I got invited for an interview with a consulting firm that I want to work with (it's my top choice). I passed through the written test and went to the second round, which I do not think went well. Another candidate got an email for a third round a couple of hours after the second round, but I have not received any news. I emailed them after a week, but they did not get back. Should I email them again? Or does the silence mean that I did not pass the second round interview?
Let me start by saying congratulations: not everyone knows what they want to do, and even fewer have an idea of which firms they want to work for—so to get an interview at your top choice is a great start!
If you're looking for the quick answer to your question, here it is: There's no harm in following up again at this point. If the company has decided not to go any further--something they should have communicated—then you can't hurt your chances anyway. If you've been waitlisted (which there's a lot more on below), then it can't hurt to let the firm know that you're still interested in the position—so make sure that you take the opportunity to remind your contact of what interests you about the position, and what you think you could bring to the firm when you check in. Finally, there's also the possibility that your application has somehow slipped through a crack—in which case, a reminder definitely helps!
Before I get into a more detailed response, I'm curious as to why you think the second round didn't go well. Did you think that before you spoke to other candidates, or is your assessment based on the lack of follow up from the firm? If it's the former (i.e. you made an obvious error that you're sure has torpedoed your chances), then there's a stronger case for not following up than if it's the latter. Here's why:
Waitlists are real
While the firm's silence might mean that you didn't make the top tier of candidates for this recruitment cycle, it isn't necessarily a sign that your candidacy is over. To understand why, you need to know that hiring and staffing for a consulting firm—especially a large one—isn't an exact science. Each year, most firms estimate how many new hires they will need to keep up with business growth, attrition rates, and so on. Once they have that number, they're able to figure out—based on past years—how many candidates they need to see in order to fill those positions.
For example, if a firm has 100 positions to fill, a 75% acceptance rate on offers, and a record of weeding out around half of their candidates at the third round, they might decide to restrict their third round pool to the top 300 candidates from round two.
But that doesn't meant that everyone else is finished—or, indeed, unworthy of a place at the firm. For all you know, you might have been #301 or #310 on the list in the above example, and only missed the cut because of quotas! If that is the case, then it's entirely possible that you've been waitlisted—i.e., put on a list of people who might get called back if it looks like the company isn't going to be able to meet its needs after all. And there's always a chance of that—as I said above, this isn't an exact science. If a higher proportion of the top-tier candidates turn the firm down, or turn out not to be suited to the culture than was expected, the firm's recruiters may well end up taking another look at the candidates who didn't make the shortlist. Alternatively, the firm might pick up a massive new contract that requires extra bodies to complete it, or suffer higher-than-expected attrition—either of which would increase their hiring needs.
The point, then, is that it's not necessarily over until there's definitive proof (i.e. a rejection letter). Which brings me to the next point:
Check the company's history
The main problem here is that you don't know if the company has put your application on hold or ghosted you. One approach you could take is to find out what other people have to say about how the company handles rejections. If you find evidence that they're known for just going silent, then that would be another indicator that you might want to consider other options—in fact, even if they offer you a job, that level of disregard doesn't suggest a people-centric culture.
Shameless plug alert: the best way I know of finding that information out is to check out our company profiles right here on Vault. Under "Employee Reviews" on any given company profile, you'll find lots of interview-specific reviews that not only break down the process, but in many cases also indicate timelines for follow-up.
In summary: assuming the company isn't known for ghosting unsuccessful applicants, and provided that you didn't go to pieces and forget how to do basic math in the second-round interview, there's every chance that your application is on file, waiting for the right moment to be activated. With that in mind, there's no harm in applying a gentle nudge to the recruiter to ensure that you remain top of mind in case the hiring picture changes. But I would also recommend focusing on finding some other options too—it's never a bad idea to have a safety net, and nothing will increase your chances of a positive response from your dream firm than being able to start your next follow-up with "Before I accept this offer, I just wanted to check…"
Best of luck with the search!
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