Will You Fit? (The Consulting Career, Not Your Pre-COVID Jeans)
Updated: Jan 2, 2021
The fit part of the consulting interview is no less important than the case, and sometimes could be even more important, as it generally comes before the case and could set the tone for the rest of the interview. Despite its importance, candidates often neglect the fit part, prepare for it last minute and rarely take coaching sessions to get professional feedback on their performance.
The purpose of the fit interview is to test for the soft skills, which are harder to observe in the case interview, such as leadership, teamwork and initiative-taking. These skills, in combination with the analytical and problem-solving abilities, which are tested by the case interview, are considered to be good predictors of on the job success.
In this article, we will discuss what to expect in the fit interview, what are the interviewers looking for and how to prepare.
What to expect?
The format of the fit interview varies somewhat between the firms, most notably at McKinsey the PEI (Personal Experience Interview) only includes one behavioural question discussed in depth with the interviewer, but in general, you can expect the following parts:
Ice-breaker questions: e.g., “tell me about yourself?”, “why consulting?”, “where do you see yourself in 5 years?”, questions about specific experiences on the resume. Generally, these questions are not formally marked, and your goal is to deliver a concise and structured answer, connecting your experience and aspirations to the attributes of a good consultant. For example, when telling about yourself, make sure to talk about specific experiences that demonstrate your fit for consulting: leadership, teamwork, performance under pressure and persistence. This point is particularly important – don’t tell the interviewer you are great, show them with concrete examples.
Competency questions: e.g., “tell me about a time when… you led a team through a difficult challenge / had an argument with your peer or supervisor / took initiative / failed”. These questions are formally marked, will comprise the bulk of the fit interview, and the rest of this article will focus on how to deal with them.
Your questions to the interviewer: at the end of the interview (generally, the last 5 minutes) the tables are turned, and you get to ask the interviewer questions. Time to relax? Not at all! While these questions are not formally marked, the interviewer will expect you to ask interesting and thoughtful questions. Avoid generic questions that are answered on the firm’s website, like “what is the career path at firm X?”, rather show that you’ve done the research (about the firm’s work in the particular location, and the interviewer profile) and are interested in current events, for example: “I understand that you work with car manufacturers, how concerned are they about the advent of autonomous cars?”, “How did the COVID-19 situation impacted the way you serve your clients?”. Push comes to shove you can always ask the interviewer about their experience at the firm. Everyone likes to talk about themselves.
The fit interview is likely to take 10-15 minutes, but recent candidates for Bain told us that the firm has started to experiment with a full interview dedicated to fit. Make sure to confirm the format of the interview with the recruiter beforehand.
What are the interviewers looking for?
Each firm has a set of attributes they would like to see in candidates, and the interviewer will mark your answers according to these. Most notably, McKinsey’s PEI interviews focus on 3 attributes:
Leadership (e.g., “Tell me about a time when you led a team through a difficult challenge”): talk about situations where you took a leadership role in a team and “saved the day” by identifying team’s strengths and weaknesses, building relationships, understanding motivations, developing and executing a plan to achieve the team’s goal
Personal Impact (e.g., “Tell me about a time when you had a disagreement with your peer and how you handled it”): describe situations where you had to change someone’s mind by understanding why the disagreement happened and employing influence techniques beyond logic and data, such as creating trust and pulling in people of authority.
Entrepreneurial Drive (e.g., “Tell me your greatest achievement”): tell about how you overcame obstacles on the route to achieve a significant and hard goal. Demonstrate a pragmatic approach, persistence, prioritisation and creativity.
Beyond the specific competencies listed above, the interviewer will also be paying close attention to the way you communicate your stories. Use the Pyramid Principle in your presentation of the story, starting from the bottom line / achievement and then detail how you got there.
For each story, be ready to dive into the details of conversations and to explain how you decided on a particular action plan. And don’t forget to use the opportunity to establish rapport with the interviewer. Use humour (if you are comfortable doing so, and never make derogatory jokes), talk about your character and values (e.g., “I take pride in my work”), and connect the story to the interviewer’s experience (e.g., “You know how clients are – always want the work to be done yesterday”).
How to prepare?
First of all, find out what attributes does your target firm test for in fit interviews. Generally those are listed explicitly on the firm’s career site, or as the “firm values” in their ‘About’ section. Second, dig deep into your experiences (ideally in a professional setting) and come up with at least two stories for each attribute. Use the example matrix below (e.g., for McKinsey’s attributes) to organise your stories:
Finally, flesh out your best stories as bullet points in a structured manner. Avoid writing complete sentences, so as not to come across as scripted in the interview. A simple and useful approach for structuring your Fit stories is the STAR / SCAR framework:
Situation: briefly provide the context for the story, without going into too many details or industry terms
Task / Complication: state the problem or conflict and your objective
Action: detail the 3-4 specific actions YOU took to resolve the issue or achieve the objective (avoid using "we"), along with the rationale. The bulk of the story should be in this part.
Result / Resolution: outline the outcome of your actions. Make sure to include quantifiable measures, if applicable.
Make sure to select memorable stories that would stand out to the interviewer even after 5-6 interviews that day. Once your stories are ready, record yourself delivering them out loud, check how you sound, but even more importantly, ask your friends and family for feedback: is the story interesting? Is it well structured? Is your role clear? Does it answer the question?
Unsure if you’ve selected the right stories? Did you struggle with structuring them? Book a coaching session and get professional advice from an experienced interviewer.