thanks for your questions, I think you raised some interesting points on networking.
All in all, the questions you ask a consultant in a business environment pre interview should ideally respect the following:
- You are genuinely curious about the topic
- The question will help the consultant to remember you positively and provide a referral in the application process.
Given the previous points, I would suggest not to ask if there is a way for someone to know if consulting is not for him/her. If I were the interviewer, I would think you are not 100% sure about consulting, and that’s why you are asking. Although this may actually be the case, it may be better not to risk having the person that may refer you to think so, as it may decrease the chance for a referral. In short, this may not satisfy point 2 above.
I would also try not to ask questions that would put the topic of the discussion on “bad experiences”, such as to be scared to give the wrong suggestion to a client. While the question is interesting, this may bring the conversation on experiences unpleasant to remember; thus, I would rather ask this question to a friend you have in consulting or on the PrepLounge forum. In short, this may also not satisfy point 2 above.
Which are then the questions to you may ask that will satisfy point 2 and help you to be remembered positively? In general terms, the questions would have to respect the following:
- You should not find the answers on Google, as Guennael correctly pointed out,
- The questions should be related to personal experiences interesting for the consultant, ideally making him/her feeling important; this is the easiest way to have him/her to remember you positively.
- The questions should help you to understand better the core values of the company; this will help you to understand if that company is indeed a good fit for you.
Average question: Satisfies A
I know you covered a lot Oil and Gas projects, which areas will BCG focus on in the next years?
--> This helps you to cover a point interesting for you, but probably not extremely interesting for the interviewer, since you are talking about the company, and not about a personal experience of the consultant.
Good question: Satisfies A and B
What do you think is the most important thing that helped you to have the career you had at BCG?
--> This allows the consultant to talk about positive personal experiences interesting for them
Very good question: Satisfies A, B and C
What is the thing you are most proud of that you did while at BCG?
--> This will not only allow the consultant to express a positive personal experience, but also to know what are his or her values. Remember that if you spend enough time in that company, you will absorb those values and you have to understand if that would be fine for you.
On your other points:
- I would bring a tie in the internal pocket of the jacket, just in case. In this way, if you find everyone is wearing one, you will not appear too informal
- It’s ok if you do not have business cards; the goal of the evening for you should be to have a consultant you meet to like you and to be willing to refer you, and while business cards may be useful they are not strictly necessary. In particular, as you may know, there is a specific list of steps to follow to receive a referral when you talk with a consultant, and ideally you should not ask for the referral directly. The steps would include (i) breaking the ice in the right way (ii) creating a connection with the interviewer and (iii) closing with an indirect request for referral. Please let me know if you have further questions on the topic.
Hope this helps.