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This article is mainly about management consulting but the interview prep part could apply to all kinds of consulting and can even be helpful for other jobs. This is the perspective of mostly one person and it's a particular one so it's very possible that people with more experience in the consulting world will disagree with it - and they're welcome to fix it in whatever way they see fit. I assume the reader knows what UCS (Yale's Undergraduate Career Services) is; if you don't, spend some time on their website and ask upperclassmen about them. This post is not endorsed by UCS.

Know what you're going into

A lot of people at Yale end up applying to consulting firms because people around them are applying, and that's fine. It's still a good idea to try to figure out what consulting is so you can decide how much energy and time you want to spend on the process.

A good resource is this intro to what consulting is that itself links to other good resources. In general, working with management consulting firms is:

  • on the positive side: an opportunity to learn a lot very fast, see a lot of different practices and industries, come out with a solid understand of business in general or even an area that interests you
  • on the negative side: a real commitment with long hours at most consulting firms, where BSing is a required and useful skill, and where the environment can be a little bit fake compared to an open, diverse environment like Yale where you can talk about things like politics and religion openly

The other thing you should try to do is talk to people! Ask your classmates or upperclassmen you know who have done consulting questions, most of them will be happy to help you figure out if it's right for you.

The recruitment process for management consulting firms

Make sure you inquire about the exact steps of the process for each firm you are interested in. Most management consulting firms' process is composed of the following steps:

  • An initial application (through UCS or the firm's website) usually including a cover letter and a resume
  • If you're chosen among the applicants to continue, a first round of interviews (a lot of them are on campus) that are composed of a behavioral part (with questions like "tell me about a time you overcame a challenge" or "tell me about something you do for fun") and a case study (where you're given a business problem that you are supposed to reason through)
  • If you're chosen among the applicants to continue, more interviews with the same structure that culminate in either a decision to hire you or not. The later round interviews tend to be with more senior people in the company (e.g., partners as opposed to analysts who tend to be recent MBAs)

People are also encouraged to go to information sessions before applying and talking to current consultants. This can be useful to get a better idea of the culture of each firm and whether consulting is for you. Some people say it can also be useful to get on firms' radar and maybe get a better chance to get an interview if you apply, I don't really think so but it's possible.

Resume and Cover Letter

A great place to go for resume advice is UCS's website and UCS itself. Four great resources from UCS are:

  • UCS's page on resumes, which includes tips and a good framework to build your resume within
  • A pdf with resume samples that can give you a good idea of how a resume should look along with some tips
  • A great list of action verbs that should start the bullet points in your resume like "conducted survey of existing blabla"
  • Lots of opportunities to get some help on your resume (from laying a structure to just brushing up) through walk-in sessions with peer advisors at UCS

UCS also has good cover letter advice; this is their cover letter page. Make sure you look at their pdf of sample cover letters. The key for cover letters is for each sentence to be doing something: a cover letter should be one page long and there is no room for fluff! Don't stress too much about your cover letters; most companies barely read it, some don't require it, and consulting companies know that students write the same cover letter for every company and only change a few words. Before you send your cover letter, make sure you have the name of the right company on it everywhere! It can be very embarrassing if you don't.

In the rest of this paragraph, I propose the basic structure I used for my consulting cover letters, you can take a look and see if it makes sense for you. Obviously, there are 99 zillion ways to write a cover letter and this is just one way to do it, and this is not some format that is guaranteed to land you an interview or anything like that. It's very detailed not because the format of the cover letter is too rigid but because most advice tends to be too broad and it can be stressful to start writing, which means a constraining structure to start with around the letter can be helpful.

  1. Date on one line, company address on following two lines
  2. "Dear {name of recruiter or name of company},"
  3. An intro paragraph that includes:
    1. university
    2. major
    3. name of the position you're applying for
    4. name of the firm
    5. a sentence about what in general makes you think it's a good match
  4. A paragraph that goes more into the specifics of what you like about the company and why it's a good fit for you. Usually, they want you to spend some time on their website, read about their culture, and regurgitate the same stuff to them - it's sad but my sense is that that's what they want!
  5. Two paragraphs about relevant experiences (internship, student group experience, project, etc) that include:
    1. Name and short description of company/group/project
    2. When and in what capacity (formal role) you were involved
    3. What you were responsible for more particularly
    4. What you were able to achieve (advisors always say that having numbers, like "increased customer retention by 10%" is great but I have never seen it anywhere)
    5. What you learned and why it makes you a good candidate OR how you will be able to further hone that skill/interest through the experience
  6. A paragraph on your educational qualifications that includes relevant classes you took. A good thing to include if you have it is classes that highlight your quantitative reasoning skills. Don't stress if you don't have anything that is directly relevant because most consulting firms train you on the job you just have to demonstrate good critical thinking skills etc. This paragraph worked for me but it might not make sense for you to have it and that's nbd.
  7. A short paragraph with two sentences:
    1. A sentence highlighting how this would be a great experience for you
    2. A sentence highlighting that you're looking forward to their response
  8. "Thank you" / "Best" / etc, your name on the next line

Case part of the interview

There is plenty of case advice to go around. A lot of people recommend Victor Cheng's website - he can be annoying but apparently very useful. The approach I used - again, guarantees nothing and is not the advice of any official firm or site or entity - was:

  • Try to go through a mock case with a friend (with you as the candidate and them as the interviewer)
  • Feel clueless and hopeless and freak out
  • Read the first 60 pages of Case in Point, a book about case interviews. Many people claim to have pdf versions of it. It should give you an overview of what you should expect in the case interview. Don't get phased by the annoying tone that makes it seem like a consulting job is the best thing that could ever happen in your life and that you can blow it all in a second - none of that is true! The rest of this list might not make sense to you until you've read these pages.
  • Memorize the 12 types of cases; just the names, not the frameworks. It's helpful psychologically because then you go into the interview feeling like you know all possible scenarios
  • Look at the framework for each case carefully and try to understand why each piece is there. Each framework is usually composed of 3 or 4 main bullet points (let's call these "pieces") which include subbullets.
  • Case a lot with friends, and try to start using and refining the same "pieces." Many people memorize frameworks. I have found that having your own "pieces" (a very classic one for instance is profit, which is broken down into revenue (broken down into price and quantity) and costs (broken down into fixed and variable)) is more useful and gives you more flexibility. Make sure you adapt your pieces to the case and are flexible enough to come up with a new piece
  • Think back to the 12 types of cases and which pieces you would use in each; keep in mind each specific case is different and no framework or collection of pieces applies to it perfectly
  • Case more! Being in the role of the interviewer and being able to give people constructive feedback is helpful for them and also makes you a better candidate
  • Go to interviews and think of them as an opportunity to practice as opposed to the ultimate make-it-or-break-it moment

I have heard from interviewers of people practicing too much, to the point where their approach to the case was too robotic. Some people who memorize frameworks too well seem like they are not thinking of the specific problem they were given and are just trying to follow their framework.

Another useful piece of advice is try to come up with approximation questions like "how many tennis courts are there in the US?" and try to reason through them because that's a type of exercise that can come up often in cases.

In addition to practicing with friends, you can also schedule mock case interviews with UCS.

Behavioral part of the interview

The goal of the behavioral or fit part of the interview is to figure out whether there is a good fit between you and the company. I think you should practice some of your answers to questions or have them prepared as bullet points - never to the point where you're not speaking naturally or genuinely. The fit interview is partly about being genuine but, to be honest, in my opinion, is also about telling the interviewer what they want to hear. This is my highly subjective opinion, and I wrote this short fit interview guide to highlight my approach, which again doesn't guarantee anything and is not endorsed by anyone.

Many questions (e.g., "tell me about a time you had to resolve a conflict") require the candidate to tell a story. A good framework to approach stories is the STARΔ framework: S situation: general context T task: what you were supposed to achieve A action: what you did R result: what you achieved Δ Delta: what you learned, how you changed, the "moral of the story" for you

NEVER LIE when telling a story. You will be asked follow-up questions about it and if it will be very obvious that the story is made up. However, there are a lot of questions and you haven't had enough experiences in 21 or 22 years of life to have enough experiences that match them, so it makes sense for you to tweak some stories to match the questions. More on this in number 2.

In this guide, I distinguish between 6 general type of questions:

1. "Tell me about yourself": This question tends to be used to chill the atmosphere but comes up all the time. You have to do a general intro (where are you from) and then find one or two "threads" through your resume that make sense and that you can follow. An example is "interest in art" and "desire to make a positive change in the world." Rehearse this, it should be natural but well structured, hit the main points of your resume, and not go over a minute or two.

Other general questions that can come up later in the interview are "what are your goals in the long run," "where do you see yourself in 10 years," etc.

2. "Tell me about a time where ..." questions: You have to prepare like 4 or 5 stories for these, make them varied enough that they'll cover most questions, and diverse enough that's it's not about one organization or internship. A few of these questions that come to mind are "tell me about a time where you:"

  • resolved a conflict
  • resolved a conflict in a group setting
  • faced a challenge (have a couple of stories that this applies to)
  • failed [delta is really important here but it's also important for it to be a real failure]
  • had a great success / proudest achievement
  • succeeded in a team setting / led a group
  • solved a problem creatively
  • The questions are endless but this page has a bunch of them.

You will be fine as long as you have enough stories to cover most questions. Have your STARΔ down for these. And focus on showing qualities that the interviewer wants to see: leadership, empathy, intelligence, practical mindset, good problem-solving, takes initiative, creative, being able to change your objectives based on what's going on.

3. "Why are you doing this" questions: You have to have a good answer for "Why consulting." Another common question is "Why our company;" your answer to that should specific enough to the company for it to not be too obvious that you're BSing - they know you're not dying to work for them and you're most probably applying to all other consulting firms, I personally hate this question! Answers should be 3 bullet points for a good balance between structure and conciseness.

4. "Fun" questions:

  • What do you do in your free time / with a free afternoon?
  • Tell me about something that's not in your resume
  • Tell me about your interest in art / whatever

Have bullet points for these but don't prepare them too much because otherwise it'll be too artificial

5. Internship/experience specific questions:

  • Tell me about your role within X organization
  • What is your vision for organization X that you're the VP of
  • What were difficult aspects of your internship at Y firm
  • What did you learn at Y firm or more generally experience Z
  • They might also ask you more specifically: "How does majoring in M prepare you for this job?" That said, consulting companies take people from all majors.

6. Other:

  • Biggest weakness: this is less and less common, I never got that question. Don't use a "weakness that is actually a strength" like "I work too hard" but show that you've made progress and you're working on it. Try to find a weakness that's not too problematic for consulting.
  • "How would your friends describe you?" -- rare but possible
  • "Do you have any questions?" Comes up EVERY TIME, so be ready! Prepare a couple of questions and don't be too generic, think about what to ask them when you read their info before the interview.*

Later round interviews

Later round interviews follow the framework of the earlier rounds. One difference is that you tend to be put face to face with people that are higher up in the firm. Their questions might be a little bit more original, and they might be more flexible than MBAs who tend to be very methodic in their approach because they usually haven't spend a lot of time interviewing candidates. In many cases, these interviews are more casual but I have heard of people getting a hard time during final round interviews; stay composed because the interviewer is just trying to test your ability to stay confident under pressure. Good luck!!