This is part three of my 3-part series on the story of my entire career journey throughout college. If you haven’t already, check out my prior post on Junior year recruiting for management consulting and strategy internships.
As I’ve mentioned before, the goal of this series is to show you the ups and downs, successes and failures, and good and bad days behind my and everyone else’s story.
In this post, I cover for following:
- My internship at Disney
- Laying the groundwork for full-time recruiting
- Interview Prep
- Interviewing with Bain & Company
- Interviewing with LinkedIn
- Choosing an offer
Lastly, if you like this series comment below and let me know what you think!
Senior year recruiting starts much earlier than anyone expects or wants -- including recruiters themselves.
Throughout my four years in college, I increasingly noticed employers moving application deadlines earlier into the summer in a desperate race to secure top talent.
It’s game theory. When one firm recruits earlier than everyone else, it puts pressure on others to follow suit. However, by doing so, all firms are once again on the same schedule except much earlier -- which leaves everyone worse off than before.
Today, many investment banks (which out of all industries, usually the earliest deadlines) start the full-time recruiting process in July, which is mid-internship for most rising seniors. It’s insane.
Combine this recruiting trend with the anxiety most students feel about choosing a career path, and you have the recipe for a shit show. Senior year is not the best time to explore and discover your interests.
I knew many students who were hyper-focused on a particular industry throughout college.
After completing their dream Junior year internship, many realized they didn’t want to pursue a career in that industry. However, all their eggs were in one basket, and they usually had no backup plan.
Having no backup and entering a fast-paced and chaotic full-time recruiting process can feel incredibly overwhelming. Unfortunately, many of these students begrudgingly ended up returning to the same industry of their internship.
I wanted to avoid this as much as possible. Rather than drowning in the chaos, my goal was to apply the lessons from Freshman, Sophomore, and Junior year recruiting to take control of my full-time recruiting process.
My thought process during my internship with Disney
I previously left this story off with landing a summer internship in Disney’s Corporate Strategy and Business Development team. This was the team responsible for developing holistic, company-wide strategies and pursuing acquisition opportunities to buy other companies.
Prior to starting my internship, I wasn’t sure if working at Disney in Los Angeles was what I wanted to do full-time. Furthermore, I knew full-time recruiting would start prematurely.
If I didn’t want to return to Disney, I had to be quick with making a move somewhere else.
Prior to working at Disney, I came up with 3 broad questions to determine if I liked my internship enough to convert full-time. I chose these questions to test the unknown characteristics of my summer experience. (I already knew I like strategy work so there was no need to focus on that.)
- Question 1: Would I like the culture of Disney and this team?
- Question 2: Would I like living in Los Angeles? (I was raised in the San Francisco Bay Area)
- Question 3: Would I like living and breathing the media industry on a daily basis?
These were the biggest questions on my mind, and it helped to come into the internship with a framework to evaluate my summer experience.
Fast forward four weeks into the internship, and I had enough information to figure out the answers to these questions.
- Answer 1: No - While the individual people on the team were fantastic, I got the sense that personal and professional development were not major priorities for leadership. The team was also very hierarchical, which didn’t mesh well with my work style.
- Answer 2: Maybe - Los Angeles seemed like a fun place for a short period of time, but all my existing friends were in San Francisco. Los Angeles is a very spread out city, making it difficult to get from place to place.
- Answer 3: Maybe - Despite being curious about the media industry, I wasn’t deeply passionate about it. Of the broader media landscape, I was most interested in streaming (Netflix, Hulu, etc.), which is the blend of media and internet technology.
After completing 40% of the internship, I had a strong hypothesis that this wasn’t the place for me long-term. With that realization, I knew I needed to get a head start on the full-time recruiting process.
Quick note: While I had an early perspective on the answers to these 3 questions, it’s important to keep an open mind throughout the internship, strive to learn and contribute as much as possible, and be willing to change your hypothesis if the experience changes over time.
Laying the groundwork for full-time recruiting
Most people consider it a failure to make it to the final round of an interview process without landing the offer.
If you read part two of this series describing my Junior year, you know this happened to me a lot.
At the time, I felt like I had failed. I didn’t appreciate the tangible benefits of making it to the final round for an internship interview process -- especially with consulting firms.
A popular sentiment with consulting interviews is that if a candidate can make it past the first round of interviews, they are likely good enough to work for the firm. The final round of interviews -- especially for the summer internship -- is there to further narrow down candidates because these firms get so many applicants
In consulting (and many other industries), the internship positions are more competitive than full-time positions.
When firms look for top-notch candidates to interview for the full-time process, it makes sense that the first pool of candidates they look at are the people who almost got an offer the summer before.
After LEK rejected me for a summer internship, the firm reached out halfway through my Disney internship and offered me an automatic final-round interview for full-time positions.
I realized I had leverage in this process because firms like LEK wanted me to interview nearly as much as I did -- all because I proved myself by making it to the final rounds in my Junior year.
One week later, as I was getting ready to reach out to my summer internship interviewers at various firms, I received an email from my interviewer at Bain asking to catch up.
This entire process seemed backwards, but it felt great.
It turned out that this interviewer had been recently promoted to Partner (one of the most senior positions) and oversaw the recruiting process. We had a brief conversation about my summer internship, my interest in working for Bain full-time, and next steps with the interview process.
I also asked to be considered for an accelerated interview timeline. My team at Disney gave tight deadlines for return offers. Although it wouldn’t be ideal to return full-time, in the event that I received one, I didn’t want to turn down a solid job offer without having another in hand.
The Partner was understanding of my tricky position and promised to consider it. A couple weeks later, the recruiter reached out and offered me an accelerated superday interview with the San Francisco office. The superday consisted of five interviews and was scheduled for just two days after my summer internship ended.
Towards the end of my internship, I also reached out to my friend at LinkedIn who was in the Strategy & Analytics rotational program. He referred me to the recruiter, but also mentioned that the interview process wasn’t going start for another couple months.
Coming into senior year, I had a mental list of 10-15 companies to target throughout my full-time recruiting process. I roughly prioritized these companies into 3 tiers:
- LinkedIn (tech strategy)
- Bain (strategy consulting)
- McKinsey (strategy consulting)
- BCG (strategy consulting)
- Other strategy consulting firms
- Other tech rotational or product programs
I prioritized these opportunities based on my longer-term career goals and company attributes that were important to me (e.g. culture and intentional personal development). This list can -- and should -- be different for everyone.
Given that I had my superday with Bain already lined up, a verbal commitment from LEK for a final round interview, an internal referral to LinkedIn, and strong relationships with most of the companies on my list from the previous recruiting cycle, I felt confident with my interview prospects.
With three weeks left in my internship, I decided to focus on preparing for my interviews.
Given that my first interview was for a consulting firm, I knew I had to brush up and improve my case interviewing abilities.
I finished Junior year with a decent handle on case interviews, but I was not where I wanted to be.
This was especially frustrating because I spent countless hours practicing and administering over 50 case interviews. If I wasn’t good enough after that much practice, maybe I didn’t have what it took to do better in the interview.
However, I wasn’t satisfied with that conclusion. I wanted to be as prepared as I could possibly be within three weeks.
After reflecting on my approach to interview prep, I realized that I didn’t really improve over the latter 25 cases of my prep. My ability to perform well on case interviews is characterized by the following formula:
Case skill = # of cases practiced * average improvement per case
Like many students, I got so caught up in practicing more cases that I forgot to focus on the important part of this whole equation -- improving my abilities with every case.
Interviewers don’t care about how many cases someone does, they care about performance in the interview.
With only 3 weeks left and a full-time internship to balance, I had to be deliberate about my case interview preparation. James Clear has a fantastic article on deliberate practice, which boils down to this example:
Player A will be a significantly better shooter because of his focus on improving one mechanic of his basketball game. Meanwhile, Player B did not deliberately practice shooting and instead wasted time, practiced dribbling, etc.
This happens all the time with interview prep. I was Player B during my Junior year, but now I didn’t have an abundance of time. I needed to be Player A.I ran a few diagnostic case interviews with experienced consultants in my network and paid professionals through a management consulting website. After identifying my case interview weaknesses, I spent focused time practicing before work, during downtime at work, and afterwards.
For example, I had trouble structuring the first part of a case, which typically takes 3 minutes. Rather than running through an entire, 30-minute case interview. I spent 15 minutes structuring the initial portion of 5 cases, and 15 minutes getting feedback from my coworker on my performance.
By doing multiple iterations of this exercise over a few hours, I became significantly better in my case-structuring abilities.
In the last week before my interview, I brushed up on my behavioral interview questions and solidified my story. Unlike last time, there was no way I was going to let myself blow this interview because of my behaviorals.
Saturday morning, after my last day at Disney, I packed my bags and drove back to my home near San Francisco. For the next day and a half, I watched movies, caught up with friends, and relaxed.
After weeks of deliberate practice, I felt as prepared as I could be be.
On Monday, I got on the train for my hour-long commute to the Bain office.
I had a full breakfast with a strong cup of coffee to keep me going throughout the day, practiced mental math problems to warm up on the train, and listened to stand up comedy on my phone to make sure I was in a good mood for the interview.
I walked into the office and met the recruiter who briefed me on the day’s schedule. The superday consisted of two interviews in the morning and, should those interviewers pass me on to the final round, an additional three in the afternoon.
Five interviews in one day, it was going to be brutal.
As I started the first interview, I felt a strong connection with the interviewer. This helped build momentum for the day, and I closed out the first interview with strong case performance and no math errors.
The second interview also went well, until the last 45 seconds. After building a great relationship with my interviewer, learning about his background, and doing well on the case, he asked for my final recommendation to the case problem.
I could tell from his body language and tone that I had already passed; he just asked me for a recommendation as a formality of the case interview process. And in those last 45 seconds, I said the exact wrong answer.
He immediately looked at me, confused, and asked if I was sure of my recommendation. It was like he was giving me a lifeboat to latch onto to save the interview.
I knew I missed something and looked down at my analysis, but couldn’t figure out where I went wrong. With only a few seconds left, I doubled down on my answer and told him I was sure of my original recommendation.
He shrugged, thanked me, and we stood up to shake hands. As I turned to leave the interview room, I immediately realized where I went wrong. In my math to calculate the profitability of a strategy, I treated one-time fixed costs as recurring annual costs. Had I calculated that correctly, the recommendation would be the opposite of what I had doubled down on.
But it was too late. By now I had already walked out of the room, and the interview was over.
The recruiter cheerily asked how it went. I lied and said things were great. She told me to relax for a few hours and to expect an email with next steps if they decided to move on with the interview process that afternoon.
The next three hours were incredibly stressful. I ran through the recommendation in my head over and over again. My thoughts were all over the place, and I could barely stomach my lunch.
This was one of my top-choice companies, and I might’ve blown it because of a stupid mistake.
As I was eating, my email notification went off. Nervously, I opened the email from the recruiter to see the first word -- “Congratulations.”
I let out a huge sigh of relief. Thankfully, I made it to the next round.
Over the next hour, I calmed myself down and made my way back to the office for three more case interviews.
One by one, I worked through each interview with a focus on connecting with my interviewers and having a good time.
By the end of the last interview, I was mentally drained but confident in my performance. My deliberate prep had paid off.
The recruiter thanked me for coming in and mentioned that she would be in touch within the week. I took the train home and vegetated for the rest of the day.
A week later, my family and I boarded a plane about to leave for vacation in Alberta, Canada. As the plane was taking off, jets already roaring, I got a call from an unrecognizable number from San Francisco.
“Hello, this is Rohan,” I answered.
It was the Bain Partner I interviewed with. After thanking me for interviewing and explaining his thoughts on my performance, I was sure he was getting ready to reject me using the classic shit sandwich.
But the bad news never came. Instead, he went on to say how thrilled the team was with my performance and that they’d love for me to join the firm.
During the call, my brother was intently watching me for a reaction and knew I got the offer when he saw my ear to ear grin.
I finally did it, and with that the plane took off for our family vacation.
LinkedIn early recruiting
Bain gave me three weeks to accept or reject the offer. Given that it was one of my top choices, I knew there was little chance I would turn the offer down… except for one of my other top choices -- LinkedIn’s Strategy & Analytics rotational program.
After spending five days on vacation, I didn’t have much time before my offer expired. I reached back out to my friend at LinkedIn and asked him to follow up with the recruiter.
I figured I would have a much better chance of getting an interview if the recruiter knew I already had another top offer. My Bain offer acted as a signal of my competency.
Sure enough, my friend explained to the recruiter that I had an exploding offer (a job offer with a firm deadline by which you must accept or reject) with Bain, and the next day I was thrown into the accelerated interview process for LinkedIn.
I got this news when I was my way home from an airport in Canada, and my first round was scheduled for the very next day.
I felt confident in my case interview abilities but needed to prepare my behavioral interview responses to be LinkedIn-specific. With less than one day left, there was not much time.
The following day, I dialed into the phone call and proceeded with the interview. By the end of the 45 minutes, I wasn’t sure if I would make it to the next round. The case went well, but my behaviorals were choppy and not eloquent.
I distinctly remember thinking that my performance was a solid 6 out of 10. I could’ve done a lot better.
Two days later, my interviewer called to give feedback on my first interview and prepare me for the final superday. Despite my scattered behaviorals, he felt confident that I was a strong candidate for the program and moved me on to the final round.
With three days left to prepare, I studied how LinkedIn’s business worked using a similar process to my preparation for Levi’s and Disney. I also refined my behaviorals to make sure I had thoughtful, concise answers to basic questions like “why do you want to join the S&A program at LinkedIn.”
On Friday, I once again took the train to San Francisco for four back-to-back interviews. One by one I worked through them, leveraging everything I had learned about how to interview well from my successes and failures over the past four years.
By the end of the superday, I once again felt confident that I had put my best foot forward.
Sure enough, a few days later, the program director called to congratulate me on my interviews and extend an offer for the S&A program.
Somehow, I managed to land offers with both my first-choice companies. It felt incredible.
I had two weeks before my Bain offer expired, which meant that I had to make my decision soon. It was a fantastic problem to have, but a problem nonetheless that took all my energy over two weeks to figure out.
I wasn’t expecting to get both these offers and was very torn between Bain and LinkedIn.
Within those two weeks, I spoke with nearly every professional in my network whose opinion I valued. I talked to people with decades of work experience and those just a couple years older than me.
Roughly 50% recommended going with Bain and the other 50% recommended LinkedIn.
Meanwhile, 95% of my student peers felt I should go with Bain, but I didn’t weigh student opinions heavily in my decision-making process. Sometimes it’s best to filter out noise.
While the 50-50 split did not help, I found myself having to pitch and defend the LinkedIn S&A program with each conversation because everyone already knew about the analyst experience at Bain.
As I discussed the tradeoffs with trusted mentors over lengthy, two-hour conversations, I found myself becoming more attached to LinkedIn.
And after thinking deeply about how each opportunity fit into my longer-term goal of building a company, my gut was leaning strongly towards one direction.
I signed with LinkedIn.
Two years later, I can confidently say that was the best professional decision I ever made.
If you only read this article, it’s easy to call out how smoothly my Senior year recruiting process went and write it off as not applicable to yourself.
However, I believe the ups and downs from my Freshman, Sophomore, and Junior year are critical to this story. The success I had during my Senior year was fueled by my failures from the past and the lessons I internalized.
The point of publicly posting every twist and turn of my story is not to be self-congratulatory, rather it’s to humanize an otherwise black box struggle that the vast majority of students keep deeply private.
It’s to show you that every success or job offer is built on a mountain of failures and rejections.
To end this story, I’ll leave you with 5 takeaways:
- Be ready to pivot quickly after your summer internship -- even if you landed your dream internship, you may not like it and won’t have much time before recruiting kicks off again. Use hypotheses to evaluate your internship and have a backup plan ready.
- Laying the groundwork for recruiting during Junior year is a huge advantage in full-time recruiting. I already built relationships with senior employees of almost every company I wanted to interview with because of all the work I had invested the previous year.
- Deliberate interview practice is a game changer. You don’t get credit for how many hours you spend prepping, only the results. Focus on what matters.
- Cast a wide net for opportunities, but prioritize the most important ones based on your personal assessment. I had a list of ~15 companies I was ready to recruit for but focused on the few that were the best fit for me.
- Luck is always a factor. Acknowledge its presence in the process and do what you can to minimize your reliance on it. Meanwhile, don’t be quick to blame your failures on “being unlucky.”