I found an internal consulting job in one of the international companies in the Netherlands. This is the story where I spent almost half a year looking for a consulting job.
I came to the Netherlands for master study in late 2020. Before that, I worked in one of the consulting teams of the Big 4 (DTT, PwC, EY, KPMG) in Shanghai for digitisation, strategy, and internal management projects. Because of the notorious overtime work, I decided to switch — switch my identity from an employee to a student, from China to a totally different country. I had a wonderful year in the Netherlands, and finally I decided to stay. That’s when I started the anguishing job seeking journey.
What job is it?
The offer I got was from a famous international company headquartered in the Netherlands. The team was one of the innovation teams in the company. And I would be mainly responsible for market research and go-to-market strategy.
When I started the job seeking, I didn’t expect myself joining a hardcore technology company, especially in the area of infrastructure. I thought I would work in FMCG, e-Commerce, and other industries which are closer to life. However, after taking many interviews and talking with different people for so many times, the answer emerged: In terms of function, I really enjoyed doing research, building framework, and structuring information. I like giving my own insight based on the information I collected. It would be fantastic if my insights can really influence the decision making. In terms of industry, although infrastructure related industries are not as interesting as FMCG and e-Commerce industries, there’s a large space for imagination. Moreover, in-house experience is always useful for my next step — no matter if I want to go back to consulting firms, or work in investment companies, or stay in the company. In the end, the career path is wider and I have more choices.
The process of finding the job
From June toDecember, I applied for around 150 effective vacancies. There are two standards of being effective. 1. I am eligible to apply: No Dutch-speaking and working visa requirement. 2. I want to apply: I am interested in this job based on the job description.
In those vacancies, I got 44 interview invitations. The pass rate is almost ⅓ , which is pretty high. This is not just because I have relative working experience, but also because I am good at writing resumes and cover letters due to the part-time job I did.
However, with so many interviews, the offer rate is not high. It’s partially due to something that was out of my control. A few times, HR didn’t join the interview without telling me a reason. Once or twice, a few days after a very positive conversation with the hiring manager, they told me that another candidate just accepted the offer. Or I just never got any feedback after the interviews. After I accepted the offer I got interview opportunities from several interesting companies, but I was too tired to take any interviews. So I rejected them. But more often it was because I didn’t perform well – I didn’t give the proper answer to important questions, or just didn’t prepare well for the case interview.
Even though there a lot of different reasons, but in general I can categorize them into four types:
Switch industry, function, and country: I wanted to switch from the financial industry to other industries, from external consulting to in-house consulting; from China to the Netherlands, where there’s a huge gap of culture and language. Realizing one change is difficult, let alone three.
Interview techniques: Since starting working in my previous job, I lost the techniques of job interviews. So I spend some time adapting to taking interviews in the first phase. Those techniques include how to do a clear and interesting self-introduction, how to show my strengths through storytelling, how to behave like myself in interviews, etc.
Case interview: All the jobs related to consulting require case interviews. And there are so many patterns of case interviews. Even though I can get better at it through practice, it doesn’t ensure my success. But if I don’t practice, I will definitely fail. After experiencing so many failures, I finally got the feeling of how to do a good case interview. I am so into it that until now, my first reaction when facing a new problem is to build a framework. This is crazy.
Mistakes in strategy: In the beginning, I only focused on M&A jobs, which is not really related to consulting. But I was so naive that I thought I learned the university = I did it. But I had to admit that the gap between theory and practice is bigger than I thought. Furthermore, I am not a fresh graduate. They require different levels of skills for people who have experience. Later on I changed the direction to in-house consulting. Since then I finally started to get interview invitations.
In the past half year, even though I didn’t use all my time for job seeking, the total invested time was still considerable. At first, I always had an ungrounded optimism, thinking that I would get the offer very soon. But I underestimate the level of competition in the Netherlands. There’s also an influx of immigrants here, where the competition is not just from the locals, but also the foreigners. (I am one of them :P).
I often expected some flukes to happen inexplicably at that time, thinking that I could just join the interview without preparation. However, the requirements of social recruitment and school recruitment are completely different. For someone with work experience and consulting background, the expectations of the other party are much higher. With a naiveness that hadn’t been “reviewed” by the market for several years, my start wasn’t so nicet. Fortunately, through continuous reflection, as well as the interviewer’s feedback, I had gradually adjusted my strategy, including how to prepare for the interview, how to train my thinking and case interviewing skills on a daily basis, and how to become competent and eloquent again, etc. In the end, I received the ideal offer before Christmas.
What do I get from this journey?
This period of time was actually an amazing experience. From a practical point of view, I had a lot of time every day and my body was healthy and free of diseases, so I can do a lot of things. Traveling, reading, exercising, etc. From a psychological point of view, there is enough time every day to give various ideas a chance to ferment, grow, and improve. Those ideas came from the questions I asked myself and what interviewers asked me. Those questions were actually really good self-reflection questions: what is your strength, what is your weakness, why are you here, why do you want to go, etc.
On the other hand, I definitely hope I can finalize the offer early in June and enjoy an easy summer. However, this does not mean that this half-year time has nothing to gain except for the final offer.
In addition to submitting resumes, preparing for interviews, and being interviewed every day, I actually spent a lot of time writing diaries, reading and thinking. The external pressure of continuously applying for different jobs, telling my own stories to different interviewers, and answering many questions that I wouldn’t talk with my friends actually pushed me to think: Where do I come from? Why apply for this job? What is my plan? What are my strengths? How do I deal with difficulties? What are my expectations for the future? … After answering these questions so many times, I deepened the knowledge of myself and my past. Therefore, such a high-density process of being questioned, reflected, and then output, from another perspective, is not a bad thing.
What is even more valuable is that I could actually receive positive and negative feedback. “The manager likes your communication style very much”, “Your presentation can be more clear”, “The other candidate’s modeling ability is stronger”… Such timely feedback can allow me to adjust the direction quickly, and also allow myself to be more aware of where my strengths and weaknesses are.
To put it a little more down-to-earth, I actually accumulated a lot of industry knowledge, methodology, and even an understanding of the entire Dutch labor market through different behavioral interviews and case interviews (after all, I browsed and delivered a large number of local companies, saying with tears), some of these methods can also be used at work. On top of all the experience, I was more determined to start my own “project” – be it a series of writing, a simple business, or starting my own company. Because no matter how good the company or team is, the content and products that are produced are not mine. What really matters is to create something that truly belongs to you and has value.
This blog is originally written in Chinese. Read here.