Consulting Interview Preparation Should Start with These 3 Skills
Firmsconsulting placed well over 1,000 clients into McKinsey, BCG, and Bain via one-on-one coaching, and MANY more via our online Premium membership program. To RAISE our placement rate, we have developed some advanced consulting interview preparation techniques. Candidates that follow them will have the best chance of succeeding. And we will discuss one critical preparation technique today.
Congratulate Heidi on joining McKinsey!
Let’s start with a story about a client named Heidi. Heidi is a 26-year-old Ph.D. in management. She is married with no kids and had been the assistant-to-the-CEO at a major hospital group for the past 2 years. When Heidi joined our consulting interview coaching program she lacked confidence as a result of many failed case interview attempts, despite practicing extensively with many well-known case books.
And her lack of confidence was worsened by her slow math and weak business judgment.
Heidi started her consulting interview preparation with very tough cases without first learning the foundational skills to tackle those cases. Once we adjusted her learning strategy, she performed much better. She eventually joined McKinsey, which was quite an achievement considering her starting point: her math was slow, her business judgment was weak and her confidence was low. In fact, her husband was so happy that he reached out to thank us as soon as she received the offer.
Do not begin your consulting interview preparation with full cases
The key insight here is that if you are just starting your consulting interview preparation, you must NOT begin with full cases.
If you start with complex cases without grasping the foundational skills, you are going to struggle and you are going to hate consulting interviews, even if you have the innate ability to become an outstanding consultant. In other words, you will do poorly not because you lack the thinking abilities but because of your learning style.
You are going to suffer from a lack of confidence and from stress because you will not see enough progress. You will likely give up not because you are incapable of solving cases but because you stuck to this poor learning technique of skipping the foundational skills.
Just think about it, when a 5-year-old is taught math she should NEVER be given the most complex equations to start with. That would scare her and turn her away, no matter how smart she is. It will DESTROY her passion since she is being set up to fail. She has to start from SIMPLE numbers, work into arithmetic, then fractions, then into algebra and overtime tackle calculus. A teacher may compress the learning curve, but cannot skip the foundational skills. That is a deep insight.
So how should you prepare for consulting interviews?
So how should you prepare for consulting interviews? First, you should scan the most complex cases to familiarize yourself with the language. Yet, DON’T try to solve those cases. Once you have scanned a few complex cases and the language is roughly familiar to you, put them aside and don’t come back to them for a few weeks. Instead, spend those few weeks mastering the following 3 skills.
3 skills you need to master to do well in consulting interviews
There are 3 skills you need to master to do well in consulting interviews.
Consulting interview skill 1 – good business judgment
Consulting interview skill number 1 is good business judgment. This is a term we usually use but you can also refer to it as business acumen, business savvy, or business sense.
Business judgment is very important in case interviews. Business judgment is the way you INTERPRET data and the assumptions you make and how PLAUSIBLE are those interpretations and assumptions.
Let’s assume I am interviewing a candidate who worked in the French construction industry. If I asked this person to make an ASSUMPTION about the cost to build a NUCLEAR power station and they told me it was 1 million dollars, that would be a very poor assumption. If you work in the construction industry in France and this is your assumption, the interviewer will likely fail you for poor business judgment. The economics around nuclear power stations are mentioned in the French press all the time. And therefore, you are EXPECTED to make better assumptions.
And how can you improve business judgment? You must read extensively.
When you read a lot and you are asked to make assumptions, your assumptions improve. And you should not exclusively read business sections. You should read broadly since you don’t know what the case will be about.
Consulting interview skill 2 – learn estimation cases
Consulting interview skill number 2 – learn estimation cases. You need to learn estimation cases because it teaches you how to handle case interview MATH. This is a crucial skill that you MUST learn.
The way we teach estimation cases for consulting interviews is we break them down into 5 steps. Any numerical calculation in a case must be broken into 5 steps. And when people learn these 5 steps they are shocked they can tackle the most complex math in a case. But the reason they can now complete complex math is not bthatthey managed to become smarter. They were always smart. This 5-step technique simply makes math less scary.
And the beauty of the estimation technique we teach is even if you are given no data in a case, it will help you solve the case.
Consulting interview skill 3 – learn how to brainstorm
Consulting interview skill number 3 – learn how to brainstorm.
Brainstorming is important because it is a natural way to build frameworks instead of MEMORIZING them. Even if you spend your entire life memorizing frameworks you will ALWAYS come across cases where none of the frameworks you memorized will work. What will you do in this situation? You will likely freeze! Yet, if you learn to brainstorm you will NEVER get stuck in a case. In fact, we strongly discourage clients from memorizing frameworks.
We teach clients several advanced ways to brainstorm. This helps them learn how to build structures tailored to solve a case and then how to build hypotheses off that structure.
So these are the foundational skills. And solving a full case during a consulting interview is basically taking these 3 foundational skills and using them in different combinations. In a future articles, we can talk about what you need to do after you master the 3 foundational skills.
And, of course, you can make sure you don’t miss out on key consulting interview techniques we teach by subscribing to our Premium membership, an online membership which grants access to consulting interview, problem-solving, leadership and communication training programs thought exclusively by former consulting partners. It’s a subscription program so you can check it out for one month and if it will not be the best consulting interview preparation program you have ever seen, and I am pretty sure it will be, you can always unsubscribe, just as easily as you can unsubscribe from Netflix.
Succeeding as a Management Consultant
When people think about the business strategy we often think about the field of strategy consulting/management consulting and firms like McKinsey, BCG, et al. If you are interested in learning how to conduct a management consulting engagement, you will likely enjoy this book. Succeeding as a Management Consultant is a book set in the Brazilian interior. This book follows an engagement team as they assist Goldy, a large Brazilian gold miner, in diagnosing and fixing deep and persistent organizational issues. This book follows an engagement team over an 8-week assignment and explains how they successfully navigate a challenging client environment, develop hypotheses, build the analyses ,and provide the final recommendations. It is written so the reader may understand, follow ,and replicate the process. It is the only book laying out a consulting assignment step-by-step. (Published by FIRMSconsulting.) One of the best business books if you are interested in management consulting and strategy. This book will be very useful as well if you are a small business consultant.
Marketing Saves the World, Bill Matassoni’s Memoir
Bill Matassoni’s (Ex-McKinsey and Ex-BCG Senior Partner) Marketing Saves The World is a truly unique book. Never before has a McKinsey partner published his memoir publicly. This book is a rare opportunity – a true exclusive – to see what shapes the thought process of a partner and learn about marketing and strategy. The memoir essentially lays out McKinsey’s competitive advantage and explains how it can be neutralized. (Published by FIRMSconsulting.) One of the best business books if you are interested in marketing, strategy, how McKinsey and BCG operate, and overall in management consulting. This book will be very helpful if you are a small business consultant.
The Mind of The Strategist, by Kenichi Ohmae
Bill Matassoni speaks highly of Kenichi Ohmae in his memoir Marketing Saves The World. He is one of a few people Bill calls “brilliant.” The Mind of The Strategistremains one of a few strategy books we recommend to understand how to think critically. Now you can read Bill’s memoir, a book about Bill’s mentor (Marvin Bower), and a book by one of Bill’s close colleagues at McKinsey (Kenichi Ohmae). Definitely, one of the best business books, especially if you are interested in management consulting and strategy.
The Innovator’s Dilemma, When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail, by Clayton M. Christensen
One of the best business books of all time. The Innovator’s Dilemma – “By the nineties, most books on management were just rhetoric, but this book is the real deal. A well-researched classic,” says Bill Matassoni. Named one of 100 Leadership & Success Books to Read in a Lifetime by Amazon Editors. In his book, Clayton Christensen showcases how even the most outstanding organizations can do everything right and still lose market leadership.
Marvin Bower’s Biography
There is no better book than McKinsey’s Marvin Bower to explain the philosophy of strategy and the way in which management consultants develop a strategy. What we do is very different from the way a researcher of strategy would develop a strategy. I highly recommend this book and have read it several times. Bill Matassoni (see Marketing Saves The World) was a mentee of Marvin so reading both books will allow you to see things from both sides.
Get a list of the best strategy books and other business books we recommend …
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