Management consulting interview preparation – the new and improved guide

Here’s a checklist that you should run through before any consulting interview. 80% of the advice applies across industries and job functions as well. Happy reading!

Long before the interview…

1) Start case prep NOW. Not tomorrow, not in a week, start it NOW. Remember, the case can be more than 50% of the final “score” that will determine your candidacy. Here’s a general outline of how to prepare:

  • Get your hands on as many different cases as you can – both books like Case In Point, websites like www.caseinterview.com, as well as online materials and resources (you’d be amazed at how valuable the websites of university consulting clubs can be).  Obviously, our Consulting Case Bank is the ultimate in prep resources – you get access to 550+ cases you can practice by yourself or with a partner.  Now, that’s a great deal!
  • Run through them ideally with a consulting-interested friend, but if one isn’t available, practice by yourself. The key to good independent practice is to answer the question first, and THEN look at the real answer. Try to recognize patterns – is your answer always missing an analysis of the company’s internal situation? Do you always forget to discuss strategy in the context of competitors? Then make a mental note NOT to forget that.
  • Simulate actual case interviews as much as you can. The timing is critical – both how long your answers are, and how much time you should spend asking questions versus providing responses. Ideally, you’d practice then with a consultant who has experience in this area – but if not, a sharp friend will do. I’d even suggest getting a stopwatch, and looking at the length of your responses. If you’re over a minute, for 99% of answers – you’re too long.

I will be uploading some very valuable, and free, case prep resources that I’ve managed to discover across the internet, and that kind readers have shared with me. Stay tuned!

While some people think that the case can be 100% of the decision – and while this percentage will vary by firm and by office – generally the behavioral component is equally important. Especially because, at the end of the day, the vast majority of people will miss at least SOME part of the case – and when it comes to deciding between all of these people, what do you think the interviewers will base their decision on? Resume. Personality.

2) Setup informational meetings and phone calls with as many current and former consultants as you can. This is invaluable for many reasons:

  • It helps with networking. If they’re impressed with you, they will be self-motivated to send a strong recommendation to HR. They may put you in touch with other consultants for more practice and advice. Etc.
  • It helps with industry and job familiarization. The more you know about the job, the lingo, the challenges, the pros and cons – the better you will do in the behavioral interview. And the more that you hear about REAL cases and REAL problems, the more you’ll understand about the case interview – and what consultants are truly looking for in responses (hint, it’s all about things that will really move the needle).
  • It helps you personally. Many people get into consulting for the wrong reasons, which is a post in and of itself, but meeting consultants will give you a great feel for the types of people you’ll work with, their personalities, and help you make a decision about whether its the right path for you.

Immediately before the interview…

3) Practice in front of a mirror and with friends. Each has its own benefits. The mirror allows you to fix awkward facial expressions, poor body language, etc. The friend gives you live feedback and is closer to the actual interview dynamic. Volume and pace are important – don’t talk too fast (it’s natural when you’re nervous) and don’t compensate by speaking too loudly.

4) DRESS NICELY. Wrinkled shirts = do not think ahead = unable to plan workstreams = poor team member. Misshapen tie-knot = lack of friends able to do you a favor = poor social skills = poor team member. Dress nicely for men typically means a suit with tie and clean dress shoes. Same expectations for women. No cologne for men, very, very light perfume for women.

EXTRA CREDIT if you wear brands that are most closely in line with the firm’s popular dress labels. Some of you may think I’m taking this too far, but ignore the jobless naysayers. For consulting, Brooks Brothers is a great bet. Half the consultants wear it. At the very least, you’ll show up looking professional. It can’t hurt.

5) Do not OVERDRESS. Had a colleague who went to investment banking interviews in an extra-long European-style suit, with a vest and loud tie. It screamed fashion guru, not banking analyst. Wear standard, muted colors – gray, white, and light shades of blue are your friend. Some may think that standing out is a good thing – but don’t push the envelope too far. Ask me if it’s appropriate.

6) Scan the news in the morning. Business consultants (read: your target audience) are very well read on the latest business news, and have a more than cursory understanding of politics and international affairs as well. At the very least, know the key issues of the moment. For example, you’ll look idiotic if you go into an interview today without being able to talk about the subprime and financial crisis for a minute or two.

EXTRA CREDIT if you bring up something interesting you read that morning to kickstart the interview or work it into the conversation:

I’ve lightly traded a personal portfolio for the last couple years, but recently most of my tech stocks haven’t done well…and I just read today that Apple released the iGod 3000, which has helped me recover some losses I suffered in these last few months’ chaos.

7) KNOW YOUR RESUME BACK AND FORTH, UP AND DOWN – it is one of the few things that you completely control so know what the heck it says! I remember attending post-interview review sessions where interviewers would recall applicants mixing up the dates for their previous jobs, extracurriculars, and so forth. At best, you look forgetful. At worst, you’re suspected of fabricating your record. So know it well, know what you wrote in it, and be ready to give 30-, 60-, and 2-minute run-throughs of it. Which brings me to my next point…

EXTRA CREDIT if you refer interviewer directly to a line in your resume:

If you look at my resume under the Company X internship, I increased their billing data accuracy 25% by redesigning their online forms.

Further reading: 10 key consulting interview preparation tips

During the interview…

8) …have your resume handy, and ask if the interviewer would LIKE A COPY. An interview is not the time to be shy – most people bring their resumes but just keep them hidden in their padfolios. Bring it out and offer them one – it shows you’re proactive, and if they say no, you’ll have it in front of you if you need to refer to it

9) Project great energy. This one is HUGE. I. Cannot. Underestimate. Its. Importance. Most interviewees are nervous, shy, and stone-faced. Would you want to spend upwards of 12 hours a day in a tiny room with someone like that? I think not. You’d want to spend those 12 hours with a person who is upbeat, enthusiastic, cheerful, and has great energy. It’s important not to overdo this, of course – but from my experience that’s not the problem most candidates encounter. How do you do this? Simple – smile a lot. Project when you communicate. Use hand gestures and display great presentation skills. Maintain eye contact, and lean forward just slightly. Laugh a little – at yourself, at a joke – to help you (and the interviewer) relax. Even the most experienced interviewers can be a little tense when asking questions, and realize that they’re in the same boat. Help calm the situation for both of you, and you’ll be way ahead in the game.

10) Prepare and ask smart follow-up questions. 99% of the time, you’ll be allowed 5-10 minutes to ask questions of the interviewers. Have 2-3 good questions ready, and no, “Why did you choose management consulting?” does not count as one. Here are a bunch of great followup questions you can ask:

  • What’s been the most difficult client issue you’ve faced?
  • Do you consider post-[insert current job here] options and if so, what are they?
  • If I got this job, what advice could you give me to help me get off to a fast start?
  • If I were interested in (insert industry, geography, function here), how could I really get experience in that area?
  • What would you say are the most common mistakes that new hires make?
  • Which project has been the most (challenging/exciting/engaging) for you?

There is a lot more DURING THE INTERVIEW content that I will write about in later posts. All business consulting firms have a FIT INTERVIEW (e.g., do you have the right personality traits to be successful at our company) and in consulting, there is also the CASE INTERVIEW (e.g., can you solve problems that are CliffsNotes versions of our actual job).

After the interview…

11) Ask for a business card, ask if you can email them with followup questions, and then ACTUALLY FOLLOW-UP. I’ve found that especially in consulting and corporate (less so in finance), people are eager to talk to you and typically accessible. Ask them for FEEDBACK. Thank them for their TIME. Ask them to point you to others who have more expertise in a particular topic of interest to you (for example, if you’re really interested in non-profit consulting, ask them to point you to someone who could speak to that firm’s non-profit consulting opportunities). This keeps the interviewer engaged with you, and leaves an impression of someone who’s both interested and proactive. Two qualities that definitely HELP in landing a job.

12) Ask your interviewer to give you DETAILED FEEDBACK. Why? Because this feedback – both the pros/cons, strengths/weaknesses – will influence the style and content of your future interviews. If your first interviewer mentions that you had no problems with the fit/personality questions but really struggled with the market sizing calculations, you can bet that the second interviewer will focus on your quantitative chops.

Readers often ask whether you can ask for feedback if you don’t pass the first round. This is typically rare, unless you established a good connection with your first round interviewer. Why? The simple answer is time. There are too many first round interviews, and needing to provide feedback for each would require an enormous undertaking. This is why I highly recommend that you ask for some feedback right after the interview, while you’re still in the same room and the experience is fresh. 9 times out of 10, your interviewer will be happy to help.

13) Remember a few INTERESTING FACTS from your interview. Facts like the interviewer’s name, office, background. Facts like the conclusion of your particular case study, or the setup for a tricky brainteaser. Why? Because when you get your second round interview, it’s GREAT to bring up those facts with your interviewer. Not only is there a chance that they’ll know the first round interviewer, but discussing these things make you look sharper and more familiar with the firm. Establishing a connection with your interviewer OUTSIDE OF THE INTERVIEW ITSELF is a KEY DIFFERENTIATOR in helping you land the offer.

Thirsty for more? Get The Consulting Bible – our 300+-page interview guide that helped consulting applicants land offers at BCG, Accenture, and McKinsey in a recession economy.

Click here to buy it now and start landing consulting jobs!

For more information on management consulting interview preparation:

Management Consulting 101

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  • Consultant99

    I think you’re going a little overboard on trying to match suit brands. For heaven’s sake, there’s enough to worry about without trying to figure out if more ppl at the firm wear Brooks Bros or Hickey or Valentino. And if you interview with 3 ppl, odds are that you’ll find 3 different designers. And let’s not even get started on brands of neckties. The debate on Ferragamo/Hermes animal ties alone could run two pages.

    I don’t judge people on their clothes unless they have other issues like poor social skills, a mad-scientist look, problems with eye contact, questionable hygeine, or some other social oddity. Thus 80% of applicants are OK as long as their attire isn’t offensive.

    In my book, the keys are these (sorry, just for the guys):

    1) Avoid the cheapest suits where the fabric layers are glued (fused) together–google the term if unfamiliar. Visit a high-end men’s tailor and have your suit tailored to fit your body so that it doesn’t appear frumpy. Don’t confuse made-to-measure or custom with quality; a crappy fused suit that’s made to measure or custom-made is still a crappy suit.

    2) Wear reasonably up to date shoes with leather soles and a nice shine. If they look like the Pilgrims would wear them, they went out of style 5 years ago. It’s not necessary to look as sharp as Tim Gunn, but don’t be frumpy.

    3) Don’t confuse club/going-out attire with business attire. If you’d wear it to Crobar, even if it’s this season from Alexander McQueen and cost $1000, it’s probably not good interview attire.

  • kgao

    Hi Consultant99. Thanks for your comment.

    First, let me start by just saying that my posts are intended not at the “bare minimum necessary” to receive interviews and subsequent offers, but rather at MAXIMIZING your chances throughout the entire process. And while I agree with you that “80% of applicants are ok as long as their attire isn’t offensive”, I’m not looking at the least common denominators. My purpose here is not only to point out the primary things applicants should do well, but also the secondary, more subtle details that can make all the difference when you’re trying to differentiate from a sea of similarly-dressed, similarly-capable, similarly-Ive Leagued candidates.

    Second, my mention of Brooks Brothers was regarding shirts and not suits as I mention here: “For consulting, Brooks Brothers is your best bet. Half the consultants wear it, and you wearing one of their common DRESS SHIRTS will subconsciously imprint into the interviewer

  • http://www.isteward.cn steward

    I found the after interview tips most useful and that’s indeed something that most people easily overlook ~

  • Consultant99

    Agreed that Brooks Bros is a very safe choice generally, especially for guys who are otherwise clueless on threads. They have a nice sport-cut line that works well for young college seniors and 2nd year MBAs who haven’t yet reached pudgy middle-aged status.

    I suggest that candidates consider their overall image. A bumpkin from Paducah might be able to get away with fancy Brioni duds when it’s balanced with a drawl and down-home references. A candidate who lives at 740 Park Ave, went to Groton and then Yale, and otherwise seems disconnected from the real world, probably should go more conservative to try to blend in better.

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  • http://zze.st Maxim

    Useful advice, thank you! I’d say that projecting great energy is as equal in interview as just everywhere else. By speaking a little louder and in a more confident way and smiling (not to look rude) you automatically start to be perceived differently by the people around you.

  • Alberto

    “This is why I highly recommend that you ask for some feedback right after the interview, while you’re still in the same room and the experience is fresh. 9 times out of 10, your interviewer will be happy to help”

    How should one put the question, in order to both get a useful answer and not seem to be forcing to know the outcome in advance?

    I am going to be interviewed for McK (1st round) in a few days.

  • http://managementconsulted.com Kevin

    Alberto, I would say something like the following:

    “May I ask for some feedback on how I did? I’m sure there are areas I can improve for future interviews, and your advice would be helpful.”

    In other words, frame the request as looking for self-improvement, and not for hints as to how well you did.

  • Robert

    Hi,

    I had an interview with ACN at noon. I asked for some feedback at the end of the interview and the return was positive. I also have the interviewer’s coordinates.

    Would you recommend (or not) to send him a little email thanking him for his time and saying I’m looking forward to his feedback?

    Or would this be considered too pushy?

  • http://managementconsulted.com Kevin

    Do you mean “email” when you say “coordinates”? Sending a thank you note – as long as its short – is always acceptable and, for the most part, best practice.

  • Joel D’Souza

    Just looking forward to the next article……

  • Anon

    Hi Kevin,

    What would you consider to be typical exit opps from Investment Consulting at places like Mercer, Towers Watson, etc. ? Would it be possible to exit into strategy consulting? Asset management? Investment Banking? Hedge Funds?

  • http:consultingreality.com MM

    From my experience, we like grads with a sense of humor. It’s key in building client rapport and show’s that your comfortable with your interviewer and potential colleagues. It does no harm to have a few light touch comic lines handy but don’t overdo it. We turned a girl down once because “she didn’t have an engaging laugh.”

  • Diogo MAriano

    Hi,

    I will have a Bain interview in a few weeks. However I don’t have any friend in the consulting industry. Do you think that we could chat or talk in skype in order to improve my chances to be accepted?

    Regards,
    Diogo.

  • http://yuliantip06.student.ipb.ac.id yulianti

    thanks for tips.. that could be so helpfull :D

  • Joe Klunder

    Hi Kevin (and ManagementConsulted),

    I bought your guide, and I think it’s a great piece of work.

    I completely agree with you that case studies are a great exercise to test for skills in management consulting (and beyond).

    Would you happen to have a “Master List” of all the sources we could go to? It would be great if I had a fairly exhaustive list of sources.

    Thanks for the consideration,

    Joe Klunder

  • Vladimir

    Hey I heard a 2nd version of the Bible is coming out, any news on that?

  • Joel D’Souza

    I looking forward to the next article……

  • bobsled

    When will you actually update your site?
    I was originally interested in consulting but have been leaning towards investment banking recently and I think it is because M&I always has fresh and interesting content!

  • bobsled

    Same here bud.

  • http://managementconsulted.com Kevin

    They’re coming. I promise, expect a big FAQ post by end of this week, and a few more posts in the next week.

  • http://managementconsulted.com Kevin

    Haha, thanks bobsled. I’m back and you’ll be seeing a lot more in the coming days and weeks.

  • Mikeb55

    Nice article. One of the things that you didn’t mention was being able to quickly do math in your head. I think this can be the difference between getting an offer and almost making it. If the case talks about sales being down by 100k and last year’s total sales were 1 mil., then you need to talk about 10% and not 100k. Being able to do this math in your head is very important.

    I searched the Internet for a while before I came across this site: http://www.virtualmathpractice.com .

    This is a website dedicated to practicing basic math, which most people forget to do. It’s a pretty good way to practice math and it’s free. Thought I would share with everyone. I found it useful.

  • Svoboda Radek

    Hi, I am urgently looking for online cases / case studies? Can you provide me a useful link? Radek

  • Ash

    another way would be to ask in an indirect fashion. say something like, “i hear that every firm weighs case, fit, etc. interviews differently. how is it at X (the consulting firm)? and from our discussion, what areas do you think i should focus more on?”

  • Somikdg

    I am just complete my graduation stream b com with 38% please guide me am i eligible for full time MBA course

  • Hussein ibrahim

    am going for an interview on monday as consultant officer.could you advvise me

  • Khamul

    One small tip I’d like to add. In one of my interviews, after I had been through the case and behavioral interviews, I met with the managing partner for about an hour. At this point I had met with 5 of his colleagues, and his first question was, “So, who did you meet with?”. I knew the answer, but just as a tip, pay attention to who you meet with!

  • jennyrae

    Hussein, hope your interview went well. There is a lot to talk about when it comes to interviewing, as you know. Feel free to check out our posts on interviewing and e-mail us directly with any other specific questions you may have through our Contact form at the top of the page.

  • Julius

    Remember to ask some decent questions of the interview panel. eg. what key deliverables you will be look for in the first 90 days of commencing the role? What behaviours and attitudes best describe your most successful consultants?