With the first episode of The Final Round Podcast, we sit down with Bruce Smolen, a Talent Acquisition Senior Specialist at the Boston Consulting Group (or BCG for short). He has recruited for the BCG Los Angeles office for over 15 years. During that time he has reviewed thousands of applications and helped recruit hundreds of consultants into BCG offices all over North America.
This is an insightful conversation whether you are searching for general career advice, are new to consulting, or have prepared case interviews and have an upcoming final round interview in consulting.
Here are some questions we will be answering:
– How to break into consulting (especially with a non-linear career path)?
– How to get referrals?
– Are cover letters important?
– What should you ask a recruiter at a company event?
– How to best navigate virtual recruiting events?
– How to properly network (especially for introverts)?
– How often and when should you follow up when networking?
– Should you ask for feedback if you get rejected?
Read Bruce’s Children’s Books: https://amzn.to/3H9ABgh
Get 1-on-1 Career Coaching: www.careercoachingcompany.com/
Follow our Host, AJ Eckstein, on LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/aaron-aj-eckstein/
*Disclaimer: The opinions and views expressed in this podcast are of the host and guest and not of their employers.
“I think the best time to network is when you don’t need anything.”
Welcome to the Final Round podcast, where our mission is to help you knock out the competition and land your dream job. My name is A.J. Eckstein, and I’m a recent college graduate, a strategy consultant, a five-time intern, and the founder of the Career Coaching Company. Have you ever wondered why only a few people get past the final round interview and land the job offer?
Join me in the ring as I speak with recruiters at top companies to learn the secrets why certain applicants get “knocked-out” and others are still standing after the final round.
Now, let’s jump into the ring and get you past the final round.
What’s up, everyone? Thank you so much for being here today. I am thrilled to be launching the first episode of the Final Round podcast. And what better way to start 2021 off with a bang than to hear a new fresh podcast that is going to help you land your dream job. Our guest today is Bruce Smolen. Bruce is a Talent Acquisition Senior Specialist at the Boston Consulting Group or BCG, for short. He’s recruited for the BCG LA office for over 15 years, and during that time he has reviewed thousands of applications and helped recruit hundreds of consultants into BCG offices all over North America. For those of you who are not familiar with BCG, it is a global management consulting firm with revenues of upwards of $8.5 billion. BCG is part of the big three strategy consulting firms, which also includes Bain & Company and McKinsey & Company. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Bruce for a few years now. I actually cold emailed Bruce when I was studying at USC to ask if Boston Consulting Group would be interested in sponsoring the school organization that I launched. And thanks to Bruce and his team, we were able to grow the organization to one of the largest groups on campus and we’re able to help hundreds of students’ land internships and jobs. It is remarkable that BCG was our organization’s first company sponsor and two years later, Bruce is sitting in front of me here today as our first guest on the show. So, Bruce, thank you so much for joining us.
Bruce: You’re welcome. I’m happy to be here.
So, I really think a great place to start would be to talk about your specific career path. I think a lot of students and professionals think that to break into these very competitive industries like consulting and investment banking, you must have a very linear career path as in three summer consulting internships before breaking into that consulting full-time job. But I know for you, you don’t come from a very linear career path. Do you mind sharing how you have gotten to become the recruiter at BCG?
Bruce: I had a very unusual entry in the BCG. I was hired to move boxes. As you know, I’m very strong. BCG was moving from the 33rd floor to 32nd floor of their old building and they just needed someone to move boxes. So, it was a temp job. After the three days, and I’m sorry to say but there were three days that I was hired to work, there were two other USC guys with me. They dropped those two guys after the third guy. They kept me. Those guys are probably making millions of dollars anyway.
The survival of the fittest. They wanted the strongest.
Bruce: Exactly! I mean, at that point, I had worked at so many places. I was probably just a better worker at that point. They were college students, and I was a more experienced person. At that time, they kept on asking me to come back because they saw HR in my résumé. I just started doing some HR work. I did everything. I even watched The Bones. At a certain point, recruiting season hit and the woman that was in-charge of recruiting said, “I want him to work with me.” That’s when I started recruiting for BCG. I think my advantage to anyone coming into BCG and knowing that it’s a special place is that I worked at a lot of places before I got there. I never talked to partners in any other places I worked at. I always listen to rules that come down from above and I do things and just complain, and I think that is the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard. I knew from watching television that whenever you run into someone who is super educated, they’re usually pompous and they’re just mean, right?
All these things when I started BCG, it just took them and it flipped it on its head because everyone that I was meeting with, Stanford and MIT, and HBS and Wharton, they were all there and I never interacted with people like that before and they were just the nicest people I’d ever met. These aren’t people that are at the very top, these are entry-level people. There was a certain point when the recruiting coordinator came up to me and she said, “Bruce, we’re going to have a meeting with the recruiting partner.” I said, “Okay. Well, tell me what you talked about.” And she said, “No, Bruce, we want you in the meeting.” So, I’m like, “Okay. Well, you must want me to take notes.” And she said, “No, Bruce. Just come to the meeting.” So, I’m in the meeting and then here’s Danny [?], who is a very approachable guy, a very likable guy, a partner at the firm and here I am, a temp and he’s asking me, “Bruce, what do you think?” And I gave him ideas and he said, “That’s a great idea! We should do this.” All of sudden, you have one of the highest people in the firm and one of the lowest people working to get the job done and we are being very collaborative. Everything I expected from my experience was just totally opposite at BCG, which is why I’ve been there for 15 years. Fast forward to 15 years later.
It’s definitely an amazing story, and I would say that every company that seems like prides themselves on their people and their culture, you were really given a voice even just starting off and people on the highest up in the firm and people may be just starting off were able to collaborate, I definitely felt that working with both you, with Danny and some other BCGers that when I cold emailed you when I had this idea to help more students, it wasn’t more so that you needed to be this huge podcaster, this huge organization already at the top school, but you gave us a voice. So, I think that’s such an important part about BCG’s culture. When you were going in to move boxes, did you ever think that you can use it to network and become a recruiter?
Bruce: That’s the thing about temping. I mean, I temp a lot. The advantages of temping are you know it’s temporary, right? So, it’s going to be two weeks, and so you can do anything for two weeks. It’s just like you can do the most miserable jobs for two weeks and so you’re going to bring a lot of energy to it. Can you only imagine if they give you something miserable to do and then they’ll tell you, “This is for the rest of your life.” You’re like, “Oh, man!” So, that was a nice thing. I was a very, very good worker, and because it was just for a short period of time and also you don’t get involved with any of the politics of the office. You’re not hanging around, you’re not talking to people, you’re just working.
And so, at the end of a lot of temp assignments, people would come up to me afterwards and they’d start asking questions and they’d say, “Well, what do you want to do with your life? Where do you want to go?” And I would say probably 75% of those positions ended up with someone saying, “Do you want to work here full-time?” And so, temping is a very good way of getting into a company. I would say with BCG, not likely. I haven’t seen anyone do that as far as on the consultant side, but you’ll find that BCGers are very mentor-ish. They want to help you. They want to give you guidance and things like that. So, there is something to reaching out and getting to know them. It was not my intention at all. My intention was to help a friend and my friend owned the temp agency.
So, it seems like you went in with a pretty open mind, but you wanted to make sure that if the temporary engagement ended after let’s say two weeks that you’d made sure that you really showed yourself in a good light and they almost wanted you back. Would you agree?
Securing an Internship Return Offer
I think that’s a great point for internships. I know whenever I went into an internship, my goal was not just to get some experience but really to get a return offer and provide so much value to where you’re an asset to the company. So, obviously, you’ve probably seen thousands of interns come through BCG and not everyone makes it to that final stage of getting the return offer. What would you say in terms of the interns at BCG that you’ve seen, what is that one quality or the one thing that they do to get the return offer to come back?
Bruce: I think some people get the internship at BCG and they’re like, “I did it!” I did it, right? The ones who got the internship at BCG and realized that that’s just the first step and the next step is full-time, they are the ones that are going to be coming back. They’re going to get an offer to come back. A majority of the people that we have at summer interns do get an offer to come back, but I’ve had people who come in and it’s almost like they were celebrating this internship that they had, that they had done it, they made it, they had a summer internship at BCG. It was like, ‘No! Now, the goal is full-time. You have to work really hard to get to that full-time goal.’ And then the goal after that, and this is the way BCG is, the goal after full-time is now you’re an associate, the next goal, consultant. Next goal, project leader. It’s like constantly what’s next? What’s the next challenge? It might be a good filter for us when we do see people and they don’t have that. What’s next? Where am I going to get next or what can I learn? How can I get to the next level? And just feel very satisfied with where they are, that’s not a BCGer.
Got it! So, it seems like you cannot be complacent going into a company like BCG. It’s not even that you’re never satisfied, but I think a BCGer’s main quality is you want to continue to grow and provide value. Now, I think a great analogy would be that someone makes it to the NBA, or the NFL and they think their work is done but the work is just getting started and now it’s actually seeing if you can compete against this top talent. I guess in order to take a couple steps back. Obviously, there’s not that many people that get the opportunity to intern at BCG. Let’s talk about actually just the process of applying to BCG. What are some things that you’ve noticed? I’m sure if you get tens of thousands of people to reach out to you over the span of your recruiting career, what are some things you’ve noticed that have really stood out because you must choose what you want to respond to in terms of an email or outreach message and others that you choose not to respond to?
Bruce: Sometimes I feel so bad because people email me. You didn’t let me get away with this because you’re pretty good at almost the next day saying, “Hey, Bruce.” Sometimes I’d search in my emails, maybe I’m searching for a certain message and I find a message from six months ago and it’s a student who’s reached out to me. I read it, but I marked it as unread because I wanted to get back to them because I wanted to have a decent response to them. And I never did. Part of me feels just really bad that I never responded back to these people but then the other part of me is thinking like, ‘Seriously? This is it? You sent me one email and I didn’t respond, and that’s it?’ I’m not going to say aggressive but if someone doesn’t respond to you then you follow up. I won’t say necessarily the next day but give them a couple of days and then follow up with them and then that shows that you’re interested.
I think that that’s a big part of BCG. There’s a lot of really, really smart people who are applying. There’s a lot of résumés you’re looking at. It’s just like one distinguishes itself from the other. It’s probably good for us to look at your name and say, ‘Hey, you know what? That’s not the first time I’ve heard this name. Positive and negative, I’ve heard this name before.’ And then let me go or do some research. And be like, “Oh, this person has made an effort to get in touch with me. As a matter of fact, this person had a conversation with me. Nothing negative pops out. It’s a really good conversation. So, networking is a big part of BCG. That doesn’t mean speak with Bruce and you got an interview. That just means showing your interests. You’re more likely, if you have an interest in BCG, to do well in the interviews because you probably did your research, you probably know what the interviews are all about. The week before we contacted you and said, “Hey, we have an interview with BCG.” You’re not going to say, “What’s a case interview?”
Absolutely! I think the main takeaway from what you said is to be proactive. If the recruiter doesn’t follow up, maybe do it in the past and follow up the next day but you should follow up maybe after a few days or after a week. The recruiters, they see they got a lot of outreach messages but be proactive because other people are not going to follow up. I think the second thing you were alluding to is the importance of networking. Again, I think everyone knows. You hear networking. It’s this huge buzz word about recruiting but getting into the thick of what networking really is and how to do it effectively, I guess the first thing is a lot of students and professionals are very introverted. I think they feel like I’m reaching out to a huge person like Bruce at a huge consulting company like BCG. I’m so nervous. I’m scared. I’m taking up his time, he’s super busy and I cannot offer anything in return. How would you answer that person in terms of encouraging them to reach out to not just you but any recruiter to start that nerve-wrecking process?
Bruce: Yeah. I think that they just have to think about what is the worst thing that could happen. The worst thing that could happen is not going to happen, which is the worst thing that could happen is I could say, “How dare you? How dare you contact me? I am Bruce.” But that’s not going to happen. If anything, it’s like your email is going to get ignored but then you just follow up again. As I mentioned before, you’ll find that BCGers are very mentor-ish. They like to talk about themselves. They like to talk about the things that they’ve done. They like to hear about unusual experiences. They like to have a connection with people. When you’re networking, don’t just mention things. If you send an email out and it just says, “I’m really interested in BCG and I want to know more about your career path,” and send it to every partner in the LA office or any partner that you can reach, they will see that as very generic. They do talk to each other and then pretty soon, what’s going to happen is you will end up talking to Bruce because they will say, “I don’t necessarily want to talk to this person because there’s not any connection.” If you say, “Hey, you know what? I worked at Mercedes-Benz and I noticed that you’re the automotive person here. And I’d like to discuss how you started as a strong female in the consulting business. Can you tell me as a female, what are the difficulties that you’re experiencing?” Something that they can identify with.
There’s a person in our office and she is from a school that we would normally not recruit from. And she said that she had absolutely no one to network with and so she just started calling people at USC who are in the office, or LinkedIn messaging them and said, “Hey, I’m from a tech school and you’re from a tech school. Would you like to talk about your consulting experience? And if not, would you like to talk about sports?” And they took the hook and now she’s working at BCG. Just thinking about what is the commonality that we have, what are the common interests that we have, a reason for them wanting to talk to me. Do not spam people. If anything, send an email out. If you don’t hear anything, try again. If you don’t hear anything after that, try someone else. But don’t try everyone at the same time. Don’t put all your effort into that, because even if you network, even if you’re the best networker and that leads to an interview, you still must fill with the interviews when they come up. So, you still must spend a good amount of time studying for the interviews. Don’t use it all in networking.
Got it! No, absolutely. I think like what you were saying with an internship, the work is just getting started. I think getting an interview is a huge accomplishment for a company like BCG, but that’s only the first step and then it’s the next round and then it’s the final round. But I love how you were saying that there’s not one perfect email template to reach out to for networking because if you’re using a template, it’s probably not tailored enough. I love how you were saying the example of a partner working in automotive and you worked at maybe Tesla last summer. I love tailoring it. Now that we know how to reach our network, when is the best time to do it? Let’s say there’s a junior summer internship and a full-time job that comes senior year, so is the best time to start early as in freshman/sophomore year or start closer to when the candidate is eligible to apply for the position?
Bruce: You get those emails from people and your friends who you haven’t heard from for five years and suddenly, they’re emailing you and they’re like, “I heard you just got this great job, and I’d like to apply there.” You don’t want to be that guy, right? I think the best time to network is when you don’t need anything. Whenever we have any events, people say, “Do you want to invite just sophomores and juniors because they’re eligible?” No, freshmen are fine too. And I’d like to meet with freshmen because I’d like to be able to tell them grades are important. I can still affect you as opposed to a senior. It’s like, “Your grades are important,” and they’re like, “Well, there’s nothing we can do about it.” Start as early as you can. There’s some stuff that we just won’t be able to do anything with, but you can attend the presentation, we can get to know you. And I have to say it is a great feeling when people get offers and they are people who you met as freshmen. Suddenly, they’re getting an offer at BCG or you see that they listen to your advice and they network. It’s nice to see that their résumés are as impressive as you would have hoped when you thought that this was a great person. I hope they succeed. Don’t wait until the last minute. Don’t try two weeks before. At the same time, if you were to network with somebody and do it early as a freshman, you should also reach out to them occasionally and say, “Hey, I’d like to go with you with an update. This is what I’m doing now. And by the way, I am now a sophomore and ‘m eligible to apply for a junior internship.”
So, that’s not annoying to a recruiter that maybe outreach freshman or sophomore year and every four to six months you’re saying, “Hey, Bruce, wanted to update you. I’d take your advice on being more involved on campus. I’m now a director in X organization on campus. Hope everything is all well with you.”
Bruce: No, that’s great. I think that’s great when we can do it.
Got it! And then I think everyone thinks that with networking, you must get something in return as in the referral. I know some companies have referrals, other companies don’t. But what advice would you give to students who maybe are networking not just to get a referral but to obviously meet employees of the company but know that a referral is something that if you can get a referral, it’s very helpful to push you through the process.
Bruce: Again, that’s more likely if you have a better relationship with these people, if you spend more time. It’s hard to ask for a referral. You can only mention going up to someone and saying, “Hey, by the way, I am applying now. Would you refer me?” Unless you’re very close at that point.
So, should you ask, or should it be something that someone on the other side says, “I really like you and I want to refer to you.”
Bruce: I think the thing about BCG that I’d noticed or just about any company is that you don’t get things unless you ask for them. There isn’t someone who is going to come up to you and say, “Hey, do you want a job?” So, you must be that person who asks for stuff, because that’s the only way you’re going to get it because no one is going to read your mind. At the same time, I think that there’s a way of asking for it without really asking for it. “Hey, so and so, I’ve been talking to you for two years. I’m about to apply for the full-time position with BCG. I just wanted to keep you posted.” And then you can leave it up to them. It’s like, “Wait a second, you’re fantastic. I want to refer you for this.” The referral is a strong thing when you’re talking to your friends and you think that this person is fantastic, the things that you never usually talk about is you don’t talk about your test scores, you don’t talk about your GPA necessarily. You talk about maybe something about your other activities. So, you may think that this person is wonderful, and a referrer may think that the candidate is wonderful. But the bottom line is we ask for a lot of things that you never have in a conversation. So, you still must have all those very solid parts of your résumé. The referral does help. The referral is telling us that there is going to be someone who’s probably going to support you and as far as help you study and answer a lot of questions about BCG and maybe it will be easier to convince you to come over to BCG once we do make you an offer. But there are still a lot of things that we’re looking at. A referral is nice but it’s not magic.
It’s not a guarantee. Got it! With networking and trying to meet as many people as you can at the company, would you rather a candidate reach out to you first, share their story and then reach out to other BCGers or kind of the other way where they meet other people and then get diverted back to you?
Bruce: I do appreciate people who are little scrappy and can fine the people from UCLA and USC and Pomona College and all those places that are currently working at BCG and putting some effort into that as opposed to contacting me and saying at the end of it, it’s like, “By the way, is there anyone else I can talk to?” I think that I am probably the best at giving advice for, “Hey, there’s some problems with my résumé or what is the best way to approach this now that we’re past the traditional cycles, that type of thing. And I’m probably best at that. They’re best of course answering questions about these are the projects I’ve worked on. I wouldn’t say use me to network with other people, but I can be helpful in certain ways and then they can be but there’s no preference as far as the timing.
Being a Good Conversationalist
I love how you said that you value people who are scrappy and creative and do their research and finally get in contact with you. And once they have that info call or that video call schedule on the calendar and it’s five minutes before you’re about to hop on and have a call with Bruce, the BCG recruiter, what do you want to hear? I’m sure you’ve had thousands of calls with candidates over the years. What are some things that you think people should focus on asking or sharing? What are some red flags?
Bruce: I mean you want to have a conversation, right? This is very much like when you’re doing a case interview. I cannot help you unless you’re transparent with me. So, if you have a problem with your SAT scores. “I don’t have any. I went to a junior college.” Okay, let me know. “My GP is low but then I was having family issues.” Let me know. I can’t help you unless I know these things. I am probably one of the few people that can ask these questions. I mean, tell me what your GPA is, tell me your test scores, tell me what your internships are and all this stuff. I wouldn’t be concerned about anything that you’re saying unless you just said like, “I’m really lazy,” but if you’re joking around then it doesn’t matter that much. I would caution people against having a list of questions. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with having a list of questions but it just comes out so bad sometimes and that once you answer a question, they’re like, “Oh, okay. And so, my next question is blah blah blah,” and then it’s just like, “Okay. You obviously have a list,” as opposed to just having a conversation, kind of like building off what I just said.
Let’s talk about this a little bit. And if you do have a list of questions, we’ll just work them in a little bit smoother than just this boring conversation. You want to build off each other and you go back and forth. I mean, keep in mind what BCG is looking for, and this is even in the case interviews, how are you going to be dealing with the client? Are you going to be stiff? Are you going to be someone who brings energy? Are you a person who’s curious? And I’m not saying that I have a checklist that I’m checking these things off but you’re kind of getting the feel for this person. And if this person is just like not exciting at all and just very flat and do you really want to spend 12 hours in a room with this person? You want someone who recharges you. I tend to talk to people probably longer than I should. I was talking to one candidate and as the conversation was going nicely he said, “Oh, Bruce, I’m afraid that I’m wasting your time. I’m going to end the call here.” And I said, “No, that’s okay. I have plenty of time if you want to keep chatting,” and I started talking about something else. He said, “Well, actually, I have another call that I got to get.” And I was just like, “Okay, fine.”
If a BCG recruiter wants to spend more time talking to you, you should cancel your other call. You had so many points in there that I think that when you’re speaking with a recruiter, yes, it’s not a formal interview but it’s testing your client readiness, right? If you’re going for a consulting position, they want to check off all these boxes and see how well you can speak and your analytics and your background but it’s more so, do I like you? Do I want to work with you? Do I want to go overtime to continue speaking with you? Because obviously, in consulting there’s travel. There are long hours and it’s hard work. So, I think when you’re going through it: A, not having just hand questions that kind of just listing off 1, 2, 3, 4 now I’m done but having more conversation. And it seems like you also want to hear the candidate’s story. You want to hear what are some good parts of their application? What are some things that they need to improve on? Would you agree?
Bruce: Yeah! And I would say what BCG really doesn’t like is when things are canned. I mean, you’re going to have to think about your story. This is my story, and therefore I want to be a consultant, or this is what I’ve done. When you just start a conversation with, “Hi, I’m so and so and I’ve done this,” and then for the next five minutes, the guy just talks about himself. Like I said, BCGers like to talk about themselves and so, they’re just like, “Well, it’s my turn.” So, I would be concerned about that. Just being a better conversationalist and that just means a lot more back and forth. I’ve heard people who’ve come in and they’ve asked, they’ve started with the conversation and of course, you start with Covid, you start with how everyone’s health is doing. Start about this and that. They asked you a few questions about themselves and then they’re very good at things like, “Oh, when I started working blah blah blah,” but they well weaved it into. They made you feel important and then they kind of weaved in their own story there. I think that that’s a good skill to have, just making the BCGer feel important. It’s not necessarily just BCG.
But any company?
Bruce: Yeah. It was nice because I got an email recently from someone and I had a decent call with her. We couldn’t interview her, but she said that, “Bruce, I just wanted to thank you, because if it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t have been able to get a job at my summer internship.” And I said, “Well, where are you going?” And she said that she’s going to our competitor, Bain, but she felt that our conversation was instrumental in her networking properly to get her a job.
And I think that’s a great point that talking about rejection or not getting to either the interview or the subsequent round. So, do you value people who reach back out whether it’s an email or a handwritten letter saying, “I really appreciate your time. It’s unfortunate it didn’t happen today, but I really took things away from the conversation and maybe I’d love to hear some feedback to improve.”
Bruce: Yes. When you talk to people and they want to get better, you just want to help them more. It’s based upon how you respond to this. This is like a BCG thing too. We are constantly giving people feedback. You should be that type of person who’s just like, “Yes! I want to hear this feedback because I want to become a better person or better worker.” If you don’t then that’s just, you’re a bad BCG citizen and that’s just not a good thing. We do appreciate people who want to get better. Also, when we have a conversation and say you told me about some of the issues that you were having with your résumé and I said, “Well, this is how you can fix things.” Sometimes it’s not a matter of it’s going to be fixed by the next cycle, it might be the cycle after that because there may be bigger things. At the next cycle, I can at least have this thing where, “Oh, well, I talked to this person a couple of weeks ago and they said that they had difficulty with their GPA because of one issue but you know what, now I can say a year later I had a conversation with this person a year ago and they said they had difficulty with their GPA and now look at, they actually increased it by this. And so, they’re obviously very interested in BCG. They listened to me. They listened to the feedback. And now, I have more support going behind me when I try to get this person an interview.”
So, you value when people apply multiple times and take the feedback that you took the time to give the candidate and now say, “You know what, Bruce, you said I need to get more internship experience. It’s okay I didn’t get this summer internship at BCG, but I interned at this media company and now I’m reapplying full-time. I took your advice and now I feel like I’m a stronger candidate.”
Bruce: Yeah! And almost like I feel guilty. I mean, what’s wrong with me? Everything I feel guilty about, right? I feel guilty if I give you advice and then you follow it and then I don’t deliver on it. It’s not Bruce says what Bruce says you automatically get an interview. There’s a lot of people who make these decisions on who gets interviewed. Sometimes you can just raise your hand and say, “I want to make an exception here or this is very important. We should listen to this thing, listen to what’s being said right now.” There’s a lot of people that I’ve known for a long time before they could join BCG and these people have made the effort and you could see it. They have made these efforts to get better. And that’s a big selling point for me, and not just because that’s the way BCG is, give you feedback, you act upon the feedback and then you get better.
So, would you rather have a candidate who’s a junior who doesn’t feel like they checked every box for the junior summer internship but apply and maybe get rejected but asked for feedback or just apply the next year when you’re even stronger?
Bruce: I would rather want them to apply and then I can look at their application. I can have a very clear picture. At least I will see everything that they would have applied for. They pretty much submit the same thing they’re applying for they’re going to submit that following year. So, at least I can look at it at that point and then give them advice. I mean, sometimes my advice is like, ‘You’re really going to have to have a strong referral for this.” Sometimes my advice is, ‘You really are going to have to work on your grades and if you do focus for a year on your grades, you can actually bring it up to something that is more desirable.’ There’s at least some advice that I can give and if those people are serious about it, sometimes they come back and they’re like, “Bruce, look what I did.” You can’t fault them for that.
It seems like improvement and not just getting feedback but taking the feedback to heart, changing, and becoming a stronger candidate and maybe applying for the following recruitment cycles, something that you and the company really value. And I think also like you said a couple of points before, having a good story and being able to articulate at both networking and selling yourself as well as through the cover letter that you alluded to before. So, talk to me about the cover letter for a second. I know that you have a strong stance on cover letters if I’m not mistaken. If you can share with us, what is your thought on cover letters? How much weight do they have in the application process?
Bruce: I think the cover letter is an excellent opportunity for a person to screw up. I think cover letters are one of those things when it gets down to, I must decide between a couple of people and they are very, very similar and let me read their cover letters. I’ve heard over the years occasionally, “Oh, this is a great cover letter.” I never really ran into that myself but then there was one year when I had two applications and they were very, very similar and I was trying to figure out, ‘Well, who am I going to bring in?’ And I read the cover letters. One of them sounded like she was just like this, look how great she was, look at how these great things that she’d done, and she was just so well-fit for BCG. And the other guy’s cover letter first, he explained very briefly his any issues in his application. So, it’s nice that he addressed it as opposed to the other person that was just completely ignoring it. At least he showed that he was aware that I do not need BCG’s high standards. However, this is the reason why.
So, almost getting himself, ‘Hey, I’m a red flag. Probably shouldn’t take me before you even started.
Bruce: But I’m aware of it. So, it’s like “I’m self-aware. And as I’ve done all these things in my life, I realized that this was all directing me towards consulting.” So, he just did a really good job. So, it’s just like, “Okay. Well, you’re going to get the interview.” This other person is just not self-aware, or they think they’re awesome. They don’t know they’re not as awesome as they think they are.
Do you Value Self-awareness?
Bruce: Yes. If someone comes in and they’re just like, “Hey, how are your test scores?” “My test scores are great. And then they show them to me and I’m like, as opposed to someone who comes up to me and says, “I know they’re not very good.” I’d rather hear that.
Do you value transparency and honesty make it prevalent to the recruiter like yourself, but now let’s focus on what are my strengths in my application?
Bruce: Exactly! Let’s not dwell on it for the next 30 minutes, your weaknesses. Let’s talk about maybe why it’s like that and then let’s get going to some cool things.
I think that’s such an interesting take because I feel like myself or one other person when they’re making a cover letter, you want to only talk about the best things on your application, not necessarily weaknesses or holes and making it obvious that you’re not a perfect candidate. But I think it’s important, like you said, to touch on what may be a weakness but now let’s focus on the three-fourths rest of the cover letter that are your strengths.
Bruce: Yeah. And the reason why I’m kind of scared of cover letters is because we have seen people who would say things like fear BCG. I’ve always wanted to work for Bain and blah blah blah. And we’re like, “Seriously?” It’s nice when you get an email like that and then you can respond back to, “Well, it’s really nice,” but you want to come back to them directly.
Make sure that you don’t use a template and you change the name of the company you’re applying to. Got it! That’s very important.
Bruce: Yes! Some people have said, this person sounds like they’re obsessed. Look at all that they’re writing. ‘I’m going to work for BCG. I’m never going to go to sleep. I’m just going to work day and night and stuff like that.’ Some people will write in there and they’ll say, “The reason why I want to join this company is because I want to be a part of the largest financial firm in America.” And we’re like, “Well, you obviously don’t know what the job is, right?” And so, it’s just a place where you can make a lot of mistakes and so that’s why I say, keep it nice and simple.
Got it! So, don’t be extreme on either side of the spectrum. Just try to have the middle ground cover letter. Awesome! I think the last topic that I want to touch on today is I would say the cover letter’s cousin is the résumé. And with résumés, a fact that I’ve heard, and I want to see and debunk it and see if it’s true with you is, are the recruiters only looking at a résumé for up to six seconds?
Bruce: I never timed myself. I don’t know. I mean, school means something to us. I mean, we probably glance at that. We glance at the GPA. We glance at the test scores. We look at your extracurricular activities, your internship. Here’s what I would say about it and I don’t know if I mentioned this to you before but maybe this is better. It’s good for everyone to understand about a company like BCG. We look for people who have a lot of energy. When I say energy, I mean like hard work. We look for people who are hard workers. We’d look for people who have shown a consistent amount of energy for as long a period as you can possibly have when you’re a very young person. If we go back and we look at test scores. Test scores tell us, ‘Hey, did this person pay attention in high school, maybe even junior high school?’ We look at the school you went to and some schools and some schools are harder to get into than others. School, it’s starting to not matter as much but it gives you an idea that, if I’m going to USC, UCLA, and I’m talking about our local schools, Pomona College or CMC, it’s because I probably did a lot of stuff when I was in high school, extracurricular and things like that.
And then we look at your GPA when you’re in school, because there’s a lot of smart people out there. You know the smart people who just kind of show up the last of the class and you’re like, ‘Are they actually in this class?’ And then they take the test and maybe they’d get by with a B, B-, whatever. We don’t want that person. We want someone who is just like, ‘This may not be something that I’m interested in and may just be a required class, but I am going to try to learn this.” Because at BCG, you often find things like, ‘Here, you’re going to work on this,’ and you’re like, ‘I never had an interest in this.’ However, you’re still going to have to plow through it. Right? Now, we look at a combination of all those things. We look at your extracurriculars because that has to do with your GPA. Say you’re on the football team, that’s a lot of time. Tennis team, that’s a lot of time. If you’re the school president, that’s a lot of time. So, we look at that too and adjust your GPA, double majors, difficult majors, easy majors. So, we’d look at all those things and then we try to determine if we see positives in all these areas then we can determine that for a third of their life, these people have worked hard, and it’s documented and it’s right in front of us. They’re probably more of a guarantee that they’re going to come into BCG and they’re going to continue to work hard as opposed to someone who has wavy energy, with moments of brilliance and moments of nothingness and kind of go in like this. Which one are you going to get? Are you going to get this one? Are you going to get that one?
You want to see consistency.
Bruce: Exactly! That’s what we’re looking at. That’s why as a recruiter, I do look for those things because they do mean something to me. If there’s any dents on their résumé, then I will say, “Okay. Well, why is this happening? Why did they have poor SAT scores?” I remember looking at someone with poor SAT scores but then they were valedictorians of their high school. How is that possible? I want to know. Is this a fluke? Because sometimes flukes happen, right? Flukes happen quite often. GPAs, they fluctuate. That’s why we ask for their transcripts. When we look at the transcripts, they can say, “It was a really tough year. I was having problems with my family,” and we can see the depth. So, we can document this as well. These are things that I all have to take into the interviewer room and say, when they question these things, I have to say, “Yes, I understand that. However, this is what happened.” When I look very briefly at a résumé, I am not going to read word for word, line for line, and that is the interviewer’s job. The interviewer’s job is when they talk to you, and when they want to know what your story is, they’re the ones who are going to read it more clearly and they’re the ones that are going to be getting those details out from you. You’re probably down to four seconds. So, your answer of six seconds was wrong, it was four seconds.
Four seconds. So, you’re looking more so for trends, not necessarily just sheer contact?
Interests Section on Resumes
Got it! At least for me, one of the coolest parts about the résumé is the interest section on the bottom, because undeniably you’re able to express what you do outside of work. First question is do you advise students and professionals to have an interest section on their résumé?
Bruce: Yes! It’s funny because if you look at the administrative staff in the office, sometimes they’ll have me look over the résumés. I notice that they don’t put that. They don’t have an interest section. At the same time, you look at the people who are MBAs, who are applying to BCG, they will have an interest section. It is something that’s important. It’s an opportunity to bond. It’s an opportunity to maybe have a lighter moment in the interview. We should not be making decisions based upon the fact that you’re a Laker fan, that we’re a Laker fan. We should not be doing stuff like that but there is no problem with having a bit of some common ground.
So, don’t go for the professional interest. As in I’m interested in automotive and tech, but more so what do you do on a typical weekend or when you’re not working, some passions or hobbies outside?
Bruce: Yeah. I remember this one guy, and this was brought up in his interview. They were kind of very fascinated by him because he was on the Guinness Book of World Records for the Longest Handshake. Anyways, it is nice to have that interest section.
I know that one of your interests outside of work is pretty unique. Do you mind sharing what that interest is and to learn more about it?
Bruce: I have an interest in writing children’s books and the way that this came about is I’ve always liked to write. I’m probably never good at it. That’s not me promoting myself. Don’t do this when you’re in an interview.
I’m not that good, but I still do it.
Bruce: That’s part of it too. It’s like, I hope I am getting better as I’m doing it. I wrote a story, and I gave it to my friend, and I asked her, “Would you illustrate this for me because you’re such a good drawer?” And she came back to me and she said, “Bruce, you don’t need me,” because I’ve drawn some pictures. So, I decided to learn how to draw, and I took my story and I pretty much did a boot camp of just learning how to draw and I did come up with three stories. Three stories, so far. The idea is just to continue writing them whenever I get an idea. I have quite a few ideas. It’s just a matter of sitting down and drawing the thing. That’s probably the longest process because I just don’t know how to draw. I wrote a book called Scary Pants. I wrote the sequel of the Scary Pants, which is Smarty Pants, of course. And then I wrote another book called “Lucky Lucky”. This book came about when I was talking to a friend and I said, “Hey, if you think of a story idea for a book, I’ll dedicate it to you.” She said, “Well, why don’t you just talk about the injustice of how people don’t share and blah blah blah,” and I was like, “Well, take it easy. This is a children’s book, but I can probably come up with something that the message is a little nicer than that and a little gentler.”
You can find these on Amazon, correct?
I think behind every children’s book, there is a message. What would you say whether you want to choose one of the three or all three, what is the message and theme behind these books that you want people to take away after reading it?
Bruce: Well, the Scary Pants is more of a fun thing. I think the message there was I was just trying to think of what scared me when I was a kid and then you add in the little story. It’s just about a messy kid. The Smarty Pants is about a kid who gets smart pants. The story behind that one is because he falls into a vat of computer parts and his pants become smart and therefore, he’s smart. The idea behind that is there’s no shortcut to becoming a smarty pants because apparently at a certain point the pants get ruined. And then “Lucky Lucky”, it just has to do with a girl who wants more things, which she believes will make her happier. But more happiness isn’t something that can be wished for and instead it’s something that gradually comes to people who make others happy.
Got it! So, it seems like throughout these books, happiness and a positive mindset is the takeaway that you want the readers to have. Would you agree?
Bruce: Oh, yeah. I think the point of the books that I write, it’s kind of like you look at the way things that need to be fixed in this world and try to break it down into something very basic like what can kids understand and hopefully get that in early.
Improving Candidate Morale
I think today, we’re living in this Covid-19 pandemic and unprecedented times, what advice would you give to people whose morale is not very high. They’ve applied to companies, maybe they froze their hiring, they’re getting rejected and they just can’t seem to find the right footing?
Bruce: I don’t know if this is the right thing to say, but my cousin who is about 16 years older than I am, and when he was going to college, there was legitimate fear that he was going to get drafted. He was going to be shown in a base camp somewhere going through six weeks of training and then ending up in Vietnam where he was going to be in a jungle somewhere and people are going to be shooting at them. If you look at the way things were back then, I mean, it was bad. Our main concern right now is, “Oh, man, I’m not seeing my parents for Christmas.” So, it’s not as bad as it is then and it’s not as bad as it could be. We had some offers that we gave, and these people had offers from other firms. So, there were jobs out there and we probably had more cross offers than we were used to this year. So, a lot of places are still hiring. The way that BCG always looks at things is that it’s going to get better. I think that we must adjust to what’s happening and there’s people who have taken this semester off, some people have taken the year off. Some people have been very clever about it and they’ve gone, ‘Hey, why am I paying all of this money to go to this school when I’m not even taking live classes. These classes are transferable from junior college. So, I’m going to take them at junior college and then I’m going to save myself a lot of money.’ That’s just part of being a person. We must be flexible. We must stay positive. Things will get better. Once this vaccine and all this stuff, I was thinking that the hiring is going to go off the charts. At that point, travel is going to go off the charts. As a person who’s been laid off about five times in my life, I know now you don’t want to talk to me anymore. I’ve been laid five times in my life and it always gets better. I see it more as an opportunity. It’s like what’s next. It’s kind of like forcing you. Your feeling is you’re getting a little stale and you’re just stuck in some place and it’s just the forces are like, “Okay. Now, it’s time for you to move on.”
So, keep pushing and have a positive mindset.
Bruce: Yeah! I mean, you’re coming away. You’re going to have a fantastic degree, a very impressive school, fantastic degree. There’s a lot of people out there, they’re like this. You may find yourself saying, ‘I’m not doing what I really want to do,’ but there’s a lot of people out there who are like that. And so, some things you may have to settle for, but it’s always going to get better. Like I said, if you look at it the way things were in the 70s, it was terrible, it was madness. If you look at the madness out there now, it’s not as bad as that. We all got through it.
You all got through it, but having a positive mindset is everything. What is the best piece of advice you can give to our audience to help them get past the final round interview and land the job offer?
Bruce: I would say probably listening. See you later! I think listening is important. BCG isn’t looking for people who are so smart that they know everything. We’re looking for people who are capable of learning things quickly, but we don’t expect them to know everything. So, when you come in and you don’t know what topic, you just ask BCGer, “Could you please explain this to me?” And they will, they’re more than happy to. They don’t want you to ask that same question repeatedly but they’re willing to answer it once, maybe give some clarifying questions. They want you to listen to it and they want you to react based upon what you’ve heard. If you have a conversation with me and I’m giving you advice on, ‘This is what you have to do to have your best shot at BCG. If you’re going to have any shot at BCG, this is your best shot,’ and listen to me and react to that then that’s great. So, a lot of it just has to do with understanding that you don’t know everything. And almost at this point in your life, you don’t know anything but that’s fine because we are going to teach you things. All we ask in return is for you to retain that information and act upon that information.
So, listen and act upon it. I love that! Yes, it’s great advice. Bruce, I know you’ve been here for a while but thank you so much for being here, for giving insight to everyone. I think it’s going to be so helpful for both their current recruitment process and the future if they’re a little bit younger in school.
Bruce: Anything that I can do to help with folks and like I said, it’s great to hear when someone says, “I got into Bain, but you’re the reason why I got there.” It feels great because that’s the intention. It’s not necessarily BCG. It’s just you as a person. That’s what I want to help.
Well, you heard it here first. Bruce Smolen from the Boston Consulting Group sharing expert insight about recruiting and landing job offers. One thing that really stood out to me today was how Bruce said, “What is the worst thing that can happen if you reach out to a recruiter?” I encourage everyone to reach out right now to a recruiter that you’ve been wanting to contact and make sure to follow up if they don’t answer. We hope you will take this insight into your own recruiting journey and we’d really appreciate it if you could subscribe to the show and leave a rating and review. Until the next episode of the Final Round podcast, keep fighting and we will see you in the ring.