The First Round Consulting Interview: Everything You Need to Know
Table of Contents
If you’re on this page, you’ve probably just been invited to interview with a management consulting firm…Congratulations!
If not — if you’re just beginning to look into consulting as a career option, start on our Case Interview Prep page to find out what a case study is and why consulting firms use them or on Case Interview Examples to see sample case questions.
But if you’re preparing for your first round of consulting interviews and want to make sure you’re ready, that’s exactly what this page is about. It’s tough to get a job from a consulting firm—only 10-20% of applicants are successful in getting from Round 1 into Round 2.
But we’re here to help make sure you beat the odds! Below we will cover:
- What to expect in your first round consulting interviews.
- The types of questions you’ll be asked.
- How to prepare as efficiently as possible for your first round interview.
- Differences between management consulting firms. For example, is a Bain first round interview or a BCG first round interview different from a McKinsey first round interview?
Let’s get started!
What Is the First Round Interview?
So what is a “round” of interviews anyway?
Management consulting firms typically have 2 or more interviewers meet with a candidate on the same day in back-to-back meetings. This set of interviews is called a “round” and if it’s your first interview, it’s the “first round.”
Having candidates meet with multiple interviewers allows the company to ask candidates about different types of business situations and to get multiple points of feedback.
Consulting firms invest a lot of time and resources into hiring great people. They want to make well-informed decisions. Having candidates meet with multiple interviewers helps them do this because it reduces the potential for bias from any one viewpoint. It also ensures candidates don’t just get lucky/unlucky with one interviewer.
In addition, once a candidate is hired, they could be placed on a team with any of the consultants they’ve met with or any other consultant at the firm. Consulting companies want to make sure candidates aren’t just qualified to work on one type of case but on a broad range of business problems. They also don’t want a consultant who can work effectively with one or two people they’ve met, but with anyone at their firm.
What to Expect in Your First Round Interviews with Consulting Firms
First round consulting interviews are usually held on-campus with more junior consultants—analysts, associates or engagement managers—conducting the interviews. Candidates are selected for first round interviews based on their resume and cover letter.
If you attend a non-target school where the firm does not recruit on campus, your first interview may be a single phone call before you have your official “first round.” This may also be the case if you’re applying as an experienced hire (you’re working and looking to transition from your current role into consulting).
What Is Being Tested in First Round Consulting Interviews?
As discussed on Case Interview Preparation, management consulting firms are hired to solve tough business problems. They’re looking for candidates who have the structured problem-solving skills and business acumen needed to do that.
A round of interviews will be split between case study problems and fit or Consulting Interview Questions.
With that said, first round interviews have:
- More case study questions than fit questions. If you meet with 4 consultants, 3 will probably spend most of their time testing you with business cases. One interviewer may focus on fit questions such as:
- Why do you want to be a consultant?
- Why do you want to work at Bain/BCG/McKinsey/AT Kearney?
- More profit-driven case questions than non-profit questions. Before your first round interviews with Bain, BCG, McKinsey, or other firms, focus on practicing cases on profitability. They make up about 75% of first round cases. Examples:
Fit is still important and you should make sure you’re ready for that type of question. Even interviewers who spend the majority of their time casing you may also give you a short fit question at the end. But fit is not as important in first round interviews. Aim to hit the ball, rather than swinging for a home run.
How Many People Pass First Round Interviews with Management Consulting Firms?
This answer varies. The percentage of people passing McKinsey first round interviews is different from the percentage passing Deloitte first round interviews. The percentage of people passing at different schools also varies, as does the percent hired one year versus another.
In general, only 10-20% of candidates pass first round consulting interviews. This is why we created this website. It’s not easy to get a job in management consulting.
If you’re serious about consulting as a career, we want to help you maximize your chances of success! So don’t worry that the odds are bad…keep reading.
What’s the Best Way to Prepare for Your First Round Interviews?
Answering case study problems does not come naturally to anyone. You’ll need to spend weeks, if not months practicing. So the most important step you can take to ensure you pass your first round interviews is to start preparing early and put in sufficient time. See our page on Case Interview Practice for more tips.
Tips for the Night Before
By the time you reach the night before your first round interviews, you should take the opposite approach.
Like an elite athlete preparing for the big game, you want to train hard following a rigorous schedule. But you don’t want to exhaust yourself right before you need to perform at your best. Take the night off and watch a movie, read a book, or do whatever you find relaxing.
Tips for the Day of Your Interview
The day of the interview, arrive 15 minutes early. You don’t want to stress yourself out by cutting things too close, but you also don’t want to arrive too early. If you do, your interviewer might not be ready yet and that could be awkward.
Walk in to meet your interview with what I call the “George Clooney mindset.” Don’t go in thinking that your chances of success are low. Go in knowing that interviewers from BCG, Bain, McKinsey and all the other management consulting firms want to find great new consultants…and 1 of those great new consultants is going to be you.
Consultants at BCG, Bain, McKinsey, and other firms are busy. They don’t want to waste time interviewing people just to reject them. They want to meet the hiring needs of the firm as soon as possible, so secretly they want you to succeed.
Tips for Closing Your First Round Interview
Be prepared to close the discussion with questions for your interviewer that show you are genuinely interested in working for their company. These should not be questions that could be answered with a 1-minute Google search, but something that probes deeper into the firm and the work they do.
- What was your favorite case at McKinsey/Oliver Wyman/Deloitte?
- What was the case team you most enjoyed working with?
What to Expect After Your First Round Interviews
You’ve made it through your consulting interviews. Congrats! Treat yourself to a pint of your favorite gourmet ice cream.
Then get back to work.
Within a day or 2, write thank you notes to your interviewers. If possible, mention something unique to the conversation you had in each note in order to make sure they remember you clearly, not just as one person in a group of 8 or 10 candidates they talked to.
Also, ask for feedback on how your interview went. You should ask for feedback so that you can improve your skills for the second round with that company or for interviews with other consulting firms. This feedback can be invaluable.
When Should You Hear If You Passed to the Second Round?
You could hear back about whether you passed your first round interviews that same evening or it could take up to a week. It depends on how long it takes the interviewers to discuss the candidates and make decisions.
If you don’t hear right away, don’t sweat it. Consultants have busy schedules and the delay likely has nothing to do with you.
For example, we had a client who was passed to McKinsey second round interviews (and eventually got the McKinsey offer), but she didn’t find out that she’d passed the first round interviews for a week because one of her interviewers had a family emergency and couldn’t send her feedback.
Common Mistakes Candidates Make While Preparing for First Round Interviews
- Not considering whether consulting is right for them. Consulting firms pay well and invest in training their employees. It’s a great start to a career in business. But that doesn’t mean that the industry is right for everyone. Take the time to find out what working as a consultant is like. Do you find the problems in case studies interesting? If you’re not genuinely interested in consulting, it will show. You’ll be wasting your time as well as the interviewers’.
- Starting case study prep too late. Answering case study questions isn’t as difficult as it might seem at first. However, it does take time to get good at it. It’s not a skill you can cram the night before an interview. Start practicing early.
- Not preparing for the fit or behavioral interview. While most of your first round interview questions will be cases, not all of them will be. Make sure you review the fit or behavioral questions on our Consulting Interview Questions page and have a couple of stories prepared from your experience to discuss. Even if you ace your cases, you won’t move on to the second round without decent answers to fit questions.
What If My First Round is a Phone Call?
As mentioned earlier, the process at non-target schools or for experienced hires can differ slightly from the one discussed here. Your first interview may be over the phone rather than in person, and with just one interviewer. This is a screening round.
Consulting firms send a group of interviewers to target schools because year after year, they find enough strong candidates at these schools to make it worthwhile. That doesn’t mean that they don’t want to hire candidates from other schools or ones who are interested in transitioning to consulting from a different job. It just means they need a different process for deciding whether it makes sense to bring you into one of their offices for first round interviews.
There’s no difference in these phone screens and other interviews except that you could take the call in your pajamas instead of a business suit if you like (make sure it’s not a video call!) You will still cover the same type of questions—mostly cases with a little time for talking about fit.
If you’re applying for a specialist role—for a particular functional area such as operations or information technology—you’ll probably start the recruiting process with a screening round.
As you continue, you’ll meet with consultants who are dedicated to the functional specialty or who have worked on cases in that functional specialty. The business problems in cases you’re asked will also focus on that functional area of expertise.
Differences Between the First Round and Second Round
In second round interviews, you’ll find more of the same types of questions you’ve already prepared for: case studies and fit/behavioral questions. But there will be some differences:
- Older/more senior interviewers. At this stage, you may notice your interviewers have a few gray hairs. You’ll meet with Senior Engagement Managers, Associate Principles and Partners.
- More focus on fit/behavioral questions. For your first round interviews, we recommended focusing mostly on case studies in your preparation. Now you need to spend more time polishing fit question stories.
In the second round, all the candidates can case. Your interviewers want to know that you are someone they want to work with and who they feel comfortable putting in front of their clients. Make sure you have stories ready to address typical fit questions.
- More non-profit focused cases. We suggested focusing on profit-driven cases in your first round interview prep. While there will still be a good number of these in the second round, there will be more non-profit case questions. These could include:
- Employee retention,
- Lives affected or
- Industry landscape/competitive dynamics.
Make sure your case practice includes these types of cases.
Read our page on the Final Round Consulting Interview to find out more about what to expect.
Differences Between Management Consulting Firms
First round interviews with different consulting firms are more alike than different. However, there are a few differences that you should be aware of.
- Bain interview. Bain uses what are called interviewee-led (or candidate-led) cases.
Also note that if you’re applying for offices in Asia, Bain uses written cases as part of its recruiting processes in several offices. For the written case interview, you’ll be given 20-30 slides with information on a client and their situation.
You’ll then have 55 minutes to review the slides, identify insights and prepare handwritten recommendations for the client. After this, you’ll meet with a consultant to share your recommendations. This is usually done as a final round and only in select Asian Bain offices such as Shanghai.
Bain says it includes written cases in their process because it’s a natural part of the case interview. The good news is you don’t have to worry about written cases unless your Bain recruiter tells you that you have one. If you find out you do, preparing for it is similar to preparing for a regular case interview.
We have a whole article on the Written Case Interview.
- McKinsey interview. McKinsey uses more interviewer-led cases while other firms use more candidate-led cases. For more information on the difference between interviewer-led and candidate-led cases, see Case Study Prep.
Make sure to include these in your case study prep.
Still Have Questions?
After reviewing this page, you know what to expect in your first round consulting interviews and how to best prepare for them.
Is there anything else you need to know to feel prepared for your first round interviews? Tell us below in the comments. We’ll have My Consulting Offer’s coaches get back to you with more information!
Other pages people preparing for consulting first round find helpful include:
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