Ramit is a junior at Duke University who successfully aced his on campus interview. However, he did receive some puzzling feedback from his interviewers, leading him to contact Jenny Rae to guide him through how to use the input constructively for his final interview on site at BCG.
Read on for some insightful answers as to how interviewers perceive your answers, how to communicate personality and relatability without coming across too informally, and developing rapport with your interviewer.
If you’re interested in doing what Ramit did, grab a Power Half Hour from our shop.
Want to know what your interviewer is really thinking? Want to know what your interviewer is really looking for? Read on…
Hi, it’s Jenny Rae.
Hello, how are you?
Very good, how are you?
I’m doing well, doing well. I have to fly out to DC at about 7:40 PM, so I’m pretty excited about that.
I’m so excited about your final rounds. Congratulations.
Yeah, thank you very much.
So tell me what questions you have, and how I can help you get ready for tomorrow?
Yeah, so last Thursday I had my first round interviews on campus at Duke, and I guess they went pretty well. I went to the first one and we talked a lot about things that I’m involved in on campus, the diversity initiatives, and all that stuff, and it went well on a personal level. Then we jumped into the case, and it was shampoo revenue. I’ve done a lot of consumer goods, so I actually thought I did pretty well on that. It was just increasing revenues, so I talked a little bit about different ways to do that. I thought that went well. Then going into the second case we talked a lot about what I’m involved in around campus as well, and I thought that went really well.
The behavioral part, he looked up some of the things that I’m involved in on-campus as I was sitting there, so I was very happy that he brought up the case and it was just pension, wealth management, something very financial and technical like that. I thought I bombed the case. I was pretty upset after the interview because I thought I had a second interview with them and it didn’t go well. But obviously on Friday I got the call that they were wanting to fly me out. So I guess it did go well.
This week I talked to the two interviewers. So they both sounded like it was well deserved, saying congratulations, you did well. Both of them said I did well on the cases.
The main, not criticism, but the main feedback that they said was that I was a bit casual, and it didn’t seem like I was nervous in the interview, which was weird feedback to get. Usually people are really stressed out, they are really hectic. You weren’t like that, and it didn’t seem like you are interested in BCG.
I was thinking, “What? I’m very interested in you. I thought it would be a good thing to be relaxed and to not stress out too much.” So it was kind of weird feedback to get, and I asked, “What should I do? Do I not seem professional?” The woman said no, you seemed very, very professional during the case. You seem professional and I like your stories. It made me do more research on BCG and name a couple things that I really think I would enjoy if I were to work there. So that’s what I’ve been doing today, and that’s what I’m going to do tonight. But what do you think about that feedback?
So, first of all, I’m very impressed about the information that you’ve gotten back from them because I think that’s a very helpful insight. Number one, I think that you have to make sure that they can see in your demeanor that you’re really excited to be there. You don’t have to be nervous, but you can’t be relaxed. So that comes into body posture, voice communication, and just general kind of connection with the person, right? And a lot of it ends up meaning that you have to take initiative in that not only do you want to share about yourself, but you also want to get to know them in the interview.
I think I did that. Maybe the posture, or just the way I communicated was a bit casual. I definitely did ask a lot about them. Questions like: “Did you work on this case?” “When did you end up working?” “How do you work?” I definitely asked them questions along those lines.
But again, the way that you asked the questions can be huge. So if you ask the questions just the way that you just did, I could see why they would think you are disinterested. But if you said, as context, “I’m really interested in knowing more about what you do; tell me about what it’s like to work in New York,” that would be very different than saying “So what it’s like to work in New York?” It’s the tone and the attitude when you asked the question that is super important there.
Okay, I definitely didn’t come across like that: How’s New York? But can you explain more about what you mean by that?
You want me to explain more what I mean by that?
Yeah, like the tone, or other nuances. Because I tried to be as casual as possible and kind of connect on a personal level and not worry that this person is making like $300,000 a year, this person is a really big high up person at BCG. I tried to connect on a personal level. So how do I act in a professional way, but also be personable?
So basically here’s what they’re looking for. They’re looking for the type of demeanor that you would have if you were interviewing the President of the United States, essentially. So somebody who does a good interview isn’t just like “Hey Mr. President, I’m so nervous.” Right? But they are also not like hey, yo homey, like how are you, right? So what you’re trying to address is something that’s in between the two of those, where you’re formal in your posture and your questions, and in your attitudes, but you use informal tactics, like smiling and laughing, and giving them insight into how much you enjoy what you do. So you add emotion into the formality.
It’s the combination of the two of those. Does that make sense?
A little bit, yeah. It was very weird feedback to get. I wish it was like: “I wish you worked on your math”.
We met when I was at Duke and I got to talk to you. The thing that I would say that they would be concerned about is not your ability to do the work, but your ability for them to trust you with a client, especially as you get more senior in the job. So basically, this is the type of scenario that they would be worried about: They say “Great, go to our client and spend two days with them and figure out the core part of this problem.” They might be worried that your representation of the firm would not be as polished as they are expecting.
Yeah, that makes sense.
So they are looking for you to mirror the way that they behave with executive presence, using really clear language, really strong directives, and basically demonstrating that you have the ability to hang with the CEO in a way that is deferential. You are serving them, you are their advisor, but also as an equal, you have something to contribute.
Okay, so you’re saying I can smile and do things like that, but not try to be too personable.
Yeah, let’s practice it for a minute. Why don’t you ask me three questions about myself, and I’ll tell you how well you do in terms of your ability to relate to somebody who has an executive level thought process.
So I think you mentioned that you worked at Bain a couple years ago. Do you mind telling me more about the office structure and kind of the dynamic of the office as a whole?
Okay, great. The question is good. Tell me why you want to know? I’m going to dig into it for a second really quickly, because I’m going to help you ask that question in a way that makes more sense.
So I’m kind of looking at Bain, but I’m looking to decide between what office I would prefer to work in, and so knowing more about the office culture, and what it’s like, and what industries you all work with would give me a better understanding of where I would like to work this summer, and potentially full-time as well.
Now, for Bain in particular, if you are thinking about the office, are you not interviewing with one specific office right now?
No, I’m actually not doing Bain. It’s just a BCG I’m working on.
You’re just using it as an example, okay.
Yeah, I am.
So here’s what comes across in your question – there is a lot of stuff that comes across in that question. The first thing that comes across is that you are trying to figure something out for your own information, not that you are trying to build a connection with me, and not that you’re actually really that interested in what I have to say. So basically, I can see right through the question that you want to get information for yourself. The second thing is I can see that you are interested in both the pros and the cons. You don’t actually believe that I’m going to tell you great stuff about the office. In fact, you are more interested in hearing negative things because it will help you potentially make your decision better.
So the way to ask that question in a less threatening way is to say something like, “I’ve heard great things about the Washington, DC office, but obviously I don’t have a lot of insight into what makes this office different from other offices.” And then ask very specific questions. “So what are two things that make the Washington DC, office what it is, that sets it apart from some of the other offices in the BCG network?”
Does that make sense?
So be more positive?
Be more positive, and more specific.
Be more specific, okay.
Okay, great. Ask me a second question. It can be about me personally. We’ve talked a little bit, so it doesn’t just have to be about consulting, or questions you would ask at the end of the interview. Those are fine, but it doesn’t have to be that.
So what made you choose Duke for that weekend seminar as opposed to a different school, and what do you think about it?
Okay, great. So same kind of things there, right? Asking “How long has your relationship been with Duke?” assumes that I loved going to Duke instead of deciding to go there because I settled, or because I even picked it because it was better than another place. So not necessarily comparing and contrasting in the question, but just expecting that I love Duke, and there are some things that I’ve really loved about it. “When you were here, what were one or two things that you really enjoyed about your visit?” Very positive. It’s just going to come across a lot better.
Oh really? You don’t think it would be better to just be realistic?
No, because the feedback that you got, and the feedback I’m giving you now is that it sounds like you are a downer, that you’re looking for negative things. So if you go to a client and you say: “What are some problems with the project that we’re doing?” – that’s a partner’s worst nightmare. You don’t ever want send a message that something could be better, you want to send a message that it’s all going great, that everything is going well. So they are concerned that that realism is going to come across and almost like taint someone’s view of the company, of BCG.
If I asked like what made you choose Duke, wouldn’t that have to be a positive thing? If you could’ve picked UVA, or Maryland, or a different school that weekend, wouldn’t that be a lot of positives?
Not necessarily. So you asked me why I chose Duke to come for the weekend, but the assumptions that you are making underneath there are that there were other choices that I made and that I chose Duke above everywhere else. Maybe it was because that was the one available date and I really value a partnership with Duke as a school, but maybe it was actually a really hard choice. Maybe I wanted to come on a Wednesday and that didn’t work out. So there are all kinds of things that could be going on, essentially, underneath the whole question. Does that make sense?
Okay, so I should be more positive. So should I say something like “I liked our session, or I’m very happy that you chose to come to Duke.”
Exactly. Or what about: “What did you notice about Duke students that really distinguishes us?” or “I know that you do these programs at more than 30 schools across the world, what was unique about the Duke session?” or “What did you really enjoy about being at Duke?” or “What did you notice about our students at Duke that was different from other places that you go?”
Does that make sense?
What about with regards to the interview questions that I will be asking?
Go ahead, ask another one of those.
I don’t know too much about financial services, so could you tell me more about what it is like working on the case that you mentioned you did before, and the type of training that you got as a BCG employee before going on the case?
Yeah, so another really good question. But again, there’s a scary thing inside there. Imagine you are saying that to a client where all of these are practice questions that you would ask a senior client. So what if you said to the client, “Before I came on this case I’d never worked on financial services before?” The partner would be terrified, right? Because the whole purpose for the partner is that they are pitching you from BCG as executive advisors that know something about the industry, potentially more than the client does, right?
So instead you would have to say, “I love financial services and I’ve studied it a lot, but obviously going really deep into one company is a new thing. What kind of training did you do, or what kind of reading did you do in order to prepare for this specific case so that you could get up to speed?”
Does that make sense? So instead of identifying where you are not up to speed, or where you don’t have the same information, then highlight those key issues.
Okay, so could you just say I’m an economics major, could you just restate that, yeah, I’m an economics major, I love it, I love econ and finance.
Yeah, and I do love the finance classes that I’ve had, so I’ve gotten a lot of information about the basics. But you are currently doing a finance case, so how did you get up to speed on this specific company without having a background in it in particular?
Okay, so why is that different from the question I asked?
Because the question that you asked said I don’t know much about finance. So you identified that you were not good, or not strong. You identified a weakness of yours in the question, as opposed to I love it, I’m strong in it, but I realize that there is a gap to go further. How did you bridge that gap?
So what you’re doing in your questions is you’re comparing positives and negatives. You need to think about ways to ask questions that compare positives and supreme positives.
Okay. So I’m in an intermediate finance class this semester, I’ve really gotten a lot out of it, but how did you translate the theoretical lines of economics into the actual client case. Something like that?
What else would you ask at the end of the case, or do you have any suggestions for that?
So, basically I think you can ask anything about them in particular, but the more specific the questions, the better. So any time you can ask a question with a number in it, that’s going to be helpful. Questions like: “Can you tell me about one thing that you’ve learned in the last six months that you really value at this company?” Or “What have been your two favorite projects that you’ve done since you’ve been here?” Or “What’s the one thing that you’ve noticed about your favorite manager or partner that you’ve worked with that really makes them your favorite?”
Okay, so you’re saying add the one, or add two things.
Yeah, be very specific in the questions. It makes them easier to answer.
Really? Okay. What other suggestions do you have for tomorrow?
Yeah, absolutely. Well, you’re going to have a lot going on in the actual interviews. Make sure that you are both creative, and also highly structured, even if they want to just have a discussion with you, okay? So, for more senior people that you meet within the final rounds, especially in these Super Day environments, make sure that as you are walking and talking through the discussions with them that you are really focusing on. Show them: “Here are the key things that we should be talking about.” Sometimes they’re going to have what seems like a very casual discussion, but they are looking for structure still in that discussion.
So that will be about the case, or should that just be a conversation?
It would be about the case. So if they say, “I’m working on this project right now,” they might not say here’s a prompt for a case, but for BCG, they are just very interested in how you think. And something that happens to people too often in the final rounds is that they kind of get thrown on tangents where they just start talking, instead of retaining structure in the creativity. That balance is critical in your final round.
So you’re saying that sometimes they won’t even give you a full case?
No, they’ll just say, “Here’s a business problem I’m thinking about.” Or “Here’s a discussion that I had with a client today. How would you handle this?” And some candidates will just start talking. You don’t need to handle it as formally as you do a case, but it still needs to be a structured discussion.
So would you be writing on a piece of paper and stuff, or, how would that go?
Yeah, you can write as you go, but for the most part you’re talking but just retaining structure when you talk.
So what does that mean? Does that mean like first of all, second, and thirdly?
Okay, that would definitely throw me off to not get a case and just do that because I won’t be able to write it down, remember any of the frameworks.
That’s what he’s looking for. How clear can you be in your structure when all of that isn’t still there?
And so you’ve actually heard of this happening?
Oh, it happens all the time. It happens more than it doesn’t happen.
So are you saying this happens at BCG alone, or on Super Days in general or what?
I’m saying BCG in particular.
Really, oh wow. I did not know about that. Besides saying first, second, third, what other advice would you have?
Well, just make sure that for BCG you are always looking at creative options. They need to see that you are creating structured lists. Like, “Here are some of the options,” but then you’re talking through the area of the structure that you think is the most important, right? They are looking to see that you can be pretty self-automated in the process of going to the discovery.
Pretty self automated.
Yeah, so basically on the job they’re going to say “All right, here’s a problem. In two weeks, come back to me with an answer.” What they’re looking for in the interview is your ability to derive your own plan in your own structure so that you can come back to them in a hypothetical two weeks with a great answer.
All right. Yeah, this is interesting. Also I think they do a lot of pharma, industrial, and all these kinds of cases that I don’t have background in, so I was planning on looking it up tonight. Are there any other suggestions you have for financial healthcare, and pharma cases?
A lot of it just ends up being the same stuff that you’ve practiced. It’s hard with 24 hours left to say – go figure out all these new industries – right? The main thing is just deconstruct them using the same kind of structure. So remember, even though it’s healthcare there are still customers and competitors, and markets that you have to consider. And there’s still company operations. And for every company, it always comes down to profitability. So when you’re in doubt, just go back to the profit metric and figure out how to improve profitability.
I guess even if it’s a vaccine or a healthcare company, at the end of the day they won’t be able to function unless they’re profitable.
That makes sense.
You can go read about those things, and it might help you feel more prepared, less nervous. But I don’t actually think that it ends up coming down to facts or understanding. It comes down to a great night’s sleep, a game-on attitude, and a strategy for how you’re going to display your own strengths in the interview.
Strategy. So I’ve looked at some things and I realized if they ask me “Why should we hire you?” I have some things to say like work ethic and perseverance, and the ability to handle new challenges. Anything beyond that? Are you saying to constantly bring those up a couple of times during the interview?
Any other advice that you know a lot of people typically do unintentionally and kind of screw up their chances?
I think that one of the main things is just you have to consider the interview not over until it’s over. Remember, they are going to push you in the final round, right? And so don’t throw it away if it’s not over yet.
What do you mean?
What I mean by that is if they are pushing you in the interview and you are doing things incorrectly, don’t throw your toys. Don’t knock yourself out of the game before the interview is over. Recover, consider it a conversation, and go back and redo something if you have to redo it. Usually, it’s pretty normal, especially in a BCG final-round, they really push you. There aren’t a lot of cases that people will walk out of a BCG final-round and say, yeah, that was easy. I totally nailed it.
What ends up happening instead is that they push you way beyond your comfort zone, and they are looking to see how you handle that. So just make sure that you remember that your job is to demonstrate your ability to not only structure something in the first place, but to deal with adversity and still come out with an answer on the other side. So, mentally make sure that you are ready to go for it throughout the entire interview, regardless of what comes your way.
I’ve talked to some people and they said that second round is the same difficulty as the first around usually. Second round is even more conversational.
It is, but that doesn’t mean that it’s easier to identify what they think of you.
Sometimes it’s harder because they are more senior and they are looking for different things.
Yeah, I understand.
All right, I’ve got to run, but did you have any final questions for me before we go?
No, I do not. Thank you.
It’s such a pleasure. Send me an email after your session tomorrow and let me know how it goes.
Yeah, of course. Take it easy.
Okay, good luck!