My view on this is not the standard one. If you're applying to a consulting firm in Europe, I do not think that networking or 'knowing' the right people will significantly improve your chances of getting a job at a first or second-tier consulting firm.
Networking with current consultants has two benefits:
Many people think that an internal referral is a 'golden ticket' to a job as a consultant. It's not. An internal referral will make it much more likely that your CV will pass the initial CV screen but that's it. After that, you're on your own. In the aptitude tests, first and final round interviews, you'll be treated exactly like any other candidate. The decision meeting discussion about your performance will also be exactly the same- in all the decision meetings I attended, the fact that someone had been internally referred was never even brought up once.
There’s one other myth on this topic that should be debunked- the seniority of the person referring you makes no real difference to the internal referral process. I know of many candidates with an internal referral from a McKinsey partner who were rejected. I even interviewed and rejected 2 such candidates myself (I found out afterwards)- at no stage in the decision process did anyone even mention that they had been referred by a partner or consider lowering the hiring bar because of this.
What does this mean for you? If you're planning to apply to a consulting firm in Europe and don't know anyone who can refer you and have no leads to find someone, I'd recommend that you invest your time into building the best CV you can and practicing the skills that will be assessed in your case interviews using proven resources (please note, this advice is Europe specific. My understanding is that networking is much more important in the US.)
Doing this will give you a better return for your time than trying to find a current consultant who can refer you.
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I'm a ex-McKinsey London EM who recently left the Firm