Management Consulting

Insider Tips for Cracking a Management Consulting Interview

5 tips from a partner at a management consulting firm on what firms are looking for in that case interview

By The Notch Team
July 2016

The Notch team cornered a partner at a top tier management consulting firm to get the inside scoop on what firms are looking for from a candidate at an interview. Here are his top 5 tips that go beyond the usual interview advice:

 

Question the question. A candidate that can intelligently cast doubt on whether the question being asked is even relevant is already miles ahead in displaying their strategic thinking. It’s not always relevant to ask if the question being asked is the right one, but it is worth making a quick gut check. For example, if the interviewer presents some data and asks you to work out how to cut costs, check to see if the data is suggesting that the real problem lies in revenue. A true management consulting firm loves a candidate who focuses on getting to the right question before diving head first.

 

Ask smart clarifying questions. Interviewers have different styles. Some give detailed instructions; others will start in very vague places. For example, ‘How would you help a cement business grow?’ It’s ok to ask for more details but make sure that the questions you ask are in themselves being adjudicated. Hence, try and put structure to your clarifying questions. Instead of asking ‘What do you mean?’, ask ‘Did you mean this or did you mean that?’ Here are some examples: ’Are you seeking top line growth or margin growth?’, ‘What is driving the question, a below market performance or an overall shrinking sector?’

“A true management consulting firm loves a candidate who focuses on getting to the right question before diving head first”.

Admit to being bad at stuff. Consultants can be a jaded lot, especially when it comes to people overly selling themselves. If someone asks you what your weaknesses are (or a version of that question), don’t say ‘I work too hard’ or ‘I am impatient’. All this shows is that your greatest weakness is a lack of introspection. Be real and tell them about one or two areas where you struggle and are working on. It’s ok if these are relative strengths and you still feel you are better than the average Joe. This nuance will come out naturally in the way you describe the weakness.

 

Show that you understand how to make change happen. Most case studies are highly analytical in nature, but ultimately, the end point is a piece of advice that will land with a human. Look for an opportunity to describe how you will use the analysis to convince a client. Or at least talk about some of the additional factors that need to be addressed to ensure that the advice lands with the client.

“Look for an opportunity to describe how you will use the analysis to convince a client”.

Show grit. CVs are full of important sounding titles and brand names. This can sometimes lead you astray in the interview because you desperately want to show that you interned at Goldman Sachs and they all loved you. Some highlighting of major brands is often necessary, but don’t forget to also talk about the time you worked as a pizza delivery person and what that experience taught you. It can be more of a differentiator than another conveyor belt i-banking/management consulting internship experience.

 

So there you have it. Being great at case studies is essential, but the tips above can get you the edge. Try some of the above techniques in a practice interview with one of our industry interviewers!