How To Approach General Questions In A Fit Interview
This chapter is a free excerpt from The Best Book on Getting Consulting Jobs In India.
My first piece of performance advice is to be relaxed, confident, and enthusiastic. Make sure to take each question as it comes, and do not try to preempt the interviewer’s questions.
Don't stress out about any of the questions. Instead, you should think of your fit interview as a general introduction: You are trying to understand the company’s culture and they are trying to understand you.
Question #1. Why do you want to go into consulting?
The first thing the interviewer wants to know is why you want to go into consulting. This question may seem simple, but it's still important to think about it before going into the interview. If you aren't able to readily answer why you'd like to work as a consultant, the interviewer is unlikely to recommend you for a job.
Researching the consulting industry is the best way of preparing an explanation for why you want to become a consultant. The more information you have about the industry, the more facts and observations you can use to flesh out your answer.
People seek out consulting jobs for a number of reasons: the money, the glamor, business school preparation, and the wide variety of work and skill sets you can learn. Being able to give specific reasons and cite information that backs up those reasons will demonstrate your genuine interest in consulting work.
There are also people who go into consulting because they don’t know what else they want to do, which is a sensible answer. In consulting, you move around a number of industries. In these different job industries, you work to answer different types of questions and solve different problems. Because of this wide variance in work context, there's a steep learning curve with each project, which gives a person a lot of breadth and bandwidth to learn where his or her interests and passions lie.
Consider your own reasons for going into consulting. For example, I went into consulting because I wanted to be on a steep learning curve and acquire the analytical toolkits to become a successful entrepreneur. Students enter consulting for various reasons - to understand the strategic side of business, to look at the bigger picture of a business, and to tackle particular problems. Whatever your interests may be, make sure to have one or two solid reasons before you walk into the interview room.
Question #2. Why do you want to work for this company?
The second obvious question is why you want to join a particular company. An interviewer will likely reject you if you tell them you’re interviewing at the company because you didn’t get another job or if he is just one of many interviews. There are two major ways to pick a company: research and networking.
One thing you have to understand is the flavor of the company’s culture. Lots of people emphasize the importance of a company's culture, almost to the point where it becomes a cliche. However, from my experience in consulting, I've realized how widely the cultures of different companies can vary. Because of these differences, it's important to understand the flavor of a company's culture.
Let’s take for example my work with Parthenon and what I spoke about when I interviewed there. One of its distinguishing traits is its size. Parthenon is a boutique consulting firm with approximately 200 consultants, as opposed to McKinsey, which has thousands.
Parthenon's boutique nature is one of its biggest selling points because its small size forces its consultants to become entrepreneurial in their approach. People are pushed and encouraged to take on different responsibilities and deliver results. One partner in London wanted to create a new office in India, and after backing from the managing director, opened an office in Mumbai.
If you didn't understand that characteristic of Parthenon, you'd only be able to justify your desire to work there with general answers. Firms want to know that you're genuinely interested enough in them to at least do some company research, and one of the main things you should research is the firm's culture. You can understand a company’s culture through research, networking, and information sessions to present your understanding during your interview.
Another example of a differentiated company culture is Monitor Group. Monitor's strong feedback culture makes it a highly effective firm. Feedback there occurs both downward and upward, and they highly value everybody's feedback in their daily business. Even during the interview, the interviewer gives feedback on your performance, and you have an opportunity to provide feedback on your own interviewing experience. If you conduct just a little bit of research on Monitor beforehand, you'll know about the feedback-centered aspect of their culture, and you can impress your interviewer by sharing that knowledge during your interview.
BCG also has a unique focus on feedback. In 2007, I was told that one of the key performance metrics for a partner was mentorship feedback with the analyst, which is an entry-level position. BCG partners’ performance ratings are based on sold revenue, managed revenue, and mentee feedback.
Knowing the differences between the major consulting firms will help you a lot with explaining what specific reasons you have for wanting to work with a particular firm. However, make sure to join a company for the right reasons. Your research can help you impress interviewers and get the job, but even more importantly, your research should have an impact on where you want to work. Don't just work for a consulting firm because it has a good name. If you don't think you'll fit in with their culture, you should try to work somewhere else instead.
Question #3. Tell Me About Your Resume And Work Experience.
The next thing an interviewer will want to do is walk through your resume and work experience. Remember that consulting firms, especially at entry level, recruit generalists.
It is important to ensure that you talk about what aspects of your prior work experience and internships are transferable to your consulting work. List the key daily tasks of a typical analyst (cutting surveys, writing surveys, doing desk research, doing primary research, making financial and demand models, and conducting management interviews) and pull out the particular nature of your prior work that is transferable and applicable to an analyst’s tasks.
For example, at Harvard Law School, we worked on a project about how immigrants propelled entrepreneurship in the United States. We interviewed 100 to 200 CEOs in the US and abroad to find out what about the United States and their profile made them successful. As interesting as the project was, during my interview I had to demonstrate how the project would help me in a consulting environment. I highlighted my relevant skill sets: conducting interviews in a professional manner, collating data, analyzing data, and finding common themes to create a hypothesis, which is something consulting work often requires.
When talking about prior work experience, you need to demonstrate how your acquired skill sets relate to the consulting industry. Your interviewer won't care about how great you are at playing piano unless you can somehow relate your piano skills to an aspect of consulting work.
The time to think about your answers to these fundamental interview questions is now, not during the interview itself.
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