How Should I Prepare for Interviews at Top-tier Consulting Firms?
So, you’ve decided to pursue a management consulting career. You’ve successfully created and submitted an impressive resume, and your favorite suit is pressed and ready to go. Now all you need to do is ace that interview. But how? Consulting interviews are tough, and many aspiring consultants feel intimidated by the thought of interviewing at world-renowned consultancies, but if you prepare accordingly you’re sure to come out on top.
Here are some practical tips to help you prepare.
Before the Interview
Before you face the interviewer, you should do the following:
Research the Company
Do your homework and find out everything you need to learn about your prospective firm. Familiarize yourself with all relevant information before you go to the interview. Know who their clients are and research them, find out what problems they handle as well as their preferred methodologies, and visit their website and follow their social accounts in order to connect with people who are associated with them. This information will give you some helpful insights which you can use during the interview.
Yes, it’s important to know how to answer questions during the interview. However, at some point you’ll be asked if you have any concerns, which is your chance to ask insightful questions. Knowing how and what to ask will show your genuine interest in the job. You can ask about the interviewer’s experience with the firm or what it’s like to work as a consultant.
Evaluate Your Competencies
Assess your skills and reflect on how suitable you are for the job. Identify your weaknesses and focus on improving them in the weeks before the interview. You need to prove that you have the capability to perform the responsibilities of a consultant. Self-awareness is key to success; if you feel that you lack a few critical skills, work on honing them.
Learn the Consulting Frameworks
Memorize consulting frameworks. If you master the frameworks, you’re likely to arrive at a pragmatic solution to any given problem. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the large amount of data presented; you may be confused about where and how to start. Understanding business frameworks can definitely guide you in generating sound recommendations. Make sure to take the time to master and apply different frameworks to various cases
Read the Material Posted on the Recruiting Website
Top-tier consulting firms like McKinsey, BCG, Booz ,and Bain provide information for candidates on their websites about what they are looking for in an applicant. You can also take advantage of the review materials that they offer.
Follow Current Events in the Industry
You won’t demonstrate to recruiters that you have what it takes to be a consultant if you don’t stay on top of current events. Equip yourself with industry knowledge by reading news and magazine articles about the finance and politics sectors, both domestic and international. Also, and most importantly, keep yourself updated about the company that you’re interviewing with.
Network, Network, Network
Build strong relationships with industry professionals. Networking is a powerful tool that can help you effectively prepare for the interview. The experts among your contacts can definitely guide you on how to break into this industry. Courteously ask for their advice. If lucky enough, you might even have the chance to make friends with someone who’s worked there or is currently an employee in your target firm. Referral strategy has been proven to be a great way to land a job, so make an effort to grow your network of professionals. Join organizations and participate in LinkedIn and other networking sites.
Improve Your Mental Math
Consultants are expected to know how to make calculations and estimations; therefore you’ll be presented with a great deal of numerical data in your case interview. Thus, it’s imperative that you hone your mental math skills. Simulate the actual interview as you practice so you can gauge your speed and continue to improve.
Know How to Read Charts, Graphs, and Tables
To be a good consultant, you must be excellent at interpreting charts, graphs, and tables. Regardless of how the data is presented, you should be able to come up with accurate recommendations. This is crucial to acing your interview with top-tier consulting firms. Devote ample time to reading graphical charts or data spreadsheets so you can improve your data analysis.
Look for Case Interview Review Sessions
If you’re still in school, you can look for consulting clubs and career service centers that offer case practice sessions. Take advantage of these events—they will help you further prepare for the interview and may even provide some good review materials.
Practice with Someone
The best way to prepare for a consulting interview at a top-tier firm is to conduct a mock interview. Yes, it’s important that you study on your own first, but to test whether all your hard work is paying off, you need to conduct a mock interview with a qualified person. This is important to remember: Conduct mock interviews with people who have knowledge about the consulting industry. This will help you improve your ability to convey structured ideas as well as your ability to handle pressure. Take it seriously and simulate the interview conditions. Afterwards, ask for some valuable feedback that will help improve your performance.
Start as Early as You Can
The key to being prepared for the interview is to start early. The earlier you prepare, the more cases you’ll be able to study. Take your time learning how to approach and solve different types of cases. Remember, procrastination is often the cause of one’s failure.
Prepare, Don’t Over Prepare
Indeed, you have to thoroughly prepare for your consulting interview. However, be careful not to over prepare. This requires some judgment on your part. Practicing is great but not to the extent that you’ll sound rehearsed. You don’t want to demonstrate to your interviewer how good you are at memorizing a rehearsed speech. Top firms want to know how you think, so be careful not to make the script too obvious.
On the Day of the Interview
Here are some tips to remember on the day of the interview:
To give your confidence an extra boost, you should wear standard professional business attire to your consulting interview. Be neutral and try to keep your fashion as simple as possible. Avoid wearing flashy ties or accessories. Based on CareerBuilder.com’s annual survey, 51% of hiring managers said that dressing inappropriately is the most common and damaging mistake a candidate can make during the interview. So in order to make a good first impression, you need to convey a polished and professional look.
Keep Your Poise
The interview process in top-tier consulting firms is very intense. You need to remain poised. Don’t let them upset you with abrupt or unfriendly behavior—keep a positive and professional attitude and smile! Remember, you’re not there to make friends; you’re there to impress them and get the job. Besides, they might be testing your ability to deal with nasty clients and co-workers.
Make Eye Contact
Be confident and maintain eye contact. According to an infographic titled, “What You Wish You’d Known Before Your Job Interview,” 67% of managers said that failure to make eye contact is a common nonverbal mistake applicants make during interviews. (The statistics were taken from a survey of 2,000 managers.)
Think and Listen
Many aspiring consultants fail to do this during the interview. Keep your focus so you won’t miss important hints or questions that are dropped during the discussion. One common issue among interviewees is writing too much. Don’t get too fixated on the details. Write down only a few words, not everything. Some words and phrases are there to confuse you. Remember, good consultants can easily spot the key facts. Listen and think carefully about the implications of the details presented.
Keep an Open Mind
Don’t sound defensive. If your interviewer seems to challenge your recommendation, acknowledge that what he or she said may be a relevant viewpoint that you haven’t considered. Good consultants know that there are many potential solutions to a single problem, so try to keep an open mind during your interview, and trust your instincts when presenting a persuasive proposal.
After you’ve been provided with information about the case, be sure to ask intelligent questions. It’s best to start an engaging dialogue. Consultants are expected to be engaging in team problem solving situations. Be inquisitive as curiosity is a persistent trait of successful consultants, and add some intelligent thoughts in order to generate hypothesis driven questions.
Take Time to Structure the Problem
Structure the problem using your own methodology. You can (and should!) use a consulting framework as a starting point, but no framework will fit your case problem to a tee. You may ask the interviewer for a minute to formulate your thoughts before you answer. As you think it through, try your best to systematically break the question down into digestible pieces. Make sure your structure is logical and each piece doesn’t overlap the other. Although what you learned in class or from a book may guide you, try to incorporate your own method of showcasing your problem solving prowess, and try your best to sound original.
Take a Stand
Toward the end of the discussion, be prepared to take a final stand. Yes, you might have been provided with limited data and time to tackle the underlying issues, but never hesitate to make a call. Consulting firms want to know how you’ll draw a sound recommendation based on the information you were given.
Preparation is a fundamental requirement to success, particularly in a very competitive industry like management consulting.
For more helpful insights on how to craft a winning job application, download our free guide to consulting career and learn how you can outshine the competition!