The 7 Steps to Becoming a Management Consultant

STep 5: Practice, practice, practice

The key to nailing a case is confidence, and the key to confidence is practice. You want to walk into an interview having practiced 50-100 real case problems. You want to feel like you are ready and eager to dive into any situation, build a framework, run the analysis, develop a recommendation and conduct a summary. You never know what type of case you’re going to receive so you need to practice every kind you can get your hands on. You need to do them again and again until it feels effortless. You need to do it in a live interview setting with a real person asking you questions.

Once you have that level of preparation you can not only run through the case, but do so with grace and creativity. Remember, there is no right answer to a case question. The interviewer wants to see how you frame up the problem, how you gather the right information and how you use that information to develop logical conclusions. Most of all, they want to have an engaging conversation with you that allows them to see how you think and how you handle pressure situations. This is why it is so important that you practice. Even if you hit the major points, get the math right, and land on a logical recommendation, it won’t matter if you did it while nervously sweating and fumbling your words. 

Watch a real practice case

In order to practice a case, you should be familiar with the case format. College2Consulting offers videos of real students in real case interview situations as part of a free trial course so that you can see what a case interview entails. Go to www.college2consulting.com/preview to watch one now.

Find sample cases

You need cases to practice. A case can be anything from a one line question, “how should company X grow their revenue by 15%”, to a multi-page story with the history of the company, financial projections, organization charts, etc. If your school has a consulting club they likely have a database of prior cases gathered from students after interviews. In addition, many major University’s clubs will post theirs publicly. A link to Duke University’s consulting club is below:

https://web.duke.edu/consulting/case/guide.html

Another great source for sample cases is the consulting firms themselves. Many post sample cases on their website so applicants can practice. A link to McKinsey’s is below:

http://www.mckinsey.com/careers/join_us/interview_prep

Create a folder or notebook of all the cases you can find. You want to find cases that cover a range of topics and industries.

Find a case buddy

Case interviews are live one-on-one situations with the interviewer. To be prepared, you need to practice in a similar environment. Pair up with another student also preparing for consulting interviews and plan to meet weekly to practice cases. Start with one student playing the role of the interviewer and the other the interviewee. Have the interviewer read the case introduction and provide any supporting facts. Give the interviewee time to take notes and develop a framework. Then work through the case, with the student playing the interviewee asking questions and walking through the analysis. The interviewer should act as a real interviewer would: providing data, giving feedback, asking the interviewee to explain why they are making a particular assumption or asking for particular information, and asking the interviewee to wrap things up. As you get more comfortable, you can increase the difficulty and intensity of the mock cases.

Your school is an excellent place to find case buddies and meet to practice. If you don’t know anyone else at school interested in case practice, many online forums have postings of students looking for case partners. Practice cases can be conducted over the phone or via Skype; they do not always need to be in person.

Practice with a professional

Practicing with other students is great, but you should also try to have at least a few practice cases with a professional consultant who has conducted case interviews before. The best way to find one is through your school’s alumni network. If you have been diligent in your networking (described in Chapter 3), you should have at least a few contacts you can call on. Ideally these are older friends who work at consulting firms or people you have known at least a few months. You don’t want to burn up your goodwill with a new consultant you just met at a networking event asking them to spend an hour as you struggle through your first practice case. Many consulting clubs will also organize a practice case day where alumni come in and conduct practice cases. Perhaps the best practice of all is with a professional consulting preparation service. These are staffed by experienced consultants who have conducted hundreds of real case interviews and are now being paid specifically to help you prepare. College2Consulting offers one-on-one case interviews with professional instructors. You can find out more here.

Don’t forget about the other questions you’ll be asked

Students spend the bulk of their time worrying about, and preparing for, the case portion of the interview. However, you may spend just as much time in the interview on standard personality based questions, what is known as the “behavioral” portion of the interview. This is where you are asked about your experience, your interests, why you want to work at the company, etc. As you’re practicing case questions, make sure you’re also preparing for standard behavioral questions. Prepare answers, with short stories and examples, for key questions. Below are some common behavioral questions:

“What do you think makes you a good consultant?”

“What’s the one example from your resume that you’re most proud of?”

“Tell me about a time you had to deal with a difficult team situation and how you handled it.”

“Tell me your greatest weakness.”

A quick google search will show you many other typical questions. College2Consulting’s course has an entire section dedicated to preparing for the behavioral interview. Prepare answers for each of these that are specific and to the point. Make sure they highlight your strengths and can be backed up with facts and examples. Once you’ve prepared responses, practice your answers. Record yourself speaking and hear what you sound like. Try to make your answers more concise and engaging. Then practice in front of your interview buddy. You should be as confident in your ability to answer any behavioral question as your ability to answer any case question.

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