Getting into consulting is no easy task. Case interviews are notoriously difficult to get right, require hours upon hours of practice, and the right kind of mindset to begin with. No one bothers with the question that precedes the case interview, and that is: “Why consulting?”
It seems innocent enough, and relatively easy compared to the trial by fire that is the case interview. After all, it’s the ubiquitous question that you get asked when applying for any other company really. “Why this company?” “Why this career path?” “Why?”
Answering such questions can’t be that important, can it? Let’s just say that if you think you can wing the fit interview, you’re in for quite a surprise. Buckle up.
Avoid the All Too Common Mistake
By recognizing that the “why consulting” question is an important one, you’re already getting ahead of the competition.
It really is all too easy to get blindsided by case interviews and the role they play in the ultimate decision whether you’ll get an offer or not. And they are absolutely crucial. It’s a fact that you have to do over a hundred mock case interviews to prepare. It’s true that you need to practice with a partner (or several of them), at least one of whom is hopefully an expert consultant.
Compared to hundreds of practice case interviews you’ll go over, “why consulting” does seem trivial. But in reality, it is the furthest thing from. That’s why recognizing it’s a mistake to skip practicing your answer will, in fact, set you apart from all the others who’ll just attempt to improvise the answer.
Avoid the mistake of ignoring that initial question, and carefully prepare your answer. Your employment could depend on it.
If you still think it’s trivial, or a simple formality, ask yourself this: Why do the senior consultant interviewers ask this question as well? And trust us, they do. Would senior consultants even bother with something that’s a simple formality? Highly unlikely.
Before you prepare the right answer to the question, you need to know why all those interviewers (senior ones included) ask it in the first place.
The Meaning Behind the Question
“Well, I want to improve my skills and work with some of the biggest experts in the industry. I also heard that the pay is great and that there are plenty of opportunities to travel. I also think that my particular skillset can be a great asset to the company. And I know that with a name such as McKinsey on my resume, I can really go a long way.”
That’s what an improvised answer can sound like if you’re careless, or if you’re nervous about the upcoming case interview.
And it’s absolutely dreadful.
To understand why that answer (or any variant of it) is simply horrible, you need to know what’s behind the interviewer’s question. Let’s start with that.
Cull the Disinterested
The first and the most obvious reason behind the question is to determine whether your heart’s really in it. That is, the interviewer is trying to see if you really care about consulting, and if you feel enthusiastic about it.
Consulting is quite a lucrative career path, and we’re not just talking about compensation (which is really high).
You also get to meet truly incredible people who are experts at what they do, and who are some of the brightest minds you’ll ever get to meet. The impact you will make as a consultant can go a long way as you work side by side with senior executives themselves. And there’s so much learning to be done in such short periods of time. Only those whose minds are set on succeeding as consultants are willing to learn all they need to.
And that’s what the interviewers want to hear. You need to express your enthusiasm for the incredible growth opportunities, while at the same time recognizing the demands of the job.
There are too many disinterested candidates who just see consulting companies as a nice addition to their resumes. Yes, the exit opportunities are great, but that’s not something you should mention.
Or they’re just fresh out of university and have nothing better to do, and consulting just seems like a safe bet. Which it is, but again, not something that the interviewer wants to hear.
Consulting firms often sponsor their employees to help them get their MBAs. Someone who doesn’t really care about consulting might try and get into one of the firms in hopes they’ll finance their education. Another wrong answer.
As you can see, there’s quite a lot at play here. Interviewers will want to get rid of all candidates who aren’t there to become top consultants or who’re just in it for the money.
Structure is Everything
For consultants, structuring every problem (no matter how big or small) is the air they breathe.
It’s also one of the reasons why case interviews are a thing. Interviewers want to see if you have the necessary structuring and analytical skills to break down problems into smaller components. They also test your organizational prowess among other things.
The goal is for you to apply those skills and structure to every facet of your life. And that’s another reason why they’ll ask you about consulting.
The sample answer we gave you above is all over the place. Its structure is quite poor — and deliberately chaotic.
What happens when you give such an unstructured response and then proceed to ace the case interview? For one, it shows you don’t really think in a structured manner and that you likely memorized some pre-existing structures for the case interview. It won’t bode well for you, even if you crack the case successfully.
You need to show that you think in a consistently organized manner, not just when you have to.
The last reason why you hear the “why counseling” question is to simply check how eloquent you are.
You need to talk confidently, clearly, and meaningfully. Everything you’re saying needs to convey a clear and concise message. Your answers must be understandable and easy to follow.
That’s precisely what your clients will expect from you one day. They don’t need someone to talk in circles — they’ll want someone who can convey the message properly. The interviewers know this, and they’ll be listening to your answer very closely.
Giving the Right Answer
Now that know why you’re being asked the question in the first place, you can already assume what you should say. All that’s left is to structure it properly.
The best way to organize your response is to open with a statement about how consulting is your top career choice. Something like:
“Consulting has been my priority ever since I first learned about it, and still is.”
Such a sentence shows that you’re not here because you don’t know what else you’d like to do. Or even worse, that you have nothing better to do. You need to show the interviewer that you mean business.
After that, you need to follow up with three reasons why consulting is your top choice. You need to prove your previous statement. For example:
- Consulting provides an opportunity to show your capabilities at a relatively early stage in your career.
- You have a passion for working on challenging cases as a part of a team.
- You appreciate the diversity of business problems that you get to solve as a consultant.
Don’t talk about money, or how you love to travel. Yes, travel is a common part of a consultant’s job, but it shouldn’t be among the primary reasons to do it. Don’t mention anything that will make you appear disinterested or superficial.
Finally, wrap it all up by reiterating the importance of consulting for you and how it fits what you want from a career.
Expand on the examples above, but don’t spend more than 30 seconds per reason. Practice your delivery ahead of time, and don’t memorize your answer. The interviewers will know if you’re not genuine.
The Bottom Line
You need to practice your answer to the “why consulting” question instead of just improvising. Think about what you’re going to say and how that’s going to reflect on you as a potential employee.
Show that you care and that consulting is not something you take lightly. There’s good, there’s bad, and the interviewer must see that you’re ready for both.