How to navigate a consulting career coffee chat

the image is a cover for an article about consulting coffee chats

A consulting firm partner invited you for a coffee chat? Amazing!

  • What can you expect?
  • Should you prepare for this opportunity?

In this article, we show you how to make the most of this opportunity!

What is a consulting coffee chat?

A coffee chat is an informal meeting with someone who can provide insights and advice on your career path while also investigating if you would be a good fit for their own company. In consulting, these short meetings are usually conducted by Managers and sometimes even Partners of a firm. It is employed by all top-tier consulting firms such as McKinsey, BCG, and Bain as well as by tier-2 firms such as LEK, Oliver Wyman, Roland Berger, Strategy&, etc. for high-potential candidates.

During a career coffee chat, you should be prepared to discuss your career goals, your experiences and skills, and your areas of interest. You should also be prepared to ask questions and seek advice on how to achieve your goals and navigate the consulting job market. Some topics you might discuss during a career coffee chat include your current job, your long-term career aspirations, any challenges or obstacles you’re facing, and any specific advice or guidance you’re seeking. It’s also a good idea to come prepared with a list of questions to ask the person you’re meeting with.

Since the start of the pandemic, most coffee chats are virtual or just on the phone.

What questions should you expect during the coffee chat?

In consulting, a coffee chat is a casual interview that is typically used to determine whether you have the experience, drive, and fit for consulting and the particular firm. You can expect three types of questions:

Basic coffee chat questions

These types of questions always show up in a coffee chat and help your counterparty to understand your background and motivation.

  • Introduce yourself.
  • Guide me through your resume.
  • Why do you wish to work in consulting?
  • Why do you wish to work for our firm?
  • Tell me about your aspirations
  • Did you have any touchpoints with our firm in the past? Do you know someone who works here?

Deeper personal fit questions

These are more like typical fit interview questions to help the interviewer evaluate your fit with the type of work and the culture of consulting. They are not as common as the more basic questions listed above. See below for a couple of examples.

  • Tell me about a challenging leadership experience.
  • Tell me about a time you failed.
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • Tell me about a situation where you had to influence someone.
  • Discuss a situation where you had to adjust to a setback.

Case questions

Rarely, interviewers might ask you case interview questions to test your case talents as well. If you get a case, it will often be a short market sizing exercise (e.g., “how many cars are sold in Germany per year?”).

How should you prepare for a consulting coffee chat?

The preparation on your end should consist of three parts:

Answer to fit question

Similar to how you would prepare for the fit portion of the interview, you should prepare for a coffee chat. In fact, I advise you to get ready in advance for the questions you will be asked because they are the initial part of your assessment and you should be ready for them in any case. To learn more about the fit interview, read this article.

Prepare your answers in the following way:

  1. Prepare your responses. To structure shorter answers, use bullet points. For longer story answers, use the SCORE framework.
  2. Practice your answers by recording yourself and by rehearsing with friends and peers.
  3. Iterate your responses based on the feedback you receive and repeat them as many times as necessary to become comfortable with them.

All answers should be structured, top-down, and authentic.

Prepare your own questions

Many applicants fail to prepare their own questions, which is an important part of the conversation. Interviewers want to learn more about you but you should also use this opportunity to learn more about them, the firm, the consulting lifestyle, and the application process and interviews. Asking pertinent questions throughout the interview is a great way to demonstrate your interest in the firm.

The secret to asking smart and interesting questions is to link them with the consultant’s experience (e.g., instead of asking “what are the future trends in McKinsey and consulting in general?”, ask “what future trends are you working on in McKinsey?”

Prepare a stellar resume

While these informal discussions might seem just conversational, they often serve as gateways to larger prospects. The individual across the table or on the phone, sipping their latte, might be the connection you need to your dream job.

Hence, arriving prepared with a polished resume is crucial. It not only demonstrates your professionalism but also ensures you’re ready should the counterparty express interest in forwarding your details to HR and recruiting. Think of it as having an ace up your sleeve; you never know when the conversation might pivot from casual banter to serious career opportunities. So, before heading out for that seemingly laid-back coffee chat, make sure your resume is in tow.

Get the help you need to transform your consulting application into success.

Get a referral to consulting

The outcome of a coffee chat should always be to score a referral from your counterpart as this can significantly increase your chances to pass the screening stage.

If you follow the tips from above, you should be well-positioned to get your interviewer’s buy-in and boost your application with top-tier consulting firms.

How we can help you score a job with McKinsey, BCG, and Bain

We have specialized in placing people from all walks of life with different backgrounds into top consulting firms both as generalist hires as well as specialized hires and experts. As former McKinsey consultants and interview experts, we help you by

Reach out to us if you have any questions! We are happy to help and offer a tailored program to help you break into consulting.

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