Purpose of the Consulting Interview

ARE you an aspiring management consultant?

If so, then you’re in luck. Over the coming months we will be posting about the consulting interview.

In this post we look at the purpose of the consulting interview.

The purpose of the consulting interview is twofold.

Firstly, it is a test of client readiness.

Management consultants are hired by senior executives to advise on their most pressing and challenging problems. Case questions, which form a core part of the consulting interview, are a kind of role playing exercise; a test of a candidate’s ability to perform under pressure, undertake a structured analysis of an unfamiliar problem, and communicate insights clearly and persuasively.

In other words, the interviewer wants to know whether you are ready to be placed in front of the client, and might ask questions such as, “In the past 12 months, a large smart phone manufacturer has experienced reduced profitability even as the size of the global market has grown rapidly. What is happening, and what should the company do about it?”

Are you ready to respond?

The second purpose of the consulting interview is known as “the Airport Test”.

In addition to all the questions that the interviewer will ask during the consulting interview, they will also be asking themselves (whether consciously or not) “would I want to be stuck with this person at an airport?”

You may have the right qualifications and have answered all the interview questions correctly, but if you don’t pass the “Airport Test” then the interviewer will be unlikely to progress you to the next round.

Why do interviewers use the Airport Test?

Two reasons.

Firstly, consultants spend a lot of time working in project teams, and if you are annoying or obnoxious then this will affect the morale, enjoyment and productivity of the team. Secondly, consultants often engage directly with senior clients, and so the interviewer needs to feel comfortable that you will be able to represent the firm.

Eye contact, a firm handshake, and a pleasant smile will take you a long way.

[For more information on the consulting interview, download “The HUB’s Guide to the Consulting Interview“.]

Just A Game?

Using gamelike elements to engage customers can produce real business value

We are currently taking an online course on Gamification with Wharton’s Professor Kevin Werbach, which provides a fascinating insight into the world of games and how gamelike elements can be incorporated into the customer experience.

The basic concept is that games provide a structure within which people can achieve outcomes and have fun in the process.  By incorporating gamelike elements into the customer experience, businesses can engage customers and produce real value for customers.

Many successful multi-billion dollar companies use gamelike elements to engage customers. Here are just three (3) examples:

  1. Game Concept: Badges. Business Application: American Express Platinum Card.
  2. Game Concept: Rewards. Business Application: Starbucks coffee card.
  3. Game Concept: Teams. Business Application: Weight Watchers Groups.

Are you using gamelike elements to engage customers or employees? Or have you seen companies that are doing this successfully?  Share your experience in the consulting forum. The person who provides the best example of gamification in the next 48 hours will win a free book.

Discipline and Decency

All too often partners in professional service firms know how to issue orders, but forget about the need for kindness.

Employees develop fear rather than fondness for their managers, and quickly learn how little they can produce to keep people happy.

In professions where the quality of the final product hinges on the quality of the thought process used to develop it (e.g. law, accounting and management consulting), monitoring effort is often impossible and employees have significant lee way about how much effort they choose to exert.

In this context, discipline and punishment are unlikely to be effective motivational tools unless employees have first been treated with common humanity, and given a chance to develop an attachment to the organization, their managers and the role itself.

Being good to people, can be good for business.

Consulting Jargon 101

ORGANISATIONS hire management consultants to help them solve their most challenging business problems.

Senior management are busy people, and so consultants need to communicate their message clearly and concisely, preferably accompanied by some colourful powerpoint slides.

The irony, though, is that consultants have gone on to develop an industry jargon which is often completely incomprehensible to industry outsiders.

Below we outline some of the buzzwords and phrases that you are likely to come across if perchance you are dealing with consultants, or happen to be one.

Consulting Jargon 101

10,000 foot view: A high-level overview of the situation.

80/20 rule: A rule of thumb which holds that 80% of a business problem can be solved by focusing on 20% of the causal factors.

Add some colour: Make it more interesting/appealing/persuasive.

Adding value: Making a contribution.

AOB: Stands for “any other business” and might be used in a meeting agenda to block out time for miscellaneous discussion.

“At the end of the day”: A consultant may use this phrase before summarising the main thrust of her argument.

B2B: Stands for “business to business” and indicates that a business is aiming to sell to other businesses rather than to end consumers.

B2C: Stands for “business to consumer” and indicates that a business is aiming to sell directly to consumers rather than to other businesses.

Bandwidth: Capacity to take on additional work commitments. For example, “I don’t have any bandwidth this week”.

Big 3: McKinsey, Bain and BCG

Big 4: Deloitte, EY, KPMG, PwC.

Boil the ocean: Go overboard; undertake an excessive amount of analysis; fail to follow the 80/20 rule.

Buckets: Categories.

Buy in: Agreement; support. For example, “we need to get buy in from the client before finalising the report”.

CAGR: Compound annual growth rate.

Capacity: See “bandwidth”.

Charge code: A unique code provided for a project which can be used to record work-related expenses.

Circle back: Follow up with someone at a later point in time.

Close the loop: Completing an item on the agenda or topic of discussion with everyone being in agreement.

Core client: A client that has a long-standing relationship with the firm.

Deck: PowerPoint slides.

Deep dive: To conduct an extensive examination of a particular issue.

Deliverable: Work product that a consultant needs to provide to her manager or the client as part of a client engagement.

Development opportunity: A professional shortcoming or area for improvement that requires attention.

Due diligence: Comprehensive examination of all relevant issues, such as a review of the client’s business or industry.

Elevator pitch: A short persuasive summary of a proposal, which leaves the listener wanting to know more. Always end your elevator pitch with a call to action, for example “can I buy you a coffee next week to run you through the business model?”

Fact pack: A pack of information that provides the essential facts for a project/industry/company.

Granular: Focusing on the finer details, as in “this analysis needs to be more granular.”

Hard stop: A stated time after which the person will no longer be available to continue the meeting/discussion. For example, “I have a hard stop at 3 o’clock”.

Key: Critical; essential; required; important; central. For example, “the key issues are X, Y, Z.”

Let me play this back: Words used before providing a summary of the discussion from the listener’s perspective. This is a helpful technique which can allow a consultant to clarify their understanding of the key issues and at the same time sound intelligent by saying something even if the summary adds no additional insights.

Leverage: Make use of.

Low hanging fruit: Targets that are easily achievable, issues that can be quickly resolved, opportunities that can be readily exploited, or problems that are simple to solve. By picking the low hanging fruit first, consultants can demonstrate quick results, which can boost confidence in the project and help build initial momentum.

Lots of moving parts: Complex.

Managing upwards: Providing feedback to more senior employees.

MBB: McKinsey, Bain and BCG.

MECE: Pronounced “me see”, and stands for “mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive”. It is a principle developed at McKinsey for grouping information into distinct categories which, taken together, deal with all of the options.

On the beach: In between assignments. Time spent on the beach may be spent in training or used for new business development.

On the same page: See things from the same perspective.

Opportunity cost: What you give up in order to pursue an opportunity; the value of the next best alternative.

Out of the box thinking: Lateral thinking; coming up with new ideas which don’t follow neatly from the data.

Ping: Contact someone, as in “I will ping you later via email.”

PIOUTA: Pulled it out of thin air.

Pipeline: Current and upcoming client engagements.

Production: A department of the consulting firm (often outsourced) that assists in producing material needed for presentations and meetings.

Pushback: Resistance or disagreement, as in “we received some pushback from the client.”

Right size: Downsize.

Sandwich feedback technique: A structure for providing feedback that resembles a sandwich – one positive comment, followed by a piece of constructive feedback, and ending with a positive comment.

Scope: Agreed set of deliverables for a client engagement.

Scope creep: When the client adds, or tries to add, additional deliverables which were not agreed in the initial project brief.

Sniff test: A common sense check of a particular idea, proposal or analysis.

Strawman: An initial draft providing an idea of what the final output will look like, and which is meant to be heavily criticised.

SWAG: Some wild-ass guess.

Take the lead: Take responsibility for something, as in: “Why don’t you take the lead on this project.”

Takeaways: The key points that should be remembered at the end of a discussion or meeting.

Touch base: To meet at a certain time to talk about the project.

Up or out: Many top consulting firms adopt an “up or out” policy. Employees are expected to advance up to the next level of responsibility or they will be counselled out of the firm.

Work stream: The tasks that make up a project.

Did we miss any buzzwords or phrases in this list? Let us know in the consulting forum.