Surviving the Behavioral Portion of your Consulting Interview
If you’ve decided on a career in management consulting and have been doing a good job in school/extracurriculars as well as networking… then you’re probably beginning to look at consulting interviews. They’re definitely different than your typical job interview, and you’ll be wanting to look anywhere you can in order to find the right edge.
One of the most overlooked areas for an edge is in the behavioral portion of the interview. It’s amazing that 40% of your interview score (on average… more or less depending on the specific consulting firm) is based on the behavioral portion of the interview… yet the vast majority of candidates seem to spend upwards of 80% of their time preparing for case interviews. Behavioral interview prep can often get tossed to the wayside in favor of the harder analytical stuff… but it deserves attention. Being able to nail your behavioral interview will make any mistakes made during the case portion seem smaller as well.
Here’s how to get an edge in the behavioral portion of a management consulting interview:
The intro/small talk
The behavioral portion actually starts well before your interview asks the specific behavioral question on their interview sheet. It begins as soon as you shake your interviewers hand and sit down together in the room. It’s here that you should know three things.
You should know who your interviewer is. Most of the time you’ll be given their name beforehand—you should do the pre requisite LinkedIn research. Understand where they went to school and what they studied, in addition to any particular areas of interest to them in consulting. This will let you ask focused follow-up questions and avoid any gaffes (like dissing their alma mater if they went to a rival school).
You should know what’s happening in the world. That means checking out the headlines on that week’s Economist, and taking a glance at the business section of that day’s paper. Additionally, if there are any big macro events going on, you should be able to speak to their impact on the world a little bit (e.g., Middle East Uncertainty, State of the Union Address etc.)
Keep it light. Don’t be the first one to jump into serious subject matter (e.g., Don’t ask your interviewer if they caught the State of the Union last night, like one of my classmates did during recruiting)… let your interviewer guide how intense the conversation gets at first. Things like “how was your trip down” are good conversation snippets to use.
Letting your character shine throughout the case
Just like the beginning of the interview is a chance for your interviewer to gauge your character… the case portion can serve as a way to see first-hand how you behave as a problem solver. You can take this opportunity to let your character shine through and show that you’d be a good consultant to work with. There are two things to do:
Don’t be afraid to think out loud during nitty gritty numbers/problem solving during the case. This will show the consultant how you “internally communicate” and also how you deal with yourself when you make mistakes
Ask the consultant questions along the way. They don’t have to be specific to your case interview, but general career questions. A good example here is asking your interviewer if they’ve seen the case problem in real life before (it can often lead to great stories!).
The formal behavioral question(s)
This part of the interview typically lasts 15-20 minutes. The interviewer will typically say something along the lines of “tell me about a time when…” and you’ll be expected to outline a scenario and your role in it (the theme is usually overcoming some kind of conflict as a team, or achieving something great.). There are really three things to remember to succeed in this portion of the interview:
Map out all your experiences beforehand. Think about previous conflicts you’ve overcome or things you’ve accomplished, and clearly outline your role in them. Be as specific as you can and review all your scenarios before the interview. Preparation is key—you don’t want to be fumbling with your memory. Also interviewers will often ask for multiple stories for the same question, so preparation can really get you ahead here.
Be specific in your communication. The consultant interviewing you will want to know why you’re so special. The only way to do that is to be very clear about your role in any conflict resolution or achievement. You can still describe what the team around you did, but if you aren’t clear about what you did to overcome conflict or succeed… then they can’t give you any credit for the story.
Use the SCARA method when telling behavioral stories. What does SCARA stand for?
Situation: Outline the situation or problem—think “If this story were a newspaper headline, what would the headline be?”. An example would be “No name basketball player carries team to city championship.
Context: Give a little bit more detail on what exactly the central conflict. For example: “Our best basketball player was injured at halftime during the finals and I had to sub in for them.”
Action: Tell the interviewer specifically what you did and what your role was in the conflict resolution. For example “I told my teammates I needed them to step up and tried to be a facilitator instead of stretching my abilities too far.”
Results: What were the results of your actions above? For example: “Two of my teammates had career games and we ended up winning the championship.”
Awesome: This is the part that most people forget. Tell the interviewer why this story makes you awesome or why it’d make you a good consultant or fit for their firm. For example “I learned that effective leadership doesn’t mean doing everything yourself, but setting up your teammates to be more successful.”
So there you have it. If you follow the above advice you should have a much better time in your interview. The behavioral part is often the most forgotten and overlooked part of the interview… which means it’s one of the areas where you can really outshine your peers, and get that consulting job of your dreams!
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