Life at a leading strategy consulting firm

On getting in
It's not a big secret that the leading consulting firms are notoriously difficult to get into. On average an office the size of a few hundred consultants receives a multiple of their size in first round applications per year. Ultimately, only a very low percentage of these applicants end up getting a full time offer. To maximize your chances of receiving an offer it helps to understand recruiting from the firm's perspective. The interview process starts long before you hand in your application.

When the recruiting team receives your application and decides on whether they should grant you a first round interview or not, they will gather all available information they have on you. This could include your performance during recruiting events (even if they tell you otherwise at the beginning of these events), or the view that somebody in your network who works at the firm has on your skills and fit with the company. The key thing to understand here is that this is less important if you already tick all the boxes, but could really help you if you're one of those 'we're not quite sure cases'. Therefore, the latter is where networking would really pay off.

Let's assume you check all the boxes and receive a first round invite. You have a killer resume and performed well during recruiting events. Somebody at the firm might even have lobbied for you. Maybe you already secured an offer from one of the firm's competitors, but would rather not work there due to personal preferences. None of this will matter much when that first interview comes around. You start from 0. Mess up the case? You're out. The interviewer doesn't see a fit with the firm? You're out. The interviewers are trained to make a fair and thorough assessment of your performance. They might like your personality, but will not push for you if they feel that your analytics were weak. Something that is helpful to know is that interviewers like people who have done interesting things out of passion (and not to build their resumes).

Working, and even interviewing people who pursue their passions makes consulting life more fun. Lucky for you, you don't have to climb Mt. Everest to be interesting. Even something like playing chess and organizing a local tournament suffices. Highlighting how interesting you are is also one of the most important functions of your resume (it will also ensure that it is actually read and used during an interview). Unfortunately, a good GPA also falls in the 'being interesting' category, since nobody wants to work with somebody who can add 1+1.

Some of the major dimensions on which you will be measured during the interview are analytics, communication, presence and impact, likability, fit with the company, and maturity. Basically, it all boils down to the following: would I staff this kid on my next case? Luckily, you'll already have developed most of these dimensions during your time at university. Otherwise, why apply in the first place? Although it could be wise to practice some of the typical behavioral interview questions, don't overdo it. A big part of whether you'll tick this box is simply the personality that you've developed over the years. As for the analytics, it helps to practice a reasonable amount of cases with a good partner.

Key here is finding a good partner, as the quality of your practice interview will depend for 80% on how well your partner can simulate an actual case interview. What is an reasonable amount of cases? My personal view is keep the amount of cases in the teens. Your 25th practice case will not determine if you're going to make it or not. At some point other interview skills become more important. Instead of doing 50 practice interviews, make sure your basic arithmetic is flawless. Too many qualified candidates have not made it because they stumbled on something like a 34% margin on a 3 445 000 turnover.

Good luck!

Disclaimer: I'm a consultant at a European MBB office, therefore some of the points mentioned above might not necessarily apply to the US

Potential future topics in case of sufficient interest
On performing well
On the firm, projects, and impact
On exit and development opportunities

Comments (35)

Jun 1, 2014

How would you recommend preparing for the first round interviews?

Jun 2, 2014

How would you recommend honing one's arithmetic? I'm not a retard but I'd like my arithmetic to be faster.

Jun 2, 2014

Try www_caseinterviewmath_com. I've found it to be a great tool in improving my mental math accuracy and speed.

Jun 15, 2014

Many thanks for the link bud

Analyst

Jun 2, 2014

There is also a great iPhone app called Kopfnuss that allows you to practice arithmetic at different level of difficulty. If I remember correctly, it also has a time trial setting. I used to practice 5 min a day in public transport a couple of weeks before my interviews.

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Jun 15, 2014

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Jun 2, 2014

How to make myself a good case partner? And how to find a good case partner?

fight for MBB

Jun 2, 2014

Being a good case partner means that you only select quality cases (there are a lot of low quality cases out there) and really understand the cases that you practice. This includes thoroughly reading the case description and solution, but also thinking of potential (add-on) questions that you would ask if you were the interviewer. Learn to think like a consultant. What are the questions trying to test? After practicing the cases 3-5 times, you will get a better understanding on when to help the 'interviewee' and what tips to (not) give.

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Best Response
Jun 3, 2014

Thanks.

It is hard to determine the tips to give and not to give. Sometimes my case partner and I have different opinions. If she thought she should not give the tips, she would ask me how I will approach the points I just told. But I did not consider the way she asked was leading me on the case, cuz in the end, I was totally lost on the different branch. But she thought she should not tell me the branch I should approach.

Here is an example,
I was working on a market entry case. The question was whether this is a good business or not. I did not quite understand how the client define a good business. In a short term, the client can focus on either profit, or revenue. So I asked her to clarify the objective of the client and how the client define a good business, is the client more interested in profit or revenue in the next year?

Then we have different opinions here. She thought she should not give me the tips on this. But I thought this was essential: for profit, I would focus on breakeven period; for revenue, I would focus on market growth. So she did not tell me the answer, asked me to figure out by myself. I then thought as a new company on the market, breaking into the market and taking market share is more important than profit. I chose the revenue as the objective, and started analyzing customer, product, competitor and company. I then asked for more information. She asked me what I thought about the question I asked. So I talked and talked. Then 25mins were gone. She told me about the solution on the casebook. It turned out it was a profit problem. I was supposed to calculate the breakeven.

So I was very frustrated. Because if I knew the client's objective was on the profit, I would be able to nail the case. But she insisted this is a common sense, and she should not tell me about it. I am not quite sure if she was right that I should figure this out by myself. But even though she was right, when I was on a wrong track (revenue track), she should have given me some tips to bring me back.

So my question is in such situation, what should I do to nail the case? And what should she do to help me on the case?

BTW, she does not prepare for case interview. She is considering consulting after 5 years. So by helping me prepare for case interview, she can learn about the case. I am trying to find case partners also preparing for interviews. But as a newbie, it is very difficult, cuz most of them are only interested in practicing with someone who has done 20+ cases. So I appreciate she spent time to help my practice.

fight for MBB

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Jun 2, 2014

I found RocketBlocks (rocketblocks.me) pretty helpful for learning how to structure problems and interpret charts.

Jun 3, 2014

Good tips here, cannot agree more on working on the basic arithmetic. This was a clear make or break thing during my interviews.

Jun 9, 2014

thanks for the post, +1

WSO's COO (Chief Operating Orangutan) | My Linkedin

Jun 9, 2014

$100 bucks you're at BCG

Jun 11, 2014

SB! Now I'm out again, I spend those things quickly.

Good post, keep posting. It'll be interesting to see how things play out years down the road, I read an HBR article from Clayton Christensen about how strategy mgmt. consulting is declining drastically. Any thoughts there anyone?

LOMS program from Victor Cheng is always a high recommend by people. I haven't used it personally. I have picked up a copy of Case in Point however.

"You are neither right nor wrong because the crowd disagrees with you. You are right because your data and reasoning are right."

-Warren Buffett

Jun 13, 2014

I don't think the industry is declining at all, there is plenty of work to go around.

The industry is segregating though. MBB are becoming more and more specialized and 2nd tier shops are unable to follow. Scale, global presence and investments in topic expertise are increasingly important to land assignments. For example, a global client is looking to develop a BU strategy in 5 core countries incl. Russia and Mexico. If you don't have relevant topic expertise (read: partners) for those individual countries, you're out. That's why players like Booz with sub-par scale at board level work don't make it.

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Jun 13, 2014

Good point. By the way, here is the article I referred to: http://hbr.org/2013/10/consulting-on-the-cusp-of-d... .

What you said makes sense, but it seems (maybe my perspective is just too narrow though) many large companies (i.e. F500's) are really building their own in-house Corp. Dev./Strategy-type departments. Thoughts?

I also read recently someone stated that "85% of McKinsey's work is from repeat customers" that is shocking to me. Makes sense though.

"You are neither right nor wrong because the crowd disagrees with you. You are right because your data and reasoning are right."

-Warren Buffett

Jun 12, 2014

OP, thanks for posting. Would love to hear your point of view on the other topics you have listed.

Jun 14, 2014

It was pointed out that the interviewers like to see someone who has done interesting things that they are passionate about. How does this correspond to school clubs / societies? Meaning, my school does not have any sort of consulting club, however; I am part of my schools Investment Society. Would it be in my interest to try and organize a consulting club? I also love photography and actually have a business that I run with my wife, but I have not done a lot with it right now as I am so busy with the studying and the investment society. Are school societies worth putting the effort into, or should more effort be directed to studying cases? Sorry for all the questions at once.

Jun 13, 2014

I used Case in Point back in the day. Very helpful for a person like me who didn't naturally think about case interviews structurally. OP's point is right in mental math. Lots of good candidates stumble here. I don't thinki was a great candidate but I remember being in the latter rounds of a graduate interview for one of the big shops. I had done well on the fit and cases and was finishing up on the mini case and got the answer right... almost.

"So it's 7 percent of 70" I said. She smiles and says says "And that is..."

"well 10 percent of 70 is 7, 3 percent is 2.1 so it's 9.1"

Interviewer sighs and the smile changes to a slight grimace... "You sure?"

I knew that I was sunk and I'm sure my face fell. All i could say was in a hopeful tone was "and by that I mean 4.9..."

Even at that time I knew the level of competition was just too high to make such a mistake and get away with it, and the interviewer lady was really nice and confirmed as such as she walked me out of the room (I was her last interview for the day) and she reconfirmed it that evening when she called to give me the official no go.

The only advice I can give for applicants who are like I was is to practice cases and most importantly, take a deep breath and smile. Most folks know you are nervous. Take your time and be methodical. There is no rush .

Good luck

Jun 14, 2014

Gonna chime in here and say that this is not true. I've heard other people say the same thing: "one math mistake and you're done". But that's complete BS. These firms aren't looking for human calculators. I've made a math mistake or two in my interviews and landed offers and know of other people with similar stories. Obviously, if you keep making mistakes, you're probably done, but the bar to reach is not mathematical perfection. Poise, confidence, clarity in explaining your thought process, logical structuring of the problem and creativity are far more important than how good your math is.

Sorry to break it to you Jamoldo, but that one math mistake probably wasn't the only reason you didn't make it to the next round/get the offer.

Jun 14, 2014

You're absolutely right. The point that I was trying to get across is that getting your arithmetic right minimizes the risk of not getting an offer. Good arithmetic can make a difference, but by no means is it sufficient to receive an offer.

Jun 14, 2014

Did anyone actually find this post useful? OP basically just pontificated about how hard MBB is to get into for a few paragraphs. Thanks, chief.

Jun 14, 2014

It's refreshing to see new material that actually isn't about IB however.

"You are neither right nor wrong because the crowd disagrees with you. You are right because your data and reasoning are right."

-Warren Buffett

Jun 14, 2014

To keep it short: nobody is forcing you to read the post.

Jun 15, 2014

I have to agree I didn't learn much here.

Jun 17, 2014
plv:

I have to agree I didn't learn much here.

Agreed.

However, I would like to see more posts. Maybe how consulting has met/exceeded OP's expectations, where it hasn't lived up to expectations, and maybe some projects he/she felt was exciting or where he/she had an impact on a company.

That has potential to be an interesting read.

Jun 14, 2014

Humble, you are probably right and that's ok since looking back I probably would have hated it but have taken the job since it was seen as prestigious and tough to get into. I was just giving an example based on what the interview lady specifically told me.

In the end it does not matter because so much of this stuff is out of the interviewee's control and they should not worry about it (I have spent too much time in my life doing so and can see others especially on this board do so as well).

Some interviewers might be ok with small mistakes or stumbles (I am when I interview people), but others are not and can be really harsh. I've got a fair few friends who are in the space or used to be and it goes both ways. Some are mean about the little stuff and will ding based on it and some won't.

My bad on the long post. Second paragraph was probably my main point...

Jun 17, 2014

Keep posting @AnonymousConsultant . Maybe I'll get some more SB's sometime.

"You are neither right nor wrong because the crowd disagrees with you. You are right because your data and reasoning are right."

-Warren Buffett

Jun 18, 2014

good read :)

Jun 19, 2014

Really appreciate the content shared in a lot of the comments, great stuff, everyone.

Jun 20, 2014
Comment
Jun 21, 2014