There are many ways to boost an individual’s consulting career. Whether you’re new to the industry or looking for opportunities, a consulting network can easily point you in the right direction.
Many individuals have a misconception about how to build and sustain a solid network within the consulting industry. It doesn’t have to be difficult. Nowadays, there are several tried and tested techniques that can be applied to seamlessly fit professional relationships into a busy schedule.
Maximizing Your Resources
Starting a network from scratch is a daunting task if you don’t know where to begin. The truth is, you don’t have to look very far to get started. Before we get into effective consulting networking tactics, make sure you have your cover letter and resume ready. Depending on the type of event or gathering, it is best to have a hard and digital copy available to avoid idle gaps in conversations.
Don’t forget to make sure your business card is updated with the right contact information. Because you will be speaking to numerous individuals at an event or gathering, have a basic conversation structure handy. Though you may not always need to follow it, this can eliminate stray topics, which can lessen your professional impact.
For students, great places to make the right connections that may be useful in the consulting industry are organizations and clubs. Most people who join business or social clubs are also out to meet people and build their network. This means that everyone starts off with a clean slate. Making an impression is relatively simple, as the members are open to new comers such as yourself.
Not just any organization will do. It is recommended to check the background of your target firm and make a list of student clubs that many of the consultants in the company were a part of. From there, make it clear that your chosen career path is management consulting to the members of the organization. This will help individuals associate your name with your goals and path.
Joining the right groups can increase the likelihood of meeting alumni who moved on to become management consultants. Speaking to such individuals in the setting of an organization gives students an upper hand, as most alumni are willing to help out individuals who come from the same university.
Professionals may not have access to student clubs and groups. In this case, one should first look into his or her circle of friends. Are any of them consultants? Or are they friends with or work with clients in the consulting sector? Once you’ve explained to your friend that you are keen on extending your consulting network for a future career change, chances are he or she will bring you along to social gatherings, meet ups, or casual drinks.
Compared to student organizations and clubs, meeting individuals in this manner is more difficult, as they are not as open to simply talking about the latest news in the consulting industry to a stranger. If you’re meeting a group of consultants who are having drinks after a long grind at the office, the last thing they may want to talk about is work. The best thing to do in this situation is be patient and go with the flow. Have striking conversations, and be sincere about building relationships. In situations like these, you will only be talking about consulting 5-10% of the time.
The key is to make it clear that you are interested in the consulting industry and you have skills that can be useful to top level firms. If the person you are speaking to is interested, they will probe further. If not immediately, in the future when the need arises.
If you are not directly or closely connected to a friend who is a management consultant, the next best places to consider are consulting seminars and expos. Look for listings where the guest speaker is a senior consultant. Most people who are in attendance during these events are related to the consulting sector. This could be consulting clients, or other perspective consultants and professionals. Approaching people in this setting is straightforward, as most events allot time for individuals to go around and meet people.
Sustaining Professional Relationships
Meeting the right people is only a small part of the networking equation. One must also nurture the new connection before being able to openly talk about insider tips and possible consulting job openings.
With a long term perspective, the essential part of the networking process is building trust. This can be done by first being reliable. Setup a casual lunch and show up on time. Don’t send a delayed or late reply to an email or SMS. You don’t have to necessarily do huge favors or tasks for people to increase trust. Send invites out to your newly acquired network on a consistent basis.
Another aspect of sustaining business relationships is increasing your personal value. Individuals also want to feel that you are a great addition to their consulting network. Therefore, it is also equally important to introduce your network to other professionals who you are close to.
Using online resources to establish a consulting network should not be overlooked. Reaching out to people who you were once in contact with doesn’t have to be an inconvenience. More importantly, making new connections in the consulting industry can be done anytime, in just a few clicks.
When it comes to social media, LinkedIn is one of the best platforms for professional networking. There is no need to beat around the bush, as people and companies who use LinkedIn are there for career or business-related reasons.
Online groups are one of the best ways to get plugged into the consulting industry. Similar to students who are looking for the right organizations to join, it is recommended to first look into which online groups the employees of your target firm are parts of. After joining the relevant groups, it is essential to participate and become active as a rightful member.
This can be done by asking questions, adding insightful comments, and posting engaging content. In the online world, this is an effective way to build trust. Online groups are also a great place to get invites to consulting events, where you can extend your network offline.
This same technique can be applied across other social media platforms such as Facebook and LinkedIn. However, one should not only be limited to these platforms. Online forums are also very effective in adding new individuals to your consulting network.
Engaging hash tag conversations in Twitter also applies the same concept in building a consulting network online. An indirect way of using Twitter while networking is by using the updates from your target firm’s tweets as conversation starters.
Making Your Consulting Network Work for You
Once you have gathered momentum, things should start falling into place. A few months before consulting recruitment season, begin to inquire about possible job openings from individuals in your network. Ideally, you should aim for setting up meetings with partners, or seniors to better present yourself as a possible candidate for the vacant position.
Unfortunately, this does not happen all the time due to time constraints, especially for consultants who have their hands full with ongoing projects. If you are unable to secure a direct meeting with consultants who are in a position to consider you for an upcoming job post, don’t worry. You can also ask your connection for a personal email address to send your cover letter and resume. This is a very effective way to make sure your credentials don’t get lost in the inbox of a recruiter.
Lastly, you should also mention who referred you for the consulting position in the introductory email. A direct recommendation is very powerful in bypassing the usual shortlisting process. Even if you have to go through the consulting interview, having a personal recommendation from a relevant member of the firm can ease the stress and tension often associated with recruitment. Don’t forget to send out “thank you” emails or messages to the individual in your consulting network gave you the tip or “put in a good word” for you.
The key to effectively building a consulting network is by being persistent in the expansion process. Networking isn’t limited to the time you allot for it. For example, if you’re having a work-related meeting with new clients, see to it that you collect their contact information, even if they don’t sign on with the company. Don’t be scared to seize the opportunity to promote yourself in unlikely situations.
To conclude, boosting one’s consulting network is not a one-time ordeal. It is a continuous, ongoing and repetitive process. Because of the useful tools available to today’s professionals, there is no excuse in having a poorly managed network. Staying updated in the latest “go-to” places and online groups for individuals in the consulting industry is an effective way to ensure that you’re adding quality individuals who can enhance your consulting connections.