The competitiveness of the top graduate jobs is fairly well known amongst those applying. The MBB (Bain, McKinsey, BCG) consultancies all receive around 5000 applicants a year. These applicants will all have their own stories to tell and would love to challenge themselves at a top tier consultancy. However, only 1 in 100 applicants will get a position. The odds are not in your favour and exceptional candidates will slip through the net, it's inevitable. With this in mind some creative thinking applicants may consider applying abroad in the hope that these offices are less competitive. At least, that's what I did.
Coming out of university I had travelled on my gap year and in a couple of my summers between university as well as doing a 4 month internship in Berlin but I felt like I was always going to end up in London eventually and so the chance to work abroad again was appealing. If working abroad was also less competitive then fantastic, I was interested in the job a lot more than the location.
I knew of someone from university about to start a job in Dubai and had a friend who had spent a year working in Abu Dhabi so I decided this could be an option, along with Singapore. Working in both these places doesn't appeal to everyone but for me, they both had a decent ex-pat community and with £50k of student debt looming over me the graduate salaries upwards of £60k tax free were of course an added bonus.
What I also made a huge effort to do during my applications, before I even sent my CV and cover letter was to try and have a 15 minute conversation with someone at the firm I was applying to. Not only was this incredibly helpful when it came to the interviews as there were less surprises but I also name dropped them in every cover letter I wrote to show the effort I had made to understand the company. I know for a fact this played a part in me being invited to the next stage of three top global consultancies and would recommend it to everyone. You would be surprised how many of your friends know someone who knows someone else that works there and they are often happy to help.
During my networking and conversations I asked one guy who was a senior consultant at Strategy& in London if I would have better chances applying abroad and he sent an email to someone at the firm that would know. Their response was the following:
"Good question. I don’t know if they’re more or less competitive in general but my view is that if you’re from say e.g. Australia and have studied abroad it’s usually easier to get in as you’ll have an up on most others who’ve studied back home. "
So it could be a good strategy, but it isn't guaranteed. What they do say is that if you have studied abroad and then apply back home then you have an advantage. This isn't so surprising as consultants like to see initiative and a taste for different experiences in candidates.
After an application to one of the bigger players in the Middle East, Oliver Wyman, I found a more conclusive answer. I had applied to Oliver Wyman Dubai, passed their notorious online maths test and was invited to an assessment day. In the welcome drinks the night before I had gelled well with a current consultant there who gave me his business card and asked me to let him know how I got on either way (I'm still unsure if he was just being nice).
We ended up getting a coffee the following week and we were chatting about applying to consultancies in the Middle East which is a massively growing market for consultants as the area tries to move away from oil. He said that the chances of getting a job in the Middle East are way higher but only if you apply via a referral from a current employee. This is because the demand for consultants is high but the recruitment teams often cannot relate to your experiences in your home country and so referrals carry much higher weighting.
So, in short, applying abroad is probably not going to improve your odds unless you pick an office that is growing at an incredible pace like those in the Middle East. If you do choose to go down this route, you can't afford to be complacent. Even if an office is hungry for applicants, they will have the same high standards with their interview process so don't think you are home and dry just because you have an interview, the hard work will only just be beginning.
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