Questions to ask in a consulting interview
|Ana Carolina Sousa, ex-McKinsey Associate
|Published: June 30, 2022
Why ask questions | Question bank | Specific examples & context
Asking great questions at the end of your consulting interview is an important opportunity to leave a positive impression on your interviewer.
Well researched questions will give you an edge over other applicants by showcasing your unique interest in a specific company and help develop a connection between you and your interviewer. It can also provide you with answers to the questions that matter to you that will help you make an educated decision about accepting an offer from the target company.
In this post I will walk you through some of the key reasons why you should ask insightful questions to your interviewer, offer you a list of general questions and highlight some specific end of interview questions that I would ask at the end of my consulting interview.
Three reasons why you should ask questions in your interview (Top)
Here are some key reasons to be ready to ask insightful and well researched questions as an interviewee:
- It is your best chance to show your interest to that specific company. When being interviewed, our focus is to stand out as a strong candidate. But it is very important to consulting firms that you demonstrate why you are interested in a particular company over another. When making a hiring decision, they will not only assess if you are a fit to the role, but also if you will not leave after 3 months for a better offer. Making smart, company-tailored questions is a great way to show a company you have done your research and that you want to work for them, and not just in consulting.
- It is a great way to develop a dialogue and build a connection. At least under pre-pandemic standards, consultants tend to spend long hours together, both traveling and in the office. So, one of the underlying but key aspects of a consulting interview is the so-called “the airport test”, which basically consists of partners asking themselves: “could I be stuck in an airport with this person?”. Asking interesting questions about the company, the industries they serve, and other relevant current topics are a great way to show your interviewer that you are interesting, intelligent, and will be pleasant to work with.
- It allows you to make an educated decision about accepting an offer. When prompted to ask questions, you are being given a great opportunity to learn more about specific aspects of the company that will matter to you when deciding where to go. And you can do this while simultaneously impressing your interviewer, because by asking relevant questions about topics like work culture and career paths, you will be both informing yourself and signaling the things you value in your career.
10 general questions to ask in a consulting interview (Top)
Here are a few sample questions that are relevant to be asked in a consulting interview. However, keep in mind that you should not just memorize some of these and ask this exact same way in your interviews. It is important to be more specific and detailed, demonstrating you know your audience and you have done your industry and company research, and you can see some examples of how to do so in the next section.
#1: I would love to learn more about the career paths and what are possible journeys to make it to partner level.
#2: I know consulting to be very dynamic. What a day in your life looks like?
#3: I really admire the business principles, including [example 1] and [example 2]. How would you describe the culture?
#4: Which of your projects or experiences with [company name] would you be proudest of?
#5: What common characteristics have helped people at this level that have worked with you/for you to quickly succeed and reach an outstanding performance? Is there anything I could be doing now to be better prepared?
#6: What opportunities in [partner’s industry of expertise] are you most excited for in upcoming years? [mention specific topics or trends if you have any in mind]
#7: What advice would you have given yourself on your first day with [company]?
#8: Is there anything you found consulting/[company] to be that you did not expect before joining it?
#9: Have you ever experienced a project where things just went wrong? What lessons did you learn from it?
#10: What is your favorite thing about being a [company] consultant?
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5 specific questions to ask in a consulting interview (Top)
Here are a few examples of things to ask during a consulting interview that will demonstrate how to achieve the objectives above and stand out as a candidate.
So, McKinsey’s distinct work towards diversity and inclusion is one of the main reasons why I so admire it. During pride month, I’ve read this amazing McKinsey article about LGBTQ+ inclusion in the workplace, and I’d like to ask: what are ways I can be a proud ally as an employee?
There are numerous positive signals coming from this question. To list the key ones: you are up to date with current events; you read articles the company publishes; you created a great conversation starter to further discuss the article; you are actively interested in D&I matters; and you see yourself as an employee and want to get involved.
Since I was an undergraduate freshman, I have been so passionate about artificial intelligence, so I am very interested in QuantumBlack – I have actually joined the Kedro Discord community last month. In anyways, could you please tell me more about how I could build myself a career path in a specific business function such as AI?
If I spoke Greek to you up here, good. This is a question filled with very specific McKinsey terms to artificial intelligence: QuantumBlack is the brand to the AI solutions they offer, and Kedro is a Phyton framework they have just this year donated to the Linux foundation – meaning it is openly accessible, and anyone can join the developers’ community and discussion groups. This type of question demonstrates you have a clear vision for the future and are aware of company specialties. It also shows you are genuinely interested in AI and is not just mentioning a hot topic – it is best you build a question like this about a true interest of yours. And, last but not least, you are able to once again show you have done your research and it is McKinsey you are interested, not any consulting firm. Note that the end of the question makes it easy for any partner to respond to it, even if they don’t know the slightest thing about AI or McKinsey endeavors on the matter.
What is your favorite aspect of Bain’s culture?
This is a great question to set both you and your interviewer for success. With this question, you are both throwing your interviewer a “soft ball” to greatly market positive things about the company and making an opening to stand out by bringing up your networking. You can do so by connecting your interviewer’s answer with an example or insight you have acquired when previously talking to other employees. For example: “I love how I asked this same question to two other Associates, and the answer is always ‘the people’. I have indeed been simply amazed by everyone I got to meet, so this is definitely one of the main reasons why Bain would be my top choice.”
One of the reasons why BCG is my top choice is my alignment with its values. How does The Strategic Perspective apply in your daily experiences, or in other words, how does it impact both consultants and clients?
Major consulting firms are strongly value-driven and like to be differentiated from others based on their culture. In addition, consulting interviewers are looking to assess whether you would be a fit to this culture just as much as they are evaluating your problem solving skills. Bringing up deep and company-specific discussions about values is another way to demonstrate your perfect match with the company. Be sure to respond back with an example of how that same value you mentioned in your question applies to you and impacts your life.
While talking to Maria Sales, who is an Associate Partner at the Dallas office, I have learned about McKinsey’s performance evaluation dimensions such as Client Leadership, Thought Leadership and People Leadership. Which ones you believe are more important early in the career, and which ones get to matter more as you become more senior?
With this question, you are able to clearly demonstrate you have done your networking homework and are well informed about the company. Also, it is a great way to show your interviewer that you care about your career development and advancement, and are thinking of being with this company long-term. Having this type of deep and specific knowledge about the company is always an outstanding factor for interviewees.
What questions not to ask in a consulting interview? (Top)
On a similar note, here are a few types of questions to avoid and why these would not work for you during a consulting interview.
- Any questions related to the amount of work hours, traveling, dress code, or any other traditional characteristic of the consulting industry. While, because of the pandemic, it is okay to ask about format of work and current traveling policies, in general it is best to avoid these types of questions, simply because you are expected to have done your research about the consulting industry, and not only be aware of its usual main features (long hours, heavy traveling, formal dress code), but also be fully onboard with them. Asking said questions can make your interviewer second guess if you are really up for the challenge.
- Any overly intelligent/specific question. While you do want to come across as smart, you definitely don’t want to be caught just bragging about your knowledge. It is important that your question ultimately helps you learn more about the company, and not just get a partner’s opinion on blockchain. Make sure to ask broad enough questions that any partner could further discuss, to make them company-tailored, and to stay far away from any political or economical bias.
- Any HR-related, uncomfortable, or generic questions, such as “what is the total compensation structure for this role?”, “what are the main struggles the company is facing right now?”, or “where do you see the company in five years?”, respectively. While these are quite straightforward no’s, here is why: HR questions should be saved for HR representatives at an appropriate time through the recruiting process; you always want to help your interviewer put the company in good lights, so bringing up any negative or uncomfortable subjects regarding the company are very negative for you as a candidate; and generic questions will make you seem unprepared for the interview.
Now you know all you need to go ahead and get started! Make writing your questions a part of your preparation specific to each company you get to interview with, and you will be able to use that final time to shine as a candidate.
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