The “Fit” portion of an interview for a management consulting portion is just as important as the case portion. It’s easy to get caught up in the case practice, but spend time to make sure you’re ready for the “fit” portion as well. Here are some tips to get you there.
What to Practice
For the “Fit” interview, you should have stories prepared for any question that the interviewer might throw at you. This sounds like a lot. Fortunately, if you have a couple of stories for each of the following categories, you should be in good shape.
Stories from your Resume
You should first be ready to answer to anything you have on your resume. Keep this in mind as you’re building your resume; you don’t want to include anything you can’t honestly back-up if challenged. You also don’t want to exaggerate your achievements so much that a cross examination makes you look like a liar. Put your best foot forward, but make sure it’s really your foot.
Why Company X?
I know that it can sometimes be hard to really figure out why you would want to work for one company over another, especially when comparing the “Big 3.” Regardless of the difficulty, you need to take some time to really dig into the differences and figure out what you like about each one. Take time to research, meditate, and do some self-discovery. This will pay off both in the interview, and in your life.
Why Office Z?
Most firms will ask you why you want to go to the particular city you preferenced. You should have an answer. To my experience, it’s ok if your answer is “because I have family nearby” or “I have friends in this office that I already know I enjoy working with and being around.” If you have a contact in your preferred office, it is worth running your reasons by them to make sure they’re acceptable and clear.
The IMPACT Framework
I tried to figure out where this originated, but I had a hard time finding it on Google. Someone, somewhere came up with this acronym for 6 topics that you should have stories for to cover just about any interview question.
Talk about a time when you were part of a team but made a significant individual contribution. This shouldn’t just be an isolated one-man-show sort of a situation (that will come in another section). Have a couple stories about lifting a team through your individual efforts.
Talk about a time when you exhibited leadership qualities. Think about times when you stood up for something, or directed a group. This can be highly effective administration, or something more personal.
Talk about a time when you changed someone’s mind. Make sure you talk about how you changed minds, ensuring that you used a persuasion model that fits the company (e.g. did you shout at and threaten people, or did you reason effectively with them?)
This is a section for isolated accomplishments. Team or no team, what did you accomplish on your own drive, ambition, smarts, and skills? It doesn’t have to be a business or academic situation, the interviewer will be more interested in how it demonstrates your character and habits.
Talk about situations where people were at odds with each other and you helped fix it. People don’t need to be mad at you, but you do need to be one that took initiative and effectively cooled the situation. Again, this doesn’t have to be in a business situation.
Take note that this seems to be the most common and important topic. We might infer from this that consulting involves a fair amount of conflict, so make sure you are ready for that when you’re considering applying for the job.
This is the other side of the “Individual Contribution” category. Talk about times when you were effective at being a part of the whole without needing individual limelight. Demonstrate that you can get along with others and solve problems collectively.
One final story topic to prepare for is talking about a time where you failed at something. You should be able to highlight why it truly was a failure, how you responded to it, and what you learned from it. The interviewer will not be all that concerned with the details of what you failed at, but with the details of how you handled it.
Now that you know what to practice, here are some other details to help you master the fit portion of the interview.
How Many Stories?
Have two PAR stories (see next section) for each of the IMPACT categories . Be able to talk about everything on your resume. Have a response for the “why X or Z?” questions.
You’ve probably heard of PAR, SAR, or CAR stories. It stands for “Problem, Action, Solution” or “Situation, Action, Solution,” or “Conflict, Action, Solution.” All of your stories should fit this basic format. You should take time to write out bullet points under each of the three segments for all of your stories.
The “problem” section should only take a few sentences. Interviewers aren’t all that concerned with the problem, they’re interested in you.
The “action” section should take the most time, and is best done “signposted!” (see my first consulting help post here). Show the interviewer the steps you took to address the problem, why they made sense, and how you felt at the time.
The “results” section should take up a decent amount of time as well. Describe two or three changes that happened as a result of your action that put your impact on a pedestal. Consulting firms are very results oriented, so you should be too.
When you tell your story, try to tell these elements in order. Give a sentence that describes the problem before telling what you did or what you accomplished. A little order and organization goes a long way.
Don’t Be a Robot
You should have the points of your stories memorized, but don’t memorize your response word for word. When this part of the interview comes you should be able to speak naturally. If you sound too rehearsed, it will actually work against you.
Just Take a Minute
Your story shouldn’t take more than 60 seconds from problem to result. You’ll need to be efficient. Sometimes the interviewer will ask for more details on certain things, but until they do, keep it to a minute.
Most interviewers will do a good job at letting you know that you’re starting the “fit” portion of the interview. Even if they don’t tell you, it will usually be obvious by the question (e.g. if they ask “Why BCG?” you know you’ve started the Fit). However, there are a few interviewers out there who manage to ask questions that don’t sound like fit questions, and that come at unexpected times.
One of my friends told me the story of going into an interview where the first thing out of the interviewers mouth was “what’s your greatest academic achievement?” Since there’s usually a bit of chit-chat before you really get started, my friend thought the question might have been part of it. He gave a brief answer, expecting to chat a moment more before getting into things. Instead, the interviewer said “ok. Let’s start the case.” At that moment my friend realized that the fit portion had consisted entirely of that one question, and he had given a weakish, 1 sentence answer. This threw him enough that he ended up struggling through the case and not getting an internship offer.
My friend did ultimately get the (well deserved) full-time offer, so the story has a happy ending. However, you should make sure your happy ending doesn’t get delayed by making this same mistake now that you’ve been warned.
Take the Fit Seriously
You will not need to practice the Fit section as much as you will need to practice cases, but you will still need to practice. McKinsey’s system weights the fit portion equally with the case, so you can’t afford to stumble into it. Make sure you have your stories down, and that you can tell them concisely.
Don’t Repeat Yourself
You will meet with multiple interviewers on the big day. Even if they all ask you the same questions, it’s best if you can tell them all different stories. That is why you want at least 2 stories for every IMPACT category (it’s fine if your story about “why BCG?” never changes.)
I guess the interviewers talk about you in enough detail to know if you just told the same story all day. I don’t really know how it all works or why this is important, but enough people on the inside told me this, so I’m telling you too.
Question the Interviewer
There will usually be a minute or two to ask the interviewer a question at the end. Unlike many other job interviews, it is not critical to have a question for them. Heck, by the time I got to my final rounds I had talked with so many consultants that I could no longer think of a question to ask that I didn’t know the answer to from multiple different people. Have a question or two prepared, but I didn’t ask any questions of a couple of my interviewers in the final round and they still gave me a job. It’s worth noting that they told me that it was ok if I didn’t have questions, and I don’t think they were trying to bait me into leaving out anything important.
The fit portion of the interview can be a lot of fun if you relax a bit. Try to get to know your interviewer, talk about your own experiences, and develop a small relationship. If you can learn to have fun with it, the interviewer will enjoy you presence more as well, and you can have a pleasurable cruise to a job-offer.
Keep seeking truth.
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