In providing an answer to the topic of questions for consulting interviews, we will start by urging you to think about the true meaning of a question. After which we will examine the different ways to breakdown questions for consulting interviews, the most popular question categories in each broad bucket with examples, and then conclude with some general advice on how to approach any kind of question for consulting interviews.
What is a question?
One lesson you will learn as a consultant is the importance of problem definition. So why don’t we take a moment to define the word “question”? Like many everyday items we take for granted, we assume we know their very meaning/essence until we are asked to define it. So take a pause and define the word “question”.
Here is my attempt: I came up with the definition “we ask questions to understand”, but then I quickly realized that such definition does not cater for anyone in a debate trying hard to defend a position, or prove that the other person doesn’t know what he/she is saying. Now here is the definition of question from the Oxford Dictionary: a sentence worded or expressed so as to elicit information.
Motive is King
And this definition changes everything. It implies two things: firstly, any direct or indirect sentence or group of sentences that extract information from you is a question. By implication, a consulting interview is a dynamic series of questions and answers. An answer that elicits more information from the other party then becomes a question for that party. Secondly, how the other party interprets the information they draw from you through a question is totally up to them. And if you want to influence their interpretation, you must understand the other party’s motive.
What does a great answer look like to this party? Do I have the answer he/she is looking for? And can/should I, within ethical confines, adjust my response to match that expectation? You will see that the interviewer’s motive is instrumental in providing a great answer.
Another word for motive is objective. I hope you now see why the objective of a conversation is key. Don’t jump into answering questions without searching for the motive. If you miss the objective, and you might as well say goodbye to your chance at working in that consulting firm.
The Core Motives behind any question for Consulting Interviews
Any question you are asked in a consulting interview, in some way, is backed by the following motives. They are all testing for the following:
Is the candidate:
answering the question being asked or a question they “think” they are asked?
structured in their response?
succinct – uses the “answer-first” approach, while constantly prioritizing?
data-driven/factual? Can they provide names of people, places, or things mentioned in their response? Can they provide dates, numbers, and percentages?
So make it a second nature to quickly query any question directed at you. Ask “what is the objective here? What is the motive?” And once you know what that is, your responses will be effective.
Breaking down the different kinds of questions Consulting Interviews
The most popular way questions for consulting interviews are broken down is by the basic nature of the question. Under this type of issue tree (a structured approach to breaking down a theme), questions for consulting interviews are either categorized as Case Interview, or FIT Interview question. Note how we have decided to categorize brain teasers as part of case interview questions because it is fundamentally a subset of it (explanation to come soon).
The other two ways to break down questions for Consulting Interviews are
By the stage of the interview process
By who is asking
We are sure you can come up with other ways.
1. Questions for Consulting Interviews – By the Nature of the Question being asked
As previously mentioned, this can be further broken down into Case interview and FIT interview questions. We have provided in-depth analysis into each broad category on this website but we will go over a few examples quickly.
Case Interview Questions
There are five broad subsets of this time of questions for consulting interviews. They include brainstorming, estimation, hypothesis testing, Exhibit Analysis/chart interpretation, and sometimes brain teasers.
We have found that many candidates and even current consultants struggle with brainstorming. Here are some effective brainstorm techniques to help you. And if brainstorming in your head is still hard, you can try this approach. Candidates who can brainstorm well will never need to memorize a case framework again. Some insight examples/resources available for your use include:
Comprehensive Approach to Brainstorming in Case Interviews
Framework for a McKinsey, Bain & BCG Case Interview Brainstorm
Framework for MBB Case Interview Pharma Brainstorm
Estimation Questions are fundamentally brainstorming questions in one line/one branch only, focused on “guestimating” the size of some economic measure, where it focuses on market demand/supply it is known as market sizing and when it focuses on any other kind of estimation it is known as estimation question.
Pure Math Calculations are really what they are: quantitative questions. They rarely come as standalone questions but they can impede your ability to draw the right insights, and consequently the right recommendation.
Hypothesis Testing, rarely comes on its own in a case interview but are often tested when you are asked to discuss a trend, whether during or before the interview. Consultants don’t try to categorically tell clients what to do. Instead we present options and the attending consequences of each option provided. And even when we do have a hunch of where the issue may lie, we don’t frame it as their final words. Instead we provide hypothesis and quickly follow it up with data we will need to validate it.
Framework for McKinsey, Bain, BCG Case Interview Hypothesis Development
Building Hypotheses from Prioritized Issues
Exhibit Analysis/Data Cases
Exhibit Analysis involves taking a graphical representation of data and drawing insights from it based on the objective of the case. Without the objective, you could spend the whole day drawing “interesting” facts that are useless to helping you get to the bottom of the issue. Exhibit Analysis fundamentally test your ability to connect the dots between two or more data points and provide the qualitative slant to the quantitative evidence provided.
Comprehensive BCG Interviewee-led Markey Entry Case
Comprehensive McKinsey, Bain & BCG Operations Case Approach
Mckinsey Cost Benefit Approach Complex Profit Case
Comprehensive McKinsey Hypotheses Based Case Interview Approach
Complex McKinsey Interviewer Led Profitability Case in Pharma
Framework for a MBB Acquisition Case
Management Consulting Case Interviews: Confusing Critique for Critical Thinking
3 Mistakes When Practicing with MBB Consultants
FIT Consulting Interview Questions
FIT consulting interview questions are the under estimated challenger to your dreams of becoming a management consultant. We say this because, more often than not, we have seen candidates neglect this aspect of their interview to their own peril. No matter how great your ability to solve cases is, you cannot be offered a job at a consulting firm if you cannot show how you have upholded the firm’s values in the past, how you demonstrated your analytical skills and your ability to influence others. This is true for Bain, as it is true for Mckinsey and BCG.
Motive of a FIT Interview:
Test your ability to communicate succinctly.
Evaluate your ability to convince and influence people.
See if you fit the company’s culture and value system.
Here are some examples of resources you will find useful as you prepare for your FIT interview
The motive of any case interview is to test for the presence of a structured and analytical thinking mind.
Questions for Consulting Interviews – By the Stage of the Interview
We will limit the scope here to the kind of consulting interview questions you are asked from the moments you step your feet into the building to moments just after your interview.
The benefit of examining the questions for consulting interviews through this lens is to emphasize the importance of never letting your guard down. That the question was not asked during a case interview time frame doesn’t mean you should respond in an unstructured manner. A structured thinking approach should be a way of life. Sometimes, partners intentionally disarm you before asking questions. Under this mode of classification, you can have consulting interview questions asked:
Before your Interview
During your Interview
After your Interview
Before your Interview:
Focus on all the questions an Interviewer asks you just before you commence the case. Some common questions include the following or some variation of it.
How are you doing?
How was your journey down here?
How do you find the hotels around here?
What do you think about our office?
The common motive or objective behind questions like this is to see if you can communicate in a structured manner while still being likable. With your response you are answering a more fundamental question in the mind of the interviewer: are you naturally a structured thinker? Are you insightful and observant? Do they want to work with you on a difficult, long project? So yes, it is a question to make you relax and break the ice, but don’t let your guard down.
Questions for consulting interviews that fall in this category have been extensively discussed on many platforms and forums. We have extensively done justice to it in many articles on our platform and extensively covered them in the EMBA, McKinsey After 5 Years Maternity Leave (Assel, TCO IV) and in other seasons/parts of The Consulting Offer (TCO) program. These types of consulting interview questions can be further split into case or FIT interview questions.
After your Interview:
Refer to all kinds of questions that come after the FIT and case interview section is over. In many cases, you will be the one asking these kinds of questions, other times the Interviewer could have some for you (either in person, via video or email). Your response must communicate moderate enthusiasm about working with the firm. We say moderate because you will be sabotaging your own chances if they get the feeling that you are putting the consulting firm on a pedestal, working at McKinsey will be the pinnacle of your career and that you are desperate to work at the firm. As we often say, desperation does not work in consulting.
Some examples of such questions include:
Partner X is currently unavailable, is it okay if we figure out another date for your interview?
Do you have any questions for me?
Do you have other interviews today?
Are you performing this weekend? (e.g. if you mentioned you are in a band)
Questions for Consulting Interviews – By Who is Asking
This third way of breaking down questions for consulting interview is relevant because its understanding can differentiate you in a pack of great candidates. Questions for consulting Interviews are broken down by who is asking include the following:
Questions the consulting firm is asking you.
Questions you are asking the consulting firm.
Questions interviews asking about you behind closed doors (when you are not present).
When we refer to “consulting firm”, these can further be broken down by the party involved: the recruiter or the interviewer. We have one thing to say about the former before focusing heavily on the latter. It is important that you are polite and thoughtful when asking recruiters questions. Arrogance will get you nowhere.
Questions the consulting firm is asking you
We have spent a significant portion of this article covering this part of questions for consulting interviews, so we will not speak of it any longer here.
Questions you are asking the consulting firm
It is expected that you come with questions to your interview. The questions you ask the Interviewer should never be something you can learn by reading the company’s website. You can ask questions that will help you elicit information about your performance on the case, better understand the kind of work you will be doing if made an offer, learn more about particulars of transitioning to management consulting if you have a technology background (e.g. if the interviewer has similar background), understanding the current realities of the firm that you are unable to glean from its website. Some common questions you can ask include:
Is this a real case you or your team worked on and what was the outcome?
Your profile shows X, what was it like?
If you could travel back in time to when you were recruiting what advice would you give yourself?
Irrespective of what recruiting decision you make, is it okay to stay in touch with you and how best can I do that?
Could you share what your travel experience has been like in the past 3 months.
Would you mind telling me one thing about your background not on LinkedIn that has been pivotal in helping you serve clients better?
Useful articles in this segment include the following:
How to ask great questions in your McKinsey, BCG and Bain interviews
What Questions To Ask In A Job Interview?
Questions interviews asking about you behind closed doors (when you are not present)
Think about what will be the biggest concerns your interviewers will have and try to address those. For example, lets say John is coming from technology background and is interested in an Expert position at McKinsey. What interviewers will likely question behind the closed doors (when John is not present) is the following. Will John be able to perform effectively given he is coming from technical background? Will he be able to lead? Will he be able to communicate in a language consultants without technical background can understand? If you are FC Insider, you can watch One-on-one Advice Session with FC Members, episode 2 with Suresh which addresses in more detail particular concerns/questions interviewers would have in the situation we described here.
As we wrap up this article, you mustn’t try to memorize your response to any interview question you are being asked. If you do, you will likely sound robotic and it will hurt your chances. Instead, understand what the motives behind each question are. Then follow a structure that allows you to communicate the most important thing.
Also, remember that it is likely that your interviewer has heard every sample response online. Don’t fall into the trap of sounding like others or worse, like a robot. Be honest with your responses. Interviewers lean towards genuine people. Show that you understand what you are being asked, and communicate your response in a structured and succinct manner.
Other Useful Articles
Getting the McKinsey USA Offer: What I learned from Preparing for MBB Case Interviews
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Case interview resume template used in The Consulting Offer. Offers from McKinsey, BCG, Bain et al.