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US PEOPLE ONLY PLEASE! Does having an referral matter for MBB?

networking Referral Referral program at MBB
New answer on Apr 15, 2024
3 Answers
Anonymous A asked on Apr 13, 2024

I know European offices work entirely differently in this, and having a referral is much more important in European offices.

For those who have worked in MBB in the US, if I am applying for an Associate/Business Analyst position this summer straight out of school, how much of a difference will a referral make? 

I recently spoke with someone at Bain, who told me that having a referral makes no difference unless that referral is from someone at the Senior Manager/Partner level that you personally know really well, like a family or close friend connection. The person also told me that applicants shouldn't cold message those people on LinkedIn for a coffee chat and try to get a referral, as they will most likely not respond to such requests. A referral from an Associate or anyone below the SM/partner level is pretty much the same as not having one. In addition, networking doesn't even seem like a massive deal in MBBs anymore in the US; as the person mentioned, Bain reads all applications for each office. 

Folks at McKinsey have said the same thing; almost no one I spoke to got in through a referral or networked at all, and most just cold-applied with a stellar resume.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this and verify whether if this is true, as it will help me a ton decide whether or not I should spend more or less time networking. 

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Content Creator
replied on Apr 13, 2024
#1 rated MBB & McKinsey Coach

I can understand how all of this is confusing, especially with so much hearsay floating around. 

It gets even more confusing when you speak with people in MBB who aren't part of the recruitment process and who assume that the way they got in is the default way in which people get in. 

In short, yes, referrals help. 

You can get in without a referral, of course, but having one increases your chances of passing the screening.

The more personal the referral, the better. 

You should aim for somebody who is at least at the same seniority level as you and from your target office, but you don't need a referral from a Partner. 

Response rates on LinkedIn are low indeed, but if you don't have alternatives then you need to build a funnel there and make it work. 

Here are a couple of resources on this that you might find helpful: 

As a last note, I've worked with loads of people from the US, and if I think about it now, most of them have used a referral in the recruitment process. Whether that was the critical thing that helped them pass screening or not is debatable, but they had it. 


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updated an answer on Apr 14, 2024
Bain | Roland Berger | EY-Parthenon | Mentoring Approach | 30% off first 10 sessions in May| Market Sizing | DARDEN MBA

1. You are getting this backwards. Referrals are more relevant in the US than in Europe (at least referrals in the system… informal referrals are another thing, particularly for small offices in Europe)

2. A higher-rank referral is worth more, but it is not true that SM/Partner matter that much more. Sure, it is better, but it is more like a “cherry on top” than a requirement.

3. Sure, Bain reads all applications. Don't even grasp what was the expectation here… that they would accept applications without looking at them because there was a referral? Or the opposite, that they would reject applications without looking at them because they didn't have a referral? That is non-sense and would be highly unprofessional. Yes, they look at all applications. 

4. Most people get into consulting without networking. That is true, and that's a very good sign of a healthy recruiting process. But let's not ignore that networking can play a positive role when someone does not have that “stellar” resume. [edit: although a lot of people get an informal “referral” through school recruiting events]

In other words… it can improve your chances - particularly if you are a candidate that does not have a stellar profile. But it is not a requirement and the majority gets in without networking.


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Content Creator
replied on Apr 15, 2024
Ex-Roland Berger|Project Manager and Recruiter|7+ years of consulting experience in USA and Europe

Hi there,

A referral is just a door opener such that the recruiting team will look through your application more thoroughly. Depending on the seniority, tenure and advocacy of the person referring you, you have a better chance of getting a first round interview. The more senior (manager level and above) the person referring you is, the better. The longer the tenure of that person with the firm is, the better. 

The reason is that such voices carry more weight than referrals coming from super junior or brand new people. They typically know the HR folks better and have been involved in recruiting activities for a while so it is usually assumed that they have a good grasp of what types of candidates with which sets of qualifications the firm needs. But any referral is better than no referral.

Ideally, you get a referral from someone from the same office (or same country) you are applying to. But again, a referral from someone within the same firm but different country organization is still better than no referral.

A direct rejection after the CV screening stage can still happen - even with a referral. In that case the HR team usually provides some feedback to the person having given the referral. So you should follow up with them to better understand the rationale in case that happens. On the flipside, you can still get an interview invite when you just apply online without a referral - and that is probably how the majority of applications is submitted - the probability is just lower on average if your CV is not super exceptional on a standalone basis.

So all in all, it is definitely worth spending some time networking in order to try to secure a referral. However, it is not worth forgoing an application if you cannot get a referral. You should still apply and you can still be successful.


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Cristian gave the best answer


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