When I was working for McKinsey, the PEIs or fit interviews weren’t nearly as important as case interviews; but like it or not, the game has changed – nowadays those interviews play a much more decisive role in the consulting recruitment process.
So here we are, introducing the essential guide on how to ACE these consulting behavioral interviews.
What are fit interviews?
A fit interview checks if your qualities, motivations and personality fit the firm’s culture.
They consist of personal experience/behavioral questions, which assess the necessary skills and personality traits based on your behavior in past situations similar to the firm’s work environment, along with other questions on your motivations or personal side.
In management consulting, the most famous fit interviews are:
What is McKinsey PEI?
PEI or “Personal Experience Interview” is the name for McKinsey’s signature fit interview. The PEI focuses solely on behavioral questions to determine the candidate’s experience, skills, motivations and personality fit. Each PEI lasts 10-15 minutes; a typical McKinsey candidate can expect 4-6 PEIs.
McKinsey PEI sample questions:
- Tell me about a time when you overcame an extremely difficult task
- Tell me about your biggest career achievement
- Tell me about a time when you led the whole team through extraordinary hardship
- Tell me about a time when you resolved disagreements within your team
- Tell me about a time when you successfully changed someone’s mind
- Tell me about your biggest failure until now
- Tell me about a time when you changed the direction of the team despite not being the leader
- Tell me about an occasion when you had to motivate people
What are BCG / Bain fit interviews?
Fit interviews at BCG and Bain use a wide range of questions designed to assess a candidate’s experience, skills, motivations as well as personality fit. BCG fit interviews tends to have more behavioral questions than Bain fit interviews (called Experience Interviews). They often last 10-15 minutes, and a successful candidate will go through 4-6 of them.
BCG & Bain sample fit interview questions:
- Tell me about a time you led your team to extraordinary achievements
- Tell me about a time when you changed the direction of the team despite not being the leader
- Tell me about your biggest failure until now
- Tell me about how you resolved a big argument with your teammate
- Tell me about a difficult/ambiguous decision you made recently
- What are you most proud of?
- What did you like about your previous job?
- What do you do in your free time?
- What skills/talents/attributes can you bring to the team?
- Why are you interested in joining our firm?
2. Why are Fit Interviews Important?
Long ago, consulting fit interviews were only a minor part in consulting recruitment process – sometimes the interviewers even regarded it as “just procedure”! – that’s why my Case Interview End-to-End Secrets Program back then did not include a PEI section.
Nowadays, however, the game has changed – fit interviews are a big part in the hiring decision. Why that change, though?
The people side of consulting work
Consulting firms conduct fit interviews because real consulting work requires a lot of people skills.
Consultants are usually placed in the midst of disagreement on the client-side, and they are almost always disliked by junior personnel of the client firm (due to their lack of experience in the client’s industry). Convincing all those unwilling people to follow the same direction is a task requiring great leadership ability and personal drive.
In addition, management consultants must rely on their team, support network, and the client to deliver solutions – consulting projects are not one-man shows. Organizing team meetings, interviewing clients, calling support centers and experts, coordinating with specialists, that’s what they do every day.
Consulting fit interviews are playing an ever-increasing role.
The shift towards implementation
Consulting firms are getting more and more involved in the execution part of their solutions; as such, consultants have to deal with more day-to-day business situations, and need more “soft skills”.
Long ago (and even today), management consultants have this reputation of being theoretical geeks, out of touch with reality.
However, the industry has changed; nowadays there’s a separate “implementation consultant” track, who stays with the client and helps them deal with the execution of the plan; even the traditional consultant track is affected, with more emphasis on people skills in the recruitment process.
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What does McKinsey, BCG and Bain look for?
McKinsey, BCG and Bain look for three attributes: (1) leadership abilities to influence people, work in teams, and communicate ideas (2) an achieving mindset to go beyond what is asked and learn from challenges, and (3) problem-solving skills to tackle business problems in a structured, analytical manner. Previous business background is not required, but can be advantageous.
Three question types – Behavioral, Motivation, and Personality
“What do they ask in the consulting fit interviews?” – that’s probably what’s in your mind right now. Well, I have good news for you: the questions are fairly predictable. In fact, there are just three question types to prepare for:
Behavioral/Personal experience questions:
They test how you behaved in situations similar to the firm’s work environment. This type of question is the basis for McKinsey PEI and a centerpiece in other consulting fit interviews.
e.g: Tell me about a time when you led your team through extraordinary hardship.
The wordings might differ from one interview to another, but the five common topics remain the same: leadership and people influencing, conflict resolving and team coordination, as well as overcoming difficult tasks. To answer these questions, you need authentic, engaging, convincing stories, to show that you possess the ecessary experience, skills, and traits.
These require you to explain why you’re applying to that specific industry and/or firm and office.
e.g: “Why are you interested in management consulting? / why are you applying for McKinsey?
Motivation questions can be divided into two subtypes: “why consulting?” and “why this firm?”, but in either situation, the desirable answer should always be specific to the firm or the office you’re applying into. Most interviewers expect you to connect the unique features, projects, and people of their firm to your future plans and/or personal values – such answers will let them know whether you’re ready for long-term commitment.
This final type of question allows the interviewer to get to know you as a person.
e.g: “What do you do in your free time?”
Personality questions usually concern your hobbies and interests, personal values, and workplace preferences. McKinsey interviewers rarely use personality questions, but they do pop up more frequently in BCG, and especially Bain interviews.
These questions are opportunities for you to further demonstrate your cultural fit and consulting qualities while also showing your unique side. Make sure all these aspects show through, but keep your answer concise and structured.
Three required traits – Leadership, Achieving, Analytical Problem-solving
Each MBB consulting firm explicitly states what they look for on their websites, with very fancy wordings; however, take a closer look and all of those terms can be summarized into three traits:
Leadership is not just about being the club president – it’s about influencing people in general.
Remember the previous section about people skills in consulting work – yes, that’s why every consultant must be a leader and manager from Day One, even for entry-level positions. Interviewers don’t pay much attention to how many clubs and classes you led, but how you led them, and what impact did your leadership make. Therefore, make your stories as detailed, result-oriented, and positive as possible.
Consulting work is hard work – if you’re not ambitious and achieving, you won’t even get in.
Deadlines in the consulting world are always tight, and if you can’t make the line, you’re dead (not literally, but you get the idea). Solving corporate, C-level problems as a fresh graduate is not an easy task, either. As such, interviewers look for people who relentlessly push for the best in every task they perform – so make sure you show that side during fit interviews.
Structured analyses are a trademark of management consultants.
They are the reason why consulting firms can identify bottlenecks and deliver actionable solutions for the most intriguing business problems. In fit interviews, tell the interviewers how you used such approaches to solve your problems. Additionally, deliver all your answers in an organized manner – nobody will believe you’re a structured person if your stories and explanations go all over the place.
Important as the fit interview might be, the key to landing a consulting job still lies in mastering the case interview.
And to help you do that, I’ve crafted a comprehensive guide for both beginners alike – one hour of investment on it will save you weeks or months of practice!
Story-based, not question-based
Prepare 3-4 detailed, all-round, refined stories exhibiting all the required traits, then tune the stories according to the interviewer’s question.
Many candidates make the mistake of preparing on a per-question basis, i.e listing out the possible questions and the corresponding answers/stories. Having trained their minds in such an inflexible fashion, they are easily thrown off-balance if asked something unexpected. The resulting storytelling style is often somewhat robotic.
Instead, in the Case Interview End-to-End Secrets Program, I teach a story-based approach: select a few stories reflecting your best, all-round self, and develop them in detail.
Such an approach comprised of three steps:
- Lay down the content base
- Form the story plot
- Refine your style
Lay down the content base
The purpose of this step is to gather as many “building materials” as possible for your stories:
- Look back on your personal and professional life, identify the extraordinary events/milestones – those will be the content bases for your fit interview stories.
- Grade each story base according to the three required traits for consulting work: leadership, achieving, and problem-solving.
- Check if your story is unique, and something you’re really proud of. Your story should reflect your own personal values – that’s what helps you stand out from a crowd of the best and brightest candidates (Note: Be careful if you have some controversial personal values).
- Select 3-5 stories that have the most boxes checked – if you think that’s too few, rest assured, by the end of this process you’ll have about a dozen variants – more than enough for the whole interview phase.
- Rack your memory to find as many details as possible for each selected story base – don’t worry about having too many details, you will be trimming the excess details later. Use the structure Problem-Action-Result-Lesson as the guideline for this step.
By the end of this step, you should have a list or a map of the contents to be used in your interview stories. The next step is to arrange those contents.
Form the story plot
A story is not merely an assortment of details, but also how they are arranged and emphasized -that’s what a story plot is about.
- Start by trimming away all the unimportant and technical details – those will do nothing but confuse your audience. When you are unsure whether to keep or remove a certain detail, check if it affects how the listener understands the story – if the answer is “yes, positively”, keep the detail; otherwise, remove it.
- Arrange the remaining details so that a build-up of tension can be felt before the “action” part – you’d want to emphasize the uniqueness and difficulty of that problem, to make your solutions and results stand out.
- Make sure all the consulting traits and personal values can be seen clearly. The best way to do this is to explain the rationale and process of all your actions in the story.
By now your story should be quite complete in its written form. Delivering it in spoken form, however, requires additional practice for “style”.
Refine your style
Improving storytelling “style” is a long-term, partly subconscious process.
Having an engaging style is extremely important in storytelling, and it really adds weight to everything you speak. Successful politicians don’t win their influence through authenticity, but through style – and they do so because people think mostly with their hearts, not brains.
The same thing happens inside the interview room; management consultants are rational people, but they can still be swayed by the heart if you can make them “feel” the story as if they were in your shoes.
There is no fixed procedure for practicing your style, but I do have a few tips:
- Practice daily: Storytelling techniques apply to every type of story, not just for job interviews. Tell stories to your friends and family, then take note of the elements coming up repeatedly in your communications, as well as the audience’s response.
- Imitate the good storytellers: Take note each time you hear a good story, and learn from the ones that prompted positive responses from you.
- Formalize your style: Formality matters because you’re doing fit interviews, not just any storytelling. Minimize the daily-speech elements of your style, lest you be perceived as unprofessional.
- Be yourself: Use a style you honestly like and feel natural. Don’t be too stiff about incorporating other people’s style, because if you feel unnatural, so does the audience.
In for more insights on case interviews and personal experience interviews? Check out our Case Interview End-to-End Secrets Program, the Tips and Techniques package!
Four characteristics of the ideal answer
“Why are you joining this industry?”, “Why are you interested in our firm?” – That’s the sort of question nearly any employer would ask you, not just the consulting firms. They want to make sure you’re not going to bail out once you’ve become useful to the company.
The ideal answer basically boils down to these four characteristics: unique, specific, authentic, and appropriate.
Your reasons should make yourself stand out from the crowd by pertaining to your own experiences, preferences, and plans.
If you give the interviewer a reason everybody else has, what value are you offering? Can the firm trust you to be more committed than the average candidate? Why should they hire an average you, given so many other bright candidates?
Do this replacement test for every answer of yours: you can replace yourself with another person, your reasons are not unique enough.
Whether they’re asking “why consulting” or “why McKinsey/BCG/Bain”, your reason should be specific to the firm, or even the office you’re interviewing at.
In either case, they are looking for someone willing to commit to their firm, their office. Saying you’re so passionate about consulting is not enough, since it does not guarantee that you won’t quit and join their competitor.
In particular, interviewers expect you to mention the defining features of the firm and the office, or the projects they’ve done, or the people who did those projects, and link them to your own plans and preferences.
Needless to say, no interviewers like candidates who make stuff up merely to impress.
It’s not difficult for interviewers to realize if you’re bluffing – answers without an authentic basis tend to be inconsistent and unrealistic – and when they do, your chances are ruined.
Outside the scope of an interview, people who make career choices without an authentic and specific reason will often be disillusioned and discouraged by the reality of the job – so consulting interviewers want to be sure you understand the job before hiring you.
Not every unique, specific and authentic reason should be presented in fit interviews. Avoid those that could be perceived as superficial or short-term.
On top of that list are pay and short-term learning. Don’t say you come to McKinsey for the salary, it sounds like you’d quit for a higher-paying offer. Nor should you express that you’ve come to BCG for a 2-year learning experience – that’s the exact kind of candidate they avoid.
How to research on the firms and the industry
The ideal answer to motivation questions requires you to deeply understand the consulting industry as well as your target firms. That means you need first-hand experience from internships or a good deal of second-hand research.
The two best ways to do research are networking and reading consulting news – both will increase your exposure to the consulting world.
If you can’t get some first-hand experience for yourself, it’s best to listen to the experience of insiders.
Consulting firms are publicity-shy, so you don’t usually find the best information online – a lot of it is just marketing materials, which you take with a handful of salt. However, if you get to know former or working consultants, I’m sure you’d be given plenty of interesting insights, helping you make better choices and deliver more convincing interview answers.
Read consulting news
Major consulting firms all publish articles about their projects on their homepage. Make sure to read them often.
Reading consulting articles will expose you to the projects each consulting firm does, helping you grasp the scope of their work and the methods they use. Yes, there are some marketing elements in those articles, but they are about the best materials they publish online.
There is another benefit: regular exposure to consulting articles will train you to the mindset and language of consultants – and when you exhibit such traits, your interviewer will love it!
Hobbies and interests
e.g: “What do you do in your free time?”
Don’t merely list your hobbies and interests, but mention how your efforts brought impressive, verifiable results. Something along the lines of “I led my college’s football team to a national championship” or “I founded a 50,000-member board game community” definitely adds value.
These questions are also a chance to relax and express yourself a bit more – if you have some “unordinary” pastimes (e.g: mine is paragliding) don’t hesitate to show them. Even if just a bit, they will help you stand out and appear more interesting.
e.g: “What aspects of your internship did you like the most?”
The answer to this question will suggest your personal values and compatibility with consulting work, so try to make those elements stand out.
Avoid making negative remarks about your former employers and colleagues, though – that’s an auto-fail mistake, not just in management consulting but in any job interview.
Values & plans / traits & skills:
e.g: “What is the thing you’re most proud of?” / “What attributes do you bring to the team?”
I group these questions together because they are pretty direct compared to other questions in fit interviews.
When talking about your values or future plans, stay confident, and be yourself. That will help you appear more unique; just don’t bring up anything controversial, like political viewpoints; also avoid anything that suggests you’ll be leaving the firm soon. When describing your personality, on the other hand, the more objective you sound, the better. The easiest way is to mention the comments of other people.
In both cases, always back up your statements with examples, with specific and verifiable details. Consultants are very fact-based, aren’t they?
Try to be as authentic as possible. It’s so simple, yet so many people can’t do it right.
It’s not hard for interviewers to detect candidates who exaggerate their achievements, or straight-up lie about it. Once their bluffing is realized, they have no chance of stepping into the firm’s office.
On the other hand, if you fake stories and manage to slip into a consulting firm, you will most likely be filtered out soon enough – either through work pressure, disillusion, or the company’s harsh up-or-out policy.
Here are my two cents – if you lack stories to tell in fit interviews, either rack your memory even further, or get more experience. Don’t make up stuff for the sake of the interview.
Wasting time on context
Use enough context to enhance the impact of your action, but don’t dwell on it too much, you’ll bore the listener to death.
If you’ve been doing job interviews and the interviewer frequently tells you to quicken up the pace, you’re probably making this mistake.
Practice telling stories in daily conversations with the Problem-Action-Result structure (the last Lessons part is not required), and see if your audience slowly “disengage” towards the end of the Problem part – if that’s the case, you have a lot of “excess fat” to trim.
Avoid using one story over and over and over again – it will suggest inexperience, and limit the interviewers’ ability to assess you.
Imagine 4-5 interviewers sit down to discuss, and find out you’ve been telling one same story to all of them: no new insights can be gained to reach a concrete decision, and your statements about leadership abilities and problem-solving skills will begin to lose weight.
That’s why 3-5 well-rounded stories are my recommendation; if your stories are lopsided towards specific qualities, you will need a few more.
However, remember to show your best self – if other stories significantly compromise your personal picture, repeating 1-2 “best” stories is a safer option.
Not focusing on oneself
Keep in mind – the story is about you within the team, not the team itself.
Lots of people give too much credit and attention to the team when talking about teamwork – and that hurts their own chances because they appear “smaller”.
Always emphasize your own contributions to the team, say how you swayed the team’s direction, and led everyone to success – it’s YOUR interview, not the team’s interview.
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