Preparation is a skill which can be learnt and with the hard work, discipline and experience, it can be improved over time. The advantage of preparation is that you can manage and solve problems more quickly and efficiently because you already have the solutions ready in your hands and only have to implement. So, if you’re looking for a consulting job, then you should know that the consulting interviews usually have two parts: the case and the fit. The case interview is a format in which you (the interviewee), are given a business problem to solve. There are various important elements to master the case, as detailed below. It is best to focus on each of these elements separately before trying to dive into solving the cases completely.
1. Ask questions right from the beginning
At first, you’ll be given all the important information about your case. You have to listen to it and then take notes. When the interviewer asks if you have any questions then you have to start asking questions. You need to summarize the situation or the problem at hand and then ask questions to clarify if something is unclear. This will not only reflect your listening skills, but it’ll also let you double check that you understand the case well which you’re asked to solve.
Then, you should ask a “step back” question. A step back question is the one which puts the case into context and helps to get at the bigger picture, beyond the information which was given to you upfront. For example, if you’re given a case about an equity firm which is deciding on to acquire a given company, a step back question can be like “Is this equity firm also looking at some other acquisitions in the industry as well.” This will help in evaluating this target versus others too. Most of the people don’t ask the step back question, so if you do that, it’ll help you stand out as very thoughtful and genuinely interested in solving the problem, rather than just focused on cracking the interview.
2. Always, keep your interviewer engaged
If you keep asking relevant questions, then it’s also a great way to build a rapport with your interviewer right from the start. Take the case not as a test, but as a conversation through which you have to solve the problem given to you. If you have this mindset and ask your interviewer for more and more information and explain what your assumptions or understanding are and talk him or her through your approach, then all of these will lead to a productive conversation. It’ll more likely that you will find your interviewer quite helpful and engaged in the discussion, especially if you get stuck somewhere in between.
Sometimes, the interviewer might steer you to a different direction or suggest you to think in a different way, then you should pay attention to the subtle cues and guidance. The more you bring the interviewer in the line of your thinking, the more he or she will enjoy working with you through the case. Further, the more opportunity you give him or her to help you with the case, it will help you more in building a good rapport.
3. Structure the case well
The interviewer always want to know that you can take a note of all the information thrown at you and create a good logical structure, the process it and get to a good answer. A good structure is actually the key to do well with a case. It’s more important than your answer and the knowledge you bring in. Rather, it’s your chance to show the interviewer “how you think.” Therefore, when asked to solve the problem in your hand, first you need to ask for a moment to think through it and collect your thoughts. Then, grab a pen and the paper and get to the work at hand. Your goal, in the next few seconds is to outline a logical structure which will help you work through the major issues of the case.
A good structure breaks up the problem into various parts. For instance, if you’re asked about profits, then you can split that into two components like “decreasing costs or “increasing revenue.” Then, you can split each of these further—increasing revenue means “increasing the price” or “increasing the number of items you sell.” Similarly, decreasing costs means “decreasing variable costs” or “decreasing fixed costs.” On the contrary, if you were asked about growth, you can break your answer into “selling more of the products we already have” or “selling more new items” and “selling in our existing markets” or “moving into new markets.”
Write down the structure well and explain that to your interviewer. Only then should you go into the specifics of what you would do, like would you up the selling price or decrease the manufacturing costs. The advantage of this approach is that if you go down one path and get stuck, then you have an alternate outline to fall back on.
4. Recognize the case type correctly
There are really only a few case “types” that can be given to you. These include entering a new market, developing a new product, growth strategies, pricing strategies, starting a new business, increasing profitability or acquiring a company. You can be asked about ways of turning a company around and coming up with a response to a competitor’s actions too, but those questions are asked much less frequently. So, plan ahead and prepare well to come up with clear structures in your mind for each “type.” There is no right or wrong structure and you should, of course, adapt your structure to be relevant to the case in your hand. However, thinking through the structures ahead of time will help you make sure that you stay focused on the key issues during the case, even if few unfamiliar jargons are thrown your way. Moreover, proper structures help you with a nice framework for organizing and talking through your information and building a safety net to fall back upon if you get stuck.
When you practice different types of cases, you should test out and refine your structures. Check if they help you cover all the important information and lead you down to the path of solving the problem, if not, then revise those accordingly.
5. Practice your maths or numbers
The more you practice your numbers, the easier it will get. Many people freeze up on this numbers section. You can practice and brush up your mental maths. While no one expects you to multiply complex numbers in your head in seconds, still you do need to be very comfortable in dealing with percentages, ratios or large numbers. This is just a matter of practice, which would take only 10-15 mins every day to do some mental maths and soon would be great at numbers. Play with numbers and practice. Practice taking 10%, 20%, 25% of a number. You should have an idea of what 1/5, 1/6, 1/7, 1/8, 1/9 and 1/10 are in percentage terms. Lastly, when you are given a quant question, don’t hesitate to ask for a moment to gather your thoughts and then structure the approach. Do not be under pressure to respond right away.
6. Awareness of the industries
You do not know what industry the case you’re given will be from. However, the more relevant you make your Q&A to the industry, the better. So you should be aware of the different industries. In this respect, you can keep a running tab of the attributes which are unique to a specific type of industry. For example consider the airlines market, which is highly competitive on pricing, capacity utilization is very important, unions and fuel can be big drivers of the cost. You can also keep tracking the news. Reading about the news related to economics every day is a great way to keep abreast of the major trends in different industries and countries.
7. Find a buddy and practice cases
Read through various cases yourself, practice cases with your friends and try out those cases on a company’s website. Often, business schools compile case books and circulate them as well. The more you practice, the more variants you will come across and the more comfortable you will be on the day of your actual interview.
Reading cases on your own or doing them online, can be great for helping you practice your structures and your math, but there’s nothing like having to articulate your thought process in real time. Do yourself a favour by simulating the interview environment beforehand—grab a friend and give each other cases. You’ll also be surprised by what you can learn from sitting on the other side of the table.
The fit or the behavioural part is often ignored during the consulting job interviews, but it is no less important than the case and it’s an essential selection criterion for both the firms and the candidates. What does the fit consist of?
What exactly is FIT?
The fit is one of the two main elements of a consulting job interview. It’s goal is to assess if the candidate is compatible with the firm’s culture. To fit is to meet all the criteria for the job and adapt to the position like the missing piece in a puzzle. This part of the interview allows the firms to evaluate if the candidate has the skills which are over and above the technical abilities required to crack a case, like having solid interpersonal skills as well as goals and values which are aligned with that of the firm.
On the other hand, it’s also a great opportunity for the candidates to evaluate whether the responsibilities that come with the position and the firm’s culture suits them. Relationships and the support from the co-workers play an important role in professional growth and allow the projects to be successful. The firm’s culture and structure are also the key elements in determining an individual’s potential opportunities for career growth and development. So, the fit is therefore a chance for the candidates to pick the firm of their choice that will give them the best opportunities for growth, fulfilment and advancement in their careers.
Let’s have a look at the FIT interview questions
Two types of questions are usually asked during this part of the interview. The first is the behavioural questions which are asked to evaluate the candidate’s interest and knowledge regarding the firm and the specific job they have applied for, for example: “Why do you want to be a consultant?”, or “Can you please summarize your resume for us in a few words?”
Second is the situational questions which are asked to determine how the candidate thinks and behaves in different situations. These questions consist of asking the candidate to describe a past experience, for instance: “Tell us about something which you have accomplished that makes you proud”, or “Tell us about a challenging situation which you managed to overcome in the past and how did you do it?”
If your interviews are lined up soon and you are in the midst of your preparation, don’t forget to save some time and energy to focus on the FIT part. Some helpful exercises include summarizing your resume out loud in a succinct and efficient manner, creating a list of your relevant experiences (successes, failures, and anything in between) and of the lessons these experiences allowed you to learn and doing some research on the values and culture of the firms you are applying to.
TAKEAWAY: Finally, you should have fun while solving cases. Remember that practice makes a man perfect, so practice answering the frequently asked interview questions. Use percentages, dollars and other numbers to impress your interviewer with the positive changes you have brought in during your consulting career. Keep up on the industry trends and use this knowledge to show the value that you would bring into the organization as an industry savvy consultant. If you enjoy your consulting interview, chances are more that you will enjoy the actual consulting job as well.