The consulting interview process has two separate portions. The case interview and the fit interview, which is also called a Personal
Experience Interview (PEI) at McKinsey.
These are designed to assess different skill-sets. While the case interview examines your analytical and numerical skills, fit interviews determine whether you have the soft skills for management consulting and the personality traits that “fit” with the firm’s culture – something that McKinsey, in particular, truly cares about.
During the consulting process, one often has to go through at least 2 interviews and sometimes up to 8 depending on where you are applying. At least half of those are FIT interviews. It is critical that all applications hone their chances of success.
While many applicants focus on preparing for the case interviews, fit
interviews are equally as important in the decision-making process for a recruiter.
After all, if you think about it from their perspective, a firm spends up to 6 months to intensively train their new hires, who will most likely leave after 2-2.5 years. So, if they leave after a year because they cannot handle the social dynamics or the work intensity, the firm ends up losing more money than they gain from their consultants’ work. This is all to say that yes, you should be preparing for the PEI or fit interview.
It is worth mentioning that before reaching the interview stage, fit is something you need to communicate in a cover letter. We have compiled a cheat sheet for doing this here.
If you would rather a longer webinar, we highly recommend this segment.
But how does one prepare for the fit interview or PEI?
Before diving into how one aces a fit interview, we first need to know how it works. Fit interviews can vary in their duration and format, again, depending on where you are applying to. They can take the form of a separate interview that runs up to 1 hour-long or be combined with the case interview.
For McKinsey, their streamlined interviews always consist of a 10-minute PEI that comes directly before the case interview. For each PEI, they will ask you about only one topic and follow up with questions to get you to expand on the details of your first answer and the personal experience example that you gave.
What can you do to prepare?
While the questions can vary, fit interviews are predictable in the main
topics that they address. The main topics that will be asked are:
- Managing conflicts
e.g. How did you resolve a team conflict? Have you ever had a
challenging colleague/boss, if so, how did you deal with the
- Leadership skills
e.g. Tell me an example of when you led a team. When have
you demonstrated excellent leadership abilities?
- Communication and persuasion
e.g. How did you persuade a difficult stakeholder to change
their mind about something? When was a time when you had
to convince your team about an idea?
- Overcoming challenges
e.g. Tell me about a time when you had to go through several
obstacles to accomplish your goal. What is an achievement you
had to work hard for?
e.g. Why did you choose consulting? Why this particular firm?
As you can see, the fit interview is used to address all the soft skills
required for a successful consultant, someone who can convince executives in the client company to listen to their proposal, someone who can reason with stakeholders who hold conflicting opinions in order to get them to come to an agreement on a course of action, and most importantly, someone with the drive and passion to thrive within the fast-paced and intensive environment of consulting.
Now how can you show all of this in the span of a few questions? The key here is to come prepared. Below are some steps that can help you come in feeling confident about your next fit interview. Coming up with stories More than anything, the fit interview is about storytelling. With hundreds of interviewees, what will make the recruiter remember you for is not countless achievements they can read about on your resume. What they will remember, however, is a couple of good stories with depth and detail.
Consequently, clear and structured storytelling is key. A common method used in fit interviews is called the STAR method, which stands for:
Situation: give some context to your story
Task: tell them about what you needed to do
Action: describe how you went beyond the bare minimum
Results: explain how you created impact and added value to the
Going through this process with at least one story for each of the main
topic listed above would be a good start. The goal here is to reach a point where you can tell these stories naturally and succinctly, leaving the recruiter wanting to learn more – and for sure they will.
In fact, after you tell your story, expect for them to question you on all
aspects of the story. An example of leadership can then lead to questions about how you dealt with the team dynamics, challenging obstacles, internal or external conflicts, and so on.
Talking about you
While you are busy telling your story, it is easy to get lost in the details of your team. Lots of candidates end up forgetting to talk about themselves and the values they brought to a project.
While what your group did as a whole may be truly impressive, no doubt, the point of the fit interview is for the recruiter to learn more about you, not your team. So, the next time you are practicing giving a personal account, notice how often you are saying “I” instead of “we”.
In addition, it is important for you to also consider the attitude of your storytelling. As you probably already know by now, consulting is a highly competitive industry, and so you have to show your best self. You should take pride in your accomplishments and present them in a positive and assertive manner so that the recruiter can actually be impressed by you.
Ending on a good note
Finally, a key opportunity that many candidates miss out on is asking
questions at the end. It is a standard procedure for interviewers to ask if you have any questions for them at the end of the interview. Some
candidates think this is just common courtesy rather than an extension of the fit interview.
This might be true of another job interview. In consulting, the questions are critical.
In the world of consulting, where networking and personal
connections are so close in the line of work, answering this
question right can be just what you need to stand out and make a lasting impression on the interviewer. The goal here is demonstrate your genuine interest in the firm and how you would fit in with their culture. If you have done networked with current employees at the firm, you can not only name drop them here but also ask questions based on your discussions with them.
These questions should be specific to the firm, or even better, the office, you are applying for and not just questions that you could have easily found on the internet. If you have not had the opportunity to contact current employees, asking about specific projects that the firm has posted on public domains that aligns with your current field of work could be a great way to show your prior experience and your enthusiasm for tackling new projects at the new firm.
Additionally, for whichever question you ask, make sure to follow up. An experienced consultant at any firm understands that the first question will most likely give you a surface answer. To get to what is insightful and truly matters, you would have to ask one, if not more, questions based on what they said. This not only shows you have the innate curiosity of a consultant but also that you are an active listener, which is another crucial skill. Make sure that at the end of the interview, whatever you ask, the interviewer understands that you are passionate about their firm, their projects and what it means to be a consultant.
This article was a guest post by Quang Anh Nguyen, aspiring consultant at McGill University.