Below is the entire story of my Junior year recruiting process. I went all out, leaving no stone unturned and no detail left behind. Every firm I recruited for, every interview I had, and every failure I went through -- it’s all here in its unfiltered and raw form. Specifically, I will walk you through my recruiting process with McKinsey, Bain, BCG, LEK, Parthenon, and Disney for the big Junior year summer internship. This post is part 2 of a 3-part series describing my career journey throughout college. 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.
Junior Year Recruiting
Junior year is one of the most stressful times for students recruiting for internships.
All the Stars run structured recruiting processes on campus, with some even starting before the first day of school begins.
After finishing my internship at Levi’s in corporate strategy, I knew I wanted to intern at a management consulting firm for my Junior summer.As soon as my internship ended, I hit the ground running networking with each firm.
Landing the interview + Crushing the interview = Offer
And I knew it didn’t matter how prepared I was to crush the interview if I didn’t have one in the first place.
Strong application + Getting your application read + Luck = Landing the interview
I felt confident in my resume and my story. Others might have higher GPAs, more challenging majors, or fancier brand name internships. But I built a solid foundation of unique and interesting experiences that would appeal to most employers.
However, it wouldn’t matter how strong my resume was if no one read it. I needed to focus on making sure my application was actually being read and considered by every firm I wanted to interview with.To me, this meant having an “in” everywhere.
By this time, I already knew professionals at most of my top-choice firms from prior networking.I met some at info sessions during Sophomore year, others were alumni of student organizations I was a part of, and a few were professionals I cold emailed and maintained a relationship with.
I was so serious about having an “in” at every firm, that I hung up a large piece of parchment paper on my apartment wall and listed out every firm I wanted to interview with and the people I knew at each one.
It was a physical version of LinkedIn, limited to only my closest contacts. And in case you’re wondering, yes, my friends made fun of me for this.
But this was important to me, and I didn’t want to throw Junior year recruiting into the hands of luck.
I even listed a few investment bankings, private equity funds, and tech companies despite my focus on management consulting. Remember, by the end of Sophomore year I had a strong interest in strategy and technology with a desire to explore finance. I figured it was worth casting a wide net.An alumnus of UC Berkeley who went through investment banking recruiting strongly recommended that I focus most of my time on one industry. The interview prep for consulting and finance are different, and he felt that I would have the highest chances of landing an internship at a top firm if I stayed focused.
I took his advice and focused 90% of my effort on consulting, while allocating 10% of my time for opportunities in finance, tech, and anything else that seemed interesting. This was an easy decision since I was more interested in strategy than finance anyway.
As Junior year ramped up, every Star kicked off its recruiting cycle with massive info sessions. Of the consulting firms, I remember Bain had the largest info session with over 250 students (McKinsey and BCG didn’t actively recruit on campus).
I attended all the info sessions for the firms listed on my apartment parchment paper. However, I was not there to meet new people and try to land an interview -- there were hundreds of other students competing for that particular objective.
My goal was to jog the memory of people I already knew at each firm by showing up and having a short conversation.
Contrary to popular belief, info sessions are not the place to start networking -- I wrote about this important realization here.
Recruiting for The Parthenon Group
The first info session was for The Parthenon Group [Star], an established management consulting firm. I showed up to the info session and reintroduced myself to the recruiter and a few consultants of various tenure, all of whom I briefly met the previous year.
Afterwards, I followed up via email with everyone I spoke with and thanked them for coming to campus. I asked one of the consultants leading recruiting at UC Berkeley if he had 15 minutes for a call to answer some lingering questions about the firm (at this time Parthenon was just acquired by Ernst & Young).
Then, I submitted my application, notified my contacts at the firm, and waited. There was not much else to do.
Two weeks later I was one of a dozen candidates to land an interview with the firm. Parthenon probably received at least a few hundred applications from UC Berkeley, if not a thousand.Networking works.While this process ramped up for other consulting firms, I simultaneously spent ~15 hours a week running mock case interviews and behavioral questions with friends.
I knew that once firms give out first round interviews, the entire process wraps up within 2 weeks. That window of time is not enough to adequately prepare for case interviews for most people, so I started seriously prepping weeks ahead of my first interview.
I probably spent 25 hours/week between networking, info sessions, and preparing for interviews. I barely attended class and purposely took easier courses for my major during this semester. Recruiting is nearly a full time job.
Thankfully, my early preparation paid off. After a few rounds of interviews with Parthenon, I landed the summer internship offer in early October. This happened just 40 days after school started and well before any other firms started their recruiting processes.
Landing an early offer bought me a lot of freedom in my recruiting process and allowed me to focus on the firms I cared about most. Prior to getting this offer, I was internship-less looking for any company to take me.
However, after landing the offer, I could dedicate my time and focus on the small handful of firms that I preferred over Parthenon. I crossed out 80% of the firms from my apartment parchment paper and circled the remaining 20% -- that’s where I focused my efforts for the next few months.I had 5 firms left (in order of their recruiting timeline, earliest to latest)
- Boston Consulting Group
For those not familiar with these companies, the first 4 are well-known consulting firms and the opportunity at Disney was for its corporate strategy and mergers & acquisitions team.
I still kept an eye out for exciting opportunities that might expand my list. But as per the advice of my alumnus friend, these were the companies I decided to double down on.
Recruiting for LEK
LEK is a premiere boutique strategy consulting firm similar to Parthenon. I was interested in LEK because my brother spent 3 years working there and had a positive experience.
He was also my “in” for landing an interview.
As recruiting kicked off, a similar process to Parthenon unfolded over the next few weeks. Just as before, I attended the info sessions, met familiar faces, and submitted my application.
A few days later, the recruiter from LEK reached out for an interview.
The first interview happened on campus at our recruiting center. By this point I felt confident in my case interviewing ability after rigorously prepping for a month.
The recruiting center is a strange and uncomfortable place. The waiting room resembles that of a hospital, except instead of sick patients nervously waiting for the doctor there are stressed students in professional suits anxiously waiting for the interviewer. It’s bizarre.
As I’m looking around and reflecting on the uncomfortable recruiting center waiting room, the interviewers steps out and calls my name.One hour later, I successfully finished 2 back to back interviews. It went well -- once again my prep paid off. A few days later, the recruiter notified me that I moved on to the final round. This consisted of 3 interviews at the LEK office in San Francisco, one with a partner and two with managers.
Over the next few days I prepared even more, fine tuning my case interview performance and behavioral responses. On the day of the final round interview, I walked into the office feeling as ready as possible.
Yet interview after interview, I stumbled hard.
- Interview 1: multiple careless math errors
- Interview 2: forgot to consider a major detail of the problem into my analysis
- Interview 3: B- job of structuring the problem
After all that prep, it was obvious that I wasn’t good enough. I hadn’t mastered case interviews -- not even close.
Despite knowing I blew the interview, a small part of me hoped that I would get the offer. However, I wasn’t left wondering about this possibility for long -- a few days later I received my rejection.This was the first big rejection of the recruiting season. The first of many more.
Recruiting for Boston Consulting Group
BCG [Star/Moonshot] is a well-known, top 3 consulting firm. Global strategy and business professionals widely acknowledge McKinsey, Bain, and BCG as the top 3 firms in the consulting industry. These firms are commonly referred to as MBB.
This is important to my story for a few reasons.
- I already had an offer with Parthenon (a highly reputable firm just outside the top 3), and after my LEK rejection the only other consulting firms of interest were MBB
- There is a lot of hype around MBB -- this is true at the vast majority of business schools worldwide. For example, MBB is consistently one of the most sought-after employers of Harvard Business School graduates
- 2 of the 3 MBB firms (McKinsey and BCG) did not actively recruit at UC Berkeley -- this was an uphill battle
Many students stop after landing their first satisfying internship/job offer. This is especially true when it feels like the better options are out of reach.
To me this was an interesting challenge with no downside risk. I could give it my all and maybe end up with an even better consulting offer, or fail miserably and walk away with many new learnings. Either way, I still had that Parthenon offer.
I categorize BCG somewhere between a Star and Moonshot. They did not run a formal recruiting process at UC Berkeley, but everyone in the business community was familiar with the firm and many applied to their online job posting.
At the time, BCG hosted one, intimate, invite-only info session in the San Francisco office for ~20 UC Berkeley students. The purpose of this info session was the same as any other -- to learn about the firm and network with consultants prior to the first interview.
Getting an invite to this private info session would significantly increase my chances of landing one of the scarce interview spots.
Luckily, I knew someone who had strong relationships with BCG’s San Francisco office.
During my internship at Levi’s, I met with the head of strategy multiple times throughout the summer. We talked about the project I worked on, his career path, and his kids who were getting ready to attend public school in my hometown.Prior to Levi’s, he was a very senior consultant in BCG’s San Francisco office and often ran their recruiting/interview process. Before leaving Levi’s, I asked if he’d be willing to help get my foot in the door at BCG for my next internship.
He was happy to forward my resume to his senior colleagues at the firm.
Shortly after I submitted my resume to BCG and through the online posting and through my contact at Levi’s, I received an invitation to the private info session.
The odds of landing an interview just skyrocketed.At the info session, I asked a few consultants about the firm’s new digital practice. I also met the head of recruiting, who knew my previous manager and other strategy professionals at Levi’s.
Despite my distaste for info sessions, this one went well.
The next day, I followed up with the head of recruiting to thank her for inviting me to the info session. I also asked her about the possibility of an accelerated recruiting timeline with BCG.
My Parthenon offer deadline was on the horizon and I needed to quickly interview with the remaining firms on my list before my only offer expired.After a few back and forth emails, BCG extended a first round interview.Keep in mind, throughout this whole process I spent 10 hours a week continuing with my consulting interview prep. I wanted to avoid a repeat of my LEK final round.Once again, feeling as prepared as possible, I walked into the firm’s office for my first round of interviews. Two hours later, I walked out confident in my interview performance but wary of my chemistry with one of the interviewers.
Still, I thought there was an 80% chance I’d move on to the final round.I was wrong -- a few days later I received my rejection.
After spending countless hours networking and interview prepping, I didn’t even make it to the final round interview.
Furthermore, this was one the top 3 consulting firms and there was no guarantee I would even land an interview with the other 2 firms. I was once again questioning my interview skills and second guessing if I was good enough.
Recruiting does not bring out your most positive thoughts.
Recruiting for Bain & Company
Timelines move very quickly during recruiting season. While you’re on the heels of success or failure with one firm, the next firm start its recruiting process.
Shortly after my BCG rejection, Bain kicked off its process at UC Berkeley. Luckily, Bain actively recruited on campus. While BCG and McKinsey only interviewed a handful of applicants from UC Berkeley, Bain interviewed close to 100.
Prior to the info session at Bain, I reached out to an old manager from my Sophomore year internship at a SaaS startup. He was a Bain alumnus and strongly suggested I explore management consulting as a career path given my professional goals.
Like the others I reached out to, he was happy to help and sent a referral to the recruiter of the San Francisco office.
When the info session came around, I once again showed up to reintroduce myself to a few familiar faces. At the event, I also met the lead recruiter for the first time. Much to my surprise, she mentioned she was looking for me because of an alumni referral.
Bain must get many referrals, yet this recruiter remembered my name from an email sent by an alumni she never personally knew. I was incredibly impressed.
Shortly after the info session, I submitted my application and notified the recruiter that I applied and looked forward to hearing back. A few days later, I received an invitation to the first round interview at the campus career center.
With that, I once again found myself in the nerve-wracking waiting room of the career center. However, this time I felt more pressure for 2 reasons:
- Bain was my top MBB choice because of the firm’s stellar cultural reputation
- It was likely that I wouldn’t get an interview with McKinsey, the last of the MBBs. I thought Bain was my last shot
As expected, the interviewer called my name and I proceed through two 30-minute interviews.There’s a distinct high while knocking it out of the park with an interview, and during the interviews I felt exactly that. I left the career center confident I would move on to the final round.
Within 48 hours, Bain extended a final round of interviews in the San Francisco office. I was excited to be so close to landing an offer with my top choice of employers. I knew that getting the internship was the hard part. After that, most interns receive a return offer for full time.
Prior to the final round, I went through my behavioral questions once again, preparing as much as possible knowing that Bain places a big importance on culture fit.
On the day of the final round interview, I showed up to the office to find 20 top notch peers from UC Berkeley all waiting for their interview. I recognized most of them, and some were even close friends of mine.
We all knew Bain historically accepted 3-4 interns, which meant only 15% of us would receive an offer. Looking around at the competition, this was not a comforting thought.
As I progressed through the first two interviews, I felt confident in my performance. However, everything changed during the third interview with a partner.
To start the interview, he asked me the classic“why do you want to work for this firm” question. My nerves got to me and I forgot everything I knew about how to concisely answer a question.
I went on a 4 minute spiel about why I wanted to work at Bain. It was way too long, and I knew I messed up as soon as I finished my last sentence and saw the reaction in his tone and body language.
The rest of that interview went okay at best, and I left the office uneasy about my performance.
Given the competition, I knew there were probably 3-4 peers who interviewed better than myself. But the same post-interview optimism came back, and I felt hopeful that they would give me an offer.
The days after this interview moved slowly. I never let my phone out of sight, constantly waiting for the interviewer to call me.
One day, my friend got the call from his interviewer to congratulate him and extend an offer for the summer internship. He immediately told me and I was thrilled that he got the offer, despite knowing that I was certainly rejected.
However, I had another realization that I previously wrote about in my post on dealing with interview rejection.
I remembered what he told me before the interview. He didn’t really want the offer — he was ready to sign with another firm. I missed out on landing this offer to someone who didn’t want it nearly as much as I did. That was one of the most frustrating rejections I dealt with during recruiting.It caused me to question my self worth with poisonous thoughts like “will any employer hire me if I can’t even get an offer over someone who doesn’t want it?”
This was the most painful rejection I faced. For the next few days, I didn’t want to go out with friends, prepare for other interviews, or go to class. I just lazed around, watched Netflix, and felt sorry for myself.Then on day 3, I channeled my frustration into putting together a plan for the rest of recruiting cycle. I had 2 more firms listed on my apartment parchment paper: McKinsey and Disney. I had to give 110% effort.
Recruiting for McKinsey & Company
McKinsey [Moonshot] was the last of the top 3 consulting firms. However, it was also the most challenging to land an interview with.
The firm typically only hired 1 full time analyst and an occasional summer intern from UC Berkeley. There were no info sessions and no clear timelines for the interview process.
I tried every trick in the book: I emailed recruiters, leveraged connections with current consultant, and set up coffee chats with multiple analysts.
Nothing seemed to work -- I had no line of sight to landing an interview and my Parthenon offer was quickly approaching the deadline.
Through all this networking, I figured out who was in charge of west coast internship recruiting. I formally submitted my resume to the firm online job posting and reached out to her, but couldn’t get in touch.
At this point in time, I just cold applied to McKinsey. I knew that wasn’t good enough.I then reached out to a family friend who worked at McKinsey a few years prior. I explained the situation to him and literally asked the following via email:
“I don't know if there's a referral process or anything at McKinsey, but any help getting an interview would be much appreciated!”
A bit direct, yes, but you don’t get what you don’t ask for.
After that one email, everything fell exactly into place. He generously offered to send a strong recommendation directly to the recruiter, which he did the following day. He BCC’d me so I could see the email -- it was short but incredible.
There was no way a recruiter could ignore a recommendation like the one he wrote. It was exactly the extra push my application needed.Like clockwork, a few days later the recruiter reached out to offer a first round interview.
Prior to the first round, I asked for advice from the McKinsey professionals I met while networking. They emphasized the behavioral portion of the interview, claiming that many students did well on the case but didn’t perform to the same caliber on the behaviorals.
I spent the week leading up to the first interview learning the McKinsey style of answering behavioral interview questions (I wrote about this in my behavioral interview guide).
Finally, like many times before, I walked into the San Francisco office and ran through 2 45-minute interviews.
They both went very well, and I felt like the interviewer and I connected over our engaging conversation.
Shortly after, the recruiter reached out to congratulate me and offer a final round interview. I was excited -- I didn’t expect to make it this far with a firm that doesn’t recruit at UC Berkeley.
Unfortunately, the only time we could schedule the final round interview was on the last Friday before winter break. This was also the last day of finals week, and I knew I would be drained from studying for exams.
But I had no choice, and reluctantly agreed to the interview timeline.
Fast forward to Thursday night, and I spent my last few hours further preparing for the McKinsey interview instead of studying for a final exam the next day.
On Friday morning, I attempted the exam with little to no studying. It was one of my worst test performances in my 4 years at UC Berkeley. But I didn’t let that get to me. I had to focus on the more important test of the day -- my final round interview.I found myself back at the McKinsey office for 3 back to back interviews. It was going to be an exhausting 3 hours of interviewing after an already mentally and emotionally draining week of final exams.
The first interview came and went -- some minor mistakes, but great chemistry with the interviewer.
Then, the second interview -- strong performance on problem solving with the partner. I thought things were going well, and I felt confident going into my third interview.
Finally, the third interview came, and as we were running through the case my mental capacity to focus collapsed. The interviewer asked me a math problem that I couldn’t figure out. It wasn’t particularly challenging, but I was so exhausted that I lacked the necessary mental clarity and didn’t handle the situation well.I could tell he felt bad that I fumbled on something as trivial as math.
A few days later, I got the rejection call from my third interviewer. He said I was close, and that everyone was very impressed with my behavioral responses. He then recommended that I I brush up on math and reach back out to him for full time recruiting.
From his tone, I could tell he didn’t want to give me the bad news since we got along so well in the interview.
Regardless of the rationale, at the end of the day I didn’t get the offer.And with that, I was done pursuing consulting opportunities. After an emotional rollercoaster of getting close to multiple offers but never making it through, I was exactly where I was 2 months earlier.
I thought I got nowhere with 2 months of hard work. In reality, these failures shaped my understanding of the recruiting process and made me a much more resilient person.But at the time I didn’t care. The whole process seemed cruel and unfair.
Recruiting for The Walt Disney Company
Upon returning from winter break, I had one last firm on my list -- Disney [Moonshot]. Specifically the Corporate Strategy and Business Development team (CSBD), which I reached out to almost two years earlier.
This was a team of ~20 professionals that worked directly with company executives to buy other companies and strengthen Disney’s foothold in the fierce media industry.
CSBD had a reputation as one of the greatest corporate strategy and M&A teams of any company in the world. There are Harvard Business School case studies written on the strategies that this team came up with.
As writing this post, Disney placed a $71 billion bid to buy 21st Century Fox. CSBD is driving that acquisition.
The CSBD team at Disney was a solid Moonshot. They never hired from UC Berkeley, and traditionally only hired a few students each year from Wharton and Harvard.
Furthermore, I didn’t have much interest in the media industry. However, this was one of few opportunities that allowed for a mix of strategy and finance. I craved a better understanding of both functions and how they were interrelated.
I knew it was a complete crap shoot, but felt well positioned with my resume and network. What’s the worst that can happen?
I reached out to the two people I already had conversations with on the team. They knew I’ve been interested in their work for a couple years and expected me to apply for the summer internship.
Through this relationship, I was connected with the head of recruiting for the team. However, my offer deadline was fast approaching and I needed an expedited interview process if the team wanted to interview me.
I directly told the recruiting head about my competing offer with Parthenon and asked to be considered for an accelerated interview timeline. No response.5 days later, I followed up to check in. Still no response.3 days later I followed up again -- I only had 10 days before my offer expired, and there was no more flexibility to push back the deadline.
Still no response from the head of recruiting. However, one day later I received an email from HR with first round interview details.
Persistence paid off.
The first round was 2 30-minute technical phone interviews with directors on the team. The interviews were scheduled for 4 days later.I spent those 4 days learning everything I could about Disney and its strategy. I studied all the major M&A deals the company made and the investment thesis behind each one. I even put together two investment proposals to acquire companies in two different industries.I over prepared like crazy -- this was my last shot and I was more excited about this opportunity than anything else I interviewed for. I also genuinely enjoyed the process of learning about a new company and industry.
By the time I did the phone interviews, I was well prepared for consulting case interviews, finance technicals, and Disney-specific domain knowledge.
During the interview, we spent a large chunk of time discussing my investment proposals. Much like my interview with Levi’s a year earlier, the interviewers appreciated the level of prep I went through.
After the interview, I followed up by thanking my interviewers and reminding them about my competing offer deadline.
I expected to move on to the next round. Instead, they ended the process early and gave me an offer immediately.
Despite offering half the compensation of my consulting offer, I jumped on the opportunity to learn from this team at Disney.
What was once an unrealistic career opportunity two years ago was now going to be a reality. All my failures earlier in the process no longer mattered -- it just takes one success to start defining the future. I was ready.
Conclusion and Lessons
Lastly, I want to leave you with 5 lessons that I learned from the successes and failures of my Junior year recruiting process:
- Focus and persistence are the two most important traits in recruiting. Don’t get distracted by others or discouraged from failure.
- Networking is key to the entire process. I landed every interview I wanted, but I put in the work required to build relationships at each company and refused to submit cold applications.
- There is no substitute for rigorous interview prep. Linkedin’s VP of Sales has a favorite basketball quote:“Amateurs practice until they make a shot, professionals practice until they don’t miss.” Are you going to practice to the level of an amateur or professional?
- You are not in this alone, so don’t act like it. It takes a village to raise a child, and every successful person has an army of supporters and mentors cheering them on. Lean on others throughout the recruiting process by asking for career advice, referrals, or interview practice. Everyone does it, just pay it forward when you’re in a position to help others.
- Dream big and don’t worry about statistics. The odds of getting any of these offers is lower than an acceptance to Harvard University. I didn’t get into Harvard (literally zero chance with my high school grades), yet my friends and I landed interviews and offers with all of these firms. The recruiting process is a game that’s seriously rigged in favor of people who know how to work the system. Leverage 2 by 22 and other resources to learn how to play the game and never inhibit your aspirations, no matter how ambitious they may be.