If you face what you think is a bad consulting case interview experience, can you complain about it?
The answer is yes, you can complain about it. But the better question is should you complain about it, and do you have something to complain about in the first place?
Below we share 3 examples of complaints about a bad consulting case interview experience from Firmsconsulting clients. We discuss each case and if there was a basis for a complaint.
We then discuss how consulting firms usually respond to complaints about a bad consulting case interview experience. Finally, we cover how we would notify HR about a bad consulting case interview experience, provided the complaint is valid.
“I am absolutely shocked that McKinsey did not offer to fly me from one city to another!” This was a complaint we received from one of our coaching clients.
This client wanted to write to HR. He could not understand why he was treated that way. He thought it was very disrespectful. His expectation of McKinsey was different to what happened.
The question you have to ask yourself is: did he had a realistic expectation?
And if the answer is no, is it McKinsey’s fault that he did not have a realistic expectation?
McKinsey at no time said they will pay for him to fly across. In the mind of this client, there was a perception of how McKinsey operates. And he was measuring McKinsey against that perception. And he was personally insulted that they did not do what he expected them to do.
He wrote a letter. We told him not to do it. He vented.
In this particular case, the client should not complain because there is nothing to complain about. When McKinsey explained to him the travel arrangements he agreed to it. He could have said, “Look, I don’t want to come unless you pay for my travel”. But he went, which means he accepted the travel arrangements, and then he starts complaining about it. You can’t do that because once you accept it you own the problem.
And second, this expectation comes from his view of how things work, which is not necessarily true.
Another situation, which happened quite recently, was with a client in the North-Eastern United States. She was interviewed by another lady. When the case was about to begin, when they walked into the meeting room, the interviewee wanted to sit next to the interviewer on the same side of the table. And the interviewer said, “No, I think it’s better if you sit across from me” and the interviewer moved.
At the end of the interview, the interviewer did not offer additional time for questions. And while the interviewer was walking the interviewee out, the interviewer ran into the HR representative and said, “I have a flight to catch. Do I have any more interviews?”
The interviewee, a Firmsconsulting client, wanted to write a letter to HR to complain about the fact that it was rude for the interviewer not to sit next to her, it was rude for the interviewer not to take questions. And it was rude for the interviewer, while she was walking her out, to ask if she had more interviews.
She sent us a letter to review and we deleted the whole thing.
Here is why.
The interviewer did nothing wrong.
The interviewer preferred if the interviewee sat across the table from her. The interviewer chose not to explain why. But that is fine, you don’t have time to explain everything in life. She was not rude about this. She just was a quiet lady and said, “I prefer if you sat across.” At no time did the FC client accuse the interviewer of being rude in her tone and demeanor. It just what she asked for, which is reasonable.
Not giving someone time to ask questions by saying, “Unfortunately I don’t have time for questions, but HR will follow up with you” is not rude. Sometimes you don’t have time for questions. It happens in life.
Walking out after the interview is done and speaking to someone else, and asking if she has more interviews, that is not rude! In fact, maybe the interviewee should not eavesdrop.
The point is, nothing about this is rude. Again, it’s about expectations. Why do we expect everyone to act in a certain way?
We told this interviewee not to complain about it.
The third anecdote is where the interviewer was eating a sandwich and checking email on his phone. Consulting firms advise interviewers not to eat their sandwiches and not to check their email during interviews because it is bad for the image of the firm.
Yet, consulting is a tough job. Sometimes the only time you may get a chance to eat something that day is if you eat something during an interview. So is it really rude? For all you know, this interviewer has hypoglycemia and has to eat so they don’t faint right there in front of you.
Also, eating and checking email is only a sign of rudeness if you think it’s a sign of rudeness. It could be a sign that maybe the interviewer is so comfortable with you, she thinks you are doing so well, that she is comfortable doing other things that she would never do in front of most interviewees, but she would do in front of her colleagues.
If you interpret it as a sign of rudeness and you act like you are being disrespected, and you close down in an interview, the only reason you are performing badly is because you are interpreting it as an act of rudeness. It may not be an act of rudeness. It may be a sign that you are doing a great job, the interviewer has a lot of respect for you and, therefore, feels comfortable eating and checking email.
If it is indeed an act of rudeness, it is possible you already signaled to the interviewer that you actually don’t know what you are doing and the interviewer opened up their laptop and decided, “Well, this person did not prepare. Does not care. I am just going to check my email.”
The interviewer should not behave this way. That is bad. But you have to understand your role in this as well.
There is also a 3rd take on this. If you are thrown off a case by interviewer eating or checking email, then it is quite possible that you should not be in consulting in the first place.
You should be able to handle these distractions. If you are being thrown off a case because someone is checking their email, what do you think the client will do? Do you think the client just going to sit there and respond to your every need?
They do whatever they want. Clients scream, check their email, they start doing all kinds of weird things in a group setting, in a meeting. You have to be able to handle that.
So you can complain. A better question is should you complain? Not everything that looks bad to you is bad. And if this is throwing you off, are you a good fit for consulting in the first place?
And that is a very sincere question. We are not asking this question to cause pain, to say you are not good. Obviously, a lot of people reading this could be amazing consultants who will change the world.
For others, you will probably change the world as well. You don’t have to do it through consulting.
In fact, many Firmsconsulting members are not in consulting. They use FC training to acquire consulting skills and apply those skills in their respective areas such as in industry, government and entrepreneurship. Maybe consulting is not the best path for you.
So the question is not whether you should complain. The question is also not,” Is this rude?” The question is what does this say about you that this is throwing you off? What does this mean if someone is eating or checking their email and you can’t do the case, you are distracted? What does it say about your communication skills if you have to wait or you don’t know how to proceed with the case? That is the issue.
When we do cases with clients we sometimes try to throw them off. Not with weird little brain teasers and riddles, but just the way the conversation goes.
We try to kind of distract them to see what happens. Because it’s not just about solving the case. It’s about solving the case in the environment the client will create for you.
And the environment the client creates for you is not a cushy office in the most prestigious address in the city where everyone is polite, everyone shakes your hand, everyone smiles at you, everyone is attentive and alert.
No. Client situations are not like playing video games on the computer. They are often like pulling out teeth. It’s not fun.
So ask yourself what you can do to better handle these situations.
And finally, let’s talk about how consulting firms respond when you complain.
Consulting firms are masters of managing their image. The image is managed very tightly. Firms are very good at it. Something bad happens, it is swept under the rug in 5 seconds. There are no exceptions.
When Rajat Gupta made the press, because of alleged and then convicted wrongdoings, if you read the press very carefully most of it said “ex-Goldman Sachs director.” That was the lead line. The lead line was not ex-McKinsey managing partner, 3 times elected.
And that is what we mean when we say consulting firms are very good at managing their image. They have ways of minimizing negative conversation about themselves.
The first thing that will happen if you send an email to HR or the consulting partner, with whom you interacted, to complain about your experience is they will apologize that you feel this way. But they will never apologize for making a mistake because they will never admit that they made a mistake.
They will not re-do the interview. If you write to them and say, “This person took out their phone and started playing the Kim Kardashian game while I was doing an interview.” They will say, “Look, I am very sorry that you had this experience and you feel this way“, which if you read between the lines they are not apologizing for what happened, they are apologizing that you feel this way.
Second, they will talk to you and give you feedback. But they will never talk to you to explain why the consultant did this. They will not even go there.
So if you are going to complain to a consulting firm that does not admit wrongdoing, they are not going to change anything. A better technique is to say, “Look, I had an amazing experience at the firm. A couple of things came up which I am not too worried about. But I just going to share this with you so maybe you can think about it. And, again, I am not asking for a redo of my interview. I am not complaining. I had a great experience. But I just thought people may have some unusual perceptions if the same thing happened to them, so maybe think about it.”
And leave it at that.
If you did this you would have built a good reputation. Do you know why? Because you are not complaining to HR. Because when you are complaining to HR you are complaining about HR. HR reports to some consulting partner. So when the consulting case interview process goes badly it reflects badly on HR. They get the blame.
When you are not complaining about HR to HR, you are doing HR a favor because they don’t end up looking bad. And when you do people a favor they usually remember that. This was the person who was offering feedback to prevent a future problem and they are not venting in some online forum.
So when clients want to complain about a bad consulting case interview experience, we say don’t complain. If nothing actually bad happened, don’t do anything. If your complaint is valid, write it the way we mentioned above. Tell them you had a great experience. You are not complaining. A couple of things happened. You want to talk about it briefly. And you know everything is under control but you just thought you share this. You not going to mention it to anyone because you had a positive experience and you really enjoyed things with the firm. And what you going to do is you are going to work on materially changing your profile and applying again once you are ready.
You do that and, most of the time, you made an ally of HR. Because complaining to HR is complaining about HR since you are complaining about the process they manage. And at the end of the year when they have to go through their performance reviews this kind of things come up and make them look bad.
So remember that. Help HR. Don’t complain about a consultant. You will never win in this game.
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