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The seven ways consulting firms assess candidates

Questions

Typically speaking, consulting interviews are all about hiring managers asking questions of a candidate. But when a case study interview is completed, the hiring manager will ask themselves several questions to assess the candidate’s ability to do the job. Knowing what questions consulting firms will ask themselves – and in what order of importance – is critical to acing a case study, known as one of the most difficult styles of interviews in all of financial services.

Victor Cheng, founder of CaseInterview.com, provided us with the seven key questions interviewers at consulting firms will ask themselves when speaking to candidates, in approximate order, along with a bit of explanation. Understand these, and their order of importance, and you’ll have a better chance of acing any case study interview.

“Do I like this person?”

As with any interaction, the first minute of a case study interview is the most important. Your handshake, eye contact, energy, humility and a sense of normality are all critical, he says. “Does the idea of spending many hours working in close proximity to [he or she] seem pleasant to me? Being boring, cocky, timid, or weird all point in the opposite direction,” Cheng said.

“Can I put this person in front of a client?”

The answer to this question has plenty to do with the way you dress. Wearing a traditional suit (or modest clothes for women), taking it easy on cologne and perfume and having neatly placed head and facial hair leave a lasting impression. Language is critical too, Cheng says. Don’t use slang, avoid informal words like “cool” or “awesome,” and never tell stories that could paint you in a bad light, even if they are funny.

“Can this person put forth a clear plan?”

When facing a case question, don’t just dive right in. And don’t just rely on a pre-existing framework. Set up an agenda or roadmap before launching into your hypothesis. “You might simply say, ‘In addressing this question, I want to look at three key elements,’” Cheng says.

“Does the person understand how to use numbers?”

Crunching numbers is a critical part of consulting, but simply multiplying or dividing numbers correctly won’t impress many interviewers. Instead, concentrate on why the number is relevant, if it is at all. Still, revisit your times tables to make sure that you have perfected your mental math skills. Often,  zeros are stumbling blocks for candidates ($1 million versus $10 million, for example). Finally, put all the numbers in context with each other to help tell the story.

“Does the person get the main point?”

“Much of the art in the consulting interview boils down to learning how to separate what’s relevant from what’s irrelevant,” Cheng says. The goal of a case study is to find one or maybe two key insights. Try to see the forest, not the trees.

“Can the person tie it all together?”

As Cheng told us last year, case studies involve questions and conversations, but they still must result in an answer. “Structures, calculations, questions, and insights all need to get tied together into a clear recommendation for the client,” he said.

“Will the person burn out?”

A common (and underrated) question that hiring managers ask themselves throughout financial services, where the work is long and hard. Show that you are enjoying the process of the case study, as it simulates the actual work you’ll be doing, and it will go a long way to impressing the hiring manager.

Reprinted with permission from Victor Cheng. Victor Cheng is the founder of CaseInterview.com and author of Case Interview Secrets

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