As discussed above, the case interviews are designed to test a basket of skills: mental math ability, data analysis, your ability to structure a problem, to size a market, and so on. Essentially, the case interview is specifically formulated to test whether you can do the work required at the common entry points into a consulting career (Analyst, Associate or Consultant). The fit interview is different.
The fit interview is designed to understand what makes you tick: they want to understand what motivates you, what excites you and what you aspire to. Now, in full transparency, there are certain traits, track records and tendencies the firms like to see demonstrated in the answer to those questions. But, ultimately, they're trying to assess what makes you tick and whether those drivers are a fit for their firm.
Yes! Do not ignore the fit interview or brush it off as afterthought to the whole interview preparation process. Since the case interview portion can be extremely intimidating, given they force you to problem solve on the fly, candidates often focus all their effort on "acing" the case. While nailing the case is excellent, an offer to a consulting firm requires you to get through two gates: the case interview and the fit interview. Unfortunately, there is no partial credit for opening one gate with gusto but falling flat on the second!
While there is no hard and fast list, the firms themselves are pretty clear about the traits they like to see demonstrated. McKinsey, often the most "formulaic" of the firms, clearly states on their own site that they're looking for these four skillsets: leadership, entrepreneurial drive, personal impact, problem solving. And you can see our McKinsey PEI deep dive here for a more detailed look. BCG tries to assess on the following dimensions: influence, motivation, achievement, and teaming. Bain maintains a similar list, with slightly more focus on culture fit. If these all seem similar, it's because they are. Since these firms compete for the same clients and work, it's no surprise they look for the same type of people to hire. Let's briefly go through each and review why the firms care about these things.
For the quick list and summary, read on below. For more color, check out our ex-BCG Founder summarizing the traits consulting firms look for and why they matter so much.
These firms want to see that you've successfully led important initiatives. Why? Because if they hire you, pretty soon you are going to find yourself leading analysis, work streams, meetings, teams and so on. The best way to find people who will succeed in leadership roles in high pressure environments is to find people who've put themselves in that scenario already and started building that muscle memory. Also, quality is much more important than quantity here.
"We love to see candidates who have demonstrated deep leadership experience. We give much more credit to those who are the President or Head of something versus just the supporting role (eg club VP). Focus should be on a few quality leadership positions, not the quantity of roles the person held." - Genelle Bullert Kahan, former Manager at Bain & Co.
The life of a consultant isn't easy. As we spoke about earlier, clients are coming to you and your team with tough problems they can't solve themselves, paying you top dollar and asking for a recommendation in a matter of weeks. That leads to tough timelines, challenging situations, unforeseen problems and a myriad other difficult issues a consultant will need to handle with aplomb. Thus, firms like to see a strong drive from candidates in their past educational, extracurricular and professional experiences. They want to see what "walls you've broken through" and barriers you've overcome to get the job done. There is no doubt in the interviewer's mind you'll face significant barriers in your consulting career, your job is to demonstrate why you'll be likely to break them down.
Another key strength they look for is collaborative skills. Consulting is a team sport. While the teams in many cases may be small, the amount of time you'll spend working extremely closely with your team is significant. Work streams need to ultimately fit together, analysis from multiple consultants might get united on a single slide, separate teams work they fit together for an overall presentation, etc. And on client sites, it's not uncommon for there to be a "team room" that everyone camps out in for the day with people breaking off for meetings or phone calls occasionally. To put it bluntly, consulting isn't for lone wolfs. As a result, firms want to know that you've demonstrated an ability to accomplish something together with a team. If you're brilliant, but can't get along with people, that will be a red flag.
Finally, the firms are looking for people who really, really want to be part of that firm! What exactly does this mean? At its core, the firm is simply trying to determine: if they make you an offer that you'll likely accept. Just as top universities care about their yield (the percentage of accepted offers over number of offers given out), the firms track and care about this metric as well.
"We always asked ourselves: is this person likely to accept an offer at Bain? You'd be shocked, but people often talk about their "other options" in PE and VC. If we don't think they are truly interested in consulting and/or Bain, we'll pass on them. It is actually pretty easy to gauge someone's interest. So my advice to candidates is to show you are enthusiastic about consulting and the company you are interviewing for! I know this sounds obvious, but it really isn't. We LOVE to hear it when people talk about why they like Bain, whether it's the people, the culture, the focus on results, etc. A great question for a candidate to ask is: "why did you choose Bain?" This always gets the interviewer talking about themselves (which most love to do) and gives the candidate an easy foray to explicitly state their interest." - Genelle Bullert Kahan, former Manager at Bain & Co.
As we've said before in this guide, just checking all the quantitative boxes isn't good enough to get an offer. The level of talent applying to any of the top firms is staggering and thus you'll have to impress your interviewer across a wide variety of angles. Enthusiasm should be one of the easy boxes to check - just make sure that you find a way to sincerely, genuinely display your interest in the firm.
It's great to get a solid understanding of what the firms are looking for, but there is another part which is equally as critical: finding the right anecdotes to demonstrate your skills. Picking the right anecdotes is a bit of art and takes practice, but it's definitely doable with a little bit of thought. Let's take a look.Go to next section: the right anecdotes