8 Fit Interview Questions and Their Fatal Mistakes


In the last 6 months, we’ve helped more than 100s of 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.¬†We’ve never worked with a person who we thought oversold us – 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 we’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, we’re going to describe 8 common fit questions and the mistakes that we’re 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!