The Top 5 Reasons Why People Fail at Consulting Interviews

As headhunters who have prepared 500+ candidates for interviews at Top 3 firms we’ve seen too many great candidates fail in interviews despite having everything they needed to succeed and a great background to show for it.

To help you avoid the same fate, we’ve rounded up the top five reasons why high calibre candidates fail in consulting interviews.

Arriving under-prepared

In our experience, it takes at least 25 live practice cases with other people to reach a high enough level of competence in order to have a good chance of succeeding in case interviews.

This level of practice takes a considerable amount of time and often candidates don’t allow themselves the 2+ months it may take to really understand how to succeed in case interviews.

Being tired

This may sound obvious, but we see many great candidates slipping up in interviews because they’ve gotten too tired. Case interviews can require a considerable amount of mental horsepower, so you’ll want to be as rested and alert as possible.

This often isn’t the case when you’ve had a full day of interviews (making that last interview a challenge), when you’ve stayed up preparing late into the night before, or if you’ve arrived in from abroad with jet lag. 

So build up your mental endurance, get an early night’s sleep, and don’t fly the day before!

Trying to go too quickly

Many candidates feel the pressure to do well in their interview which leads them to speed up and rush through the case, often without realising it. 

Moving through a case too quickly puts you in risk of making mistakes, reduces the opportunity to identify deeper insights, and ultimately affects your communication with the interviewer. 

By slowing down, you’ll give yourself the opportunity to be more thoughtful, making it far more likely to find ways to stand out with unique insights and carefully considered answers.

Being robotic

This mistake is common to those who have prepared like an “Olympian”. They may have applied all the right frameworks, nailed the maths, and communicated their insights in the right way, but they totally lost track of the question of the case and the fact that the interview is meant to be a conversation. 

From the interviewer’s perspective, they have just under an hour to decide whether they’d want to work with you on their team in real life, so being perfect yet robotic is unlikely to win you any friends.

Instead, use your stellar preparation and impressive case skills as a reliable base and focus on shining by remembering to be human too! Connecting with the interviewer is important.

Under-preparing for the fit interview

Many candidates focus most of their preparation time on the case interview and in turn wrongly assume that the fit interview is similar to other interviews they’ve done in the past.

This simply isn’t true. The fit interview, or Personal Experience Interview (PEI) at McKinsey, makes up for 50% of the marks and is a highly detailed exercise where very specific attributes are looked for by the interviewer. 

The fit interview requires some thought and winging it is a high-risk strategy. Although you don’t need to over-prepare and rehearse, you do need to have a clear idea of how to hit the mark and know the messages you want to convey in this section of the interview.

In addition to these five pitfalls, which you can anticipate, there are some reasons outside of your control as to why someone who has the capability and background for consulting might not get the job. 

For example, the firm may have already reached its recruitment target by the point you interview leading to a particularly high bar set for any additional offers they make. Another reason could be that you work for a client and that the firm doesn’t want to ‘poach’ you. You can also just be unlucky with the type of people you interview with or the cases you’re given, which can lead you to making mistakes you wouldn’t have done otherwise. In other words, luck is a major factor in securing an offer at a top firm!

Therefore, it’s important to apply to several firms at the same time and to have some back up plans if things don’t work out the way you want them to.

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