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Fit interviews are part of the selection process at most employers. Top firms, such as McKinsey, BCG, and Bain (MBB), have developed their own flavor of the fit interview to test whether candidates have the character to deliver challenging projects and succeed in consulting.

Even though fit interviews represent half of the assessment, candidates tend to neglect this part in their preparation and prioritize the case interview instead.

In this article, we lift the veil on what a fit interview looks like, how to succeed in these types of job interviews, and how to properly prepare for them.

Contents

Understanding the fit interview

While the exact format of the fit interview varies significantly depending on the firm and interviewer, on average candidates can expect a 15-minute discussion that follows three steps:

resume walk-through behavioral questions motivatoion

Introduction of the candidate’s background (i.e. a “Walk me through your resume” or “Tell me about yourself” question)

A discussion of the candidate’s achievements and experiences (i.e. “behavioral questions”)

A presentation of the candidate’s motivation to become a management consultant at that particular firm (i.e. “Why consulting?” question)

The candidate will usually have time at the end of the interview to ask questions as well.

The biggest difference in fit interviews among top consulting firms is found at McKinsey, where the fit interview is named the “Personal Experience Interview” (PEI). In the PEI candidates are not formally asked to present their background or motivation, rather the PEI focuses exclusively on one specific achievement from the candidate’s experience (i.e. step two).

Why fit interviews are used

Contrary to popular belief, the fit interview doesn’t actually evaluate whether the candidate fits with the culture of the firm, rather, it provides a means of testing the candidate’s abilities beyond the scope of the case interview and assessing whether they are likely to succeed on the job.

In particular, the interviewer is looking to answer whether the candidate has the character to deliver on challenging projects, and the presence and communication skills necessary to represent the firm.

What fit interviews assess

Each firm has specific characteristics in mind when evaluating a candidate’s character, presence, and communication skills. These can be boiled down into four categories:

presence communication performance track record motivation transferable abilities
  • Performance track record.  Does the candidate have a track record of making an impact as a top performer in demanding environments?
  • Transferable abilities. Does the candidate have specific abilities that will help deliver consulting projects? These vary somewhat by the firm, but include persuasion, teamwork, entrepreneurial drive and leadership, adaptability and learning orientation, and an ability to work independently and under pressure.
  • Motivation.  Does the candidate have a clear and convincing rationale for why they desire to move into consulting at each specific firm?
  • Presence and Communication. Can the candidate establish rapport with the interviewer, project professionalism and credibility, and communicate clearly and concisely?

This is a lot of ground to cover in 15 minutes, so it is important to come prepared with succinct answers to the questions that are likely to be asked.

The most common types of fit interview questions

While there are a wide range of consulting interview questions that might be asked during the fit interview, they often fall under a range of five categories. They are:

Walk me through your resume

The fit interview traditionally starts with the interviewer asking the candidate a simple (but often challenging!) question to summarize their background or experience.

Although this seemingly innocent question can feel like a pleasant ‘get to know you’, it’s easy to get tripped up by launching into a detailed monologue for five minutes.

Instead, the candidate should set the stage for a good conversation by providing a high-level view of who they are. In practice, this means preparing a 30-60 second introduction that will cover a lot of ground by offering a high level of abstraction without going into many details. This can be done by simply mentioning one’s current occupation, or by providing a brief summary of one’s professional journey, academic background, or noteworthy extracurriculars.

To learn more about how to do this well and to see an example, watch the video below.

Behavioral Questions

Talking about achievements is one of the best ways to demonstrate transferable abilities. It comes up in most fit interviews and is the focus of McKinsey’s Personal Experience Interview (PEI).

One of the most common mistakes candidates make is talking about the wrong achievements: situations that are not particularly challenging, where results are not particularly positive, where the candidate hasn’t displayed many actions, or has displayed actions that don’t illustrate skills useful for consulting.

After all, there are reasons why firms use these questions to assess whether the candidate can get things done on the job. They are looking for evidence of traits such as persuasion, teamwork, entrepreneurial drive and leadership, adaptability and learning orientation, and an ability to work independently and under pressure.

To avoid a potential pitfall, candidates should identify their most significant achievements and be ready to talk about them. This allows them to stand-out among other candidates on the day and demonstrate an impressive performance track record.

Another common mistake is to spend too much time explaining the details of the context and not enough time on the actions.

When it comes to telling stories of achievement, take inspiration from the best storytellers – the movies! They all follow the same framework of a situation, followed by a complication, actions, and finally a conclusion, or results.

Let’s break this down a bit more.

situation complication actions results

In a good movie, the situation starts in a way everyone can understand. When sharing a story of achievement, it’s important to only share the context that is required to comprehend the story, their role, their goal, and the key stakeholders. It should be short but sufficient.

Second, a great movie has a big problem, a turn of events or challenges to be resolved. Candidates should be sure to describe the complication that was faced in a way that shows how it was an important and difficult situation to overcome. This is where the interviewer’s interest is hooked. The context of a tough challenge and the establishment of tension make it easier to see an achievement as impressive.

Third, there’s always a lot of action in great movies! It’s important to make sure to describe one’s actions. This is where most of the content lies. Ultimately, it’s what was done and why that will score points.

Finally, just like in a good movie, a good story always has a great ending. It is important to share the results created and how things were different afterwards.

Following these four simple and effective steps allow for achievements to be conveyed in an efficient and compelling way.

Motivation questions

Candidates frequently receive questions such as “why consulting?” and why they’re interested in the firm they’re interviewing with in particular.

When answering these questions – which usually come towards the end of the fit interview – it’s helpful to avoid generic responses that any other candidate might come up with, such as “I want to work for a prestigious firm”. Candidates should also avoid explaining their motivation regarding goals that they’ve not mentioned earlier in the interview or that are not consistent with the choices made earlier in their career. This could cause a candidate to come across either as not being fully honest or as not having properly thought through their rationale.

To be a strong candidate, it is important to have prepared reasons specific to and consistent with one’s journey thus far. Researching the firm and office one is applying to is an important factor here. To help with research, the key differences between McKinsey , BCG and Bain are covered in the linked articles.

Curveballs

While curveball questions are unlikely to show up in fit interviews due to the time constraints, preparing for them is nevertheless a useful precaution to take. Some curveball questions could be:

  • Tell me about a failure.
  • Tell me why I should hire you.
  • Tell me about your strengths and weaknesses.
  • Tell me about negative feedback you have received.
  • Tell me about an experience you did not like.
  • Are you interviewing at other firms?
  • If I made you an offer, would you accept right away?
  • Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Questions for the interviewer

At the end of a consulting interview, the candidate normally has a few minutes to ask questions to the interviewer. The questions asked here are not formally assessed, but they contribute towards making the interviewer excited (or not!) about the candidate.

It’s worth noting the questions that really shouldn’t be asked. Some of this may sound obvious, but a surprising number of candidates still put their foot in it. Candidates should avoid asking the interviewer to talk about the negative parts of their job or the firm. Similarly, avoid challenging the interviewer, for instance by asking why they should join that specific firm over one of its competitors. Another type of question to avoid is anything factual that could be answered by reviewing the website.

Good questions build a connection with the interviewer and/or demonstrate a candidate’s motivation to join the firm.

To prepare relevant connection-building questions to ask at the end of a consulting interview, candidates should arrive at least 15 minutes early, read the short bios that are provided about each of the interviewers, spot what they have in common with them, and use that for their questions. If a commonality is not found, the candidate can ask general questions about the interview’s experience at the firm.

Where to watch a free fit interview video

The video below shows a former McKinsey manager interviewing another former McKinsey colleague like they would in a real-life fit interview. The video includes commentary from the interviewer on how the candidate is doing and feedback on what they could have done better.

This video features Bain consultants answering example fit interview questions. As well, it includes feedback on how each candidate does.

We also recommend watching the following video from McKinsey which explains what the personal experience interview is and how it is assessed by McKinsey interviewers:

How to prepare for fit interviews

While the fit interview is often overlooked by candidates, it must be prepared for properly. It is still 50% of the assessment. Candidates should draft a few items at a simple bullet point level. These should include a short introduction of one’s background with a clear narrative, achievement stories that communicate some of the key transferable abilities sought after by firms, and an outline of their motivation to become a consultant and to join the firm they’re interviewing with.

We also recommend completing 3-5 live fit practices before the real interviews. This, of course, is not as many as with cases as there’s a real danger in over rehearsing this section. Too many candidates try to memorize detailed scripts, leading to coming across as robotic, which is generally ineffective given the two-way conversation this part of the job interview should involve.

How CaseCoach can help

CaseCoach is the market leader in consulting interview prep. It was founded by a former Interviewer with McKinsey and headhunter who has placed more than 100 experienced candidates at the top-3 management consulting firms.

Through its Interview Prep Course and Coaching services, CaseCoach.com helps candidates succeed in their interviews.

The Interview Prep Course provides all the resources candidates need to prepare. It covers both the fit and case aspects of these interviews and includes detailed training on how to succeed as well as interview videos with real candidates. The course also contains 45+ brand new cases with top-mark answers and an extensive set of practice drills.

The Resume and Cover Letter courses for Students and Experienced Hires provide the inside scoop on what it takes to get through the first round of the recruitment process at top consulting firms to be one of the top 10% invited to interview. They include templates and examples of successful resumes and cover letters.

CaseCoach’s team of case coaches are former consultants, handpicked from among the alumni of top firms such as McKinsey, BCG, and Bain. They are available to deliver mock interviews in a realistic setting to put candidates’ preparation to the test, providing the personal feedback and practical advice needed to get on top of the game.

For free consulting interview resources, sign up to the CaseCoach mailing list below or on CaseCoach.com.

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