In order to stand out as the best in a very strong field of applicants at the hiring offices of McKinsey, BCG, Bain, Deloitte, and other top firms flooded with candidates with a range of experience, thorough preparation is essential. The interviewer’s questions are designed to weed out those who very obviously haven't prepared for the interview process. My Consulting Coach knows this -- our team roster includes former consultants who conducted the interview process at top firms. Using our expertise, we catalogued some tips and suggestions to avoid the usual pitfalls, and prepare effectively to begin your career in the exciting field of consulting.
Devise a plan
First things first -- always have a plan. Too many candidates forge ahead into their preparation without considering anything to guide them. This often leads to spending time inefficiently, and an overall patchy preparation.An effective plan begins with knowing what you are preparing for. The earliest stages of your interview process will include:
- Resume and cover-letter screening
- A Problem Solving Test (McKinsey)
- First Round of Interviews
- Second Round of Interviews
When you make it past the first stages and make it to the
interview rounds, you will have two sections: the fit interview and the case interview. Both are equally important;
you must be successful in both for an offer.
The case interview is straightforward: crack a case. Many
different systems make the empty promise to let you crack any case by selecting one of a limited number of generic
frameworks. These do not work, in part because the interviewer knows about them and therefore adjusts the
case presented to account for them, but mainly because consulting is not as simple as formulaic regurgitation. If
it was possible to solve all business problems by applying one of 12 frameworks, why would any company pay
thousands of dollars to hire McKinsey for a solution?
The fit interview assesses your
character and motivation for entering consulting, to see how well you will fit not only in that particular company's
working environment, but in the field of consulting. Many candidates forego a sturdy preparation for this
interview and miss the mark. To help our students avoid this, My Consulting Coach offers the first
specific fit interview preparation course. Our program takes you through all the steps to present yourself
as a dream candidate, while not sacrificing the time needed to cover the technical information and specific skills
necessary for case prep.
Nailing these interviews is a must. Global managing director of McKinsey, Dominic Barton, revealed that about 1% of the 200,000 candidates applying to the firm every year receive a job offer. We estimate given these numbers that if you succeed in the initial candidate filters (resume, PST), you will have around a 10% chance of getting an offer after your rounds of interviews. This seems disconcerting, but covering your bases and methodically going through a structured, thought-out prep course will set you ahead of the pack exponentially.
However, not all candidates are the same. Some have backgrounds in business, finance and the like, while others come from a completely different background; some have work experience, and others enter consulting immediately after graduating university. To give you a taste of where most applicants should start off, My Consulting Coach drafted a blueprint to keep track of what bases to cover.
All of our content is self-paced, but by our estimations a candidate working part time on case interviews over 3 to 4 weeks will cover everything and complete the daily recommended practice.
Case Interview preparation ultimately depends on your own needs, but there are some key things we can look at to have an idea of how to tailor your approach to your own strengths and weaknesses.
For instance, case interviews at McKinsey test three types of skills used by consultants in their daily jobs:
- Problem Structuring and mathematics skills
- Creativity and business sense skills
- Communication skills
They already took the first step with their initial Problem Solving Test to gauge your mathematical ability, but the PST will reappear in your case interviews and your ability to perform mental math quickly and accurately is crucial. Your interviewer also expects you to solve the case in a structured way -- meaning in a clear, understandable step-by-step approach. In addition to this, interviewers aim to test your business sense and creativity by evaluating your ability to come up with a range of ideas and solutions for the problem. For instance, they may ask you to find innovative ideas for a restaurant to increase sales, or lower costs.
aspect of the case interview is the interviewer won't assess your industry knowledge, i.e. you are not expected to
have prior knowledge of the industry your case will be about. They want to see your business savvy. In the situation
that you do receive a case about an industry you are unfamiliar with (e.g. the auto industry), your job is to ask
poignant questions that will help you understand the industry specificities. Only your knowledge of concrete
business concepts: revenues, fixed and variable costs, etc. will be expected.
Throughout the session, your
interviewer will pay attention to your soft skills -- how you communicate your ideas and interact with others. Good
soft skills play a big role in consultant-client relationships and a lot of candidates underestimate their
importance. Simply put, behave professionally, and try to communicate your ideas in as structured and organized a
way as possible.
So what can you do to prepare for these? Our team understands the rigor of preparation, and designed a system to handle each aspect of the case interview process.
The MCC Academy
The My Consulting Coach Academy is a comprehensive package, teaching you everything you need to know about the case interview. We designed our program around a sensible suggested structure to streamline preparation. That means nothing is too complex or too complicated. We understand a candidate's needs vary by person; yes, following the structure is the simplest course of action, but you can easily adapt it to your specific needs.
What you need to focus on entirely depends on two factors: background
and time frame. Depending on your background, some of the material may be more or less relevant. Those
candidates from a technical background, for instance, might already be confident with charts and calculations. The
time you have to prepare will decide what sections are most important to focus on. Different aspects of the course
will have different degrees of relevance for you. For instance, certain parts of our course teach useful
supplementary material, where others relay core concepts essential for any candidate.
The following table summarizes the content of the various sections, and rates how essential each is. Take a look to better frame our course and adapt it to your personal situation.
- If you are very pressed for time you should start with our
problem driven approach, then building blocks, and then examples.
- For those with a strong
business background, you can skip fundamentals and some of the building blocks -- even though reviewing them
- For those with a strong business background, you can skip fundamentals and some of the building blocks -- even though reviewing them is resourceful.
When studying alone, practicing your mental mathematics is the best use of
your time. Many applicants neglect this skill to their immediate regret when they begin their interview, so we
developed a mental math tool to buttress your skills. You only need to practice for 10 minutes a day, from the onset
of your preparation to the day before the interview, to sharpen your mind. Check out the My Consulting Coach Mental Math Tool to get started.
After moving through our Building Blocks segment in the second week, you should start integrating the My Consulting Coach case bank alongside your coursework. Start with the easier cases to build your confidence levels, work through solutions and ignore the time. As you familiarize yourself with the process, you can move on to more challenging cases, and review the previous cases and set a time limit. Practice 10 on your own, minimum, to build your confidence.
- The crucial reason of knowing how to crack cases effectively and efficiently comes down to the sheer amount of cases you will need to crack in an interview. Your interview process will likely be split into two rounds: first and second. Each round will contain a number of interviews, usually between 2 and 4.
- At McKinsey, for example, you will have between 4 and 8
interviews before receiving an offer.
- The two rounds do not differ much in difficult or format, but the interviewers change from associates or managers in the first round, to partners with 10+ years of experience in the second. Although firm's take into account both rounds, impressing the partners weighs more on the firm's decision to extend an offer, and the bulk of each interview (at least 75%) will be cracking cases. Learning and following the Problem-Oriented approach we've developed will ensure consistent, efficient, and effective case solutions.
A practical and sure-fire way to memorize the case-interview process is to practice with case partners. Finding good case partners is perhaps the single most important aspect of your preparation. My Consulting Coach offers an intuitive, user-friendly and (importantly) FREE meeting board for fellow consulting candidates from across the world to get in touch to practice case studies together. Candidates are listed along with their background and case experience, and the board has easy-to-use tools for both direct invitation, and scheduling open meetings.
on your time frame, practice 1-3 cases per day in order to maximize
your potential. You can start on cases after the second week of our
academy, Building Blocks, and double down on your effort after the
course is completed in the fourth week (going by our standard schedule).
We have 45+ interactive cases to choose from -- you and your partners
will be plenty busy, and interested!
My Consulting Coach also offers an optional premium service to work with former consultants from top firms. Although it falls outside the range of our academy's syllabus, working with an expert consultant is the most effective way to prepare for a consulting interview. Their ability to spot weaknesses and offer advice is matched by none. If the cost of this service disinterests you, consider the difference in pay over a few years at a top tier consulting firm versus a second rate firm. Thousands of dollars difference in pay between the two may change your mind. If you decide to capitalize on this golden opportunity, use My Consulting Coach's service to match with a coach with years of experience at a top firm here.
Now that we have the case interview covered, let's
check out the fit interview.
The fit interview, called the Personal Experience Interview at McKinsey, has an equal impact on the outcome of your interview. Though the case interviews pose a perceptible threat, leading many candidates to prepare solely for cracking cases, the fit/PEI interviews are accorded equal importance by recruiters.
The bottom line is consultancy firms will not hire somebody they doubt will be a good fit at their company.
- The fit/PEI interview is especially important if you came to consulting from a less standard route: you must give a compelling story as to why consulting is the right choice for you at this point in your career, and how your previous experiences have furnished you with the relevant skills for consulting.
Business schools offer some resources to help in this department, but beyond that there is almost no material available covering the specific demands of the fit interview. With this in mind, the team at My Consulting Coach produced the very first course specifically for the fit/PEI interview. By our measurements, we suggest approaching the course in Week 4, or right after you finish the case interview section of the course (while still following our case practice guidelines we covered above!).
After completion, we suggest you go through our question bank and flesh out a potential answer to each question. Don't memorize them -- you don't want to sound like a Stepford Wife; rather, write down the key points and summarize them. Act natural.
McKinsey: Under the Magnifying Glass
a look at McKinsey's Personal Experience Interview at length.
McKinsey's process is a little different from the typical fit interview encountered at other top firms. First -- their process is much shorter: the average PEI interview lasts about ten minutes, and the interviewer will only assess you on a single topic. The topics, according to McKinsey's website include the following:
- Personal Impact
- Leadership Abilities
- Entrepreneurial Drive
- Problem Solving Skills
The questions themselves always begin in the form, "Tell me about a time when..." and could end with, "...you had to solve an extremely difficult problem", for instance.
The straightforward way to nail these questions is to, like in your other fit interviews, construct a story for each of the topics, and then adapt the stories depending on the context of the exact question asked by your interviewer. A framework for crafting a story follows:
- Context: giving necessary context at the beginning of your story
- Problem: outlining the problem you/your team faced
- Solution: explaining the solution you came up with to solve the problem
- Impact: quantifying the impact you had on solving the problem
- Lessons: finishing with any lessons you may have learned in the process
With this in mind, there are two common mistakes to avoid when answering McKinsey's PEI questions: spending too much time setting up context, and forgetting the question is about you. A successful candidate focuses on what their impact was on the situation they are talking about.
In addition to the novelty of their PEI, McKinsey approaches case interviews somewhat differently.
The general idea is the same as any other consulting firm: you are presented with a problem a company is facing, and asked to come up with a resolution. However, McKinsey takes a structured, guided style to this interview. They will take you down a list, question to question, to control the pace. If they feel you may have spent too much time on one aspect, they may interrupt you and ask the next question.
First, your interviewer will tell you the situation, provide pertinent information about the problem, possibly give you documents such as graphs and tables with figures about the company, and scrap paper. The rest can be broken down as follows:
- Framework question
- Quantitative question
- Creativity question
After covering the situation, your interviewer will ask you to identify the facets you would examine to solve the problem at hand. This is the framework question. After that, the interviewer will ask to solve one to several quantitative questions that help to further investigate the problem and draw some initial conclusions. At some points during the interview, creativity questions will arise. They are generally open-ended, e.g. what are the other areas the company could look at to increase product-compliance. At the end, the interviewer will ask you for a recommendation given what you've learned from your analysis.
These questions will invariably arise during your McKinsey interview, regardless of order and format. Check out this article for a deeper examination of McKinsey's Problem-Solving Test.
It's important to remember: McKinsey positions are sought after. The competition is extensive. Therefore, the interviewer will probably challenge the quality and logic of your answers more than an interviewer at another firm. However -- they will never try to misguide you, or trick you.
With this guide, getting your foot in the door of interview prep is simple. Now comes the fun part: getting into the actual coursework! Get started in the My Consulting Coach academy today and start working towards your future.