You’ve filled in piles of application forms and written what feels like thousands of words. Now you’ve finally earned the chance to meet a real person in the company.
Given that this is the bit that costs them the most money, that means they must like you on paper. But personal contact is everything in consultancy. The key question is – would they put you in front of a client that pays the firm millions of pounds every year? Your job in the interview is to show you are capable of being a dependable and credible face for the company.
These tips apply to all interviews; telephone, initial and case study based. The latter has some specific additional points to bear in mind, which we discuss in more detail here.
So, what are companies looking for in an interview?
- Quick thinking
Consultants help clients solve tough problems in their businesses, and are often put on the spot at very short notice. You have to be sharp and credible in your response to questions where you might not be 100% prepared on the answers.
You’ve got to be good, and good at talking about being good. Your Nobel Prize is all very well and will get you 95% of the way to that job compiling spreadsheets – but if you come across as thinking you’re God’s gift, you will be seen as someone no-one wants to work with. Know your strengths and communicate them well.
Critical. Consultancy is a people job – working with colleagues, working with clients. At all times you should be able to project an image of cool, calm and collected. Come across as someone who your interview would trust to complete a key deliverable on time and without fuss and you’ve won half the battle.
Leading people and fostering effective teamwork are key to success in consultancy – you may have subordinates very early on in your career, some of whom will be older and theoretically more experienced than you. The fact that consultants drive business change means they are always required to lead strongly. Look like someone who people will trust and follow.
Look the part. That doesn’t necessarily mean wearing a tie. It means looking like someone who crosses all the t’s and dots…the lower case j’s.
It’s no good being an academic genius if you have the social skills of Patrick Moore. Consultants need the full package, so recognise your weaknesses and make every effort to improve (or hide them).
Some things to avoid;
- The obvious: Mumbling, speaking too quickly, being unclear – cardinal sins in any interview. Don’t lose sight of the fact that however uneven the situation might be, an interview is still a conversation!
- Looking unprepared: Know the basics. Why do you want to work there? What do they do? Who are their clients?
- Delaying tactics: Don’t forget that for the interviewer, this is work. Like all work, they’d like it to be over quickly and painlessly. Make it as easy an experience for them as possible; they will appreciate you for it.