If you are going through top-tier consulting interviews with McKinsey, BCG, and Bain, chances are you will be asked about your strengths and weaknesses at least once, likely much more often by several interviewers (unless you are just interviewing with McKinsey with its specific fit interview format, the Personal Experience Interview).
Generally, these types of questions are part of the fit interview. Every other firm than McKinsey will want to know about your strengths and weaknesses in a more direct form. In this article, I want to highlight how you can prepare for these questions to leave the interviewers with a strong impression of your character.
What are your strengths?
This is arguably the easier question to answer in a job interview as everyone likes to talk about their strengths and better qualities.
When asked about your strengths, it is important to be honest and to provide specific examples to support your claims. You should try to focus on strengths that are relevant to the job you are applying for and that demonstrate your ability to perform well in the role. Here are some tips for answering this question:
- Identify your top strengths: Think about your skills, experiences, and accomplishments, and consider which ones you feel are your strongest. All of these need to be relevant for the job as a consultant! If you are curious to understand what consulting firms are looking for in their applicants, read here.
- Provide specific examples: Don’t just list your strengths; give specific examples of times when you have demonstrated these strengths in the past. You need proof of your character trait, ideally in the form of a credible story.
- Keep it relevant: Choose strengths that are relevant to the job you are applying for. For example, if you are applying for an entry-level generalist consulting role with McKinsey, a strength like “excellent marketing know-how” is not particularly relevant. Rather, discuss your excellent problem-solving skills, for instance.
- Avoid cliches: Avoid using cliches or overused strengths, such as “hardworking” or “motivated.” Instead, try to be specific and unique.
- Stay positive: Keep your answer positive and focused on your strengths, rather than dwelling on weaknesses or areas for improvement.
What are your weaknesses?
It is common for consulting interviews to include questions about your weaknesses. Some firms such as BCG focus more on this compared to others. It is important to approach this question carefully and to avoid simply listing negative qualities or dwelling on your weaknesses. Rather, approach it, keeping these 4 things in mind:
- Be honest: It is important to be honest when discussing your weaknesses, but try to choose ones that are not crucial to the job you are applying for. Do not say that you are bad at dealing with difficult people (which is a crucial skill for any newly-minted consultant)
- Focus on areas for improvement: Rather than listing weaknesses that you have no intention of changing, focus on areas where you are actively working to improve. For instance, discuss that this weakness was an issue in the past, however, since you have been actively working on it, it is no longer a problem.
- Turn a weakness into a strength: If possible, try to reframe a weakness as a strength. For example, if you tend to be a perfectionist, you could frame this as a strength by saying that you have a strong attention to detail and a commitment to quality (which sometimes takes more time, which is the negative/weakness).
- Stay positive: Keep your answer positive and focused on your efforts to improve, rather than dwelling on your weaknesses or areas for improvement.
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