How To Get A Consulting Offer During Your MBA

Alice van Harten

Alice van Harten

4. Practice, practice, practice.

Do as many practice case interviews as you can with people who have consulting experience, such as former consultants and second year students with internship experience. But also practice with peers who have no consulting experience. This allows you to give feedback to others and to learn from their mistakes. Experiencing what it is like to be at the receiving end of irrelevant questions, long pauses, and a lack of structure has a powerful impact and helps you to understand your future interviewer. And helping someone else to solve a case can really make the insights stick with you. (The ancient philosopher Plato makes the point that you don’t really master a subject until you can teach it to someone.)

If you can’t find enough practice partners locally, find them online. Brush up on your math independently. Yes, you may want to revisit those algebra and arithmetic questions from the GMAT! By practicing a large number of cases and your math skills, you eliminate the element of luck and prepare yourself to succeed even with difficult or obscure cases.

5. Approach the interviews as a conversation.

During the interview, keep your interviewer engaged and keep track of how he or she is responding to you. The case interview is not just about the right answer–it’s also about showing your structured thought process and communication skills. Start with a clear structure and stick to it throughout the interview. Apart from the fact that consultants live and die by structures (ideally MECE structures), a winning structure makes it easy for the interviewer to follow your train of thought. Avoid heavy reliance on structures from strategy or case interview prep books, but take the approach that makes most sense to you in light of the question. That approach can be as simple as ‘volume X price = revenue’ or it can be a long list of possible reasons why the competitor has an advantage over company.

Once you’ve decided on a structure, remember two things: Follow the structure you’ve laid out through to its end and, if necessary, introduce a new structure if you’ve exhausted the one you started with. Say you started with ‘volume X price = revenue’ and identified decline in volume as the problem. Now introduce a new structure that helps you to go systematically through the possible reasons why the volume has declined.

That brings me to he next point: You need to earn the right to crucial information–don’t just ask a long list of questions you hope will give you something to work with. As soon as you’ve introduced your structure, suggest some hypotheses around it and then ask your interviewer for targeted information that will allow you to dismiss or confirm any of these hypotheses.

Don’t ask for a minute or two to think, but keep the conversation going. Pauses are awkward and most often will only serve to make you more nervous. Moreover, consultants are incredibly busy and rather impatient people and they have better ways to spend their time than watching you think. Of course, it’s tough to feed the interviewer some useful information right away–so you need to practice how to do that, too!

6. Believe in yourself.

Applying to a consulting job can be daunting. At the McKinsey presentation I attended at Stanford, we were told that only about 5% of us would be hired! Despite my lack of business experience, I told myself that I was going to be one of those people. That McKinsey event kickstarted a process of intense preparation where I left no stone unturned. And the process was tough at times. For example, one consultancy initially didn’t invite me to interview. I contacted the recruiter who gave me a second chance to motivate my fit for the job–and then invited me to the first round.

In another instance, the case interview had an awkward start. Then the fire alarm went off and I used the informal chat outside to reconnect with the interviewer. I also know people who fail one interview after the other and get an offer only from the last company they have left to interview with. I have seen many of them go on to have very successful careers in consulting. Know that if you are willing to put in the effort and are creative and persistent, you can be one of them.

Alice van Harten is the owner of Menlo Coaching, an MBA admissions consultancy and a former Bain consultant. She received offers from Bain, McKinsey and BCG. See her Poets&Quants profile here.


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