Cracking the Consulting Interview! Part 5: Personal Interview Prep
How to tackle the “Tell me about yourself” and other PI questions? Part 5 in my latest series of articles on cracking MBB interviews.
A lot of people tend to save personal interview prep for the very end. The last week or two maybe, even lesser. They spend all their time and energy on case solving. But, personal interview (PI) questions are also important for interviews. McKinsey’s website emphasises the significance of the personal interview component of their interviews.
When Should You Begin Personal Interview Prep?
It is really a function of the total time you have till the interview and your comfort level with such preparation. I had a total of 4 months to prepare and began personal interview preparation a little over a month before the interview day. I didn’t drop casing altogether then but worked simultaneously on both aspects. Pick a time that suits your requirements. But don’t ever push it to the very end unless you want to be embroiled in an existential dread situation.
How Should You Go About It?
To each their own technique, but I’ll share my technique here.
- I first listed out all the things I’d done in college (and some events from school) till then — competitions, internships, projects, notable courses etc. Even the tiniest of achievements or events of significance featured on this sheet. This was to help jog my memory.
- I then recollected 7 to 8 “stories” and jotted them down. And by recollected I mean really, really drilled into my brain to understand what I did, why I did what I did etc. Now, each of these stories would cover one or more of the entries in the list of stuff I did in college. One or two stories also covered my school days. These stories served as references for PI.
- I then categorized them under various headings such as “Teamwork”, “Leadership”, “Crisis Aversion”, “People Skills” etc. One story can cater to multiple such headings, and that’s a good thing. You’ll be able to reuse your stories in that manner.
- I then went through some standard questions and looked at how I could utilize the 7 to 8 key stories to answer each question.
- Finally, I went through my resume in detail and was well prepared to answer any question about any internship or project I’d worked on and offer quick and structured descriptions of my experiences.
Tell Me About Yourself
This is something you most definitely have to be prepared for. This seemingly simple question requires a considerable amount of thought, structuring and introspection in order to present an interesting, concise and crisp answer. Here are some tips that I learnt along the way:
- Don’t exceed 90 seconds. Try having a short and a long version and deploy the appropriate version basis time and interviewer expectation.
- Ensure it has a nice flow.
- Rehearse it to get a handle on the points and the timing but ensure that while you don’t appear robotic while you speak.
- Be genuine. I cannot overstate the importance of this.
- Follow a structure (Eg: chronological order, academics-professional experiences-extracurriculars etc.)
- Have an underlying theme (mine was on how my various experiences led to me identifying consulting as the right fit.)
- End with a hook that’ll make you appear memorable.
- Don’t just narrate your resume.
- Don’t feel the need to mention every single event in your life, thus cramming in everything.
- Highlight events that you want the interviewer to latch on to, so add hooks there as well.
Some General Tips for Your Overall PI Prep
- Be honest and genuine with your answers.
- Don’t over-rehearse anything. Remember, you’re just talking about yourself and all that you’ve done.
- If you feel that you don’t remember the exact details of events, contact your friends and colleagues who were present at that time and extract details.
- Restrict answers anywhere between 30 seconds and 1 minute, depending on the question and interviewer interest. The “Tell me About Yourself” question would go on for longer.
- Employ the STAR format — Situation, Task, Action, Result for answering questions. Don’t ramble.
- Be prepared to talk about any and every point on your resume. Thus, go through your project and internship reports to recollect the work you’ve done so that you can have a fruitful conversation on the topic if the need arises in the interview.
- Have mock PI sessions with seniors and friends. They’ll be able to inform you of errors and blindspots and this would be really useful. But, don’t overdo it. At the end of the day, remember that you need to be genuine and so take a call on which suggestions you want to incorporate and which ones you want to skip.
- Don’t give generic answers to questions like “Why consulting?” and “Why firm A over B or C?”. After a certain period of case preparation and interactions with seniors, you should have answers to the above questions. There must have been some reason why you chose to enter case preparation, right? Introspect and identify how your core interests, experiences and aspirations fit in with consulting and your target firm.
- Finally, on interview day, converse with the interviewer. Rope the interviewer in for thoughts and comments now and then instead of plainly reciting prepared answers. Don’t force this though, if you’re uncomfortable with it, that’s absolutely okay. Again, just be yourself.
Now, the above points were what I focused on during my PI prep. It’s impossible to list out a completely exhaustive list of points as it’s very dependent on the candidate and his/her answers and expectations. Hence, use the above points as a guide and build on your PI answers.
Next up in this series are tips for the interview day. Stay tuned!
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