How to cold email a consultant
Every week, I receive a handful of LinkedIn requests from students of all ages/nationalities seeking to get into consulting. Cold-emailing is the right approach : getting to know a company from the inside will help during the interview process, and shows that the candidate cares enough about the role to do some due diligence. It's also important to gauge how potential future co-workers treat soon-to-be graduates.
There are however a few ways of going about it, which matter and will help you get the answers you're seeking. Below is a few cold email tips for a first contact on LinkedIn, as well as a quick FAQ, complete with a template or two. Note that this article's title says "email" and "consultant", but I'd argue this advice applies to all methods of communication and professions.
1. Always write a message when sending an invite
Write a note. I don't care if it's copy-pasted and you'll send it to 5 other consultants. No one will. That note is the very first impression you're giving to a potential future colleague, and that impression should not be "Hi Adrien, I'd like to join your LinkedIn network". This note also lets me know why you want to connect and makes me much, much more likely to accept. Below is an example that fits LinkedIn's character limit :
Hi Adrien, I'm currently working as an [insert role or degree] in [insert city or school], but I'm looking for inspiration to find the next step in my professional life. I'd be very interested in having your insight on [Company] and on what your daily job there looks like! Would you agree to a quick call with me ?
If a call isn't what you have in mind, that's perfectly fine. Writing works just as well and is more flexible. The next step is the same either way.
2. Be direct and concise in your questions
Whether verbally or in writing, you want to avoid sending messages such as the one below.
Let me be clear : if you write, "I am a student looking to get into consulting", I will answer "Ok", and that will be that. If you ask me about my "daily basis", I will tell you about my lunch habit because that's the only part of my day which more or less stays the same week in, week out (always get the yogurt instead of the cake).
If you're looking at a career as a management or strategy consultant, you need to show that every message, every interaction, adds value to your team or client. As such, when writing to a potential future colleague, you need to be ready with an itemized list of questions, which range from least to most specific. It will make you seem serious, and help your counterpart write faster, better answers. As such, it also increases your chance of receiving a reply. Here are a few examples :
Which industries does your company cater to?
How would you define the culture within your company?
How are teams organised ? By industry or specialty?
How is your company doing during COVID-19? How many people are you planning to recruit this year?
Are you able to share some examples of projects you've worked on recently?
What types of case studies can I expect during interviews?
Is a mentoring program set up internally?
How are teams chosen for a project?
How regularly is a consultant's career progression reviewed?
Where do consultants who leave the firm go?
Do transfers to other offices happen regularly?
It's perfectly fine not to know the answer to all these questions (how would you). This is the whole point of a first contact. Which is why trying to impress your interlocutor with a Wikipedia copy/paste generally does not go down so well.
3. Do not copy a company website's "about" page
A consultant will know their company pretty well. It is thus glaringly obvious when even the most basic research has not been done, beyond a cursory look at the "about" website page, and maybe a quick glance at the company's Wikipedia page.
It's OK not to know the company you want to hear more about. What's not OK is trying to seem informed when due diligence has not been done. Why? Because a consultant's job is to project expertise while learning at the same time, and a lack of research cover-up should never be so obvious, whether it be to a client or a potential future team-mate.
Helpful resources to do basic research involves Glassdoor (with some healthy skepticism), latest news from serious journalistic sources, and specific numbers and figures from annual reports, if they are available.
4. Add a call to action at the end of the discussion
You've asked the questions, you've received the answers. What next ? This is the perfect opportunity to ask for a referral. Many companies have such programs, and if the person you're speaking to believes in you, they will be happy to oblige as there's often a financial reward.
You can also ask if it would be possible to be in contact again should the interview process move forward in a satisfactory manner. Such links are important, both in the short term and the long term : if you land a great job at another firm, you may be expected to provide the same type of help for the person you've just spoken to, should they decide to jump ship.
And so, years-long relationships can flourish; don't squander it by saying "thx", "bye", and moving on.
In order to save everyone some time, below are fairly generic answers to some of the questions most often asked.
"Do I need to speak the native tongue?"
Yes. If, for example, you're looking to lend a consulting job in France, you will need to speak french fluently in 99% of the cases, as most potential clients there are French multinationals such as L'Oréal, Carrefour, Orange, Total, LVMH… Not speaking the language is absolutely detrimental. I recruit for my consulting company on campus once a year, and if you don't speak french we recommend you look into our London office.
"Do I need a work visa?"
If you are not European, you will also need to find a work permit in your own time, knowing that this is what everyone else will be doing, and precious few are given. Companies will not help you unless you're the most outstanding person on campus (no one is - when everyone is smart and has rich parents, we're all kind of the same) : it's easier and cheaper to hire a french person with the same experience and diploma. I know, I hate it too.
"Do you know some business conferences or events that I should check out? "
Because of the current sanitary conditions, there are few live events being held, and recruitment is frozen for the next few months for many firms (though not all). However, I believe that in 2021 consulting companies will resume recruiting events in most school. Once the recruitment process starts, many candidates are invited to events to ensure they are informed about the culture of the firms they're applying to.
"What do you think are the skills that I need to have and showcase?"
The only skill you need to START consulting is great problem-solving abilities, curiosity and a good understanding of the latest news, trends and difficulties that will most impact the industry for which you want to work for.
Working well within a team is also a must, but if I need to mention it, you may be looking at the wrong career.
"You are also an editor at the same time, and how can you balance all this works?"
The role I have as an editor at thepourquoipas.com is more of a hobby, something I do in the evening and the weekend. Writing greatly helps during recruitment as it highlights one's knowledge and interest in specific industries.
I would not advise doing this at the very start of a career : keep your head down, do good work, have a private life, and recognition will follow.
"What should I read to best prepare for interviews ?"
Get the latest version of Case in Point and subscribe to McKinsey's newsletters. they send them everyday and they're great for general knowledge. And of course, sign up for ThePourquoiPas.com's newsletters!
Good luck out there.