8 Fit Interview Questions and Their Fatal Mistakes

Consulting fit and behavioral interview mistakes

In the last 6 months, I’ve helped more than 100 folks improve their interview skills to break into consulting.

While coaching participants come from all walks of life (15-year IT veterans from India; undergraduate sophomores from well-known Ivies), almost all make the same mistakes during our practice sessions:

1. They don’t sell themselves enough. I’ve never worked with a person who I thought oversold me – that should tell you something. Out of 5 questions where they have an opportunity to describe their strengths, they’ll miss 4 of them.

2. They don’t provide a clear roadmap and upfront structure. Structured interview responses are a skill I’ve harped on over and over again.

3. They give accurate, albeit generic, responses. Unless you’re the cream of the crop, simply checking the right boxes isn’t enough. You need to be distinctive in interviews to be remembered, and to stand a chance of receiving the offer. It requires taking risks.

In this article, I’m going to describe 8 common fit questions and the mistakes that I’m hearing in these practice sessions over and over and over.

1. Please take a minute and run me through your consulting resume.

Also heard as:

-Tell me the key things I need to know about your background

-Highlight the 3 most interesting aspects of your CV

-Give me a Cliff Notes on your story and how you ended up here

The mistake:

Focusing on too much trivial crap. This crap includes: extracurricular activities in your freshman year of college; summers spent backpacking and hiking through Europe and Latin America; where you were born and raised.

By focusing on that crap, you make 2 mistakes:

-You demonstrate your lack of prioritization skills

-You waste crucial time that could be spent highlighting more interesting, pertinent strengths

2. What do you think makes a good management consultant?

Also heard as:

-What skills are needed to succeed in strategy consulting?

The mistake:

Missing the opportunity to promote yourself!

This question really has 2 parts to it: one, describe the skills and qualities of a rockstar business consultant. Two, show me that you possess and/or have demonstrated those skills in prior experiences.

The second part is always implied, and sometimes explicitly asked. If not asked, it’s your responsibility to answer it anyway. By no means should you brag incessantly, but it’s perfectly alright to give an answer such as:

“One of the skills that great business consultants need is the ability to structure deliverables and execute. In my former real estate finance job, it was my responsibility to determine the required company and market analysis for each deal, and then deliver the required models, financial statements, and memos that would form a key part of the investment proposal.”

3. Have you dealt with a difficult boss? If so, explain how you managed the situation. If not, explain how you’d deal with a hypothetically difficult boss.

Also heard as:

-Have you disagreed with your manager? How did you resolve the conflict?

-Explain a situation where you worked under someone you didn’t like or get along with. How did you address the situation?

The mistake:

Giving the “we talked about the problem honestly and as a result everything became much better” explanation.

This answer is bad for several reasons: one, everyone gives that answer. Two, no one really believes it. Three, it doesn’t give any insight on the actual communications and mechanics that resolved the situation.

This is where the best interviewers really separate themselves. They prepare for interviews well ahead of time, really working out the specifics to tough questions like these – while still delivering the responses in a natural, conversational manner.

To answer this question well, you’ll need to craft a good response. Get specific about the conflict issues, about your viewpoints and those of your boss’s, and exactly where compromise was achieved. It’s ok to admit partial failure.

It’s also ok if you’ve never been through a situation like that. But in your hypothetical scenario, an equal amount of hypothetical detail should be provided.

4. Tell me your greatest professional weakness

Also heard as:

-What’s your biggest developmental need in a work enviornment?

-In feedback from prior managers, where did they say you needed the most improvement?

The mistake:

Giving a “strength disguised as a weakness”. Don’t do it, please.

An example would be: “I tend to do take on too many responsibilities and occasionally can’t deliver as promised.”

Be genuine in your response and describe a real weakness. Unless you say that you’re lazy and don’t enjoy coming into work, you should be fine.

General advice here: include a specific anecdote (as mentioned in my earlier post on common interview mistakes) and describe 1-2 big personal takeaways from your experience.

5. Describe a scenario where you lead a team in the face of a major obstacle.

Also heard as:

-When have you lead a team through a big challenge?

-Explain a time when your team wasn’t doing well and how you helped the team succeed

The mistake:

An answer filled with phrases like:

-”I decided to…”

-”My answer was to…”

Too often, people forget that the point of this question is to highlight your TEAM and your TEAMwork abilities – not to highlight your personal awesomeness.

The best responses to this question frame your role as a facilitator. You proposed an idea that broke the impasse; You pushed the team out of its lethargy and into action.

The conflict and resolution should always be framed in the context of what the team together accomplished.

6. Why do you want to work at McKinsey?

Also heard as:

-What interests you about Bain?

-Why BCG over any of the other firms?

The mistake:

Giving a response even close to the following: “I really like the people because they seem passionate, smart, and engaging.”

Mentioning the people is fine. It’s a safe component of a good answer.

The problem is not mentioning any specific anecotes, encounters, or qualities that would be unique to the firm in question.

Instead of the above, say something like:

“At an information session, I met Sally Stone, a consultant in the D.C. office. We ended up chatting for more than an hour. Over the last 3 months, we stayed in touch and she spent innumerable hours answering my questions about the firm, reviewing my resume, and helping me prepare for the case studies. I’ve never met a person as considerate and insightful as she is, and I consider the opportunity to work with people like that to be one of the greatest benefits of a career at Accenture.”

7. For experienced hires: What motivated you to change careers now?

Also heard as:

-Why are you interested in transitioning to management consulting?

-Why strategy consulting now, after X years in Y industry?

The mistake:

Being overly negative when discussing your former industry and career. In fact, I think the best responses avoid direct criticisms altogether.

The best response: “It was good, but consulting is even better for the following reasons.”

When you’re too negative, interviewers will wonder 2 things: one, if you hate it so much what took you so many years to switch careers; two, if you’re that pessimistic and unhappy, couldn’t the same change happen to your current perspective on strategy consulting?

8. What company do you think is having a tough time right now, and what would you recommend they do to improve their current situation?

Also heard as:

-If you were CEO of X company…

-If you were a consultant to Y firm…

The mistake:

Talking purely about strategy and ignoring tactics. Most people can give a decent response for the high-level things a company should do: “Coca-Cola should reduce their product offerings. They should expand aggressively to developing markets. Finally, they need to secure favorable, long-term distribution deals with the biggest retailers.”

Providing strategic insights is a big part of the answer. But it’s only half of a great answer. The great answers provide execution specifics and hypothetical scenarios:

“Coca-Cola should reduce their product offerings. When you walk into a store like Wal-Mart, you’re overwhelmed by the variety of Coca-Cola branded soft drinks on display. Instead of spreading their marketing budget and complicating their supply chain, Coca-Cola should reduce their product portfolio by 25%…”

The 8 questions above, and variants on them, will make up at least 50% of the questions you’ll face in the behavioral part of a consulting interview.

Practice your own responses, avoid these mistakes, and you’ll be well on your way to becoming a management consultant!

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I offer resume editing and interview prep. Through one-on-one sessions, I’ll help you stand out from 1000′s of other applicants and land consulting jobs

We offer resume editing and interview prep. Through one-on-one sessions, we’ll help you stand out from 1000′s of other applicants and land consulting jobs now!

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  • CY

    Great post!
    A little typo on question 3 though-
    it should be where interviewEEs separate themselves right?
    Got a little confused when I first read it.

    And just bought your bible because I want to get free updates before the offer expires! (last minute purchase) I have only read the Education section but I think the bible is great! You have all the intentions behind each fit question laid out, so that I can have all my answers tailor-made to what interviewers want. Those skills are totally transferrable to any other interviews, not only consulting! Now I need to take some time to re-think all my stories.

    Thank you for your great work!

  • Kevin

    CY – you’re right. Thanks for catching the mnistake.

    I appreciate the purchase – I may extend the deadline a few weeks as I’m traveling overseas at the moment.

    Best of luck with all. Stay in touch

  • Jason

    Thanks for the great reads Kevin. I’m an aspiring consultant who reads daily, although not at a target school. For what it’s worth, if the deadline was extended, i’d surely make a purchase as soon as my move is completed. I’m going to buy it regardless of course, but saving money is starting to become my forte lol.

  • Kevin

    Jason, absolutely. Think we can all relate to the need to save money. The deadline for purchasing WILL be extended, but haven’t gotten around to formalizing it yet. Best of luck in your pursuits!

  • Imraan Hassam

    Kevin,

    Hope your doing well.

    Great Post! Quick question for you:

    How can one determine if they have the right skills required to excel in a management consultant role. I have been in Marketing over the last couple of years and feel comfortable with most aspects of the role requirments for a management consultant, but needed more of an understanding with regard to the quantitative requirements for a management consulting role.

    My only concern is that some of the finance based courses Ihave taken in the past were challanging when it came to financial models and calulations around derrivatives and asset valuation. I used to be fairly comfortable with numbers but did become intimidated given my challange with some of these finance courses. I feel like I have all of the other required skills to excel, but the quantitative aspect does concern me and causes a road block in my path towards consulting as I know it heavily analytical.

    Would you be able to provide any insight on what makes a good fit for a consultant role and what kind of quantitative skills might be required.
    If it’s comfort with numbers, I think I should be alright. But if these finance courses are a reflection of the types of skills, then perhaps I need to rethink things through.

    Are there potential sample tests that could help me determine if I have the required quantitative skills?

    Thanks for your support.

  • Toronto guy

    Q5:

    just FYI: “lead” = present tense and Pb; “led” = past tense.

    Pb is pronounced as “led;” otherwise, “lead” is pronounced as in “leadership.

  • Henry

    Please I need set of questions and answers on logistics before friday this week.Thank you.

  • fritz

    This is great tips. The point about mentioning specifics is definitely the other 50% of the a great answer. Thank you for posting!

  • Anonymous Associate

    I wish I’d read this before my final round interviews at a Big 3 firm — they went fine and I’ll be working there, but it would have reduced my stress level so much :)

    Two questions I received but didn’t see here:
    “Why this office?” (Bad answer: “I heard you have better work-life balance”), and
    “What would be your ideal first project? Tell me about the industry, functional area, client, and problem you’d want to solve.”

    I feel like the first question is one you can only get wrong and can’t really get right — but the second is fairly interesting. I spoke excitedly & off-the-cuff about a project that fit into the firm/office’s main practice areas, and I think the partner liked me much more after that answer. Might be a worthwhile issue to tackle in this post: how do you choose an industry/function narrative that makes you memorable but doesn’t warn of overspecialization or ‘bad fit’ in a generalist culture?

  • http://managementconsulted.com Kevin

    Hi Anonymous Associate,

    Glad to hear you did well anyway!

    Great questions that you bring up. With the first question, the easiest and best answer is to focus on the type of work/clients that the region is known for (eg, NYC = media/publishing/financial services).

    Thanks for your suggestion – I definitely plan to speak to that in a future article.