The Consulting Fit Interview: What to Say, What NOT to Say
People pursuing consulting careers get very anxious about case study interviews. Sometimes they get so anxious about case studies that they neglect the other key type of question management consulting firms ask — the fit or behavioral question.
This is understandable. After all, case studies are something few people have seen before. Behavioral interview questions sound like the questions all sorts of companies ask. You may think you can just wing an answer.
Failing your fit interview questions will get you passed over just as quickly as failing on a case.
Below, we’ll talk about what to say and what NOT to say about when answering 10 common fit interview questions. We’ll give you a structure for developing stories that will resonate with top management consulting firms. We’ll also provide tips on making the most of your behavioral interview practice.
If you’ve just started looking into a career in consulting and want to learn more about consulting case study interviews or see some examples of case study questions and answers, click those links to find out more. But if you’re ready to prep for consulting behavioral interviews, you’re in exactly the right place.
Let’s get started!
The Consulting Behavioral Interview — Why It Matters
On Types of Questions Consulting Firms Ask, we defined the behavioral or fit interview.
We also discussed what interviewers are looking for with these interviews:
- Are you someone they want to work with (or be stuck in an airport with when the plane is late)?
- Are you someone they feel comfortable putting in front of their client?
As you can imagine, these are very central questions for your interviewer. That’s why fit questions are important.
10 Common Consulting Behavioral Interview Questions – What to Say, What NOT to Say
When you dig underneath these 2 questions, you’ll see they probe a broader set of attitudes, skills, and behaviors.
Are you someone your interviewer wants to work with?
Are you fun, hard-working, passionate about the projects you take on, someone who doesn’t give up easily?
Why this matters – consultants work together for 8+ hours a day. The team wants to hire people they’d be fine with spending 8+ hours a day with.
Are you someone the interviewer would feel comfortable putting in front of their client?
Are good at problem solving, able to persuade and motivate people, but also coachable? Have you done your homework looking into what work in the consulting industry is like? Do you have the right mannerisms and professionalism to work with clients?
Top management consulting firms like McKinsey, Bain, and BCG make at least half a million dollars per project, so if you’re put in front of a client and aren’t client-ready, it could cost a firm half a million dollars in revenues.
Your answers to personal interview questions should aim to address these questions lying beneath the surface.
1. Tell me about yourself.
DO describe one of your key strengths, particularly a strength that relates to the characteristics management consulting firms are looking for, then provide examples from your resume that demonstrate this strength and provide context.
DON’T start rambling through your entire resume.
2. Walk me through your resume.
DO point out major accomplishments and provide the connective tissue between jobs/positions. Examples:
“I took this position because I was interested in…”
“I changed positions because…”
DON’T be humble about achievements (though credit the team where appropriate).
3. Why are you interested in management consulting?
DO mention specific interactions with people in the industry during campus information sessions or informational interviews that got you excited about consulting.
DO show that you understand the work that consultants do and the skills the firm is looking for. Show that your achievements demonstrate those skills.
DON’T arrive at the interview with no idea why consulting would be a better career for you than investment banking, consumer marketing, accounting or other careers.
4. Why are you interested in working for Bain / BCG / McKinsey / Deloitte?
DO show that you understand the types of projects the company takes on and the firm’s values. The more specific you can be, the better.
DO show that you’ve done the research on the firm by bringing up stories from other consultants you’ve met from within the firm.
DON’T show up for the interview without having attended on-campus presentations by consulting firms and/or visited the company’s website.
5. What’s something you’ve worked on outside of school?
DO talk about a hobby or activity you’re passionate about. Something that you’ve spent more time pursuing than most people who do that hobby or activity. A club or organization in which you took on a leadership role and had a significant impact is a good example to talk about for this question, or a hobby that requires specialized training or certification.
DON’T talk about a leadership position you held where you didn’t have a measurable impact. Think of the students back in high school or university who started fake clubs just to put it on their resume.
6. Tell me about a time you dealt with a tough problem.
DO show that the problem was challenging, but that with perseverance you overcame the challenge, or at least that you learned from your mistake. It’s okay to show a partial failure.
DON’T use the “strength disguised as a weakness” approach.
7. Tell me about a time you led others.
DO demonstrate that you’re a cooperative leader, not a dictator. Show you can motivate people. Focus on yourself as a facilitator and credit the team with the success.
DON’T portray everyone else on the team as clueless. In consulting, you’ll need to lead smart clients and co-workers, not minions. Demonstrate you can facilitate a strong team.
8. When did you have to convince someone to change their mind on something important to them?
DO show that you can relate to differing points of view, build a case for your own point of view, and be persuasive.
DON’T sound dictatorial.
9. Tell me about a failure.
DO describe why you failed, what you learned, and what you’d do differently next time as a result.
DON’T directly criticize past co-workers.
DON’T let the question stress you out and throw off the rest of your interview.
10. What do you like to do for fun?
DO be genuine and personable. Remember, your interviewer is looking for people he/she wants to work with.
DON’T blow off the question. Pick something you love enough and have put enough time into that you can discuss it for a couple of minutes.
To find out more about what to say, and what NOT to say in consulting behavioral interviews, read this article.
A Structure to Prepare Answers that Will Resonate with Your Interviewer – Tell Stories
The best way to answer consulting behavioral interview questions is to tell stories. Stories are great because they stick in your interviewer’s mind even after a day of meeting a dozen candidates. That gives you a leg up when decisions are being made.
Look for instances from your past that demonstrate your impact in a work environment, volunteer/ extracurricular activity, or just in every-day life. These will make great stories.
Here, we introduced the A STAR(E) structure for telling stories. To recap, A STAR(E) stands for:
A – Answer – Start with a 1-sentence answer to the interviewer’s question.
S – Situation – Describe the situation. When and where did the events in the story happen? Who was involved?
T – Tension – What was the conflict
A – Action – What actions did you take to resolve the tension?
R – Result – What were the results of your action?
(E) – Effect – What did you learn from the situation and the events that followed it?
(E) or Effect is in parentheses because it will not be essential to every story.
Let’s illustrate the A STARE(E) structure with a story from Davis, Founder of My Consulting Offer.
Question: Tell me about a failure.
Here is an example of how Davis Nguyen, our founder, answered one of his behavioral interview questions with Bain and McKinsey.
A – Answer – I was rejected by close to 200 scholarships but kept applying and eventually won full scholarships to Harvard and Yale.
S – Situation – I grew up in a low-income community where going to college was a dream for most kids, not an expectation. Our school system was called the worst in the United States.
T – Tension – Growing up, I knew I wanted to be the 1st person in my family to go to college. I wanted to live up to the dreams of my parents and grandparents who gave up everything so I could have this opportunity. But I didn’t have a role model to follow since my teachers and counselors were trying to keep students from starting fights, dropping out of school, or going to jail.
I knew I wanted to go to the best university I could and graduate debt-free, but I wasn’t sure how to achieve this.
A – Action – I didn’t understand financial aid, so in my sophomore year, I decided to make a list of 200 scholarships I could apply for to fund my education. I applied to every scholarship I could find, including once called ‘women entering technology.’
Over 3 years, I was rejected for 179 scholarships. I hung each rejection on my bedroom wall to remind myself to keep going. Every time I was rejected, I’d ask for feedback and use it on my next application.
R – Result – I eventually started winning scholarships based on the feedback I incorporated into my applications. I received over $1.5 million in scholarship money, including full scholarships to Harvard and Yale. I was able to turn all those rejections into a huge success.
(E) – Effect – While this took place in high school, I think it tells you a lot about me. I don’t give up. At Yale, I might not have been the smartest student, but no one was going to outwork me. And in extracurriculars, I might not have had the connections to raise money right away, but you could bet that I’d knock on doors and send cold emails to make sure I could raise the money needed.
You can see that by structuring his answer as a story, Davis was able to pull interviewers in emotionally. The interviewer remembered Davis’s story hours later when the team met to discuss the candidates and make decisions on who would move on to the next round of interviews or receive an offer.
4 Tips for Mastering Consulting Behavioral Interviews
As with case study interviews, you’ll need to practice answering behavioral interview questions. First, come up with the content for your stories and get feedback from your case study partners. Improve your stories with their feedback and rehearse them.
When practicing, focus on:
Delivery – Make sure you speak at a normal pace. Pause to let the interviewer absorb what you’re saying. Show emotion – excitement, enthusiasm, sadness or disappointment.
Make sure your body language and eye contact connect you to your interviewer.
Don’t Sound Like a Robot – Don’t memorize your story. Just remember the key points and deliver them naturally.
Use Loom to Record Yourself –You can also use the camera on your phone. Yes, it’s cringe-worthy to watch yourself practice stories for interviews, but you’ll pick up on what you’re doing well, and what’s not working.
The “George Clooney” Mindset –When George Clooney began his Hollywood career, he faced tons of rejections. He realized he was too nervous when he was going into auditions and decided he needed to change things. He started going into auditions with the mindset that producers wanted him to succeed—after all, they needed to find a great actor to make their show a success—and that made all the difference.
Don’t go into your interviews thinking about the low chances of passing. Go in knowing that your interviewer wants to find new consultants to work at his or her firm. You can be one of those new consultants.
On this page, we’ve covered the most common consulting behavioral interview questions and how to answer them. We’ve also shared an example of using the A STAR(E) structure to create stories that will resonate with your interviewers. These stories will be helpful in your first round interviews and be even more critical in your second round interviews.
People who are prepping for consulting behavioral interview questions typically find the following other My Consulting Offer pages helpful:
- This page discusses what first round interviews at top management consulting firms look like and how you should prepare.
- Here we discuss market sizing questions, a type of case study interview that is typical in the first round of undergraduate interviews.
- On this page we provide tips on case interview practice that will help you make efficient use of your time.
We hope this page has increased your confidence in tackling fit interview questions!
Comment below on the fit questions you find the toughest. We’ll provide tips from our coaches
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