I received an email the other day from an F1Y (future first year) who recently got an offer following his BCG interview.
I asked him to describe the interview format he experienced and make some suggestions for others who will soon be going through the BCG interview process.
While that interview process within a firm will sometimes vary from country to country, I think 85%+ of what this F1Y shares is applicable to others applying to BCG, and 70%+ is applicable to other firms.
(The primary difference is the written case. Not every firm uses a written case… and I suspect most if not all BCG offices use a written case, but I do not yet have enough data to be 100% certain of that.)
*** BCG Interview Format & Tips ***
I had my final round interview with BCG and was lucky enough to get an offer from them.
Although I was quite nervous in the run-up and the interviews were hard work, it was also a lot of fun to really work together with the interviewers to explore the cases.
I really wanted to thank you for providing four standard frameworks that are easily remembered and applied, even by a social science student such as myself.
Most importantly, because of their simplicity, it was easy to adapt them to the question at hand and show the creativity they are looking for.
My interview process with BCG covered different aspects that I will try to describe here:
My written case consisted of a pack of information about a company and the task to distill a strategic advice in the form of a powerpoint, all within two hours.
The many questions and overdose of information were rather overwhelming, so I decided pretty early what the story was I wanted to tell.
Like in academia, I formulated a hypothesis (“Company X should take step Y”) and then checked which data supported or refuted the hypothesis.
The outcome was relevant for my presentation whether the hypothesis stood or not, as it told the client what to do.
Then I thought about the diagrams, tables and graphs that would provide the maximum amount of insight to illustrate my advice.
I did spend too much time on all the calculations, but also made sure to answer all the questions.
In the ensuing discussion with the interviewer, I saw that I missed a lot of points, but decided to be honest about those faults.
The interviews all covered past experiences. I feel I should have prepared better for this part, by making the basic lists (strengths, weaknesses, proudest moment, etc.) and should have ready-made little stories ready to illustrate them (with the STAR-method or something).
What surprised me was that the interviewers approached these cases with the same rigour as they do with the business cases.
What did you do in that situation. Why? What else could you have done? What made you able to respond that way?
In all the cases I conducted, I felt the main lesson was to see it as an interesting problem you are tackling together with the interviewer.
You are asked to provide the structure and the decisions, but the interviewer can add the necessary data and nudges when in doubt.
I guess if the interviewers enjoy working with you as a candidate, they would be tempted to think they would like working alongside you as a colleague.
This F1Y (future first year) raises a very good point that I completely agree with but have not covered previously.
In addition to the case interview, you will be asked questions about your various career (or academic/extra-curricular) experiences, based on your consulting resume.
There very much is a preferred way to answer these questions.
I assumed that knowing how to do this is common knowledge, and never bothered to cover this topic.
I will write up a separate guide on this and make it available to you. For the time being, let me describe the “dance” that happens between candidate and interviewer for these career experience questions.
The first thing to realize is that interviewers by and large all ask similar resume-oriented questions.
They either ask you to describe what you did in a particular job or they ask you about a specific situation (often one that is leadership-oriented) and ask you for an example of that kind of situation.
With enough interviews, you will notice the pattern of how interviewers all ask the same questions.
To be prepared for that, you want to decide in advance which “stories” or examples you want to emphasize.
It’s important to be strategic about this.
If you have a PhD in Physics, it is probably not necessary to demonstrate an example of some very advanced math thing you did in your research.
It would probably be better to explain how there was some interpersonal conflict on the team you were working, and how you stepped in to get the team together and get the technical problem solved.
In this particular example, you want to consider what stereotype your background tends to convey… and what is the presumed weakness associated with either the stereotype or your resume.
You want to disproportionately weigh your answers and stories to cover any areas that are glaring weaknesses.
For PhD candidates, the presumed weakness is people skills, interpersonal skills, etc… So, interviewers want to hear about those kinds of situations.
If you are a college grad, the question of business maturity comes up. You’re a 21-year-old kid, can I really put you in front of a 63-year-old CEO and not have you say something dumb that embarrasses me?
You might consider weaving in specific references to situations where you dealt with a more senior, executive audience.
You can generally figure out what your presumed weak spot is if you keep getting asked about certain topics on your resume. You need to have good answers ready.
When I was doing this, I had a particular quote in mind that really captures the essence of this “dance.”
Henry Kissinger, former U.S. Secretary of State, reportedly used to start every press conference he gave with the same joke. He would say to all the reporters (before the cameras were turned on)…
“Hi everyone. What questions do you have for my answers today?”
It did not matter what questions the reporters would ask, he had certain points he wanted to make on any given day, and he was going to make them no matter what you said.
When I interviewed, I had my five key examples that I knew I was going to find a way to weave into the conversation one way or another.
Now, each time I got asked a question, I would pause, give a facial reaction that said without words… “Hmmm… that’s an interesting question…” I would pause for a few seconds like in deep thought, and then I would give my previously prepared answer.
It was a dance.
The interviewer has asked that question all day long. I have been asked that same question all month long.
I knew she was going to ask it. She knew she was going to ask it… but we all pretended we were all doing this for the first time…. and I would give my set answer to whatever question she asked.
So, for the time being, realize that you need to prepare your “core stories” that you want to convey in resume-based interview questions.
In a separate post, I will explain how to structure your “core stories” for maximum impact.