Common Behavioral Questions Asked in Consulting Interviews
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On our page on Consulting Case Interview Prep, we discuss what a case study interview is and how to prepare for one. Here, we’re going to focus on the other main type of question that comes up in consulting interviews: the behavioral or fit question.
It goes by different names at different strategy consulting firms. In addition to being called the behavioral or fit interview, it’s also referred to as the airport test. At McKinsey, it’s called the PEI or personal experience interview. Whatever name you put on it, it’s very different from a case study question but still critical to getting an offer from a management consulting firm. You’ll need to be prepared to answer fit questions well.
We’ll help you get ready to ace them.
What Is a Fit or Behavioral Interview?
The fit or behavioral interview is a question that lets an interviewer get to know a consulting candidate better and determine whether they are someone who will fit well in the culture of the firm. The interviewer will consider whether the candidate is someone they’d feel comfortable putting in front of a client and enjoy working with.
The fit question can be a short portion of an interview or comprise the entire time allotted. Typically in a first-round interview, the case study question will take up most of the time allotted. Five minutes might be left to discuss a fit question. In a decision-round, a candidate may meet with several interviewers, one of which focuses entirely on fit questions.
How Important Is the Behavioral Interview Question?
Even if you ace every case study question you’re asked, you still won’t get an offer from a top consulting firm if you don’t pass the fit question. Why not? Here are some quotes from partners at different consulting firms:
“We can teach you how to make slides in PowerPoint or build models in Excel, but we can’t teach you character and values.” – Partner, McKinsey & Company
“We get plenty of smart, able candidates. We want to find ones we can see working here and want to work with.” – Partner, Bain & Company
“Candidates will spend a hundred and more hours on casing but when the fit interview begins, it is like they didn’t see it coming.” – Partner, Boston Consulting Group
You can see from these quotes that the fit is an important part of what consulting company interviewers assess in candidates. Because of this, you’ll want to devote time to prepare for these questions as well as cases.
What Are Management Consulting Interviewers Looking for in Answers to Fit Questions?
There are 4 things interviewers look for when they ask fit questions:
- Can this person do the job? Is the candidate smart? Hardworking? Interested in learning new things? Ready to take on a challenge?
- Is this person client-friendly? Is this person self-confident? Can they express themselves clearly and with poise? Do they have good business sense?
- Is this person someone I want to work with? Is this person fun? Passionate about the projects they take on?
- Does this person respond to coaching? Will they continue to improve their business and leadership skills over time?
Common behavioral questions assess the characteristics on the softer side of the management consulting skill set. You can imagine that some candidates may be able to solve any business problem and calculate multi-step consulting math problems in their head. But they may not have the social skills to present their ideas to a client effectively or convince the client to make the hard decisions that are required to improve their business.
Alternatively, they might not be good team players or might be rigid in their approach to problem-solving. This is why strategy consulting firms look at fit as well as business case analytics.
In addition to ensuring you have the behavioral characteristics needed to excel in consulting, the interviewer will also want to know that you’re a good fit for their particular firm. Though management consulting firms may all seem quite similar when you’re first learning about the industry, they all have their own characteristics.
For example, McKinsey cares a lot about the leadership potential and entrepreneurial drive of candidates. BCG looks for consultants with curiosity and intellectual honesty. Bain also considers entrepreneurial drive important, but in addition, they emphasize social impact. The company takes a day off from client work to focus on community service every year.
To figure out which of the strategy consulting firms is the best fit for you, get to know more about their unique cultures. You can do this by attending on-campus presentations and reviewing their websites.
Examples of Common Behavioral Interview Questions
There are two main types of behavioral interviews, inch deep and mile wide, and inch wide and mile deep.
- Inch deep and mile wide – In this type, the interviewer asks a variety of fit questions but doesn’t focus on any one question for a long period of time. This is the most common type of fit interview.
- Inch wide and mile deep – In this type, the interviewer focuses on one question or topic and asks multiple questions about different aspects of the topic. For example, an interviewer might ask you about a time you led others. After you answer this question, they might follow on with questions about the importance of the problem you were trying to solve, the most challenging aspect of the problem, how you convinced others to follow your approach, and what impact your work had.
The “inch wide mile deep” format is most commonly used by McKinsey as part of the PEI or personal experience interview.
Whichever type of fit interview you’re given, the questions are the same. Here are the most common ones:
- Tell me about yourself.
- Talk me through your resume.
- Why are you interested in management consulting?
- What are you interested in working for (insert consulting firm name)?
- What’s something you’ve worked on outside of school?
- Tell me about a time you dealt with a tough problem.
- Tell me about a time you led others.
- When did you have to convince someone to change their mind on something important to them?
- What do you like to do for fun?
- Tell me about a failure.
How Should You Prepare for Fit Interview Questions?
The best way to answer behavioral questions is to tell a story. You can prepare stories that will address each of the frequently asked behavioral questions in advance of your interview. You’ll find that once you’ve prepared a story, you can usually apply it to more than one question, but you’ll need a few different stories to be able to cover all the common questions.
A good way to prepare your story is to use the “A STAR(E)” structure.
A – Answer – Start with a one-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.
Following the A STAR(E) structure will ensure that the answer you prepare for your behavioral interviews is meaningful. It needs to be something that didn’t just happen in passing, but that challenged you and helped you to have real impact solving a problem.
When you are choosing examples from your experience to create stories, choose the events that had the most tension and the biggest results. These events were probably the ones that had the most impact and that you learned the most from. They will also be the ones that stick in the mind of an interviewer after they’ve spent a day talking to a dozen candidates.
Other Types of Questions Commonly Asked in Consulting Interviews
In addition to the frequently asked fit interview questions, management consulting firm interviewers may ask about:
- Experience discussed on your resume or cover letter,
- Questions about business news other current events, or
- What questions you have for them.
These topics are also important to prepare for as your management consulting interviews approach.
A good way to practice for this portion of your consulting interview is to practice your fit interview stories with your case partner. Your case partner can give you feedback on how to polish your story and present it in the best light. They can also help you identify likely follow-on questions interviewers may ask so you can prepare for them.
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