Management Consulting

The 6 types of questions to be prepared for in a consulting interview

Practical advice on the type of questions to expect in a consulting interview and how to prepare for them.

By The Notch Team
July 2016

The best jobs go to those who prepare. And while it may not realistically be possible to prepare for each and every question that your interviewer may ask you, you can get pretty close to that by understanding the types of questions you may be asked and then practicing your responses to those questions.

Here’s a quick guide to help you think through the types of questions you may be asked in a consulting interview. We’ve also drawn-up some sample questions, but you should make your own exhaustive list based on your background and the firm you’re applying to.


Personal questions

Every consulting interview, or for that matter every interview, typically opens with some variant of a personal question. They are great ice-breakers to get you warmed-up. These are also the questions for which you are expected to be well-prepared. Most of these questions will probe you on things you’ve done in the past and in some cases they might also be situational. For example,

• What are your top three strengths/ weaknesses? (This is very common)
• Can you speak about an instance where you brought people together and exhibited teamwork and leadership?
• What do you consider as your most significant achievement to date?
• What is your alternative career choice if you do not get in to consulting?


Mathematical/ analytical questions

Almost every consulting firm will want to test you on your mathematical and analytical skills. If your academic qualification indicates a strong mathematical background, as in the case of engineers, interviewers may spend more time on other aspects of the interview instead. However, if you come from an academic stream where math is not a core requirement, be prepared for a little challenge. Typically, these questions are designed to see your application of core concepts in math and are, as such, fairly straightforward. They don’t require you to brush up on old maths textbooks but practicing mental maths would not hurt. One important tip – it is not always critical to solve the maths question exactly. If you are being asked an estimation, quickly saying that 42% of 700 is around 290 or even 300 is ok, if you don’t believe +/- 20 is not material to the problem. This can actually show that you are not bogged down by details (a pet hate of many interviewers). In almost all cases, you will be required to apply your analytical thinking in the case itself, rather than as a standalone question.


Market sizing questions

Consultants love asking market sizing questions in interviews, especially to fresh graduates. The questions themselves appear straightforward but it’s the answer that you give that decides if the ensuing discussion is interesting or not. For example:

• How many cups of take-away coffee are sold in London everyday?
• What is the market for selling disposable 3D glasses to movie theatres in the US?

It is important to highlight that in most cases interviewers themselves do not have the answer to the question, and the correct answer is not what they are looking for. They are interested in understanding how you approach the problem. So while you are thinking through your solution, try to keep the interviewer engaged by asking intelligent questions and speak through your process. Speaking out your thought process while you are working through the solution takes some practice and it’s best to do a few practice sessions with interviewers before your real job interview.

Usually, case interview questions are from the actual business problems that your interviewers would have dealt with in the past.

Strategic thinking questions

A consulting firm is hiring you to help solve some of the toughest business problems that their clients face. They test your strategic thinking through case interview questions. Usually, case interview questions are from the actual business problems that your interviewers would have dealt with in the past. And like in the real world, there are multiple aspects that you need to keep in mind while approaching the problem. This is perhaps why case interview preparation requires the most amount of time and effort. The more cases you solve, the better prepared you will be. Each interviewer will present a completely different case interview question and the scope and width of each question varies widely. For example, interviewers could ask –

• Our client, company xyz, is among the top 3 men’s personal care brands in South Africa. So far their digital sales initiatives have not performed. The management wants to make a big push for making digital as one of the key marketing and sales channels. They have the option of buying an online company in a similar space or revamping and scaling-up their own initiatives. How would you advise them?

• A soft drink manufacturer is losing market share in a market that it has dominated for the last decade. Where could the problem lie?


General questions

While general awareness questions are not something that is routine in a consulting interview, it is sensible to keep yourself abreast of important world events. For example, an interviewer might just want to know if you understand the difference between Grexit and Brexit.


Curveball questions

Curveball questions are not regularly asked in consulting interview and these are tougher to practice for since they don’t follow a script. These questions are deliberately designed to throw you off track and to gauge if you can think and respond creatively. Often, these questions are thrown at you when you are at your most confident in an interview…just to annoy you! Since you cannot possibly prepare for all curveball questions, a good approach is to try and understand what your interviewer wants to find out about you. Practicing how to handle the situation is more important than preparing for the right answer when it comes to curveball questions.

Often, these questions are thrown at you when you are at your most confident in an interview…just to annoy you!

Here are some fun curveball questions –

• Do you think a blue jacket (or the colour you’re wearing) is more formal than a black jacket (or the colour the interviewer is wearing)?
• If you had a tail, what would you use it for?
• Have you ever stolen anything?
• What’s your favourite poem? Why don’t you recite it for us.

When responding to a curveball question, try and make it fun and creative. There really is no right or wrong answer here, it’s about engaging the interviewer and bringing out a facet of your personality that you want to showcase in a fun and creative way.

Above all, it is important to show that you are enjoying the questions – no matter what they are. Showing an attitude that you are not perturbed by any questions thrown at you shows the interviewer that you are coachable. And of course, as we always say, practice, practice, practice. Sign-up to Notch if you already haven’t and practice your interviews with management consultants from top-tier firms.

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