During an interview, it is common to be asked “Tell me about yourself.” Even though you’re mentally prepared for the question to be asked, suddenly your heart starts racing, your mind goes blank, and you just plain forget how to talk like a normal human.
In thousands of hours of interview preparation every year, we find similar themes with EVERY client: you love breaking your brain for the case interview, and assume that for the the fit interviews – being more predictable by comparison – you can wing it.
Au contraire, peeps. The fit interview is where magic happens, where your true self comes out, and where the interview is ultimately decided. True, you can’t get through the process without being good at cases – but amongst those that rock the cases, how do they decide? The fit interview is the tiebreaker, so you best be on your game.
The fit interview preparation process is critical to success, and requires tremendous self-reflection – why you are unique, what makes you valuable to an employer, and what your goals are (especially as they line up with the firm’s).
Now, no one wants to work with a robot – we’re not trying to point you to “perfect answers” here. Firms hire humans who are intelligent but also have vocal inflections, facial expressions, emotions and, hopefully, humor. Your goal, when practicing for the fit interview, is not memorizing to recite answers.
There are no trick questions in fit interviews – but you can still go in horribly unprepared. You must practice – and the first step toward practice is understanding. Today, we’ll help by laying out 4 key types of consulting fit questions. Enjoy!
1. Why Consulting? Why Now?
Whether you are transitioning into consulting from a different industry or are heading there straight from the classroom, the interviewer is looking to see if you are really serious about this career move – that you have researched this industry, and will want to know why you chose this industry over where you have been and all of the other choices on your plate.
Firms know you’ll probably leave – in 2-3 years, if you’re normal – and they are comfortable with that payback cycle. However, the firm loses money on you in the first 6-12 months on the job – they invest heavily in training, and you are contributing very little. It’s a risk to take someone on if they are not committed to the job – so when you answer the questions the interviewer should feel confident that you know about the industry and the company your are applying for.
Make sure you are ready to share how your experience positions you well for this industry – it’s important that you don’t sound like a consulting-worshipper or share how you hate what you’re currently doing. Consultants want workers who are going from strength to strength.
Make sure you have honestly taken the time to weigh all benefits, sacrifices and reasons for making this transition. Although over time consultants are paid well, an industry transition from a senior exec role or a field like i-banking can mean decreased pay, title and seniority, etc. and you need to share what benefits of consulting will outweigh these costs.
An example version of this question might be “You have received numerous promotions and your compensation is far greater than that of a consultant at your level. Why the transition?” The interviewer is clearly trying to see if there is a convincing reason for the switch. Communicate your thought process, research and some areas you like about your current work that you’ll get to do more of as a consultant – make sure you highlight the skills you’ll develop, higher job satisfaction, and long-term career aspirations.
2. Industry/Firm Interest and Knowledge
Why do you want to work for XXX? You can guarantee this question will be asked. The firm is trying to assess where else you are applying, where their firm fits in, and how much work you’ve done to prepare. You have 2 ways to handle this kind of question.
First, you can give them a few reasons – 3 reasons why you want to work for McKinsey, or 4 reasons why Deloitte is your first-choice firm. You need to explain each reason, and let them know at the beginning that you’ve thought about this question a lot – to reduce the risk of sounding totally memorized.
Second, you can tell a story. Stories are the best – they are believable, personal and very memorable. The story might sound like this: “I used to think investment banking was for me…and then I met this guy from McKinsey.” Take insights from your networking conversations, and get specific.
No matter which option you choose here, make sure you address the question with enthusiasm – be excited about what the firm has to offer.
What do you think makes a good management consultant? If you do not have business or economics background, take heed! Interviewers are searching out whether you are interested enough in the job to do your own research – and we’re not talking web research here (although that’s a good foundation). Do you understand what skills are required for success and do you honestly feel prepared to take those on?
Firms want to be assured you have a clear understanding of why you are entering into this industry and what you plan to accomplish during your time as a consultant. The interviewer is trying to find out what you have heard makes a good management consultant – from other management consultants, not some vague online article. Structure your response and make sure you include skills like analytical capabilities, hard work, and great communication skills.
3. Strength and Weaknesses
Are you aware of what you are good at and what areas needs improving? Now, don’t get us wrong – if it were possible to be perfect, firms would be pumped and you would be hired. However, in the absence of possible perfection, it’s critical to make sure you have a healthy understanding of where you’re strong – and where you need work – without displaying extremes like arrogance or insecurity.
“What’s your greatest strength?” (Variations can include “Tell me about your 3 greatest strengths.” or “If I put you on a team with 6 people, what strengths of yours would be displayed?”, etc.) The interviewer really wants to make sure you understand what a few of your strengths are and how to best apply them to all types of situations. Be prepared to share some examples of those amazing qualities, with brief explanations, but without sounding arrogant. Select strengths (you should have many) that demonstrate well-roundedness – for example, one on data/analysis/problem solving, one on leadership/motivation/work ethic, one on communication/conflict resolution.
“What’s your greatest weakness?” This is such a hated question, but it’s not hard to answer. Don’t do what so many try to do – share about a not very weak weakness, such as “I have an issue with coming up with too many great ideas.” Ummm…yeah – lame!
Your interviewer is trying to see not “if” you have weaknesses, but “how” you handle them and what are you doing to manage a negative effect – so it’s not THEIR problem. Do you have a plan in place whereby you are improving in your weak area? How do you receive constructive criticism? As a consultant, you’ll receive excessive feedback – from peers, managers, those that report to you – and frequently (3-6 mini-reviews per year, 2 formal reviews). You should be eating weaknesses for lunch – not trying to hide them. After all, that’s how you will grow.
There are always-scary weaknesses – like being error-prone or resistant to feedback. There are also always-safe weaknesses – like learning how to speak your mind and becoming a more clear communicator. In one of our 8-hour Bootcamp modules, we go around the room and share weaknesses – we’re the ultimate spin doctors, and it’s fun to watch the room transform as attendees break off fear of exposure and get bold about planning to improve.
For weaknesses, don’t be surprised if they ask for more than one – so be prepared to share boldly about at least 2 weaknesses.
4. General Business and Current Events
In this industry, consultants make it a point to be remain constantly aware of some basic business news and current events. Why? It’s important for you to stay on top of recent insights – but it’s also important that you’re always ready to engage in a business conversation with a client. This question is a proxy for both – are you genuinely interested in business? Are you client ready?
Be prepared to make business insight review a part of your daily schedule, if it is not already – starting today. Some suggestions are to start reading the Wall Street Journal, The Economist, and Fortune. You don’t need to memorize each and every detail, but you do need to form opinions and have a basic understanding on what is happening and why that might be important. Start with focusing on some leading companies and business issues of that day.
“Tell me about a company you admire.” Here’s an example question – and when you’re building the answer, remember: you are trying to convey passion for business and insights as well. You will want to structure your answer and give 2 or 3 well-developed topics. Don’t ramble on-and-on – 1 minute max is sufficient – and be succinct and genuine. As a bonus, you might want to share some ideas on what will make the company stronger/more admired. This shows the interviewer that you’re growth oriented and you believe you can do great things.
As you’re thinking about this, as always it’s important to prepare – so you don’t pick a generic choice like Google or Apple! Be more creative in your selection – show that you really study business, not only as a consumer, but as an informed advisor.
Want more? Check out these articles from MC on this topic:
Consulting Fit Interview Questions and Their Fatal Mistakes
Management Consulting Interviews: 10 Key Preparation Tips
Management Consulting Interview Preparation: The New and Improved Guide