A few weeks ago I went to Boston for an internship interview with Boston Consulting Group (BCG). I learned a few valuable things that I wanted to share with you. The first part of this post is advice I would give to my “before-the-interview-self”. This part is the most practical and if you are preparing to get into BCG (or any other consulting firm) it might demystify some things. The second part (more fun, but less of a valuable brain dump of information) is documenting my trip from Wesleyan to Boston, having the interview, and revealing my personal thoughts on it. Let’s hop into it!
Before we do, however, full disclosure I am bound by a confidentiality statement not to talk about the actual content of the interview. As such, I will try to provide valuable information as much as possible within the constraint of not sharing anything confidential.
First Part (Advice)
The interview itself has three sections: 1. 10-minutes long behavioral — questions that relate to your background, personality and interest in BCG 2. 30-minutes long case portion — you solve a business case often involving charts and back of the envelope math 3. 5 minutes-long questions for the interviewer — self-explanatory.
For fit, even if they do make it conversational, remember that it’s an interview. Work on your skills of speaking concisely, know yourself and your background. A lot of people tend to overlook this because what’s so hard about talking about yourself? Right? That, in itself, is not hard. Flexing in a subtle manner so as not to come off as a braggart, while also keeping it as brief as possible is the difficult part. Do mock interviews with your career advisor, your roommate, your friends, your enemies, whatever. Practice practice practice.
The case part is the most important one. They don’t care about fit as much as they do about solving a case in a structured manner. And if you did get into the first round, everybody has the “fit” because you see that from the resume. You’re competing against everybody else, and what’s going to set you apart is your casing ability. Don’t overthink things, be as relaxed as you can. (that seems impossible but something that worked for me is embracing the anxiety and telling myself that it’s normal to be anxious. This way, you won’t fall into the downward spiral of being anxious about being anxious.) Appear confident even if you’re not. The questions are going to be hard and you may not be able to solve them at first, but stay calm and proceed with the interview step-by-step.
Take clear notes, for your own sake. It might take you a little bit of time in the beginning but it pays off in the long run. If you get bogged down you can always fall back on your notes and, because they’re easy to read, you will quickly be able to figure out a new direction.
Lay down a framework and explain the steps that you want to take to the interviewer. I got the case right without laying down a comprehensive framework. I was stupidly lucky. However, they care more about how you get there (e.g. structure) than actually getting there. Most big consulting firms just want to see how you think. If you rely on a structure, you can engage the interviewer as well. And you’re not prancing around chaotically from one point to another. Getting it right is also important because this is BCG, and there will always be someone who is both structured and manages to crack the case. You are competing with them, so you have to do both things right. Cut to the chase. Say the most important thing upfront as concisely as possible. Consultants are busy people and, even if they don’t show it, (they’re really nice on the outside) they do get impatient. Or worse – bored.
If you do get an interview with BCG its a massive opportunity to ask questions at the end. Because these people are too busy to respond to cold-emailing. But they have a wealth of knowledge and experience. So seize the interview opportunity to ask the questions that interest YOU and that are relevant to YOU. Don’t try to impress them. It’s hard to do that. Obviously, do your research and don’t ask questions that you can find online. Poke and prod about things that you know will be useful in your career search process. With that in mind, on to my actual interview experience!
“Son, what do you want to be when you grow up?” “ I want to be a consultant!” said no one ever. I am a junior in college and only this academic year did I begin considering a career in consulting. So, when BCG sent me an interview offer, I was caught unawares. A feeling of unpreparedness brought about anxiety. But I wanted to get as good as I can in the short amount of time I had before the interview. So I turned my case prep up to overdrive. One to two cases a day for 10 days got me from super noob to having a vague idea of casing. I still felt unprepared, but I decided that no matter what happens I would give it my best shot. This turned my fear into excitement. Plus, this would be the first time I would go to Boston, let alone have an interview at the headquarters of one of the biggest consulting companies in the world. My interview was scheduled in the morning so I had to stay a night in the city. I booked an Airbnb, got my train tickets, and off to Boston I went! I got to my abode for the night at around 10 PM. Fell asleep quickly, but woke up intermittently during the night. At 6 AM I decided to get up completely because I realized I wouldn’t be able to fall back asleep. I showered, suited up, and started walking back and forth in my room trying to get my head in the game. As I said previously, confidence can make or break this interview.
Big day. I should have been really nervous. But I wasn’t. I was excited and enjoying the moment. And that’s good because that’s when you perform best. The time came to hitch an uber and get to BCG’s headquarters. I entered the building, got through security, and took the elevator. As I exited the elevator I immediately found myself in the lobby of their office.
There, I was greeted by the receptionists. They handed me an envelope with short bios of the interviewers and showed me some cubbies where I could store my messenger bag for the duration of the interview. I had 20 minutes left, so I carefully read the bios (containing information on their work and hobbies) and thought of how I would connect with the interviewers on a personal level. After that, I started mingling with all the visibly anxious waiting-to-be-interviewed people. That didn’t last too long though. In a few moments, I was greeted by my first interviewer. I shook his hand and he led me to a glass-walled office. Everyone from the outside could see us. I wasn’t affected by that, though. Again, I can’t talk about the exact contents of the interview but I’ll say this: the interviewer was upbeat and made me feel comfortable for the entire duration of the interview. He was maybe too nice, as it was very hard to gauge whether I was actually doing a great job or not. Before I knew it, it was time for a small break. I chatted informally with my first interviewer for a bit and snacked on a granola bar (there was food specifically prepared for interviewees). I then had another interview with someone who was just as nice. When that one was over too, I felt like I wanted to do more.
It’s funny: at the very beginning I was scared out of my mind, but in hindsight, it was an exciting and enjoyable experience. I shook some more hands and I was ready to leave, no check-out or anything of the sort. They made it all as stress-free as possible. As I was exiting the building I overheard a man in a suit up talking about business recommendations to someone on the phone (most likely a client). It sounded uncannily similar to the recommendations that you would give at the end of a case interview. At that moment I realized that real consultants do things that are being tested in case interviews all the time. And it reinforced their importance despite them being formulaic. It was raining heavily that day so I didn’t get the chance to roam the streets of Boston as I had planned. But hey, I think that you always have to leave something to be excited about for next time.