Do's and Don'ts for the Consulting Interview

Published: Oct 15, 2012

 Consulting       Interviewing       
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The search for a job, whether you’re coming out of college or a senior executive, is never easy.  It is a venture into the unknown, and that can be scary and daunting. But fret not! While a healthy respect for the interview process should always be maintained, there are some tips that can help make your day go much more smoothly. 


Make a solid introduction

As my parents always said on the first day of school, “you only have one chance to make a first impression!” After a few years, my siblings and I often jokingly recited these pearls of wisdom before they had a chance to tell us. And it’s advice that will last a lifetime. The introduction is a major step in the interview process, and there will be a lot of them to make. While it may seem obvious, there are a few simple steps to ensure that you always make a good first impression.

- The handshake didn’t develop into an almost universal gesture due to its lack of importance. Be firm, make direct eye contact and keep a smile on your face. Make the interviewer know that you are here to perform right off the bat. If you are waiting in a room for the interviewer arrive, try to keep an eye out and make sure you are standing up right away; nobody likes a seated handshake!

- Say your name clearly!  Interviewers may see 10-15 people each day during the height of the recruiting season. So, while you might be about to produce the best interview responses they have ever heard, it won’t help if they don’t remember your name. 

- Dress to impress, but please, keep it professional. Consider the setting where you are interviewing.  While you might look absolutely stellar in your ball gown or your faux-snake-skin suit, perhaps it’s not the right time to break those styles out of your closet (there are plenty of social events down the road to win the best-dressed trophy!). Appropriate garb leaves the interviewer distraction-free, with full attention on your responses to the questions at hand. Remember, it’s your responses that will make or break your interview.


Know your story

Nobody knows your life better than you do (OK, maybe your family has memories from when you were too young to remember), but if somebody asks you question about “what defines you as a person?,” will you have a well thought-out answer ready or will you flounder your way down memory lane? Common interview questions on your background are just that, common, so prepare for what they might be.


Practice, practice, practice!

There is no better advice for case interview preparation than to practice general interview and case questions. When you think you’ve practiced enough, convince a friend or family member to help you practice again. One key to case interviews is to realize that they are all basically Mad Libs question where the interviewer asks candidates the same questions, and looks to you to fill in the blanks and stand out in your answers. 

You’ll have a good chance to make a strong showing in the case question if you have a process for dissecting the case question into logical parts, think through your response, and drive toward the best answer in a logical, step-wise fashion. It doesn’t matter if you’re estimating the market size of golf carts or nail clippers, practice is the key to success!


Arrive armed with questions

There is usually time at the end of the interview to ask questions. The best advice is to know your audience. If you have time for two questions, try to make one about the firm in general, and make one about the interviewer’s experiences. Doing homework in advance is always a smart move, and you can ask very targeted questions based on each interviewer’s background. 


Areas of caution

Just as there are two sides to every coin, the same is true for interview topics. There are certain subjects that you probably want to avoid when you’re in a professional setting, especially when interviewing. 

- Social life:  What you do in a social setting should NEVER be discussed (outside of volunteer work or related activities).  And never ask about the interviewer’s personal life.

- Sob stories:  While there may be many defining moments in your life, many interviewers may view this as a guilt trip.

- Applications at other jobs:  Sometimes you may be asked “where else are you interviewing?” The best response is to keep things at a high level. Don’t lie, but don’t get into specific firms. Remember, the only place you want to work is L.E.K.!

- Compensation and benefits:  Focus on getting a job offer first. Without the offer, it doesn’t really matter what the compensation is. And you will always find out upon receiving the offer. 

- Overselling:  Tread lightly on using past internships or jobs to describe your industry expertise. Especially for those interviewing for the Associate role, know your limitations.  While you can bring some experience to the table, you will be amazed at how much you will learn within the first week on the job. 

Let’s face it, job interviewing can be tough! While it is never without some level of stress, keep in mind these simple tips to make the process go as smoothly as possible. 

Good luck! 

--by Will G., L.E.K. Consulting

For more on the consulting life--including interview tips and advice on life inside a leading firm--check out L.E.K. Consulting's blog The Advisor. A version of this post also appears there.