Nudge, Nudge, Need Help with the Fit Interview?

When it comes to consulting interviews, most people are fixated on the case interview. Which makes sense, given the amount of practice that’s required to ace the case.

But, as an aspiring consultant, don’t forget that you will also face the Fit Interview!

Fit Interviews can be very tricky because they require you to talk about yourself and your past experiences in a way that portrays you in the best possible light. For some this will come naturally, but for many (particularly science and engineering students) it won’t.

The good news is that one of our contributors who is a very switched-on guy, MBA candidate, and President of his respective consulting club has offered to Skype with people one-on-one to help them understand and ace the consulting fit interview.

This will involve having a short Skype call about Fit Interviews with someone who really knows his stuff.

If you would like to apply for this opportunity, please post in the forum under the topic “Why Consulting?”. Tell us your name and university, and describe in 100 words or less your answer to the question, “why consulting?”. Applications close 28 Febuary.

We will try to accomodate everyone who applies, but it will depend on numbers. If there is excess demand, we will select only the most competitive applicants.

We look forward to hearing from you in the forum!

Preparing for Your Consulting Application

Well, let’s embark on the journey.

First things first, your consulting application is the most important part of the recruitment process for two reasons. Firstly, it is your very first touch point with the firm. The HR person will look at your Resume, Cover Letter, and Transcript and decide whether you are qualified to attend a first round interview. Remember that only 20% of applicants will pass this filter. Secondly, it is your chance to thoroughly review and assess your willingness, ability, and suitability to be a management consultant.

There are thousands of articles telling you, as an aspiring consultant, how to prepare your application.  However, most of them are very tactical, except several paid ones such as Victor Cheng and Prep Lounge.

I recommend we start from the big picture, in other words, strategic level. Before submitting your applications, you need to make sure you have worked through three crucial steps:

  1. Understand what the firm is looking for in a candidate
  2. Craft exceptional application materials (Cover letter and Resume)
  3. Finalize and perfect your application

Now let’s have a look at these one by one.

Firstly, to understand what a firm is looking for in a candidate, you need to find out who is involved in the selection. Big consulting firms receive hundreds of applications every week. To identify the best candidates, they review and filter candidates using three gates.

Gate One is the application scanners where some hard bottom lines are established by each firm, for example M.B.B set GPA requirements (usually top 5% in class), undergrad school must be on the preferred list (such as top 3 in the country), and GMAT score higher than 700 for MBA candidates. If the candidate fails to meet those hard numbers, their application will be automatically eliminated. I have even heard of some firms using software to scan applications, so that applications receive no human consideration at this stage at all!

As a candidate, it is crucial to make sure you meet the numbers of your target firms. The way you can know them is by asking HR or talking to a consultant at that firm. They are usually happy to share with you. However, they may tell you that these selection criteria are “good to have”. Here I want to be very honest. It is true that these numbers are not mandatory, but only under the condition that you have an extraordinary reputation or are an industry expert. Otherwise, as a fresh graduate, these hard numbers are the only thing that reflects your distinction objectively.

After that, Gate Two is HR, who will read through your Cover Letter and Resume to understand your motivation to be a consultant, previous study, and work experience. As mentioned before, they are looking for a candidate who is a High Achiever, Leader and Problem Solver.

Once HR is satisfied with your profile, your application will be handed over to a real consultant who probably has a similar working background to you for confirmation. This is Gate Three.

Keeping this information in mind, the next step is to craft your exceptional application materials: Resume and Cover Letter. Building an exceptional Resume and Cover Letter requires a good framework and templates. What consulting firms appreciate is candidates who can show them why they are High Achievers, Leaders and Problem Solvers in a logical, convincing, and inspiring way. There are hundreds of ways to do that, and many of them work equally well. But, let me give you a framework that worked for me when I applied for McKinsey and AT Kearny, and many of my friends who have received offers from M.B.B firms.

The Cover Letter is all about two things: Why You Choose This Firm and Why Should This Firm Choose You. Try to think about your cover letter following this structure.

The most important part of this framework is “Why You”? Think really carefully about what are the two most impressive experiences that showcase your ability to be an excellent consultant. And then articulate them by getting straight to the point. Finally, make sure that your cover letter is less than one page. No HR person in the consulting industry has the patience to read a longwinded letter.

The next application document is your Resume. Remember that HR will usually read your cover letter first. If he or she is interested in your cover letter, then your resume will be scrutinized carefully. So, when it comes to your resume, it must be a further proof of what you mentioned in your cover letter. For instance, if you say that you are passionate about using technology to change the financial industry, then your resume should provide evidence to demonstrate details of your achievement, thought leadership, or problem solving in related projects.

The way to articulate your experience on your resume for consulting positions is quite different from other industries.  My best advice is to use a strong verb to start the sentence and R-O-A format to structure the sentence. R-O-A stands for Result, Objective, and Action. For instance, if you want to say “I planned and executed a strategic project to improve heat recovery efficiency of the whole system in German”; Using my tips, you should instead say “Improved national heat recovery system efficiency by 40% in German through planning and execution of xxx project.” The difference between the two is that the latter articulation better demonstrates your achievement and problem solving skills.

Finally, when you think you are ready with your cover letter and resume, don’t trust yourself. Ask people to review your application documents. You should find someone with strong English writing skills to review your grammar, spelling, and turn of phrase. You should also ask friends or colleagues who work in HR or, even better, as a CV scanner. You should try to find as many consultants as you can to look at the content of your cover letter and resume. Ask them, “if you were required to review my application, would you pass me through to a first round interview?”

The key message is that one review of your application materials is not enough. Do as much as you can. Be as carefully as you can. Choose every word as carefully as you can. The reason is simple. You have only 3 minutes at most to impressed HR. If you fail at this stage, then your other efforts and achievements are all in vain.

Mike Ni believes that technology is the engine of the future, while business capability is the wheel!

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Read Like a Consultant: Reading habits for a professional world

Ever since I started my professional program in Energy and Environmental Management, from time to time, I can’t help but ask myself: how on earth can I master so many different topics?

Although I am still as confused as ever when trying to understand such a fast changing world and those fabulously complicated consulting problems (Alors, c’est la vie), I am not as lost as I was before I learned some new reading habits.

Lack of specialized knowledge

Recently, some friends of mine were anxiously preparing their PhD and MPhil applications for the UK G5 (the country’s top five universities), and I happened to help edit some of their research proposals.

LJ, one of my friends, has a background in international relations and is trying to change her pathway to geopolitics.

In her list of prior work, I could see a lot of things: a general overview of the economic and security implications of Arctic melting, proposed ideas on a multilateral Arctic treaty, Asia’s Arctic interests, Russia and Canada’s positions on China’s Arctic moves, as well as documents and analytical essays on China’s Arctic diplomacy and development projects.

And then, her four parallel research questions:

  1. how should China establish its political position in Arctic affairs?
  2. how have China’s state-owned oil and gas giants influenced what China wanted and did in the Arctic region?
  3. how does the international community view China’s behavior in the Arctic region?
  4. what is the current status of legal institutions responsible for the Arctic region?

Overall, I understood that LJ wanted to study China’s Arctic strategies for her Polar Studies program at a prestigious UK university. However, her proposed research questions only seemed to show that she lacked experience in this area.

In other words, the proposal was not convincing at all. The reader probably would not believe that it would lead to a worthwhile research project.

Lack of specialized knowledge. Sound familiar?

When management consultants provide their business advice to a world-class company, which side possesses more relevant experience? Most of the time, you guessed right, it is the client.

However, LJ’s questions didn’t show me that she understood all of the available facts. I couldn’t tell exactly which one was her leading research question.

Had she read enough? Definitely yes.

So, how much information do you need before you can provide advice on a real-world business problem?

The answer is, you will probably never know exactly.  How long is a piece of string?

But, you can always structure your questions based on the facts you have analyzed.

A strong question will give your audience confidence that you actually understand what is going on.

And this very same question can guide you to your next step of exploration.

Developing your knowledge as a professional

I asked LJ:

You’d better tell me why you have arranged the four questions in such a sequence. Is the answer to the first question a prerequisite for the next one? Or, is the first one THE big question with the following ones being supporting elements of the first leading question?

After commenting on LJ’s proposal, I couldn’t help but wonder: How can we read more effectively, engaged in whatever we read, and then really make use of those readings?

I bet most people who read know that they should open a book or report with questions. However, not many people take the next step:  to always renew your questions based on new information.

Be aware of why you are asking certain questions, that is, be aware of your goals; and then break down the questions you have into key components.

Always keep an eye on the assumptions and arguments. It’s not the book or report that is teaching you. Rather, it is a series of conversations between you and the facts and opinions presented.

Ever since I started my program, I really haven’t had much time to just sit down for casual reading. But I do desperately need to read more about the energy industry and the business world. As I am from an International Politics background, and trying to break into the energy sector, I need to convince people that I am qualified, competent, and able to hit the ground running.

So, one more reading habit that I have found useful is not to read every single word.  Scan the keywords, find out the outline of the big ideas, and gather the factual information that will allow you to achieve your goal, test your case hypothesis, or provide an informed opinion.

The reading test

As we have just come back from the long winter break in the northern hemisphere, from time to time, you might encounter such a conversation: “Hey, did you have fun back home? … Oh, yeah, have you read anything interesting during the break?”

Now you are facing a challenge to give a short “elevator pitch” of what you learned from your reading. Are you able to give an engaging “executive summary” of what you have been reading?

If you are able to do so, and you can convince the other person to buy the book, or download the report, then congratulations! You have passed the reading test!

Emma Manfei He is a first year Master of Environmental Management student at Duke University Nicholas School. Her study focuses on renewable energy and clean energy technology, low carbon policy and energy access in developing countries. She enjoys learning new languages, creating new recipes that incorporate Western and Asian cooking, and traveling. She has lived in China, Switzerland and the United States.

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