Mastering Consulting Interviews: The Ultimate Guide to Personal Fit and Behavioral Questions

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Last Updated on January 31, 2024

Welcome to “Mastering Consulting Interviews: The Ultimate Guide to Personal Fit and Behavioral Questions.” This guide, crafted by a former McKinsey consultant and interview expert, is designed to comprehensively cover various aspects of consulting interviews, including personal fit, behavioral, and resume interviews.

Our focus extends beyond consulting firms like McKinsey, BCG, and Bain. The insights and strategies provided here are also valuable for all other consulting firms (tier-2, tier-3, boutique, Big 4, in-house consulting firms) as well as for those pursuing roles in broader industries and sectors, such as investment banking. This makes our guide a versatile resource for a wide array of professional interviews.

We aim to help you understand and excel in these critical interviews by breaking down what it takes to be a successful candidate in the consulting world and beyond. This guide offers practical advice and detailed strategies to give you a competitive edge in the challenging job market.

Let’s dive into this journey, equipping you with the knowledge and skills needed for interview success.

Introduction to Consulting Interviews

Consulting interviews are a unique and challenging aspect of the job application process in the consulting industry. Typically, these interviews consist of two key elements: the case interview and the fit interview. Each part plays a crucial role in assessing a candidate’s suitability for a career in consulting, and for most firms, both are equally important. You could ace all case interviews with one firm yet fail one fit interview, and still receive a rejection.

Most candidates underestimate this part of the interview and are underprepared. This issue is something you want to avoid, especially given the fact that once you know how to approach it, it becomes fairly straightforward.

In the following sections, we’ll delve into the nuances of the Personal Fit Interview and the Behavioral Interview, explaining their significance and how you can excel in these areas.

Understanding the Personal Fit Interview

The Personal Fit Interview is a critical component of the consulting interview process. This segment is designed to evaluate a candidate’s alignment with the firm’s culture, values, and interpersonal skills necessary for consulting. It’s not just about your technical expertise or problem-solving capabilities; it’s equally about who you are as a person. Interviewers are looking to understand your motivations and skills, and how you handle challenges and setbacks. Excelling in the personal fit interview requires not only self-awareness but also the ability to articulate your experiences and qualities in a way that resonates with the firm’s ethos.

The Role of Behavioral Interviews in Consulting

Behavioral Interviews are an extension of the Personal Fit Interview, where the focus is on your past behavior in professional settings. The underlying principle is that past behavior is the best predictor of future performance. In these interviews, you’ll be asked to provide specific examples from your past experiences to demonstrate skills and qualities like leadership, teamwork, problem-solving, and adaptability. This is where your storytelling abilities come into play. A successful candidate will be able to recount relevant experiences in a structured and engaging manner, highlighting how their actions and decisions had a positive impact. It’s about showcasing not just what you did, but how you did it and the rationale behind your choices.

How to Think About This Part of the Consulting Interview

Together, the Personal Fit and Behavioral Interviews provide a comprehensive view of a candidate’s potential as a consultant. They allow firms to gauge not just your aptitude for the job, but also your fit within their team and culture. Preparing for these interviews involves introspection, practice, and a keen understanding of what consulting firms are looking for in their future consultants.

When preparing for fit interviews in consulting, it’s essential to focus on showcasing three key aspects: real achievements, effective communication, and your authentic personality and values.

Firstly, it’s crucial to present evidence of real, impressive achievements and successes. This involves more than just listing your achievements; it’s about illustrating the impact and significance of your actions. Provide clear examples where you made a measurable difference, whether it was leading a successful project, significantly improving a process, or achieving outstanding results in your area of expertise. These examples should not only highlight your skills but also underscore the real-world value you brought to your roles.

Effective communication is a cornerstone of consulting, and how you articulate your thoughts during the interview is critical. Strive to communicate in a way that is clear, concise, and confident. This means being able to distill complex ideas into understandable concepts, being articulate in your responses, and maintaining a confident demeanor. It’s not just what you say, but how you say it. Practicing your responses to maintain a balance between thoroughness and brevity can help in making your communication impactful.

Lastly, consultants need to fit well within a team and align with the firm’s culture. Use the fit interview as an opportunity to let your personality shine through. Share experiences and stories that reflect your values, work ethic, and how you collaborate with others. Be genuine in your responses, as authenticity tends to resonate well with interviewers. Showing who you are as a person, beyond your professional achievements, can often be the differentiating factor in the success of your interview.

The Logistics of Personal Fit Interviews

Fit interviews, typically preceding the case interview, are a critical step in the consulting interview process, lasting between five to thirty minutes each. A candidate can expect to undergo approximately three to five of these interviews before receiving a job offer. During these sessions, interviewers from most consulting firms have the flexibility to choose the questions they ask, aiming to understand a candidate’s compatibility with the firm’s culture and values.

This approach varies slightly in firms like McKinsey, where a more structured format, known as the Personal Experience Interview, is used to assess candidates.

Ace the case interview with our dedicated preparation packages.

Common Consulting Fit Interview Questions Explained

Consulting fit interviews can be daunting, but understanding the types of questions you’ll face can significantly boost your confidence and preparation. Below, we break down the common categories of questions you are likely to encounter: introduction questions, resume-based questions, fit questions, skill questions, and behavior questions.

1. Introduction Questions and Ice-Breaker Questions

Introduction questions in consulting interviews typically serve as ice-breakers and are more common in smaller firms. Unlike larger or top-tier consultancies, where such questions might be less frequent, smaller firms often use them to ease into the interview.

These questions are generally straightforward and unlikely to be a decisive factor in your interview outcome. They are designed to gauge your communication skills and ease you into the interview setting. Examples include queries like “How did you find out about this position?” or “Did you have an easy time getting to the office today?”.

While these questions may seem trivial, they provide an opportunity to establish rapport with the interviewer. However, they are not the primary focus of the interview and typically don’t carry significant weight in the overall evaluation.

2. Resume-Based Questions

Resume-based questions are a common feature of consulting interviews, particularly in lower-tier firms, though they may not be emphasized as much in higher-tier ones. Your resume serves as a roadmap for these questions, so be prepared to discuss any aspect of it in detail, including minor experiences.

Typically, interviewers might start with a general prompt like “Tell me about yourself” or “Walk me though your resume.” Your response should guide them through the key points of your professional journey, blending in personal insights and lesser-known facts that aren’t explicitly mentioned on your resume. This approach helps in pre-empting potential follow-up questions.

Be ready to answer more specific questions such as:

  • “Why did you choose [specific experience]?”
  • “Can you discuss your educational/professional background?”
  • “Describe your role and achievements at [specific firm or experience].”
  • “What did you learn from [specific situation or experience]?”
  • “Which part of your work or studies did you enjoy the most?”
  • “Describe a major challenge you faced during [specific experience] and how you overcame it.”
  • “How has [specific experience] influenced or changed you?”
  • “What are three distinct skills you developed during your [education or specific experience]?”

These questions often lead to more in-depth discussions. It’s crucial to tailor the depth of your responses appropriately and maintain a professional focus, steering clear of personal life details unrelated to your career, such as health or relationships.

3. Simple Fit Questions

Simple fit questions in consulting interviews are designed to reveal insights about your motivation, personality, and behavior. It’s important to structure your answers in a top-down manner, starting with the primary reason or key information, followed by supporting details and examples.

Why Consulting?

When asked “Why consulting?”, craft a story arc that showcases your growing interest and commitment to the consulting industry over time. Highlight the aspects of consulting that appeal to you and tie these to your recent experiences. For instance, you could say, “My interest in consulting has grown steadily, driven by its unique challenges and opportunities for growth. My academic focus on strategic management and my internship at a tier-2 consulting firm have been pivotal in preparing me for this career path.”

Personalize your motivation for choosing consulting, such as the dynamic work environment, exposure to diverse industries and projects, opportunities for rapid career advancement, and the chance to work with talented colleagues. These motivations should reflect your individual journey and aspirations.

Addressing Challenging Questions

Be prepared for more challenging questions like “Do you really understand the nature of a consultant’s job?” or “Given your background in sustainability/industry, why are you now interested in consulting?”. These questions require you to articulate a coherent and convincing narrative about your career transition. For example, if you’re asked why you’re leaving your current role for consulting, a good response might focus on seeking a broader range of challenges, the opportunity to work in various industries, and the desire for faster career progression.

It’s crucial to justify your transition into consulting logically. Emphasize your desire for greater exposure to diverse topics, industries, and geographies. Highlight the appeal of a more challenging and impactful working environment and the potential for rapid career growth. These reasons should be tailored to reflect your career goals and the skills you bring to the consulting field.

Why Our Firm?

When responding to the question “Why our firm?” in consulting interviews, it’s essential to tailor your answer to reflect both your understanding of the firm and your genuine interest in it. While a similar approach may work across different firms, focusing on specific aspects can make your response more compelling.

Key points to address include:

  • The Firm’s Reputation: Acknowledge the firm’s standing in the consulting industry. Discuss how its reputation aligns with your professional values and career aspirations.
  • Culture and People: Emphasize the firm’s culture and the people you’ve interacted with. Reflect on how these interactions have convinced you that this is the right firm for you. Mention any events or contacts at the firm that made a significant impression on you.
  • Industry or Functional Expertise: Highlight the firm’s expertise in specific industries or functions that interest you. Explain how this expertise aligns with your career goals or past experiences.
  • Staffing Model: Discuss the firm’s approach to staffing projects and how it suits your career development plan.
  • Educational and Leave Programs: If applicable, mention the firm’s commitment to ongoing learning and development through educational leave or other programs.
  • Time-Out Programs: Point out any unique programs the firm offers, like sabbaticals or time-out options, and how they align with your personal and professional growth plans.
  • Training: Comment on the firm’s training opportunities and how they can contribute to your skills and career progression.

Incorporate personal experiences or specific interactions you’ve had related to the firm. Make it clear that your decision to work at this firm is based on a blend of its impact, reputation, and the people you’ve met. Also, discuss how the firm’s focus areas, either in terms of industry or function, stand out from the competition.

Having a broad understanding of the consulting landscape in your region, including key players and their specialties, allows you to craft a well-informed and personalized response. Aim to identify three unique aspects of the firm that particularly appeal to you and distinguish it from others.

Cultural Fit

When addressing questions about personal fit and culture in consulting interviews, it’s important to understand that these are akin to the “Why this firm?” inquiry. Firms, particularly those at the higher tier, place significant emphasis on assessing whether a candidate aligns well with their culture. This evaluation can be subtly integrated into the interview or addressed through direct questions about fit.

To excel in this area, thorough preparation is key. Engage with consultants from the firm prior to your interview, whether through email, phone calls, or in-person events. Use these interactions to gather insights about the firm’s culture and practices. Be ready to discuss specific instances that impressed you and motivated your application. These could include your observations of how consultants interact among themselves or with potential applicants.

Having personal connections at the firm can also be advantageous. If you have colleagues or friends working there, their experiences and stories can provide a valuable perspective. They can offer firsthand insights into the firm’s culture, which can inform and strengthen your responses to questions about personal fit. Demonstrating your understanding of and alignment with the firm’s culture not only shows that you’ve done your research but also that you are a candidate who can seamlessly integrate into their environment.

Strengths and Weaknesses

When confronted with the question of strengths and weaknesses, which occasionally arises in consulting interviews, it’s important to approach it thoughtfully. For strengths, choose attributes that are relevant and valuable in a consulting context, like creativity or structured problem-solving. Enhance your response by sharing brief anecdotes demonstrating these strengths in action. These stories should illustrate how you’ve effectively applied these qualities in real-world scenarios, providing concrete examples of your capabilities.

Addressing weaknesses requires a balance of honesty and self-awareness. Identify a genuine weakness and describe how you became aware of it, preferably through a specific situation. More importantly, focus on the steps you’ve taken to address or mitigate this weakness. Demonstrating your proactive approach to personal development can be as valuable as the strengths you bring. The key is to show that while you recognize and accept your imperfections, you are committed to continuous improvement.

In some cases, the question about weaknesses might be reframed as, “What are three things your former employer would like you to improve on?” This variation seeks to understand your areas for development from another perspective. It requires you to reflect on the feedback you’ve received in the past and how you’ve responded to it. It’s not just about admitting weaknesses, but also about illustrating your growth mindset and willingness to evolve professionally. This approach to the question can reveal much about your self-perception and ability to integrate constructive feedback into your personal and professional development.

Rough Experiences and Crises

When tackling questions about rough experiences and crises in consulting interviews, it’s important to focus on how these challenging situations have shaped your professional growth. Firms like BCG, for instance, may emphasize these questions to understand your resilience and problem-solving skills in the face of adversity.

Prepare to discuss significant challenges or crises you’ve faced in your career or education. Describe the situation, your specific role in it, and the impact it had on you. The key here is to reflect on what you learned from these experiences. Keep your examples strictly professional, focusing on situations like overcoming a difficult project hurdle or resolving a workplace conflict. Questions like “Tell me about a time you made a mistake” or “What makes you uncomfortable?” are probing for your ability to handle and learn from difficult situations.

Personal Satisfaction

Interviewers may also ask about what drives you and gives you personal satisfaction. This is an opportunity to discuss how you are motivated by overcoming challenges, especially in a team setting. Highlight instances where you prioritized team success, showing your dedication and ambition. Use this question to demonstrate your initiative and passion in pursuing goals, whether through leading a project or starting a new initiative.

Biggest Challenge

The question “What was your biggest challenge so far, and how did you overcome it?” allows you to showcase your problem-solving and perseverance skills. Discuss a particularly demanding situation, your approach to tackling it, your actions, and the eventual outcome. Focus on the learning process and how this challenge contributed to your professional development. This can be framed similarly to discussing an accomplishment you are most proud of, emphasizing the results and your growth through the experience.

In all these responses, the emphasis should be on your ability to navigate challenges, learn from them, and use these learnings to grow professionally. Demonstrating resilience, adaptability, and continuous learning are key qualities that consulting firms look for in candidates.

Discussing Other Career Options

When faced with questions about your other career options or potential concerns about working in consulting, it’s crucial to answer thoughtfully, reflecting both your preparedness and honesty.

If asked about other job options you’re considering, the key is to acknowledge that while you might have other opportunities, your primary interest lies in the firm you’re interviewing with. It’s important to communicate that you have a clear plan and direction for your career but emphasize your strong preference and enthusiasm for the opportunity at hand. This shows that you’re a sought-after candidate who is, nevertheless, particularly drawn to the unique aspects of their firm.

Addressing Concerns about Working in Consulting

When discussing potential concerns about working in consulting, be genuine but professional. You might mention considerations like ethical dilemmas in certain industries or a desire for varied exposure to different sectors. However, avoid mentioning fears related to the fundamental aspects of consulting work, such as long hours or client interactions. These are known elements of the industry and expressing apprehension about them might cast doubt on your suitability for the role.

Exploring Likes, Dislikes, and Future Goals

Alternatively, questions might be framed to understand what you most enjoy or find challenging about working in the consulting industry. Be prepared to discuss aspects of the job that you find most rewarding and those that present healthy challenges. This can provide insights into your compatibility with the industry’s demands and your professional resilience.

Finally, questions about your future, such as “Where do you see yourself in five or ten years?”, are aimed at understanding your long-term career aspirations and how they align with a career in consulting. Be honest yet strategic in your response, showcasing how your envisioned career path aligns with the opportunities and growth potential within or outside of the consulting field. You are not expected to stay with your firm for 10 years, so being honest about your long-term career aspirations is perfectly fine. This demonstrates foresight, ambition, and a commitment to professional development, all of which are valued in the consulting industry.

4. Technical and Functional Skill Questions and Industry Niche Questions

In consulting interviews, the likelihood of facing skill-specific questions varies based on the firm’s size and its business focus. For candidates applying to large, top-tier firms for a generalist consulting role, detailed technical queries are less common. These firms typically provide comprehensive training to newly hired consultants, equipping them with the necessary skills and knowledge. As a result, they may not emphasize specific technical skills during the interview process, relying instead on their training programs and the support of specialized experts.

However, if you’re applying for a specialist role or a position on an expert consulting track, be prepared for more technical questions that are relevant to your field or job description. These could range from general skills like proficiency in MS Office to more advanced competencies in data analysis tools or specialized industry knowledge. It’s important to tailor your preparation to the specific demands of the role you’re applying for. For specialist positions, showcasing your technical expertise and how it aligns with the job requirements is crucial. This approach demonstrates your readiness to contribute effectively to the firm’s projects and client engagements from the outset.

A specific interview that focuses on technical skill questions and expertise is the McKinsey Technical Expertise Interview.

5. Behavioral Questions and Personality Trait Questions

Behavioral and personality trait questions are a distinctive aspect of interviews at top-tier consulting firms like McKinsey, BCG, and Bain. These questions require candidates to share stories that demonstrate key skills and traits essential for a strategy consultant.

Storytelling Approach for All Consulting Firms

In these interviews, you’re expected to recount stories that highlight one or more particular traits. The goal is to understand your behavior in past scenarios as a predictor of your future actions in a consulting environment. Each story should focus on a single event or experience, drawing from your recent past. Appropriate settings for these stories include professional contexts, such as previous jobs or internships, as well as university or extracurricular experiences.

Traits to Highlight

Your stories should vividly portray specific traits that are critical to the role of a consultant. Below are the traits typically sought in these interviews.

Each story should be carefully chosen to demonstrate these traits in a convincing and relevant manner. Remember, the objective is not to portray yourself as flawless but to illustrate how you’ve effectively applied your skills and traits in real-life situations. This approach gives interviewers a clear picture of how you might navigate the challenges and responsibilities of a consulting career.

For each trait, we have listed some of the most common questions you can expect. While we have tried to make the list as exhaustive as possible, please note that interviewers might ask about different traits and different questions. Some traits might also overlap (e.g., communication as a team player).

Leadership

Leadership is a crucial trait for consultants. In your stories, illustrate how you’ve successfully led teams. This involves showing your ability to understand and adapt your leadership style to different group dynamics. Highlight examples where you structured tasks, delegated responsibilities, and motivated team members towards a common goal. Discuss instances where you coached team members, resolved conflicts, and ensured the team remained focused on achieving objectives. The aim is to show that your leadership positively influenced your team and contributed to the successful outcome of a project.

  • “Can you describe a situation where you stepped up to lead a team?”
  • “When have you assumed a leadership role spontaneously?”
  • “Share an instance where you had to inspire or motivate an individual or a group.”

Ambition, Drive, and Achievement

Your stories should also reflect your ambition and drive. Talk about times when you pursued multiple goals simultaneously and remained intrinsically motivated, even in the face of obstacles. Describe situations where you operated under time pressure, showing how your energy and passion led you to exceed expectations. This trait is about demonstrating your commitment to achieving high standards and your ability to push through challenges.

  • “Describe a period when you were juggling multiple objectives at once. How did you manage your time and stay motivated?”
  • “Share an instance where you had to work under significant time pressure. What was the situation and how did you handle it?”
  • “Can you talk about a project or task where you surpassed the expected outcomes? What drove you to go above and beyond?”
  • “Tell me about a time when you faced substantial obstacles in achieving your goals. How did you overcome these challenges?”
  • “Discuss a situation where your drive and ambition led to a significant achievement in your professional or personal life. What motivated you, and how did you maintain your momentum?”
  • “Can you recall a time when you took the initiative in a challenging situation?”
  • “Discuss a moment when you went beyond your typical responsibilities to achieve something significant.”

Personal Impact

Personal impact is about influencing others. Share examples where you convinced a group or an individual to embrace a new idea or approach, especially in challenging circumstances. The focus should be on your ability to bring people together, forge consensus, and drive collective action towards a goal. It’s not just about being liked; it’s about being persuasive and effective in your communication, leading to positive changes or resolutions.

  • “Can you describe a situation where you successfully persuaded a team to adopt a new idea or approach? What strategies did you use?”
  • “Tell me about a time when you faced significant resistance to your ideas. How did you manage to sway opinions and achieve consensus?”
  • “Share an example of when you had to rally support for a challenging project or initiative. How did you motivate and align the team towards the common goal?”
  • “Describe a situation where your ability to communicate effectively led to a positive change or resolution. What was the impact of your involvement?”
  • “Can you talk about a time when you had to influence someone with a different perspective or approach? How did you ensure that your message was understood and accepted?”

Dealing with Change and Tolerance for Ambiguity

In the consulting world, adaptability and resilience in the face of change are indispensable traits. When sharing your experiences related to this trait, focus on situations where you successfully navigated significant changes or uncertainty. This could involve instances where you had to adjust to new environments, pivot strategies in response to unforeseen challenges, or manage shifts in team dynamics or project scopes. Describe how you recognized the need for change, adapted your approach, and maintained or regained stability and progress. Emphasize your flexibility in thinking and decision-making, and your ability to remain effective under pressure. This could include how you reassessed priorities, reallocated resources, or innovated solutions under changing circumstances.

The goal is to show that you can not only withstand change but also thrive in it, demonstrating a capacity for growth and continuous improvement. This trait is particularly valued in consulting, where client needs and market dynamics can shift rapidly, requiring consultants to be agile and forward-thinking.

  • “Tell me about a time when you had to adapt to a significant change at work. How did you manage it?”
  • “Talk about an endeavor that didn’t succeed as planned.”
  • “Can you share a situation where you made a significant mistake and your response?”
  • “Describe a deadline you missed and the factors that led to it. What did you learn?”
  • “Discuss a professional setback you experienced and your approach to overcoming it.”
  • “Describe a scenario where adaptability was key to your success.”
  • “Describe a time when you had to handle a high-pressure situation. How did you cope with the stress?”

Team Player

As a team player, your stories should illustrate how you prioritize the team’s objectives over your own. Describe situations where you made sacrifices for the team’s benefit. Focus on instances where you were an essential and respected member of a team, highlighting your contributions and how they were valued by both team members and others involved. This could involve collaborating effectively, supporting teammates, or helping the team overcome challenges. The aim is to show that you can work harmoniously and productively within a team, valuing collective success over individual accolades.

  • “Have you ever sacrificed your own interests for the betterment of a team? Can you share an example?”
  • “Talk about your involvement in a highly successful team. What factors contributed to its success?”
  • “Describe a challenging team dynamic you’ve experienced and how it affected the outcome.”
  • “What role do you usually find yourself in when working in a team?”
  • “Could you tell me about your latest team experience and how you contributed?”
  • “Share an experience where you had to manage a team member not contributing their fair share.”
  • “Describe a time when you managed conflict within a team setting.”
  • “How would you describe your work style and how it contributes to a team?”

Stakeholder Interaction and Communication

In consulting, effective stakeholder interaction and communication are paramount. When discussing this trait, focus on sharing stories that demonstrate your ability to establish and nurture strong relationships with different stakeholders such as clients, superiors, and peers. Highlight instances where you effectively understood and addressed client needs, managed expectations, and communicated complex information clearly and persuasively. Discuss situations where your communication skills led to positive outcomes, such as resolving misunderstandings, fostering trust, or achieving mutual satisfaction. The goal is to illustrate your proficiency in engaging with different stakeholders in a manner that is both professional and empathetic, showcasing your ability to be an effective liaison between your firm and its clients.

  • “Have you ever had to give an impromptu presentation? How did it go?”
  • “Can you describe a time when your communication didn’t go as planned?”
  • “How have you adapted your communication style to different managers or supervisors?”
  • “Tell me about a speech or presentation you gave at work.”
  • “Describe your experience communicating with a non-responsive individual.”
  • “Share a time when you had a disagreement with your manager and how you handled it.”
  • “Describe an instance where you had a differing opinion with a colleague.”
  • “Can you recall a time when you had to convince someone to follow a specific course of action?”
  • “Talk about an experience where you mentored or coached someone.”
  • “How do you maintain relationships with past managers and colleagues?”
  • “Was there ever a colleague you didn’t get along with? How did you manage the situation?”
  • “Can you discuss a professional relationship that you’re particularly proud of? What made it successful?”
  • “Describe how you handle disagreements or conflicts in the workplace.”

Ethical and Professional Behavior

Integrity and ethical behavior are the backbones of a successful consulting career. When addressing this trait, provide examples that reflect your commitment to ethical standards and professional conduct. Discuss scenarios where you faced ethical dilemmas and how you navigated them while upholding integrity. Highlight times when you maintained professionalism in challenging situations, showing your dedication to ethical practices, transparency, and honesty. This is about proving that you not only possess the technical skills required for the job but also the moral compass to make the right decisions, ensuring the trust and respect of colleagues and clients alike.

  • “Describe a moment when being truthful was challenging.”
  • “Have you ever discovered a coworker’s misconduct? What actions did you take?”
  • “Was there ever a time you thought being dishonest might be more beneficial? How did you handle it?”
  • “Tell me about a rule or policy you disagreed with and how you dealt with it.”
  • “Have you ever been accused of being dishonest? How did you address this situation?”

Initiative and Problem Solving

When discussing initiative, talk about times when you started something new or significantly contributed to an existing project or cause. Explain your motivation for these actions, such as recognizing an unmet need or a passion for a particular cause. Detail the challenges you faced and how you overcame them. This might involve innovative thinking, persistence in the face of obstacles, or rallying others to your cause. The focus should be on your ability to take charge, create positive change, and add substantial value.

  • “Talk about a time when you utilized data to address a specific challenge.”
  • “Describe a complex problem you faced and your approach to solving it.”
  • “Can you recall a decision you had to make with incomplete information?”
  • “How have you handled situations with an overwhelming number of tasks?”
  • “Share an example of a problem you solved in an unconventional way.”

In addition to the competency-based questions, fit interviews often include a set of queries aimed at understanding more about your personal attributes, self-awareness, and alignment with the company’s values. These questions provide an opportunity for you to showcase aspects of your personality, work ethic, and unique qualities that might not be immediately apparent from your resume. They are essential in helping the interviewer gauge how well you fit into the company culture and whether your strengths align with the role’s requirements.

Other Questions

  • “What motivates you in your professional life?”
  • “Share an experience where you had to take a risk. What was the outcome?”
  • “How do you prioritize your tasks in a fast-paced work environment?”
  • “Can you talk about a project or task where you had to learn a new skill or technology quickly?”
  • “What is one thing about your approach to work that you think sets you apart from others?”

These questions allow you to provide a more comprehensive picture of who you are as a professional and what unique attributes you can bring to the role and the organization.

When drafting your stories, consider how they can reflect multiple traits. For example, a story about leading a project can showcase both leadership and team-player qualities. It’s important to present a well-rounded picture of your capabilities, demonstrating how various traits interplay in real-world situations.

Your stories should not only display consistent competence but also moments of excellence, especially in challenging situations. Describe scenarios where you faced adversity or resistance yet emerged successfully. This demonstrates resilience, adaptability, and determination. In all these narratives, remember to tailor them to your unique experiences and be authentic. Your stories should provide a window into how you’ve applied these traits in real-life scenarios, demonstrating your potential as a consultant.

McKinsey Personal Experience Interview

A unique feature of McKinsey’s interview process is the Personal Experience Interview (PEI), which focuses on four specific character traits. This standardized format is designed to delve into how candidates have navigated past situations, providing insights into their potential future performance in consulting roles.

McKinsey Values and Purpose Interview

The McKinsey Values and Purpose interview focuses on assessing a candidate’s alignment with the firm’s core values and overarching mission. It delves into understanding how a candidate’s personal and professional ethos resonates with McKinsey’s commitment to delivering impactful and ethical solutions to clients.

Telling Stories in Consulting Fit Interviews

Introduce Your Story

When being asked to talk about a certain situation where you have demonstrated a particular character trait, start out by summarizing the story in three key sentences. Every sentence in this part of the interview should add some value to your case. Stay away from empty words or sentences.

Give each story a poignant headline, so both you and the interviewer can remember it easily. The interviewer will have a memorable anchor to link with your face. Then convey the key message in three sentences:

  • Situation – what was the situation like?
  • Complication – what issues did you face?
  • Resolution – how did you overcome them?

When you provide a concise overview of your key message without rambling on and on, you allow the interviewer to state preferences regarding your story. He or she might want to dig deeper into your story or not.  This is important because some stories might not fit or the interviewer thinks that they are not interesting enough. In these cases, he or she can ask you about a different experience without you wasting too much time.

This short introduction of the situation provides background and sets the tone and stage for deeper discussion. You work both for yourself and the interviewer as you make it easier for you to talk about the individual sections of your story and easier for him or her to ask you targeted questions. Depending on how the questions come at you, you will then be able to highlight certain parts of the stories or focus on the specific traits the interviewer wants to hear.

Use the SCORE Framework for Behavioral Interviews

If the interviewer is fine with your summary and wants to hear more, he or she might ask you more specific questions. In this case, use the SCORE Framework to tell your story. 

We developed and recommend to our trainees the SCORE approach. It is especially useful when you want to prepare and think deeply about all aspects of a situation to make sure not to forget anything. The SCORE Framework provides an anchor for a natural flow of explanation and thought during the interview.

SCORE framework - how to answer mckinsey personal experience interview

Let’s look at one example:

Susan is asked by her interviewer to talk about a specific situation where she demonstrated leadership skills.

She answers: At my previous employer we had to present a strategy document in front of the board (SITUATION). My boss got sick the day before and was not able to direct and structure the work for us, which could have resulted in a bad situation for my department (COMPLICATION). I took over from her, guided the team and we prepared a stellar presentation for the board on the next day (RESOLUTION).

The interviewer will be intrigued by this short prompt and ask for details. Now Susan can go into the SCORE Framework. The focus should be on her role and what she did to solve the situation, the remedial action!

She says: We had an important bi-annual board meeting scheduled, which my boss was driving. I had one work stream to prepare, as did all 5 other product managers on the team (SITUATION).

The crucial day before the meeting, my boss got sick, which initially put our work to a grinding halt. She structured and coordinated our work, helped with problem-solving and integrated all our workstreams into a final presentation (COMPLICATION).

If we would have stopped at this stage, we would have presented a non-aligned 80% version, leaving out crucial details of our progress and success. This would have reflected negatively on our team and each of us individually. The result would have been budget cuts in our department for next year (OUTCOME EXPECTATION).

So I had to step in and fill the role of my boss. First, I had to calm down the team, one person specifically who freaked out. I held a short pep talk to improve everyone’s mood and motivate the team. Then I took 30 minutes in private to devise a strategy. I met the team to redelegate tasks with me basically taking over the role of my boss, whereas I distributed the final tasks of my workstream to two other colleagues. Lastly, I scheduled two problem-solving sessions to align during the day and next morning. They were happy that someone took the lead and stepped up. One colleague was kind of confrontational, so I had to pull him in a 1-on-1 to discuss his concerns and mediate a conflict with another team mate. I integrated all aspects of the presentation throughout the day as I was receiving each individual’s input and wrote speaker notes for each of them. At the end of the day, I had to coach one colleague on my model so she could get the right output (REMEDIAL ACTION).

On the next day, the team had a stellar presentation in front of the board and was able to answer all questions and challenges we received. The budget for next year was actually increased. We were all super happy and I took the team out for drinks in the evening (END RESULT).

The interviewer will tell you quite soon in which direction your story should go and what parts you should focus on in the interest of time. The SCORE method is extremely useful in this case! Be aware that at firms like McKinsey and during the Personal Experience Interview, interviewers will go very deep into each situation and ask very specific questions such as “What did this person say?”, “How did this make you feel?”, etc. Be prepared to talk about all aspects of a specific situation. 

Common Pitfalls and Mistakes in Fit Interviews and How to Avoid Them

Fit interviews are a crucial part of the consulting interview process, where your personality, values, and soft skills are evaluated. However, even the most prepared candidates can fall into common pitfalls. This chapter discusses these frequent mistakes and provides strategies to avoid them, ensuring you present yourself in the best possible light.

1. Lack of Specific Examples

Pitfall: Candidates often speak in generalities or fail to provide concrete examples that illustrate their skills and experiences.

Avoidance Strategy: Prepare specific stories using the SCORE format. This method ensures that your answers are not only detailed and full of concrete examples but also structured and relevant.

2. Over-Rehearsed Responses

Pitfall: Answers that sound memorized can come off as inauthentic.

Avoidance Strategy: While preparation is key, focus on understanding the essence of your stories. Practice telling them in a conversational manner, adapting to the flow of the interview.

3. Not Aligning Answers with the Firm’s Values

Pitfall: Candidates sometimes miss aligning their responses with the consulting firm’s values and culture.

Avoidance Strategy: Research the firm thoroughly. Understand its values, culture, and what it looks for in candidates. Tailor your stories to reflect these aspects.

4. Neglecting the ‘Fit’ Part

Pitfall: Focusing too much on technical or case preparation and neglecting the personal fit aspect.

Avoidance Strategy: Balance your preparation between case studies and fit interview questions. Remember, personal fit is equally important for your overall evaluation.

5. Lack of Self-Reflection

Pitfall: Not being able to articulate your strengths and weaknesses convincingly.

Avoidance Strategy: Engage in thorough self-reflection. Be honest about your weaknesses and discuss the steps you’re taking to address them.

6. Poor Storytelling Skills

Pitfall: Failing to engage the interviewer with your stories due to poor delivery.

Avoidance Strategy: Develop your storytelling skills. Focus on clarity, pacing, and engaging the interviewer emotionally as well as intellectually.

7. Not Showing Genuine Interest in the Firm

Pitfall: Candidates sometimes fail to convey a genuine interest in the firm and the role.

Avoidance Strategy: Demonstrate your enthusiasm for the firm. Share specific reasons why you’re interested in them, which could include their projects, culture, or career development opportunities.

8. Failing to Ask Thoughtful Questions

Pitfall: Not asking questions or asking generic ones.

Avoidance Strategy: Prepare thoughtful questions that show your interest in the firm and the role. Avoid questions that can be easily answered through a website search.

By being aware of these common pitfalls and actively working to avoid them, you can significantly improve your performance in fit interviews. This preparation not only demonstrates your qualifications but also your dedication and understanding of what it takes to succeed in a consulting role.

Finalizing Your Fit Interview Preparation

The importance of these personal questions varies across firms and interview stages, however, for most, this is of similar importance to the case interview. If you fail to impress your interviewers here in one way or another, your application might very well be over.

Key takeaway: Don’t neglect this part of the interview. We often see candidates investing 99% of their time into case interview preparation, completely neglecting to prepare proper answers to behavioral or skill questions.

As you are preparing for consulting fit interviews, it’s crucial to refine your approach and ensure that your preparation is comprehensive and effective. This final phase involves two key aspects: developing your storytelling skills and engaging in mock interviews to test your readiness.

Effective Story Preparation and Structuring

A significant part of your interview preparation involves crafting and structuring stories that effectively showcase your skills and experiences. These narratives should be carefully tailored to highlight qualities that consulting firms value, such as leadership, problem-solving, and adaptability. The key is to create a clear and concise structure for each story, typically following the SCORE Framework.

This method helps you present your experiences in a way that is easy for interviewers to follow and understand. The stories should be genuine, reflect your personal experiences, and demonstrate how you’ve made a significant impact in past roles. This preparation not only helps you articulate your experiences more effectively but also builds your confidence in delivering them under interview conditions.

Make sure to think about and prepare answers and stories to common personal questions beforehand. The personal interview is the part of the interview process where you don’t want to think and make up stories on the spot, but merely remind yourself of your prepared answers. This way you will make sure that your answers are structured, to the point, and exactly hit the dimensions that the questions try to assess.

If you have prepared just a few sentences or bullet points per item, you are well prepared for even the most daunting and specific personal interview questions. You will know what you are going to say at the right time without sounding rehearsed. A good tool to prepare your individual stories in an organized manner would be the following matrix. Draft it in Excel to collect and prepare your stories.

Ensure your examples span different contexts and aren’t all from a single period, like your university years. This diversity showcases your ability to apply your traits across various situations and environments.

Prepare at least two stories for each trait, as you might need to discuss a specific trait multiple times during the interview process. Avoid repeating stories, and have additional examples ready in case an interviewer probes deeper or is not fully satisfied with your initial response.

McKinsey-Personal-Experience-Interview-Stories-Example

A cautionary tale: Do not over-prepare and recite answers by heart. Your replies should still feel natural. More often than not we have seen that candidates try too hard to impress interviewers in this regard. Below we show you the most common consulting behavioral interview questions and answers.

Mock Interviews and Feedback Loop

Mock interviews are an indispensable part of your preparation. They provide a realistic simulation of the interview environment and help you practice the delivery of your prepared stories and answers. Participating in mock interviews with peers, mentors, or professionals can offer you invaluable feedback on your performance. Pay attention to both the content and delivery of your responses, including aspects like clarity, conciseness, and engagement.

Use the feedback to refine your answers, improve your storytelling techniques, and address any areas of weakness. This process of continuous iteration – practicing, receiving feedback, and refining your approach – is what ultimately elevates your interview performance and readies you for the real experience. The feedback loop not only helps in fine-tuning your responses but also aids in adapting your approach to different types of interviewers and questions you may encounter.

How We Accelerate Your Preparation and Get You Offers

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 the highest-rated consulting 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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