Quick Wins interview with Sammi, a seasoned top 10 consulting firm campus recruiter specifically focused on hiring first-year analysts. This is the 3rd installment of our Welcome Back to Campus series, specifically focused on undergraduate and graduate students seeking to begin a consulting career. In this episode, Sammi helps demystify the recruiting process and provides insights on the process from a recruiter’s perspective.
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For this episode, we will be doing a segment that I call Quick Wins. It’s actually the campus edition. If this is your first time tuning in, Quick Wins is where we have an opportunity to connect with an individual discussing products, services, ideas, anything related to helping people along their journey as a consultant, and helping them with their toolkit. For this episode, I actually get a chance to connect with Sammi. Sammi is a campus recruiter, specifically focused on hiring and selecting consulting candidates. I can’t wait to share the interview with you. This is episode 18, it’s our third installment of our Welcome Back to Campus series. We’ve got one more but excited to have conversation. I think you’re going to find it extremely helpful, particularly if you’re in the throes of a consulting interview or starting to go through the recruitment season at this time.
Before we pivot, two things I want to highlight with this episode. It’s the timing we are in at this moment. I sit in the US where I’m in North America. I know I have go getters listening to this show across the world, which is phenomenal. I want to send out my prayers and thoughts with all of the people that’s been recently affected by a lot of the hurricanes and the earthquake. Across, up, and down the North American landscape, we’ve had a lot of really, really tragedies happening. At the same time with tragedies I’ve definitely seen demonstrations of human resilience, and people coming together, which is great.
I wanted to shout-out the people in Texas, Florida, and all of the Caribbean Islands that were affected. Most recently it was the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, St. Martin, Anguilla, St. Croix, Dominica, Barbuda, Cuba, Turks and Caicos. I know Haiti was affected a bit. There was the earthquake in Mexico. I wanted to shout out all of people out there, I definitely keep you in my thoughts and prayers. Go-getters, if you know someone that’s been affected, please reach out to them. If you know that someone may have had family, go ahead and check in on them.
I would also recommend during this time, we walk together, really check out helping, if it’s monetarily or if you can give it’s a great time to be able to donate, because people are really going to be rebuilding their lives and they need a lot of stuff. I wanted to mention, I know there’s the American Red Cross, there’s the Catholic Charities Organization, Salvation Army is pretty great. Both were not only for financial donations, but also for if you’ve got clothes, or you got different household types of products, things that people are going to need to rebuild their lives, now go getters is really the time to do so. Please check them out. Also be wary there are, with these types of times, unfortunately some people take advantage. You want to be leery and make sure that you are giving, but you’re giving to credible organization. Definitely take heed to that. That was one thing I wanted to mention, just where we are right now in the world to really put my thoughts out for people affected.
Interview with Sammi
I’m super psyched to introduce and welcome Sammi to the show. Thank you for taking time to join us on The MECE Muse Unplugged. How are you doing?
I’m great, Christie. Thanks so much for having me. It’s my first podcast so I’m excited to be a part of it.
I know this is going to be a very popular episode. The one thing that candidates are looking to go into consulting is they’re always trying to understand insights of the process and how to de-mystify that. I thank you so much for making time to connect. Before we get started Sammi, maybe if you can just take a moment to introduce yourself to the go getters of The MECE Muse Unplugged.
My name is Sammi. I’ve been in the recruiting world for just about eight years, in a variety of different industries, but most recently in for the last several years in the professional services field, looking at folks like you, people that are looking to get into more of the consulting space. While I’ve done a couple other things in HR, recruiting has really been my focus and my excited area to focus on. I’m excited to talk with all of you guys.
Sammi, given your experience, you’ve got a lot of years of experience in the recruitment field, maybe you can share a high level of what’s the typical recruitment process that you see candidates go through in the consulting arena?
I think one thing to think about what consulting is that it’s kind of a marathon run. Usually there’s several rounds of interviews in the process, really to make sure that the company is getting to know you and all the main players who’ve had a chance to interact with you and get to know you a bit. Also for you, to make sure that as someone wanting to get into the consulting field or into a certain company, you have lots of time to figure out if this is the right fit for you. I think starting from the bare bones, that the application you’re making sure you follow each steps of the application process. I know companies I’ve worked at sometimes can be a little bit taxing, and there’s lots of different steps to follow, but that can sometimes be a test to make sure that you pay attention to detail, you’re actually interested in this job, and you can get everything in on time before the deadline that may or may not be posted.
I would say if you see something out there that you’re interested in, definitely apply and make sure that your resume represents you well, as well as follow each step in the application process, whatever that looks like. Probably some sort of online application, but maybe some sort of survey or personnel information, whatever it is. After that, that’s really the first screen. As a recruiter, what I do at that point is get all my resumes, sometimes thousands of thousands depending on what the job is, and really quickly go through those resumes. I’m looking for standout items or red flags. Those standout items would obviously move you to the yes pile, and those red flags would unfortunately move you to the no pile. Those red flags could be anything from major holes in your work experience that maybe aren’t explained. Maybe if you’re in college, maybe a really poor GPA, something like that. It could be anything.
Make sure, again, your resume really presents you the way that you would explain who you are in person. Some things that I look for in a resume on the positive side are related work experience. Maybe that’s prior work in a similar field. For example, if you’re trying to get into more financial services consulting, maybe you work at a bank or something like that. Something related. If maybe you’re a college student and don’t have related work experience yet, that’s okay. We want to see more transferable skills, things that you could pull from unrelated fields or unrelated jobs, but you can tell us, “I know this is important for consulting, so I’m going to make sure it’s on my resume.”It could be anything from food service. You’re going to do a lot of teaming, you know you’re going to work with other people, you’re probably going to have some customer service, definitely communication skills. All those things are super important for the consulting world.
If you’re someone just starting your career and this might be your first professional experience, connect the dots for me as a recruiter. Make it really easy for me to see that you know what it takes to be a consultant, and you show me that you have those skills. That’s one of the harder barriers to get through is that resume screen, mostly because some jobs can get thousands and thousands of resumes, and we’re probably only going to consider a handful or a small percentage of those. Once we go through that resume screen, usually there’s some sort of an initial high level behavior interview. That’s really to verify and make sure that what’s on your resume is actually who you are, verifying that the jobs that you say you had are true, that you can talk about them intelligently.
If there are any red flags, but we were so impressed with the resume, we talk through those. It’s more of an initial behavioral screening to get to know you. After that, sometimes there is another more traditional behavioral interview. Those are those, “Tell me about a time when,” questions.“Tell me about a time when you were a leader, a team member, or had a difficult situation come across your desk and how you dealt with those.” Those are important and pretty much all companies use those behavioral interviews, because a lot of people believe, including me, that past behavior predicts how you’ll react in the future. We want to know how you have dealt with things in the past, either you’ve learned from them or you would do the same thing in the future. Those behavioral interviews are really important.
Usually there’s some sort of a technical interview and or a case interview, and then those are important to really understand your thought process. A behavioral is to get to know you. You’ve already made it to the hard screening, we want to get to know you as a person. The technical or the indoor the case is to make sure that you have the competencies, the technical mindset, or at least the right thought process to be able to do the job itself. At the end of the day though, after several rounds of interviews, the team wants to make sure that you have what it takes to do the job, that you’re someone that’s actually interested in the role, subjectively meshes with the team, it tends to click with the people that you could be working with.
At the end of the day, can do the job, we’re of really making sure based on what we need for the role, you can check all those boxes and do that. After you’ve had two, three, four rounds of interviews depending on the company, usually there is an offer that’s given verbally, and if you have any questions or want to negotiate about that offer, that would be the time to do it. Not necessarily bringing up salary too early in the process, unless the recruiter does, but the end when you get the offer would be the time to do some negotiating, and then of course accepting that offer and talking about timeline to get started with that company.
I do want to highlight some specific questions, because for me I’m a little far removed from the recruitment process, because I’ve usually been with my firm for quite some time. I had to actually ask younger consultants, “What would be some questions you’d ask a recruiter,” and they gave me a couple of them. I want to ask you them as you laid out so nicely the high level process. The first question that I’m thinking of, going back to the application piece.
I’ve heard from younger consultants or people who are looking to go into consulting, they’ll say, “I’ll go online and I’ll read a job description.” Sometimes the requirements, “There’s like ten requirements on there, but I probably have seven of them, or they’re looking for someone with eight to ten years of X type of experience. I don’t have eight to ten, I have maybe four or five.” For people like that, when you talked about the standout pile versus the red flags, do you think they have a shot at a particular role if they don’t nail the requirements that you’re looking for?
A lot of times you’ll probably notice too in those job descriptions they’re very broad, and pretty much anyone could think, “Yes, I could do the majority of what’s listed there,” because we know we can look for a lot of different things. Then as you’re getting to know the team or the folks in the interviews, they can then say, “This person would be a better fit for XYZ based on their skill set and background.” I would encourage that person to definitely apply, because while that one posting that you see is eight to ten years, maybe they also have a position that’s more of the four to seven year range not posted yet.
When they see your resume or meet you, they would think, “We filled this other role without even trying.” While it’s not necessarily a guarantee, because sometimes those requirements are there on purpose and we really need someone legally to have a certain amount of years of experience. Never let that discourage you from applying, because you never know what might be coming and what we call our pipeline or our queue of other opportunities that we might be able to match you with, even though it might not be the exact one that you applied for.
That’s really good news, so go-getters out there, it’s worth to take a shot than no shot at all. Take some of Sammi’s advice and go for it, and apply. I think one of the questions I heard was if a person doesn’t hear from a firm, does that mean their chances are shot? There’s sometimes skepticism, they say they keep the application on file for X amount of years depending on the state’s requirements or the requirements of that, but do they really go back to those databases, or do they look for fresh applications? Is there any kind of insights you can share with that?
Yes. I tend to call it the black hole of HR, a lot of candidates they fall into. Pretty much all firms, at least every firm or company that I’ve been associated with or worked with does have some sort of a database or an applicant tracking system, an ATS you might hear it called, that we can absolutely pull from, that it might not even be related to the job that you’re applying for. Yes, we do look at those fresh resumes and we are using technology, rating the applicants to see who might be out there looking. We also do key word searches in our entire database to see who else might pop up. If we’re looking for a specific technology skill set, or if we’re looking for someone who has a specific background. We can search those key words, and then yes you will pull up in those searches.
Remember that depending on the size of the firm you’re applying for, you could be amongst thousands and thousands and thousands of other applicants. Definitely make sure that any key words that you see in job descriptions, things that you’re interested in, those keywords should also be in your resume, your cover letter, or the application itself, so there’ll be pooled in those searches. If we say in the job description, “We need someone who has SQL experience or strong communication skills,” probably something more specific than that. If you don’t have SQL in your resume or communication, or something like that, you won’t pull on those searches. Definitely make sure to pull out those key words in job descriptions or what you’re seeing frequently in what the firm is looking for. Make sure those keywords are in your resume, so that way, maybe it’s not a good fit right now, but we’re doing a search in the future, you’ll be pulled because you have those key words in your application.
You touched on the cover letter. You know that’s another question that I get asked sometimes actually from my mentees is, does the cover letter really matter anymore? Given your experiences, Sammi, share some thoughts on does it really make sense to invest a lot of time in creating a really crisp cover letter, or is it really truly about the resume?
I would say nowadays it’s definitely more about the resume, but when I see a cover letter, I definitely read it because I don’t see them as often anymore. I think it’s a way to make yourself stand out in that interview process. I would say with those cover letters, I tend to see more mistakes in those than in a resume. For example, you might just be changing, dear so and so at firm X, you might forget to change from X to firm Y, and that can be a really big red flag for some folks. Though I’d say if you’re going to do those cover letters, choose your words, make them crisp, make them sharp, make sure they’re pulling in the keywords, and adding to your resume.
Don’t let it be just a repeat of what’s in your resume. Maybe there’s something you want to explain or further develop that you couldn’t fit into your resume or maybe wouldn’t make sense as just a bullet point, that’s when you should add a cover letter to further explain things. Some recruiters don’t read cover letters. They do just look at resumes, but for me and for some of the folks that I’ve talked to you, we don’t see them much anymore. If I get one, I definitely take the time to read it, because I’m hoping that it’ll tell me something more or different than what I’ll see it in your resume.
In your overview, you laid out the common types of interviews. In your opinion and experience, Sammi, which interview would you say really becomes the defining, make or break for recruiting a candidate that’s in the process? Is there one that outweighs another, or from your vantage point, they’re all weighted the same?
That really depends on the company’s process. Overall, I think they’re all weighted the same, but if you completely bomb one of them, it could have a detriment no matter what interview it’s in. A lot of people put too much pressure on that technical or case interview. They think that’s the make or break, and I would say not necessarily. We know that especially starting out your career, maybe haven’t done a lot of case interviews or technical interviews before, you can be nervous or not necessarily knowing what to expect. We’re really listening for a thought process more than anything else.
Demystifying the thought that the case is the most important. It’s important, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not going to make or break even if you get the wrong answer. If you’re showing that you have the competency to think through the problem that you’re given and come to some resolution, even if again, it’s not necessarily the exact answer we’re looking for. Those behavioral interviews, you probably have more of those, because people are more comfortable with those, even on the interviewing side. We want to make sure we’re getting to know you.
In those behavioral interviews, definitely practice. A lot of people come in very well-rehearsed and can anticipate what we’re going to ask. That’s good, but if you come across unauthentic or too rehearsed, we don’t get to know the real you, and that’s what those behavioral interviews are for. Consulting is very much a people business. It’s all about trust, connections, resonating with people, and so we’re testing that in those behavioral interviews to see if we feel that connection with you. We know you’re nervous.
We know you know it’s not going to be a perfect process, but we want to make sure we’re getting to know you. They’re fine what’s on paper is actually true, as well as seeing if we could see you in front of the client and getting comfortable with you on our team. I would say to answer your question, Christie, those behavioral interviews are probably more important than the case. Because it’s more telling towards what the everyday of the consultant sitting across the table from strangers and getting them to build that trust with you.
I’ve been part of different recruiting efforts, and I could definitely see how that is weighted. One question that I do get as well is, from a recruitment perspective, what are some of the common pitfalls or observations you’ve seen candidates do that could unintentionally harm their candidacy? Obviously, I think the obvious one is the resume. If there’s typos in the resume and stuff like you said, that’s a red flag and it gets put aside. What are some others that people may not realize are important and can really jeopardize their chances?
I think I mentioned one already and it’s probably my biggest pet peeve, and probably the one people don’t think about is not coming across authentic in that interview. We see, at least in the college space when those career services office are doing such a good job prepping people, they come out of the interview and myself or the folks doing the interview say, “I mean he was very polished, but I don’t think I got to know him. I feel like he told me what he wanted to hear versus how we actually thought about that question.” A big pitfall that people see is if you’re not coming across as yourself, authentic, or real, to make really boil it down, that comes across as negative. That comes across as, “What are you hiding? Are you even comfortable in your own skin?”
Which as a consultant, you got to be confident, you got to be comfortable. I said that’s another big pitfall is too rehearsed or just coming across inauthentic. The third one I think is you usually, at the end of an interview get an opportunity to ask questions to the interviewer. Some people think that’s the time to come up with these really crazy questions to not necessarily stump the interviewer, but to sound uber intelligent. Good questions are very important, especially as a consultant. If you’re asking something that the interviewer can tell you don’t actually care about the answer to that question, you just want to sound good, that’s a pet peeve, because now they have to answer a question they can tell you don’t really care about.
They’re wondering, “Are you going to do this on the client side too?” We want to answer questions that you were legitimately thinking about. Again, prepare, come with things you want to know, but come with things you actually want to learn more about versus getting on the website, seeing the first thing and asking about that, or trying to be super creative when we know you don’t actually care about the answer to that question. For me, it all comes down to being genuine, being who you are. You’ve made it through those initial screenings, the hard part, the gatekeepers, that you’re actually qualified and look good for the job. Now let’s get to know you. Now let’s together decide if this is the right spot for you.
Given the years of experience, I’m sure you’ve seen a lot of different candidate types. What would you say, on one end would you say is an example of an amazing candidate that you thought came up authentic, did all the right things, was just polished, if you could maybe give a story about what was one that was amazing and knocked it completely out of the park versus maybe one that was awkward, or it’s just the person just completely bombed. If you can give them, the two stories, that’d be great.
I’ll go with the good one first to set the stage. I’ve talked with probably thousands at this point of candidates, and I’ll speak from the perspective of that initial screening, that first behavioral interview. Since that’s as a recruiter that’s usually what I do as opposed to later when you’re talking with the team, that’s when they’re doing more on the technical interviews, because they know what they’re looking for on their team. First behavioral interview, student came in was very nervous, I could tell he was very nervous. Probably one of the first interviews he had done. He was in college. It took me a while to warm him up, so it could start off as a negative interview, because I felt like I couldn’t really crack his shell.
I couldn’t really learn a little bit about who he was, but over the course of the 30 minutes that we talked, he asked me questions all throughout the interview .It was much more of a professional conversation. It wasn’t like he took over the interview, but also the questions I had he then would ask me about that question or about how that would be done at the firm. It definitely became evident to me quickly after about that five minute warm-up time that this person was very interested in this position, had done a lot of research about the industry, the company, he understood what the role would be. These questions were more around is this the right fit for me?
As a consultant, you have to be able to ask good questions. That’s really what you’re there for is to have active listening skills, ask good questions, and help that client come to a resolution with whatever their problem is. I felt like at the end of our interview, he was demonstrating to me, he was already doing that, just by asking me questions about the questions I was asking him. His insightful questions, the way that he was able to calm his nerves and come on the same playing field of having a conversation with me was really impressive, especially as someone, again, probably one of his first or second interviews he’s ever had for a professional opportunity. Those are all qualities that I would look for in more of an entry level candidate.
I’ll tell one more story of more of an experienced candidate to give that perspective as well. This is another good candidate. Similar thing, this was a phone interview, that last example was in person. Phone interviews can be a little bit more challenging, because you don’t have any nonverbal cues to go off of this person. In this conversation with this candidate, pretty similar had a lot of questions for me, had other life things going on like a family and different things that he had into his equation. We talked about the job but more than that about the culture of the company. He was really looking for a fit. He was really looking for his next step in his career.
That was really insightful for me because we were looking for people at that firm, people don’t want to be here a while. He was coming into a more senior level position, kind of middle management if you will, and so we were looking for someone who wouldn’t turn over quickly. The fact that the questions he was asking me showed that he was looking for somewhere to plant as well, was really helpful for me to see where his mindset was at versus just another stepping stone to wherever it was he wanted to be. I keep saying this, but it comes out to being authentic, asking good questions, and showing who you are in those interviews.
On the flip side of that, I’ve had lots of candidates who come across like they know everything. In this one example, I have a student come in, a student came in very nice, very easy to talk to. Over the course of our interview, he answered all my questions very well but did not seem interested in the job. He was very frank to talk about what his wants and needs were in a company different than how that experienced candidate I told you before who was looking for the right fit, and had some same questions. This candidate, the attitude that came across was I know everything. I’m a top candidate, what can you give me versus what can I learn from your firm? To me that was a big red flag, because this person will come in as a staff, more entry level candidate, and would be part of a team.
He will not likely be the leader right away and would likely get tasks that maybe are less glamorous for the first couple of months so that he could learn the foundation of the firm and the foundation of the processes. It was a big red flag for me to hear that this person probably wouldn’t like those jobs, probably would complain, and felt like he was more important than maybe that job, or the actual day to day work of that job for the first few months would entail. For me that was not a team player, that was someone that I would not feel comfortable sending to a client, because he would not want to roll his sleeves up and do whatever it takes to get the job done. That was probably crazy negative example, but I think a pitfall that some people might not see, it might come across the wrong way. Confidence is important, but this went too far.
There’s a lot of things you mentioned that I actually wasn’t aware of, so thank you for sharing these amazing insights. Last question is around salary negotiation. You talked about at the end of most processes, if an offer’s been accepted, it’s usually verbal and then that’s where the negotiation takes place? A quick question there, as a recruiter, do you expect people to negotiate their salary or do you expect what the base offer the firm provides is what you’re expecting people to accept?
Yes, so I would say it never hurts even if you feel like that’s a good place to be, it never hurts to negotiate a little bit or talk about it. My first manager ever out of college was an HR manager. She was pretty intense woman, had been doing her job for probably 40 years at that point. She told me that she always low balls because she wants to see how much that person will push back on her, and if they don’t and still accept, she saved the firm money. While that might sound devious or maybe a little bit deceptive, she wanted to see if this person would push back on her, and usually if they did and did it in a professional way, she could always come up on the salary. That’s for more experienced level positions. For most firms, at least the one I work at, which is in the big four, we have set salaries for our entry level staff hires. These will be people fresh off of campus we’ll say. That means we can’t negotiate. You can try, it never hurts to ask. It never hurts to go for it, but at our entry level positions they’re set salaries and don’t change. That might not be the same for all firms, so again, never hurts to ask.
What I would caution you in is trying to negotiate too early. That can come across as a big red flag and being a little bit greedy. A lot of times if there is some room for negotiation, a recruiter might ask you in one of the initial conversations, “What are your salary expectations?” I would have a range ready. I wouldn’t say a number, I would say a range and have the number you’re hoping for be somewhere in that range, maybe in the middle. if you’re hoping for,$40,000 a year for your starting salary, maybe when the recruiter asks you what’s your salary expectation, say, “Anywhere from like $35,000 to $42,000,” something like that, so that way you’re comfortable with that number. You gave yourself a little bit of room if they want to go higher than that. More entry level positions likely have less opportunity for negotiation, but it never hurts to ask. I just wouldn’t push for it until you actually get an offer, hear a number, and then talk about any concerns or questions, or do some negotiating at that point.
Any last remarks or thoughts that you want to share with the go-getters on recruiting in a role? Any last thoughts?
Yes, I would say that in any role, regardless of the level you’re at, people want to bring people on the team who want to be a sponge, who want to learn, who are excited about the job. If you can portray that and in any interview, behavioral, technical, case, showing that this is the job that you want and this is the right fit for you, that’s always going to come across in a positive way. Be yourself, be excited, and hopefully it’ll help you in the interview process.
Thank you so much, Sammi, for joining us. I feel like there’s just so many other questions, it would be great, I would love to invite you back, because I’m sure people listening to this are going to have a lot of other questions. Would you be willing to come back on the show and join for a part two?
I would love to. That would be great.
Thank you so much. I really wish I had this type of insight in the earlier parts of my career. I think you’re going to help a lot of people with this. Go getters, if you have any particular question or feedback, feel free to drop us a line at MECEMuseUnplugged@Gmail.com. I would like to thank Sammi for being on the show, and thank you my go getters for tuning in. This is Christie Lindor signing out for The MECE Muse Unplugged pop-up podcast. Here is to your journey to greatness.