The consulting interview process decoded
Congrats! You have made it past the screening stage and have been invited to the interviews, which means you fared better than roughly 80% of all applicants so far. Now, your case interview skills will be put to the test. However, before you can dive into case interview preparation, you should know how the interview rounds and the associated assessments are structured.
Depending on the size of the firm and the office location, you will need to go through one to a maximum of three rounds provided you are a university graduate. For senior hires, the number of interviews can be significantly higher depending on the job title.
If a company employs three rounds, the first one is usually aimed at screening candidates further before the actual on-site case interviews happen. This can either be a talk with HR or a motivation/ fit based interview with a consultant in person or via telephone. At this stage, some consulting companies have you sit an online math and case skill test or an on-site test such as the McKinsey Problem Solving Test. The difficulty and passing grades of these tests usually vary a lot across companies but are consistent across offices of the same firm. You can prepare with online tools that firms offer, as well as by working through GMAT preparation books and logical reasoning exercises. As a side note: If your math savvy friends help you with a remote online test, be aware that some firms like Oliver Wyman let you re-sit the test during the second round to make sure the performance rendered at home was actually yours.
For smaller firms and consulting boutiques, the first round sometimes is held via telephone or video conference, with the content ranging from simple personal and motivational questions to proper case interviews.
Second and third round
For larger firms, the first ‘real’ interview round will usually be held either at one of the firm’s offices or in a hotel. These rounds usually consist of two to three interviews between 50 and 75 minutes each. A typical interview usually covers three areas:
Personality questions. These questions discuss your background and try to gauge your motivation and personality. Duration: between five and 30 minutes.
The case. This is the core of the interview, the most difficult part and easiest to screw up. A case typically is a real-world business problem that you need to solve in the short time allocated. The interviewer acts as the client that you are consulting and provides all information needed for you to come up with a recommendation. The key is to structure the problem, ask the right questions to elicit the information from the interviewer and deliver a solid answer. Most interviewers will give you one exhaustive and longer case. Others, though the minority, will ask you several short cases. Brainteasers are mostly employed by smaller firms in this part of the interview. Duration: between 15 and 60 minutes.
Questions to the interviewer. In the end, you will have a chance to ask the interview some questions about the firm. Make good use of this and come up with interesting questions about topics you haven’t learned about from publicly available sources. Duration: between two and ten minutes.
We will cover each of these three sections in subsequent posts.
When you make it to the final round you will again face one to three interviews, usually with more senior people. In this round, interviewers try to confirm findings from the first round or test you in areas where you appeared weakest (oh dear case math…).
Sometimes, firms employ special formats in an interview round including such things as role-playing, mimicking daily issues of a consultant, or pro and con group discussions about a particular issue. These formats can appear both on first and second round interview days.
The final interview
The last interview of the day is usually a senior partner interview. He or she can still break your case by doing a formal interview including all elements discussed above. However, in most cases, they’ll be super polite as they just want you to sign the contract. You have to understand that elite firms invest a substantial amount of money in recruiting and it is rare to find candidates that make it through the whole process. As a result, at this stage, they want to keep you and are willing to go the extra mile. If you want to discuss start dates or any other issues, here is where they are most likely to make concessions.
Combination of all interview rounds
Some firms like McKinsey & Company or BCG have streamlined the process in particular countries. If you have passed the screening stage, you can do the whole test/ interview marathon in a single day. The day is usually split into several rounds. Depending on your performance, you might be able to continue the day or are escorted out the door. In any case, you will receive short feedback about your performance. If you are lucky, you can leave the office with an offer in the evening.