Leah Frank is a former consulting recruiter for over 5 years at Bain & Company and McKinsey & Company. Leah managed full-cycle hiring for full-time and intern candidates including candidate pipeline management, application screening, training/onboarding, and more. She now works as the GM of an organization called “MyConsultingOffer” to help more candidates land top consulting offers.
Here are some questions we will be answering:
Here are some questions we will be answering:
– What was the expectation vs. reality of being a recruiter at McKinsey and Bain?
– How should a candidate deal with an exploding offer if they are trying to continue interviewing at another firm?
– What are company “Sell Weekends”?
– What advice do you have for candidates to help their resumes and cover letters shine in the application process?
– What does networking look like on the company side?
– Do you have any office preference tips given that you recruited for offices around the country such as Denver and SF?
– Why did you leave recruiting and what are you up to now?
Connect with Leah: www.linkedin.com/in/leahfrank/
Follow our Host on LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/aaron-aj-eckstein/
Get 1-on-1 Career Coaching: www.careercoachingcompany.com/
*Disclaimer: The opinions and views expressed in this podcast are of the host and guest and not of their employers.
“Adjust your mindset and think the producers, the script writers, the interviewers, they want you to get that offer. They’re not sitting there to reject you, that’s a waste of their time. They’re rooting for you and if you go in thinking that, ‘They want me to get through this case. They want me to succeed. They want to accept the offer at the end of the day,’ I think you’ll be much more confident.” – Leah Frank
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.
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Our guest today is Leah Frank, a former consulting recruiter for over five years at Bain & Company and McKinsey & Company. Leah managed full cycle hiring for full time and intern candidates including candidate pipeline management, application screening, training, and onboarding and more. She now works as the general manager at an organization called My Consulting Offer to help more candidates land top consulting jobs. Let’s bring Leah onto the show. What is going on, everyone? Welcome back to the Final Round podcast. Joining you live from the Final Round studio; we have Leah Frank. Leah, how are you doing today?
Leah: I’m doing well. How are you doing?
I am so happy to have you on and I think this episode is so timely because so many of our audience, our listeners are recruiting right now for consulting and as everyone knows, consulting recruiting is in full swing and a lot of companies have started recruiting or maybe even interviewing candidates. So, we’re so excited to have you on the show and I think that your background being a recruiter, both at McKinsey & Company and Bain & Company is going to be so relevant for our listeners today. So, without further ado, let’s just dive right in and let’s talk about your experiences recruiting for these two premier consulting firms and what was the real difference, I guess between the expectation and reality recruiting for these two firms?
Leah: Yeah. It’s a great question because there’s not that many people who spent time at both or two of the big three and I feel lucky that I had that opportunity. I think in terms of recruiting and the people they hire and the type of work these people do are similar. I was really impressed when I went from the way they hire, what they look for, the type of projects people do once they’re there, almost identical. They even used the same as acronyms sometimes and it was easy to transition because it was so similar. The main difference though I think was just how these firms help with recruiting. So, at Bain, it was kind of expected. Everyone did their part to help with recruiting. So, we would sign up consultants for interview days, for events, for coffee chats, all that before the cycle started. So, everyone participated. It was just expected.
And I think part of the reason for that is that Bain is a little smaller, right? You couldn’t get it done yourself as a recruiter. So, everyone played their part. That led to a really supportive culture and you can kind of expect that people would help you if you needed to staff interview days or things like that. At McKinsey, it wasn’t as embedded in the culture. That’s not a bad thing. There were just more options. There were more people. So, some people were super involved, and some weren’t involved at all. Made it a little harder to staff interview days and things like that. But like I said, the firm was way bigger so, there were just more options.
And I think my advice based off that would be if you are networking with these firms or talking to people at these firms, like there’s going to be the people who say yes to those conversations at McKinsey and there’s going to be some people that might just be silent not because they don’t think you’re a good candidate, but because they might not be involved. So, that would be my advice based on the fact that there’s different levels of participation in recruiting at both those firms.
And we will dive a little bit deeper into networking in a few minutes. But I’m just curious because if from a recruiter’s perspective, given that you recruited at both firms, if they are very similar on the recruiting side and they’re looking for almost the same candidate and competing for talent, when you get that question as a candidate in the interview process or maybe in a phone screening from someone like you as a recruiter, how do you answer the why McKinsey or why Bain question if the companies are relatively similar?
Leah: Yeah, it’s a good question. I think their cultures feel different, all the work feels the same. So, get to know people so you understand what that culture is like, having more of a local and home staffing model led to extreme amounts of friendship and mentorship. People talk about Bain’s culture in that way a lot, like you really know everyone you work with. What a home staffing model means is it doesn’t mean you’re always working in that office; it means your staff to people in your home office. That’s where the mentorship comes in.
You really know everyone personally and professionally. So, when people say the Why Bain answer, I think it’s great when they like that home staffing model. Sometimes people don’t know that about Bain, they go into the interview and they’re like, “I just want to travel, and I want to meet a bunch of people” and whereas McKinsey being more global or more regional in some ways you don’t have that same feel of working with the same people, but the pro of that is there’s usually more staffing opportunities. So, then your answer could be more around the global feel of the firm and the ability to work on a wide variety of projects. And so, I think do your research on what the firm’s culture is like because those answers should differ based on those two firms.
Internal vs. External Recruiting
You mentioned that Bain is much smaller than a company like McKinsey & Company, they rely more heavily on the professionals of the company to help with networking, coffee chats, internal recruiting, things like that. And I know on your LinkedIn profile, you said that one of your specialties were both internal and external recruiting. So, can you both, I guess define internal versus external and then how can our listeners use that to their advantage one recruiting and meeting people like yourself?
Leah: Yeah, it’s a good question because I don’t think a lot of people know about the differences, but they’re completely different roles. For me, I liked internal recruiting a lot more. Internal recruiting is basically where I work at a firm. So, I work at Bain and I’m hiring for Bain only. So, since I work at Bain, I’m part of the culture and part of the company. I know exactly how to talk to candidates about it. When they have questions about what they’ll be doing, I know how to answer those. So, you’re just hiring for Bain and you’re a part of Bain. External recruiting is you’re an agency, you have a bunch of different clients and you must get to know those.
So, you ask a lot of questions before you are helping them hire and you really try to understand their firm, understand their values, understand if the candidate can still be successful there? But you never were part of it, so you don’t really know it. So, I found it harder to be an external recruiter. I sometimes didn’t know enough about the company. Even if you ask a bunch of questions, you didn’t live it. So, it’s hard to do. And then the other thing I like more about internal recruiting is you see them join the firm and you see them succeed.
So, over time the more years you’re a recruiter and internal recruiting, you see what types of profiles, what types of candidates are going to make it and then you can see their success and then if you see certain profiles over time not doing well, you start to kind of lean away from hiring those. Whereas external recruiting once you hire them, you might not ever see how long they last at that firm unless you’ve made a personal relationship with them which is the goal, but you can’t keep up with everyone. Right? So, it’s more high volume and external or internal, like every year you have your set number and you’re focused on those people and then you see them after that.
I think that’s a great definition of internal versus external recruiting. I know right now there’s such a demand and there’s so much competition to recruit for the best talent. I really do think that the leverage is on the candidate side right now given that the demand plummeted during Covid for consulting services from the client side and now it’s completely spiked back up and they need to hire as quickly as possible but there’s not that many candidates. So, in your experience but you say that these large consulting firms rely on external recruiters from agencies, or do they usually stay in-house, and they have their own recruiters?
Leah: Yeah, it’s a good question. So, most firms have their own recruiters just because they do high volume for that year. So, for example, Bain, they just had the Bain recruiters. Where we start to see a difference is when these firms are hiring more specialized roles. So, McKinsey, they still have their own internal recruiters for campus hiring and for their generalist positions, but I did start to see more external agencies help.
Definitely not the norm at a lot of these bigger consulting rooms but it’s starting to happen more as they’re looking for more specialized roles. So, McKinsey’s at a bunch of practice areas and those are growing super-fast. If they’re looking for very niche backgrounds, let’s say in the digital practice and they’re looking for a certain level, that’s where they would see some external recruiters come in, but they still usually had an internal recruiter that would work with that external recruiter because at the end of the day, they knew who would succeed a little bit better, but I’m starting to see more of it.
And that’s good to know the difference between those two and had guests on the show, who have been recruiters, who have been technical recruiters, who have been talent sourcers, who have been internal, external. I mean, it goes across the gambit of how many different types of recruiting and it’s very confusing I think on the candidate side. And I know that you were a full cycle recruiter which I believe encompasses everything, but can you go into detail of what exactly you were working on as a full cycle recruiter?
Leah: Yeah. So, at these firms a lot of the full cycle recruiters usually are doing campus hiring. And when you’re a full cycle recruiter, you own that pipeline for that school from start to finish. So, for example Stanford and Berkeley were my two main schools for Bain San Francisco, so everything from deciding which marketing events, what days we’re hosting those, what that content will look like to the actual application review and making sure that everyone is getting screened and looked at and then making those decisions with the teams because we work closely with the consultants on was getting interviewed, making those decisions, sending those invites out, scheduling their interview day and then once the offer is out making sure they’re having the right conversations to decide on the accept or the reject. You really see everything from start to finish.
So, I think a lot of these firms do full cycle hiring because the recruiters do really get to know a lot about the candidates as they go through it. So, my advice there is to develop relationships early and get in front of that recruiter because they’re there from start to finish. So, if they’re at the very end of their hiring after the final round and they are docked between two candidates, they’ll usually go to the recruiter in the room and say, “Hey, what are your thoughts? You’ve known this person from day one. You were there when they came to the networking events, with the coffee chat.” So, get to know those full cycle recruiters because they’re the one person that holds it all together.
You mentioned that recruiters work with consultants to decide on who gets interviews. Can we dive a little bit deeper and talk about that relationship? Is that you going out to the consultant saying, “Hey, throw some names and resume my way,” or the consultant after let’s say I reach out to a consultant, we have a great coffee chat. I send them that person my resume, he or she says, “AJ will be a great candidate. Let me send that to the recruiter.” How does that interaction go?
Leah: Yeah. So, it’s a little both of what you mentioned. Right? So, let’s say there’s an app deadline, I get all the apps from a certain school or from other people who selected my office, and I can’t go through 500 resumes in a week and read cover letters too. So, I would typically go through a large portion but also send it out to my team of consultants who are helping me and that’s that group that we staffed early in the year to help. Right? So, usually people who went to that school or in a similar role, maybe they’re just a year or two out and they’re helping me as a recruiter score and evaluate and decide on that pack of applicants. But then while that’s happening there’s also a lot of intel and information gathering from the recruiter, from people like yourself or consultants.
So, either of them going into the applicant tracking system and putting some information in or it’s them just emailing me and saying, “Hey, Leah, I had this conversation. AJ seems like a great fit.” And so, while the recruiter is not only having everyone read the apps with them, but they’re also collecting intel information based on networking conversations and they can also see things in the system the people submit. So, there’s almost like two ways, there’s informal referrals that’s you sending me an email and I’m keeping track of those and then there’s formal referrals who go in and submit something. So, they’re using all of that at the same time to decide because one recruiter can’t really make all those decisions on their own and they weren’t consultants. So, at the end of the day, I want consultants by my side to say, “I know the school. I know this class. We can get a lot more info from the consultants who are actually doing the job or people who went to that school or in that same role.”
So, you said that you have consultants to help with the recruiting aspect of things, but you don’t have partners or principles to help with recruiting. Would you say it’s a good focus to network with people who just started or maybe 1 to 3 years at the firm versus trying to go for the biggest leaders of the company who are not as involved with recruiting to make sure that that conversation is going to get passed over to someone like yourself?
Leah: Yeah, it’s a good question. So, in terms of scoring the application, they’re doing that first read. That’s getting more junior level people in the first year, second year, third year. However, there’s still a lot of that informal and formal referrals happening from senior levels because people do reach out to those people and they do have a lot of influence. So, I think I can network with both. I think both help. If you’re at a school where there are alumni, network with those people who are one year, two years, three years out because they are part of that scoring part of the team. But then there might also be partners that you have something in common with or they’re in an office or an industry that you really like, and it doesn’t hurt to reach out to them. And a lot of referrals come from senior members and it depends on the firm. Some firms are, if you get a senior referral from a partner, that person is getting an interview and that isn’t the case if it’s like a first year usually because they do hold a lot of power, but both influence the decision-making process. So, I think you can find the right people at both ends.
If I was in your shoes as a recruiter for a global consulting firm and I’m getting just the influx. I can only imagine how many applications are sent to these firms each recruitment cycle, must be hundreds if not thousands right across the country, across the world. I would start in the pile of applications that I’ve been flagged by people who already work at the company. Is that true? And would you say that you start in the pile of applications that have been flagged either by a junior level consultant or leader at the company that maybe has an actual referral attached to it?
Leah: Yeah, definitely! It’s kind of the first place you look because you’re right, you’re getting thousands of applications. So, where do you start? You’re going to start with people who were mentioned, you already know their name and you see it and you’re like, “Oh, yes, I did get some information on this person.” The more you know about candidates, the better decisions you can make in the process. So, I think that’s kind of the first place we’re looking.
And then from there, we’re kind of looking at, ‘Okay. These people are awesome candidates. These are great. Is there anyone here who maybe doesn’t deserve it?’ And that’s where the scoring and the conversations with the consultants helps. And then we kind of look at the no pile, right? ‘Okay. These people don’t have the GPA, or they don’t have the background,’ and then we kind of look at, ‘Okay. Is there anyone in this no pile who we have a referral on? Should they maybe move up to the yes and then there’s this huge metal bucket which makes up the most of it. And that’s where that networking plays a role. So, if anyone has anything in their background, they’re slightly worried about GPA, test scores or not very relevant work experience, that’s where networking becomes more important. If you’re a seller candidate on your own, network becomes less important because you’re probably already in the yes pile.
I’ve heard from some of our listeners who reached out to me on LinkedIn and asked, what’s the best way to reach out to these professionals at consulting firms given that the consulting work is so demanding from the client side that you don’t have a ton of free time especially to just give up some of your time, let’s say on a weekend or during the week to give up let’s say 20 minutes, 30 minutes for a coffee chat? So, would you recommend trying to reach out to the recruiter first before you dive into the professional side or should you go to the professionals and they get shot back to the recruiter? How do you manage that relationship?
Leah: Yeah, it’s a good question because I think it’s something that’s really confusing for students because you hear the word recruiter and you’re like, “I should probably connect with them,” which can happen, but I’ll say during the busy season, the inbox management is so hard. I’d wake up with like 300 emails a day and I really don’t miss that anymore. But because of that during the busy season, I was not a recruiter taking networking calls. It just would not be possible. The only calls I was taking were usually when the consultant had a great conversation, and they introduced me and then I’d take a call.
Otherwise, if I got an email requesting a call, I would say, “I didn’t have time,” unless they email me during the low season, maybe around the holidays or so and I wasn’t hiring, I wasn’t able to take calls, but I would take those calls with the high potential candidates. So, I’d say go for the consultants and like I said, not everyone participates in recruiting, but for a lot of firms it’s expected, or a lot of people do it. So, it might not be that first person you reach out to, but cast a bit of a wide net, don’t go crazy, don’t spam people because that’s not very thoughtful, but don’t be afraid to reach out to a handful of people in consulting. And the goal being, ‘Okay. I’m getting introduced to that recruiter.’ The goal doesn’t need to be a call with the recruiter, but at least if I’ve been introduced to you, I usually know to keep an eye out for your application because I trust the consultants to choose who to connect with.
Asking for a Referral
I think that goes back to the theme you said of start early, especially start networking early and I guarantee that your inbox is not as flooded around the holiday season when no one’s recruiting, everyone’s taking time off and you probably see a couple emails and they’re asking to hop on a coffee chat and it’s very informal because you’re not eligible right now to apply. There’s usually very structured recruitment timelines versus I can only imagine how many people try to get time on your calendar in the consulting recruitment month.
So, if you can just be that person who is not doing what everyone else is doing, start early and get time with you, get on your radar early and then you know who I am going into the process. So, I think that’s great advice and knowing that the recruiters have hundreds of emails each day in the busy season, go after consultants like you said. And let’s say I have a great conversation with a consultant and there’s five minutes left in our coffee chat and we just are vibing, maybe he or she was an alumnus from the same school that I was at, we’re both from Los Angeles. Is it important to ask directly for a referral or am I going to assume that if that person loved our conversation that that person will send my resume application to you as a recruiter?
Leah: Yeah, I think it kind of depends on the relationship and how you felt about the call. If you feel like you’re really hitting it off or knew the person maybe before the call, maybe your friends, totally fine to ask for a referral and I think always ask over the phone and always ask in a way where it’s like, ‘I’m not sure if your firm has referrals, but if you would feel comfortable I would really, really appreciate it. No pressure.’ Right? And it’s very casual, doesn’t need to be like, would you submit a referral for me like formal ask.
But only do that if you feel like, ‘I think this person really likes me. I think they will remember me in two months from now,’ that kind of thing, totally fine to ask. But if you don’t feel that or if you do feel uncomfortable, you could still get a referral that you are knowing that probably was more common from what I would see is that you had a great conversation, stay in touch with them at that last five-minute mark. Say, ‘Hey, do you mind if I keep in touch with you as I get closer to that application deadline?’ And do that. Think of it as a mentor-mentee type of relationship where you update them on your summer internship or update them on what you’ve been doing and then update them when you press submit on that app and usually that’s a reminder to them to go submit a referral or go send an email and then that happens probably more often than someone saying, “Hey, will you submit a referral for me?
So, if it’s not a direct referral, how would an informal referral work? Is it simply just messaging the recruiter whether through the internal instant messaging like a Teams or Slack or is it an email to you saying, “Hey, I would check out this candidate?”
Leah: Yeah, it’s been a mix. So, sometimes they can, some firms have portals where they can go in and submit their own notes and that will tie to the application automatically and that’s great. I think as a recruiter, I always love when people use the systems, most people don’t, most people would just email me anyway and say, “I talked to AJ. He was really great, like I think he’s applying for San Francisco,” that kind of thing and I would say thanks and I’d add him to my list of high potential people to keep an eye out. So, it really depends on the person. I think recruiters were always trying to push people to use the systems in place so that they could save their inbox, but most people still just kind of emailed us and neither held more weight like either way we were still looking at those people who were mentioned to us.
And whether you get a referral or continue networking, you still must shine in the application process, and I want to talk about the application process for a second because again whether you have that referral or not, you still must pass a lot of different criteria like the GPA, like the test scores like having the relevant experience and so on. So, in your experience, probably seeing and reading thousands of resumes at this point, what would you say makes a resume that truly shines, that doesn’t go in the maybe or the no pile but is on the top of the yes pile?
Leah: Yeah, I think it’s people who take the time to really tailor it to consulting into the role. So, your resume should not be a list of everything you’ve done and that’s what most people do. For consulting recruiters, I don’t care if they’ve done something that’s not relevant to consulting that’s great but they’re applying to consulting and that’s what I’m looking for. So, think of it as an exercise in like sending yourself to a client. We’re just looking for the things that matter the most for that role and for that firm.
So, things like leadership, things like teamwork, things like complex problem-solving kind of showing you have the analytical horsepower to do the job. Those are the types of skills and experiences we want to read about. And then people always say they have impactful, quantifiable results in their resume. Yes, I 100% agree you should. What I think differentiates people is where they put that info. Put it at the top, make it your top bullet points, put it at the beginning of your bullet point. One of the things we talk a lot about is looking for the impact at the beginning. We call it the XYZ format where you can frame your resume as like accomplished X, like that’s the result, that should be at the beginning of your sentence by doing why, like how are you measuring it?
Yes, measure it when you can, it helps. What most people do is flip it, right? They’ll put the task at the beginning. And as a consultant, the client only cares about your results so put it at the end of your bullet point of view structure in that way and think about showing those skills like leadership, teamwork and problem solving you’re going to stand out because most people are not tailoring it in that way and they’re just writing a list of every task they’ve done.
Cover Letters for Consulting
I love that XYZ format for the resume and I think it’s very similar too for our listeners who are either currently or starting to prepare for those case interviews. Almost every case will end with, all right. The CEO is about to walk into the room and here she would love an executive summary or recommendation on what’s going on. That CEO doesn’t want to hear an entire monologue of everything that you did to get to this point at the end. They want to hear the exact recommendation in the beginning then explain how you got there and talk about any analytics, data, things like that.
So, I think again, tailoring it to what you’re applying to. If you know that a case interview, that recommendation is like that, you’re trying to recommend your story and how you’re a good fit to the client AKA the recruiters in the company. So, it’s the same thing and it makes complete sense. And I think on the other side of the spectrum, on top of resume because everyone knows resumes are critical. I think cover letters always have an interesting discussion and we’ve had a good amount of tech recruiters from Google, Facebook, Tesla, et cetera. And the argument is mixed on how important they are. So, I guess in your perspective with consulting, recruiting and cover letters, how much weight is put on the cover letter?
Leah: Yeah, I’ve heard a lot of mixed reviews on cover letters from a wide variety of firms and I think for consulting overall, I’ve seen that it does matter a lot. For some firms, more than others. Like for example at Bain, the same people reading those resumes were reading every single cover letter so it really mattered to almost help equal weight. McKinsey, it was optional. So, knowing it’s optional, you kind of know it weighs a little bit less. Right? So, as you’re looking through the application and seeing if it’s optional or mandatory, those mandatory cover letters, you should know that those have a little bit more weight and that they are truly read and usually read by several people, not just the recruiter. So, it’s a way to differentiate yourself.
I like to think of it as kind of a secret weapon. You could tell in two seconds if someone used the same cover letter for every consulting firm or if they wrote personally to Bain or McKinsey, that kind of thing. So, put the time into tailor those because it does matter and pay attention to the details. There are so many cover letters as well as Bain pain that they put the business analyst position, which was McKinsey’s position, right? So, like that is something that will hurt a candidate. They didn’t pay attention to the details. They didn’t take the time to customize it. So, if you know that they really do have people who read it, put that time in and then if you have anything in your background you’re worried about, show them you can overcome that. Maybe you had lower GPA or lower test scores, you want to prove that you still have the analytical horsepower to do the job and you want to pick stories in that cover letter that are going to help overcome any weakness that you have.
I know exactly what you’re talking about. I’ve heard some “horror stories” where you do all the networking, you get the referral, your application is so strong and in the cover letter you put Dear BCG when you’re applying to Bain. And I think that the companies differentiate those roles, so they see if you’re paying attention when you’re applying and I’m sure you agree that if you received an application that said applying for an associate role at Bain, which doesn’t exist. Is that immediately thrown in the trash pile?
Leah: Not immediately thrown in the trash bag, but it’s something that we usually like, we’ll talk about when we’re deciding on that candidate. If everything else was super strong, we probably still give them an interview, but it’s usually mentioned at some point. But if there were other parts of the application that there were red flags on, then yeah, it could be that final straw that puts you in the no pile.
Let’s step out of the ring and talk about Career Coaching Companies. With all the valuable advice that you just heard from our wonderful guest, let’s act on that advice with one-on-one live, tailored coaching from recent grads who now work at the same companies that you’re applying to. Schedule your free strategy calls today by going to careercoachingcompany.com. Now, back to the ring.
You mentioned that when you were going through these cover letters in a matter of seconds, you can see, is it tailored and specific to let’s say Bain or McKinsey when you were recruiting for those firms or is it a very generic cover letter? Can you talk about what makes something obvious to you that it’s tailored? Is it throwing actual names in there, people that you may be networked with at the firm or talking about Bain’s culture or talking about what’s going on with current events of Bain? How do you really tailor that cover letter? What do you want to see that makes it a great cover letter?
Leah: Yeah, I think you can tell easily if it’s tailored by one, if there’s names, right? That means they took the time to meet someone at Bain and then if they did throw out a name, they shouldn’t just name drop, they should throw in what they learned from that person that resonated with them about Bain. Ideally, it’s something you learn from them in a one-on-one conversation that isn’t on the website so that it’s clear like, ‘Wow, this person really learned something from that Bain meet.” So, that’s one way is throwing those names in there but also saying what about that conversation resonated with you.
And then I think in terms of the rest of the cover letter, talking specifically about that culture or that value, but like I said those things that aren’t on the websites that goes a long way. So, they are specific to each of these firms and not only through the networking conversations, but also just through exploring more on the website. You can start to learn a lot about these or even things people post from those firms on LinkedIn. They talk a lot about the current events that are going on or the new initiatives, those are great things to add in because they will be different for everything.
I think that makes complete sense. And like you said, don’t just throw a name because I can find anyone on LinkedIn and just say, “Oh, I know Leah. We’re best friends.” But how do you know her? Right? Talk about the interaction, talk about did her conversation sparked your interest to apply to a specific role within the company and explain those interactions.
So, I think overall great advice. And kind of the last piece on the cover letter is I’ve heard two trains of thought either talk about your best attributes, your biggest strength, your leadership, how you worked at Google last summer, all of your different things or should you talk about addressing those potential red flags as in not having that target GPA because you had a family illness, you had to go back home and miss a semester or you had poor SAT scores and yes, everyone listening, the big consulting firms as well as a lot of other companies collect your standardized test scores. Should you address those potential weaknesses to answer those questions, or should you essentially hide from those and just focus on the strengths?
Leah: Yeah, I think it depends how worried about the test scores, the GPA or whatever the issue is. If it’s something that your GPA is low, right? You need to address and explain it. I wouldn’t use the space in the cover letter to do it. I’ve seen a lot of people do it well where they have an addendum at the bottom, kind of explaining that weakness. Only do that if it’s something that is low, you like to know that you won’t get past that bar of what they’re looking for, then address it. But still use the space in the body of the cover letter to talk through those strengths because they’re going to need to see those strengths. You can’t just have a cover letter addressing the weaknesses. If you’re kind of like you have an average GPA or average test score, I’d say don’t go in and write an addendum addressing it because you’re kind of in that middle bucket already. So, just show those strong stories that will help differentiate you from other people. It’s just those people with the low scores that I do think addressing it in an addendum format works well.
And I wanted to touch on the topic we were talking about previously, which was networking and trying to hopefully get a referral. And I think a lot of people’s trepidation is this person, let’s say Leah is so busy. She gets so much outreach; I don’t want to waste her time and she’s doing me a favor and I can’t do anything in return to help you because you’re helping me. But I don’t think people realize that most of these companies have referral bonuses and if I reach out to, let’s say an associate consultant at Bain and that person refers to me and I go through the process successfully, get the offer and sign. I believe that person gets a referral bonus for a couple of $1,000, right?
Leah: It depends on the firm for the referral bonuses. Some do it. Some do it at certain times of the year like if they’re really doing a lot of hiring and then some firms don’t always do it. So, it really isn’t. But I think since we talked a little bit earlier about the networking being kind of embedded into a lot of these firms’ culture as something that is kind of expected of you and you do like I know for some firms it’s part of your HR reviews at the end. “Hey, did you participate in things that the firm outside of your client work?” And recruiting is one of those main buckets usually. So, the consultants, they kind of know they need to do this, and it is part of their role.
So, I always say to people don’t be nervous to reach out to those consultants. Not everyone’s going to respond. There are going to be people who are heavily involved in the recruiting and enjoy it. A lot of the consultants I was working with at Bain and McKinsey people who were involved like it. It took them away from their client work for 20 minutes on a Friday, you know that kind of thing and it does sometimes re-energize them. Consulting is hard, it is long hours, it is a stressful job and it’s nice to sometimes not always be focused on the client work and focus on the firm and focus on the positives and that does reenergize consultants a lot. So, don’t be nervous to reach out to them. A lot of people enjoy it. It takes them away from their work and a lot of people must do it. It’s part of what is kind of expected from them.
And I think also just most people are so grateful to be on the other side of the table and not too long ago, especially those entry level folks, the people who just had the associate consulting internship at Bain or now pivoted to the associate consultant role or they keep rising at the firm, not too long ago they were at these schools recruiting, networking, doing the exact same thing that you’re doing today and they know that it’s a means to an end, you have to do it to get your foot in the door. So, I don’t think it’s something where you’re just taking someone’s time and there’s no benefit. People enjoy going back to their alma mater for instance and helping recruiting events and talking to folks.
So, for everyone out there, don’t be afraid to reach out and it only really could pay dividends. And the last question I have for you, Leah on networking is what is the best way to outreach to someone? Is it a cold email to their McKinsey email or is it messaging that person on LinkedIn? What do you think is the best way to outreach to people?
Leah: Yeah, I think it kind of depends a little bit on the person, but overall, because I’ve helped a lot of people with networking strategy. I’ve seen a lot of networking, it’s easier to catch people on email. Like I can tell you, like I rarely check my LinkedIn and I think even when you LinkedIn message me, I hadn’t picked up a bit and I was like, please email me, just because they get so much outreach on LinkedIn. So, I do think email gets more responses and there’s a lot of ways to find people’s emails. My only point on this is don’t overdo it. You don’t want to reach out to someone at McKinsey because you can figure out the configuration of their emails and reach out to 50 people.
I specifically remember at McKinsey and Bain candidates emailing 50 of us and I get all those emails forwarded to me as the recruiter and I think this is coming off a little desperate, they’re not being very cognizant of people’s time and we’re all very busy. They could have just reached out to a couple and that would have been good. They would have gotten some responses. I just want to be careful when doing the email route because the email will get forwarded usually. So, you want to be thoughtful with who you’re reaching out to. Quality over quantity when it comes to networking. You don’t need more than one referral. You just need one advocate for you. You don’t need to reach out to 50 people.
So, if you send emails in batches, let’s say that Bain’s email structure is firstname.lastname@example.org, and it usually is that for most companies. But once you have one person’s email, it’s not that hard to guess what the next person’s email is at the same company. But if I send the same outreach message to 5, 10 people and they send that to you, it’s obvious that I just used that templated approach and that’s probably a big red flag, right?
Leah: Yeah, definitely! Yeah. It’s really easy to tell when someone writes something that is personalized to that person. So, pick people where you have something in common that will be likely to respond because of that commonality and don’t copy and paste your emails to everyone because it’s really, easy to tell and they’re going to be less likely to respond to if there’s nothing in the email that shows them like, “Hey, you picked me for a reason.”
Office Location Preferences
It’s funny you said that because someone actually reached out to me to discuss networking for a different company and it was such a templated approach and I looked through this person’s profile, they’re also from USC and I love helping out fellow Trojans and I was going through their LinkedIn profile and it was so funny because we had so much in common yet they didn’t talk about anything that we had in common and I even said here’s some help with networking, make sure you tailor it and here are five things that I was super involved in at USC that I love talking about that you’re currently doing that we could have easily touched on.
So, I think tailoring is everything and knowing that that email or that LinkedIn message might get shot back to the recruiter and if it’s the same message, that’s a red flag. So, I think these are all great tips on networking strategies. And shifting gears for a second. I know that you recruited at McKinsey, you were the recruiting lead from McKinsey’s Denver office and then at Bain & Company, you are focusing on campus recruiting and then just overall recruiting for the San Francisco office. So, you obviously have a good experience and knowledge of different offices around the country. So, what would be some advice you have for office preferences because when you’re applying to these companies, you usually must list your top three location preferences?
Leah: Yeah, I think it should never feel random to the recruiter. You have all these people who might not know you very well on the other side of your application and they’re going to try to see why this person put that office. Right? So, for example for Denver, we would look at, did they work in Denver? Did they have a Denver area code, did they have an address in Denver or in Colorado? If not, was there something on their application that tied to Denver? Otherwise, we’re wondering what they want to be here? Are they going to stay here? Are they going to request a transfer to New York in two years? They really want to pick people who want to be in that office. And usually when you can put those three choices, this is a place where you can write a note. If there’s not, the cover letter is a great place to have that note on what your reasoning is.
And it can be for a wide variety of reasons. It can be the industries they work on; it can be that you have friends or family in that region, whatever it is, that’s totally fine. But you need to make it clear to them that you have a tie if it’s not on your resume. Otherwise, I’m wondering why you put Cleveland? Is it because you think it’s easier? And then as the Cleveland recruiter, maybe I’m not going to pluck you, so definitely think through where you want to live and then what your reason for that city is.
So, I must ask because you just brought it up, is Cleveland easier to get into than a San Francisco, LA, or New York office?
Leah: Yeah, that’s a good question. So, basically, I think there are going to be cities that people naturally gravitate towards: a lot of the coastal cities, a lot of the bigger cities. People want to live in those cities, especially people right out of undergrad. So, Cleveland is not any of those things. So, there definitely are offices that are going to get less applications just due to people wanting to be in certain cities. However, those recruiters then need to be more thoughtful about, “Does this person really want to be in Cleveland? Because people know that and the last thing they want is someone from Cleveland to try to transfer their offer once it’s extended.
So, really get to know people in Cleveland, maybe you wouldn’t mind living in Cleveland or maybe you do have some type of reason to be there but make that reason clear. And the other thing to note on this is yes, some offices are not going to get as many apps, so it might be a little easier to get the interview, but it does not change the bar for getting an offer, the case performance, behavioral performance is going to have to be the same for Cleveland office versus in New York and so it really can just kind of help a little bit on the frontend but it won’t carry you through to put Cleveland.
And I would imagine that yes, there are fewer applications getting shot to Cleveland and for any of our listeners from Cleveland, I’ve never been and it’s probably an amazing place but it’s not in New York. So, I know there’s less applications being thrown to the Cleveland office but there are also less spots because the Cleveland office is, I would assume, much smaller than a New York office. Like you said the bar is still as high as it would be for any office and it’s not “easier,” but maybe it helps get an interview but getting that offer is still the same level of difficulty.
Leah: Yeah, definitely, getting the offer is going to be the same level of difficulty across these firms. A lot of these firms use global interviewer training, global case banks, structured processes for interviews, so it’s not going to change based on the office once you’re getting your foot in the door, but it can sometimes be a little bit easier in that first application stage. You are right, Cleveland or an office that is a little bit smaller is going to have lower hiring targets. So, like for example Bain San Francisco, yes, we would get a bunch of apps but when I was there in 2018, when I was leaving, 60 associate consultants I was hiring and that’s a huge number compared to a small office. So, all that kind of comes together but in that initial stage of selecting candidates for my office for round one, there’s going to be a smaller pool for certain offices to pick from.
I think when our listeners are applying to these firms, they will go in whether they think this or not that they’ll have their dream companies, that company that they would do anything to work out or intern at. And along the way you might get an offer from another company that in your eyes might not be as “prestigious” or as much of a dream, but it’s still a great offer and oftentimes there’s a deadline and it’s an exploding offer.
How do you think the candidate should navigate that exploding offer? Because they don’t want to burn bridges, they don’t want to try to say no to one opportunity and then get denied from the other opportunity and now they’re at zero. But you also don’t want to say yes and then get the other opportunity to accept the offer and then burn that bridge. So, what’s the best way to navigate an exploding offer from another company?
Leah: Yeah, this is having more and more and the reason they do it is because they want to get talent quickly, right. They want people to accept and then not have the opportunity to go to another place. But at the same time, these firms understand that you are not just recruiting for them. You are recruiting for a wide variety of firms and you should be doing that. So, I think recruiters are more understanding than people think or the hiring teams that these firms are. So, my advice is to be transparent and always do it on the phone. You don’t want to send an email because like we’ve talked about already, emails get forwarded, it’s hard to sometimes understand the tone of them. So, be transparent, hop on the phone with the recruiter, ask if you can speak with them and say, “Hey, I’m so grateful for my offer at this firm and I’m most likely planning on accepting. But I am still in the process of finishing out with another firm, and I hope you understand. Is there any way we could extend this?”
And the recruiter will likely say, “Let me talk to my team,” because they won’t decide on the call, but then they will extend it. I’ve only seen one instance where the firm didn’t extend it and it was really because that person ahead of time said, “Hey, I will accept early.” Like they had already given their word. But most of the time people will be flexible with you. The other piece of advice on this is if you’re a student, check with your career centers because a lot of care centers have policies in place for the firms who do on campus recruiting with them, but they can’t extend exploding offers and not a lot of people know that, but career centers do have partnerships with firms. So, if I’m Bain and I have a partnership with Stanford and I’m allowed to go to Stanford’s campus, market on their website, and be on handshake then I must follow Stanford’s policies. So, usually then the career center has some type of wording to go to the firm and then you’re not even in the middle of it at all. So, just know that those policies do exist not for every school, not for every firm, but they do exist at a lot of target schools and a lot of big firms and don’t be afraid to ask.
And if the worst happens as they say no and then maybe you do have to accept that other offer because you don’t want to risk it and not get it but ask on the phone and I would be really surprised if you weren’t able to get a week or two extensions. And then on the other side of being transparent, go to the firm and say, “Hey, I do have another exploding offer. I’m working with them right now to see if I can extend it, but I did just want to let you know my timeline,” because you never know that recruiter could say, “Oh, well, we could actually just move your interview day up and get your decision sooner.” So be transparent with both parties.
I think the advice is that if that organization or company has partnerships with a school like Stanford, let’s say you go to Stanford to check in with your career center to see if you can kind of catch them on that deadline and get an extension. But do you agree that an expedited interview process exists? Like if I get one offer from company A, but company B is my top choice, should I go to company B’s recruiter and say, “Hey, I have this other offer. If we push my interview date up a week, which will give me enough time to respond back in two weeks to the other company.”
Leah: Yeah, they exist, and they exist more and more every year. I remember like when I first started Bain in 2015, we’d get a couple of requests for it in 2016, it was like a handful more in 2017. It was even more in 2018. It was like, we had interview days set for early interviews every week and that’s true for a lot of firms. I’ve seen them just kind of expect that this is going to happen because more firms are doing it. So, there are processes in place. I think there was a misunderstanding about the expedited process where sometimes people think this is going to be easier. There’s not as many people in the pipeline yet so I’m going to go for it.
They only want to give those spots to people who need it, people who have that exploding offer and people who need that decision quickly. I don’t think it’s easier. In some cases, I think it’s harder because they don’t want to say yes to someone who’s a maybe for them when they know they have 200 more people to see or a bunch of more apps to include. So only request it if you have that exploding offer. I saw a lot of people that used to reach out to me and wanted an early interview, but they didn’t have the reason for it. And the answer was no, that’s not what those spots are for.
So as a recruiter, if I say, hey, I have an exploding offer, are you going to ask what company that’s from?
Leah: Typically, no, in my personal experience with a lot of the colleagues I had. Some people offer it up or sometimes people say, I have another offer in consulting that is helpful. I would like to know if it’s consulting or another industry because a lot of the time, especially if this person really wanted consulting, if it’s an offer in tech or an offer in something else, I would know as a recruiter, they’re probably just going to accept my offer anyway. But if I know, “Hey, I have another consulting offer on the table,” I’m usually likely to see what I can do to get that person in for the earlier interview.
So, if I have an offer from another consulting firm that I know is a competitor to the company that I want the expedited process from, you don’t think it’s a good idea to mention what that company is to get that expedited process.
Leah: No, I do think they should mention it or at least if they don’t feel comfortable because sometimes people don’t say it’s in consulting, but it does not hurt you at all to say I have a McKinsey offer already on the table, that’s just going to motivate them to move your interview up earlier.
And you said it’s not an easier process, but other companies love what you call it, poaching or stealing talent from their competitors. I’m sure you’re looked at as someone who is wanted and desired very similar to what we had a recruiter from Facebook come on the podcast episode eight and she talked about that recruiting is very similar to dating and if you’re dating someone or trying to reach out to a person and no one’s reaching out to them, there’s no interest there. But if you know that that person is getting so much outreach from people that you know, they’re more desired. So, would you agree that it might not be an easier process, but these companies would love to take talent away from their competitors?
Leah: Yeah, I agree. It’s very similar to the dating analogy and usually it’s because like, ‘Okay. They got through a case interview at X firm, they must have the ability to get through other case interviews.’ They’ve clearly proven themselves to someone, they probably have similar skills. Of course, everyone’s processes are a little bit different, but largely the same when it comes to the mechanics for casing and behavioral questions. So, you usually know that this person is likely to get through or get close. But then from there, there are of course, like we said nuances in the interview process. So, someone who comes to me and gets an offer at one firm goes through my process. It won’t carry them through to the offer if they didn’t hit the bar for our firm because there are people who interview differently and people who have different values when it comes to the firm. So, there were a lot of times we pushed the interview up because we thought they were going to get through, but it wasn’t what we were looking for.
And let’s say that you’re a candidate and you have multiple offers on the table, a lot of companies will try to sell you on taking their offer versus their competitors offer. And I know that some companies, I know for instance at Bain, you planned and executed something called Sell Weekend. So, what are these “Sell events,” and how could our candidates either prepare for them or maximize their chances of getting to that point?
Leah: Yeah. So, it’s a good question. A lot of firms have these, and you’ll hear them called Sell Weekends, you’ll hear them called celebration weekends, Off Free weekends and there are two things. One, they are for the candidates being able to celebrate their offers as a class. You know, meet other people they’d be starting with, meet people at the firms because they usually well, pre-pandemic they fly you out to the office and celebrate with you in person. So, it’s for that celebration. And the second thing it is for is to sell people on accepting the offer. So, there’s a lot of people who come to the celebration weekend who haven’t said yes yet. So, it’s not everyone, a lot of people accept right away, but for those people who do have multiple offers, they’re coming to the sales weekend trying to decide to accept offer A or B.
So, to prepare for those, if you’re that person who hasn’t decided yet make sure you’re having those conversations and asking those questions that are on your mind to get those answers because that’s the time to do it during those weekends. If you’re the type of person who’s already accepted, the way to prepare for it is to meet as many people as you can and get excited. You don’t need to really prepare anything for it then if you’ve already accepted because it really is for those people who have not made their decision yet.
And I’ve heard some extravagant stories of companies giving old people who got offers of air pods and winning and dining their candidates and having them take them out to a fun night in the city, things like that obviously pre-pandemic. But I think the biggest thing you need to focus on is that it’s just one weekend and that’s great and companies will throw money because recruiting is so expensive. But the biggest thing you must focus on is the people. Do you like the people you’re going to be working long hours with? Do you want to work for these people? Are they out there for your best interest or is this just show and tell essentially and then after that it’s going to go back and it’s not going to be great? So, thank you for kind of defining what Sell Weekends are about. And one of the last questions I have for you, Leah is I just must ask, why did you decide on leaving recruiting, recruiting for two of the premier consulting firms and what have you been up to now since you’ve left your last role at McKinsey?
Leah: Yeah, it was a tough decision to leave. I loved my time in Bain, I loved my time at McKinsey. The people are incredible, the type of work is incredible, but like the consultant work there, it’s long hours. During the busy season, like I said, I’d wake up with 300 emails. I would work 70 hours a week and it was a lot. So, I did five full cycles for summer and full time there and I enjoyed it, but I want to try something different. I felt like I kind of mastered that type of hiring and I wanted to do something a little bit different. So, now, I’m at an organization called My Consulting Offer. It was a friend of mine from Bain San Francisco who started it.
That’s when we met each other at Bain. And our goal is like your goal, right? Helping people feel like they’re struggling to get into consulting, which is why I was so happy you reached out because I know from working with so many students, this is hard. It is not easy to get a consulting offer. It’s not easy to get a consulting interview and everyone is stressed and tired and emotional and I always felt so bad for those students who are struggling. But if you put in the right work, you know what the firms look for and you’re structuring your approach, you can get there.
So, joining MCO I was able to reach more people and I found it really rewarding to do that. Started in a role where I was coaching clients one-on-one on their recruiting strategy and transition to lead a team that does that, work with students one-on-one if they need any support and then transition into more of a general manager role for them. So, I get to work with a lot of universities which I really enjoy. A lot of students are still building out curriculums and resources for people who feel like they’re struggling because my advice is most people are struggling, don’t feel alone. If you’re like, ‘I don’t know how to crack into consulting.’ So, there’s a lot of ways to learn a lot more and a lot of ways to do it to maximize your chances of getting it.
The Final Question
Well, that sounds like an awesome organization. I think the most ironic thing about you even finding an MCO was that you met the founder through networking at the firm that you were at. And I think that so many people think that networking ends when you get the offer. But I always say networking just starts when you get the offer, when you start because that’s where the true networking happens, and you never know what could happen from it. Like you said you got an offer once you left Bain to go work for this other organization. So, it’s so awesome to see that you’re still super deep into recruiting, still focused on helping applicants get through this tough process. And I know our listeners are going to take so much away from this episode.
Our last question today, Leah, the question that we asked all our guests is, what is the best piece of advice that you can give to our audience to help them get past the interview and land the dream job?
Leah: Yeah, I think I have two pieces of advice. The first one is that I don’t neglect the prep on the behavioral fit. I can’t tell you how many times it would be in the final round of a behavioral interview. We all came together, the interviewers and the recruiting teams to decide and this person nailed the case, but they weren’t coachable. We’re worried about how they’d be with clients because of their answers to their behavior and it would stop people from getting offers. So, yes, the case takes more time to prepare for. But once you’re a week away from your interview, a couple days away from your interview, you better sit down and think about your fit stories because it matters so much.
And then the second piece of advice is something that Davis taught me who was the founder of My Consulting Offer and he called it the George Clooney mindset and I had never heard of it, but basically the story is that George Clooney when he would go into auditions when he first was starting, he would fail all of them because he thought the producers and the directors didn’t want him to succeed. Like how when you go into an interview and people are nervous and you’re thinking they don’t want you to get that offer which is the opposite. So, adjust that mindset and think the producers, the script writers, the interviewers, they want you to get that offer. They’re not sitting there to reject you. That’s kind of a waste of their time. So, they’re rooting for you.
And if you go in thinking that they want me to get through this case, they want me to succeed, they want to extend the offer at the end of this day, I think you’ll be much more confident because they might come off as intense or sometimes, they try to play a role of like a mean interviewer or whatever, but they do at the other day want to extend an offer. So, remember that and you’ll feel a little bit more confident in your interview.
And there you have it to all our final round podcast listeners. Thank you so much, Leah. It’s really been a pleasure to have you on the show.
Leah: Yeah, well thank you so much.
I love what Leah shared about how George Clooney approaches his movie auditions. You should stop going into an audition or an interview hoping that they like you since you will be afraid of messing up. You should go in thinking that you are actually the answer to their problem since they want you to succeed. If you haven’t already, be sure to subscribe to the show on all platforms and leave a quick rating and review on Apple podcasts. Until the next episode of the Final Round, keep fighting and I will see you in the ring. Yeah.