who try to be too creative with their stories tend to fail, save those who truly are distinctive and can say something substantive about it and back it up.

Case in Point: A reader recently asked us if

1. he should use his ethnicity, first-immigration status, and lineage from an obscure tribe in his sell pitch during an interview

2. in response to a question -- "Can you give me an example where you faced a tough-love or tough-hate reaction in school and how you reacted to it?" -- use an anecdote about how people have been ignorant of his ethnicity (this was an actual interview question from an MD)

Stories about your political leanings and your ethnicity are on the risky side -- don't mention them unless the interviewer starts the conversation. If you are passionate about these topics, and are convinced that you absolutely want to bring them up in your story, be tactful and as objective as you possibly can.

This is easier said than done, which is why I advise against pitching yourself on these criteria. Of course you should take pride in your heritage, but that doesn't demonstrate any merit for why you are better for the job. It comes off as you trying too hard to stand out.

People holding unfair assumptions of you based on ethnicity is a terrible thing. But using such an anecdote to answer question 2 would not help you, in my opinion. This is because finance -- and especially trading -- requires thick skin and someone who can take insensitive comments. The MD is gauging how you respond to conflict and how you are proactive in resolving even the slightest conflict, since working well in teams is vital to doing well at the job.

In sum, as you prepare for interviews, keep this in mind:

The point is to be sincere about your desire to break into the industry, but not to say that too explicitly through a trite, overused story.

You demonstrate this candidly by using your own words and your own story to sell yourself.

Don't refer to things to make yourself sound impressive. I guarantee you will come off as insincere and a tool.

Have a sanity check on what you are planning to say. And think about what the interviewer is testing when he/she asks you a question.

Don't try to spin yourself out of answering a tough question because interviewers will know that you are dodging the point. Be candid and dispel any concerns the interviewer may have.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

How to get informational interviews

This commentary applies to you if:
  • you're a senior and looking to land a full time gig
  • you're a junior and haven't had any luck with getting interviews so far (it's still early)
  • you're a sophomore and the bulge brackets and management consultants won't look at you because you have no experience and don't stand out
  • you're a freshman and have no idea what banking / consulting / finance is
Basically, if you don't have a job and want to significantly increase your chances of landing one, you should know how to get informational interviews and then nail them.

1. What is an informational interview?
It takes place at the firm's headquarters or firm representatives come to your campus. You get to speak with people at all levels, from junior analysts to managing directors and partners. You get one on one time to talk about your interests, and get to ask those questions you can't get answered by Vault guides and even websites like these. You get a personal understanding of what goes on as a potential hire and learn about the type of people that tend to succeed at the firm.

2. What is there to gain from an informational interview?
As I've said before, it's hard to stand out in a pack of resumes. When everyone has a great GPA and great experiences to sell themselves, 75% of the time recruiters will give a first-round interview invite to students that showed initiative in learning more about the firm. This means getting on the phone, speaking with firm representatives in person, and reaching out to ANY contact. Few students take advice from firm employees and follow up.

McKinsey and other firms hold coffee chats with students on some college campuses. It takes initiative for a student to ask around or be on the lookout for these events, and there are limited slots open. Those students who end up having an informational session had a 50% chance of getting selected for a first round interview, which is much more promising than the average 7% invite rate.

3. How do I get informational interviews?
If you are set at working at a couple of firms, email a contact there (preferably couple months before the official resume drop or in advance of recruiting season if they don't recruit at your school). Don't ask for a job outright and don't email your resume in the first message.

Keep the email short - no more than 5 sentences - and mention the reason why you're contacting them (i.e. interested in learning about the industry, want to hear about his experience, how he / she broke in)

If you get a response, have a phone call with 3 or 4 pointed questions prepared.

If you don't, email others until you get a response.

Once you get a response, build rapport with the contact. Every couple months send an article over that might be of interest or give a few book suggestions. Be genuinely interested in what they have to say. Don't use these contacts as means to an end.

There's no guarantee that everyone will want to give you an informational interview over the phone or in person, but you need to keep contacting people and trying to be personable, friendly, and serious about wanting to break in. The ones that like you will give you a shot. Others may not but that's part of getting yourself noticed in a positive light.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

About us, Frequently Asked Questions, and Resume/Cover letters

1. Why did you start this site?

Despite being at a top school, our university career centers gave poor advice on how to write resumes for finance and consulting jobs. From working at top management consulting firms (McKinsey/Bain/Boston Consulting Group) and interning at a few of the bulge bracket investment banks (Goldman Sachs and others) in New York, we know exactly what the most selective firms are looking for.

We’ve reviewed hundreds of resumes from students, including those from target and non-target schools. We were also on the recruiting teams for our schools at our respective firms -- and have the experience of deciding who is given an interview slot and who isn’t.

Many people have the credentials --good grades, good scores, good experiences – but lack the inside perspective to write a winning resume/cover letter and subsequently nail the interview. At a target school (Ivy League plus MIT, Stanford, Berkeley, Michigan and other top undergrads where firms have formal recruiting cycles), it’s difficult to stand out among the pack of resumes. At one target school:

  • A bulge bracket received 500+ resumes for a sales & trading summer analyst position.
  • Only 32 interview slots were given out.

  • One MBB received 300+ resumes for a summer internship.
  • Only 20 first-round interview invites were handed out.

That means for about every 100 resumes seen, only 6 are interviewed -- this is where good writing and a solid story really make a difference when it comes to deciding who should be interviewed.

At a non-target, the standard is often even higher -- firms could fill their entire analyst and summer internship classes with students from target schools, and thus it’s absolutely necessary to have the resume/cover letter in top shape.

This is a no-nonsense look at these fields. We give the most realistic, personalized advice out there.

2. What's your background?

We attended a target school. In finance, we worked at bulge bracket firms. In consulting, we worked at one of the top management consulting firms–McKinsey, Bain, Boston Consulting Group (MBB).

We managed to successfully land positions at the most selective firms because we pitched our stories in our resumes and cover letters.

We did this without having special advantages and without traditional backgrounds. We DID NOT have:

  • any alumni or family connections
  • a pre-professional education in business/finance
  • formal (case) interview preparation from other websites
  • resumes/cover letters reviewed by other professional editing services

In spite of this, we were specifically told by recruiters at the top firms that our resumes were the highest rated in our starting classes.

We didn’t mimic the resume templates already out there. We customized our applications to portray our strengths in the highest light.

We were successful in landing our jobs through experience, insight, and judgment.

We’ve each been through over 60 interviews and know how interviewers will ask questions based on how the resume is written. It is crucial to have your story down, know how to think off your feet based on what you have done in the past, and steer the interview and resume to your strengths. Having this success in recruiting all starts with the resume and the cover letter.

3. Who have you helped break into banking and consulting?

We've reviewed hundreds of resumes of students from:

  • Liberal arts backgrounds (with no finance / economics coursework)
  • Engineering backgrounds
  • Math/Economics/Finance backgrounds
  • Non-targets and semi-targets, including: a Business and History major who wanted to work in consulting; a freshman who wanted to start getting finance experiences; an Arts & Sciences student wanted to break into a hedge fund at a university with an undergraduate business school; a Math major who wanted to do risk management at a bulge bracket
  • Top targets, including : those with prior internships at Goldman Sachs who wanted to move into consulting for full-time; those who interned at Sales and Trading for their sophomore summer and wanted to move into Investment Banking for their next summer internship; a Neuroscience major who wanted to do banking his junior summer; an Art History major who landed a job at a hedge fund; and countless others
  • Those with no finance or consulting experience whatsoever

Regardless of your background, there is a right way to write a resume and specific core competencies recruiters are looking for.

Unless you’ve successfully landed jobs at several firms in the past and have been on the recruiting team, you wouldn’t have a clue of what is an exceptional resume and what is a good one.

We have the inside perspective to help you start landing those interviews.

4. How is your cover letter and resume review service different from others?

  1. Our editors include past management consultants, investment bankers, traders, equity researchers, and those who worked at hedge funds and in the investment management division of bulge bracket banks. When we receive your resume, the editor reviewing it has worked in the same position you are applying for — and will give a personalized, professional re-write. At other sites, the editor is oftentimes someone who works only in one position (e.g. in investment banking) and can only give general feedback for someone applying to trading or consulting — they do not provide detailed and precise knowledge on how your resume will be reviewed by the recruiters at the division you're applying for.
  2. At least two editors will review your resume/cover letter. So say you are applying to sales & trading and investment banking -- you will get feedback from people in both positions. You tell us what you're applying for, and we'll give you tailored advice at one price.
  3. We have an incentive system where the editor’s interest is aligned with your interest. After getting your winning resume, you provide feedback and give a rating, which determines that editor’s discretionary pay.
  4. Editing is a two-way process, and it doesn't end with the resume or cover letter. We give extensive, actionable comments, and will ask you to makeover parts for our immediate review. This means you will get to know how your reviewer thinks, and afterwards learn how to pitch yourself in a light that resonates with recruiters and interviewers at any firm for any position.

Chase Us, Break In!