The 5 consulting interview tips I would have liked to know
During my university years I had the chance to attend a few company presentations held by McKinsey and BCG.
I was extremely fascinated by these well-dressed, young professionals able to speak with confidence and assertiveness and project an aura of success. That was the moment when I decided to be a management consultant.
I didn’t have any connection in the industry back then nor I knew what consulting was really about. So I had to invest quite a significant amount of time to understand the consulting industry, how to get prepared for the interview process and how to make a lasting good impression with the interviewers.
Now that I am on the other part of the fence and I interview more than one hundred candidates every year for BCG all the questions I had back then have finally an answer.
If a few years ago I knew what I know now the whole interview preparation process would have been smoother and less painful.
Here are my 5 main tips I would have liked to know when I was preparing my consulting interviews.
1. Prepare your story
One of the most irritating thing I keep on seeing during my recruiting interviews is candidates not able to answer standard questions about their past experience, their strengths and their weaknesses.
Consulting is a competitive industry and the recruiter assumes that candidates come prepare for it. There is a very limited number of recruiting questions regularly asked. You can easily google them and you will likely find 5-6 questions that will probably be asked to you as well in your next interview.
As a recruiter I expect the candidate to memorize by earth a compelling and engaging answer for each of those questions. If you don’t do this basic homework before coming to the interview, then it means you probably are not really committed to passing the interview process.
2. Do smile!
Consulting is a people business and what i am looking for during my interviews is a person I would love to spend 12-14 hours a day with.
Moreover one of the topic in my recruiting form I have to fill up after each interview is “Would you like to staff the candidate on your current case?”.
Whenever I see a happy face in front of me, projecting positivism I cannot help but answer “Yes!”.
Always show energy and positivism from the moment you enter the room!
3. Remember to be MECE
I think the term MECE deserves a fully dedicated stand alone post for its relevance. This is by far the most important commandment for any consultant out there. MECE stands for "mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive" and it's a guiding principle on how to structure the answer to any questions you will be asked.
To make long story short, the MECE principle suggests that when you answer a question through a list of points (and consultants love to hear lists of points!), each points should not overlap with the others and all the points added together should cover all possible options.As an example taken from one of the cases I use during my interviews, I often ask the following question
“How would you segment the potential customers of a lemonade stand?”;
A possible MECE answer is “(a) young people below 10 years old; (b) kids between 11 and 18 years old and (c) adults above 18 years old”; another MECE answer could be “(a) Families (i.e.kids with parents), (b) Kids (without their parents), (c) Adults”.
Both these answers are sound and clear, with categories not overlapping but covering the whole option space.A non MECE answer that I happened to listen recently is: “(a) Friends and families of the seller; (b) young kids; (c) Adults”. This answer is of course not MECE since friends and families of the seller can be both young kids or adults and therefore the categories mentioned are not mutually exclusive.
This answer shows lack of structure and is a big no-go during the interview.
4. Take your time: silence is good
During the case execution it is completely normal to feel the need for some time to gather ideas, reflect and decide what to say next.
The worst thing that the I see candidate doing is mumbling random things to cover up their thinking time. As a recruiter I want to see the candidate in full control of the situation and driving the discussion.
I am always positively impressed when the candidate look into my eyes and deliberately asks with confidence “Can I take 1 minute to gather my ideas and structure the case”. This shows control and confidence and give you tons of extra points!
5. Be honest
You cannot imagine how many times candidates try to bullshit me and how many times I pretend to believe in what they say. I have been doing interviews for years, asking the same questions to dozens of candidates and now I can smell bullshit from miles away!
One example of what not to say (taken from real life interview):
Recruiter “So, what do you consider to be your major weakness?”
Candidate “I think i am very demanding to myself and I can hardly tolerate mistakes.. I should go easier with myself and accept a 80-20 approach.. I am already working on it and I have already improved a lot”
I heard this answer so many times that it’s starting to get on my nerves! Why would “being demanding to yourself” be a flaw??!? I much prefer a genuine answer like “I know I am bad in public speaking and I know I have to work on it. For example two years ago I had to present in front of a lot of people and I just froze.. That day I learnt X, Y, Z”.
With an answer like this the candidate shows courage, stresses his/her honest and proofs he/she can learn from his/her mistakes… and this is exactly what I am looking for from the candidate!
Remember: recruiter are not looking for a perfect person, the perfect person does not exist! Be genuine, confident and willing to learn and improve and you will automatically create empathy with the recruiter!If you have any question or comment feel free to leave a message here below..
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