The Consulting Guide

Question #1: Are you capable of doing consulting work day in, day out?

Kenton Kivestu, ex-Google, ex-BCG, Founder at RocketBlocks
Published: April 27, 2017 | Last updated: May 29, 2019

In this final section, we'll flip perspectives and view everything from the perspective of the consulting firm and, specifically, the consultants making a hiring decision on behalf of the firm.

We'll focus on the questions that the interviewer will be trying to answer him/herself when evaluating the candidate. What's the value in doing this? It can be very helpful to see the situation from another perspective.

Once you realize that your interviewer will have to "go to bat" for you to go on to the next round (or get an offer), it becomes clear that you must arm them with ample ammo to make the case on your behalf. You want your interviewer to fight hard to make you an offer - this section will discuss the questions you need to make it easy for them to answer!

How did your interview go?

Imagine that you are a fly on the wall in a wrap-up meeting after a day of interviews on-campus at an MBA school.

Your interviewer and her colleagues will be sitting around, maybe over a take out dinner, answering a few work emails to stay on top of their cases and sorting through which candidates to greenlight for the next round. Your resume is the next on the pile and one of your interviewer's colleagues asks how did he/she do?

"There is a certain braggadocio to consulting. You have to honestly believe you can find an answer to a problem quickly, even though it's been in the organization for a long time. And then you have to believe that you can sell it [the solution] successfully. And so being easily thrown by making an error in the case or the case taking a turn where you didn't expect it has got to be a red flag... because that's not who they are, so it's obviously not who they're looking for in recruiting..."
Rob Reiling, former Engagement Manager at McKinsey & Co.

Are your analytics sound?

Your analytical skills will be a key area of consideration. Specifically, your interviewer will be asking herself: can you nail the table stakes quantitative work we'll need to do on the job? For example, is there any doubt you'll be able to quickly setup a breakeven equation or do some rough estimation on growth rates over the next five years?

Moreover, will you proactively sanity check your work and catch errors and address them? Or will co-workers have to go through your work with a fine tooth comb to make sure it's OK? A first order way to think about these questions is: the interviewer wants to know I've got certain skills. A better, second-order way is: my interviewer wants peace of mind that if I were on their team in the future, that I could do core analytics well, without minimal oversight and be trusted to arrive at reasonable answers.

Is your success repeatable?

Another key line of questioning will be on repeatability. Are you solving the problem by a logical, methodical process that you could apply to other problems? Remember, that the interviewer only gets to walk you through a single case problem. They want to see you succeed in answering that question but, more importantly, they want to gain confidence that case after case your results would have been just as favorable.

Getting to the correct answer by accident, or by a process that seems haphazard (even if it isn't!), doesn't win many points. In some cases, the wrong answer achieved by the right process is a better outcome! Again, consider the end product of any given consulting project. You'll need to explain your work not only to your manager and team, but the lead partner and ultimately to the client. If you can't clearly articulate and demonstrate the logical flow that led you to your conclusions, a lot of doubt will be cast on the result itself.

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How do you handle pressure?

As discussed, management consulting isn't no cake walk. There will be stressful times where you'll have a million different tasks, 10% of the time you need and then on top of that, your partner will ask you for a "quick analysis" that they want to run by the CEO for a meeting in thirty minutes. When your interviewers crank up the stress level, by throwing out an insane series of numbers or a complex formula or some mind-bendingly complicated problem, they aren't just doing it for the fun of making you sweat. They're doing it because they've faced similar pressure on the job, and they want to understand how you handle it.

Great, you can do the work

Once an interviewer is confident that you can do the work, the questions they'll be asking themselves will start to change in nature. They'll want to know whether you'll be able to push that work forward successfully for the firm. Essentially, they'll be asking: yes, they can do the work, but can they really sell the work? Or can they motivate their team? Or, ultimately, can they convince their partner and client that their approach is right?

P.S. Are you preparing for consulting interviews?

Real interview drills. Sample answers from ex-McKinsey, BCG and Bain consultants. Plus technique overviews and premium 1-on-1 Expert coaching.