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How to stand out in consulting interviews and land the offer

The top three consulting firms, McKinsey, BCG and Bain, interview smart and well-prepared candidates all the time. Sadly, many fail to get an offer, even though they put in the required hours of preparation time, structured most case questions well, demonstrated spotless math and told compelling stories.

Top consulting firms have the good fortune of receiving over 100 applications for every recruitment slot. They don’t need to hire candidates who merely tick all the boxes. They have the luxury of choosing only those who excel.

Here’s how you can stand out in a consulting interview, impress your interviewers and improve your chances of landing a coveted offer.

Looking for the best preparation to ace your case interviews?
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How hiring decisions are made at top consulting firms

Most hiring decisions at consulting firms are made through a discussion among a candidate’s group of interviewers. In reality, this group rarely agrees on their assessment of a candidate.

This is sometimes because the candidate’s performance varies among interviews. They might nail the math in one case but not the other, have great ideas on one topic but not another, or feel nervous in one interview and at ease in the next. In addition, different interviewers might have different ways of assessing candidates.

Those who perform well but don’t have at least one clear supporter in their group of interviewers tend to get rejected. Those who have done less well overall but have an interviewer who is prepared to pound the table for them tend to get the offer. Impressing at least one interviewer in your group is therefore essential when it comes to your chances of being successful.

How can you impress an interviewer?

Interviewers don’t get excited because a candidate is great at case structuring, mental math or delivering a convincing conclusion to a case. Make no mistake, these skills are essential but they are unlikely to make someone stand out in a consulting interview.

Instead, candidates tend to make interviewers take notice when they:

  • show outstanding insights and/or ideas that the interviewer has never heard before
  • genuinely lead the case by sharing a well-structured plan from the get-go, following through on that plan, proactively linking findings to the case question, and suggesting next steps
  • have an impressive background, describe extraordinary achievements, or demonstrate expertise that distinguishes them from the crowd
  • leave a lasting impression by having great presence and communication, and connecting with interviewers on a personal level

To achieve this, you need to have the right mindset on the day. First, you need to focus on cracking the case, rather than simply crafting a great structure or nailing the math. If you do that, you’ll be in the right frame of mind to drive the case and generate plenty of insights along the way.

Practice makes perfect

Unless you’re already at an advanced stage of your preparation, you will only be able to adopt this mindset once you’ve practiced at least 25 live case interviews with other candidates or interviewers. At CaseCoach we can connect you with a diverse community of fellow candidates who are all available for case interview practice in our Practice Room.

The reason that interview practice is so critical is because learning comes in stages:

  • In the first stage, you’re learning the skills being tested and what you have to do in a case overall.
  • In the second stage, you’re learning how to nail each aspect of the case interview. This will likely take 15 to 20 mock interviews.
  • In the third and final stage of learning, all the aspects of solving a case are internalized and you can go through them with your eyes closed. You no longer need to think about which frameworks to use or how you should organize your paper for a math question. You will be focused entirely on cracking the case itself. When you can couple this level of skill with a mastery of pre-interview nerves, you’ll be able to truly lead the case and generate amazing insights.

To support their learning, many candidates enlist the services of a coach who can take them through mock interviews and help them identify how they can stand out. Our coaches are all former consultants and interviewers who we have handpicked from among the alumni of top firms such as McKinsey, BCG and Bain. They can help you take your interview performance to the next level by accelerating your preparation, identifying where you can stand out, and providing accurate and helpful feedback.

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