The Consulting Guide

What are the consulting firms really looking for in fit interviews?

Kenton Kivestu, ex-Google, ex-BCG, Founder at RocketBlocks
Updated: May 19, 2022

While the case interview is designed to test a basket of skills: mental math ability, data analysis, your ability to structure a problem, the fit interview is a different beast.

Ultimately, 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.

Are fit interviews as important as case interviews?

Yes! Do not ignore the fit interview or brush it off as an afterthought to the whole interview preparation process.

Since the case interview portion can be extremely intimidating, 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!

What skills and traits are consulting firms looking for?

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 skill sets: leadership, entrepreneurial drive, personal impact, problem solving.

McKinsey specifically assesses these skill set via the McKinsey personal experience interview (PEI). BCG assesses candidates on the following dimensions: influence, motivation, achievement, and teaming. Bain maintains a similar list, with slightly more emphasis on culture fit.

If these lists of traits all seem similar, it's because they are. These firms compete for the same clients and work, so 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, see this detailed video on the traits consulting firms look for and why they matter so much.

Skill #1: Leadership

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 proactively put themselves in similar scenarios already and built their leadership muscle memory. While having multiple experiences you can point to here is good, it's important to remember that quality, in-depth leadership experience almost always trumps quantity (e.g., one great experience is better than 3-4 mediocre ones).

"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 (e.g., club VP). The focus should be on a few quality leadership positions, not the quantity of roles the person held."
Genelle Kahan, Vice President, Bain & Co.

Skill #2: Drive

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 of 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.

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Skill #3: Collaboration

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.

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 wolves. 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.

Skill #4: Firm enthusiasm

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 Kahan, Vice President, 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.

How can you demonstrate that you're a culture fit?

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.

P.S. Are you preparing for consulting interviews?

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