War Stories #2
Interviewing for a job in management consulting isn’t a simple process. It’s not a case of ‘a couple of interviews and you’re done’. Consulting interviews involve multiple rounds and plenty of rigor.
This makes sense when you consider that the role is an extremely demanding one – one that involves not simply difficult knowledge-based work but also very specific, very intense lifestyle demands (including, among other things, typically being on the road 4-5 days a week, week in, week out).
Back when I went through the process (while I was at business school), I went through three rounds of interviews– two of them on campus and the final round in the firm’s office.
The first two rounds were straight forward (in the consulting sense). They involved a little bit of ‘get to know you’, the “dreaded” case interview and then some time to let you ask questions about the firm, the work, etc.
The third and final round was, to say the least, pretty hardcore.
It involved 8 hour long interviews, back to back. Each one of them with a partner. One of them (smack dab in the middle of the day) involving lunch along with the interview. Every one of them (including the lunch) involving a case discussion. And every one of them an assessment of your skills, your capabilities and your knowledge. It was a test of stamina as much as it was one of knowledge and cultural fit.
None of those interviews threw me. That’s not to say they were simple or straight forward. They weren’t. They were tough, but I knew what to expect.
The one that threw me was the final interview of the day.
Having just completed seven in-depth discussions with senior members of the firm, I was ushered into another senior partner’s office for the final hour. We shook hands, introduced ourselves and sat down in a couple of comfortable single sofa seaters by a window with a beautiful view of the city.
Our discussion began with a routine “tell me about yourself”, and of course, I was ready with what was (at least in my mind) a thoughtful, structured response that hit on all the key points about why I was the right fit for the role and the firm.
All of this took about 5 minutes. He listened to me intently, then looked at me, and said, “So, what questions do you have for me?”
We were only 5 minutes in. We still have another 55 to go! You’re supposed to be asking me more questions. You want me to talk for the rest of the hour? I hadn’t prepped for this…
Which was, of course, part of his plan. It was a test, as much as any of the other interviews were. And in some respects, maybe, the most important one.
He was testing to see if I could make conversation. If I was truly interested in management consulting. In the firm. If I was enthused by the role or if I was just interested in the money.
In classic consulting parlance, he was testing me to see if, the two of us ended up getting stranded for six hours at the airport in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, in the dead of winter, would we be able to get along or would we tear each other’s hair out. Because at the end of the day, it’s all about having people around who truly want to be there, with you, in the trenches, 16 hours a day, day in, day out.
In retrospect, it was a great tactic.
As it happened, I did fine. I asked about the work, the firm, his career, the challenges, the growth opportunities, international options, and more. The thing is, I loved consulting. I knew it was what I wanted to do almost from the time I started business school. So I had plenty of questions.
And, as it happens, it all worked out, and I ended up spending almost the entire next decade at the firm.
P.S. I put the term “dreaded” in quotation marks intentionally with regards to case interviews. It really shouldn’t be that dreaded, it’s just a conversation. I’ll discuss that more in a future post.