UPDATE - 9.16.2010
Hi all! There is a part 2 to this that I think is worth glancing over: https://oneillo.com/blog/posts/2010/04/27/small-bit-of-advice-on-consulting-case/

Ok, so I’m by no means an expert on landing an internship with a management consulting company, but I did manage to pick up a lot of good information during the last month while going through the BCG interviews. This info came via the books I read, my discussions with 10+ BCG representatives, and my own experience. As usual, I’d recommend taking it with a grain of salt and supplementing it with any other information you can find, such as the materials provided by your school’s consulting club.

From what I understand, getting into top MC firms will be even harder this year given the downturn in the economy, which is causing companies to recruit less and luring MBA grads into consulting that would normally go into finance.

General Tips

  • First, try to determine what field(s) you are interested in as early as possible. I’ve had conversations with current and previous Kellogg students, and they’ve all suggested that knowing what you want to do early on will be an advantage. This will help you focus your recruiting efforts, instead of having to attend every information session/company event at your school. It sounds like there will be too many of these events to attend anyways.
  • If you are interested in consulting, try to figure out your target companies and locations. In one book, they suggested going after locations where you’ll have an advantage. For example, if you are originally from France, then getting an internship in a Paris office may be easier than a New York office, and transferring is less difficult once you are in. Furthermore, all of the popular cities will be the most competitive. I don’t know if this is true or not, but it sounds logical. Personally, I went for BCG Texas because I knew I wanted to return to Texas after grad school for a myriad of reason.
  • Contact people from the offices that you are interested in to begin the networking process. As soon as I knew that I would be interviewing for the BCG Texas system, I got on LinkedIn and searched for Kellogg alums that were working at either BCG Dallas or BCG Houston. I contacted a few of them via LinkedIn, and one of them quickly responded and agreed to talk to me on the phone.We had an hour-long conversation covering a wide range of topics, and I learned that he was actually a member of the recruiting team. He also told me that he had passed my information on to a few other Kellogg colleagues working in the BCG Texas offices. Talk about hitting the jackpot!
  • If you aren’t on LinkedIn, then what are you waiting for! Sign up; it’s a great networking tool. If you already have an account, then make sure that your profile is up to date. I found out that a BCG Consultant in the Chicago office viewed my profile early on in the interview process. Fortunately, I spent a few hours adding and updating information in my profile a few weeks before.
  • Act professionally when contacting any company reps. No matter how informal the situation, you may be getting evaluated by the representative. Even if that isn’t the case, just assume that you are being evaluated. I got the impression that BCG maintained a file on me throughout the process that was accessible to others and included feedback from the folks I had spoken with. I can’t confirm this, but it certainly makes sense for a company to do it.
  • For Kellogg students, 3 BCG reps independently suggested that Financial Decisions (FinD) was a great course to have on your transcript for consulting. It is supposed to be pretty rough though, so they took it as one of their Pass/Fail courses. Another BCGer suggested taking TurboFinance. So, it sounds like having some strong quant courses on the transcript can’t hurt.
  • Join the consulting club! :)
  • BCG generally doesn’t use brainteasers. Brainteasers suck! A brainteaser would be something like estimate how much a 747 jet weighs. You would then have to walk the interviewer through each step of your process for getting the answer, like “Well, I’ll assume that a 747 has 240 seats, and each seat weighs 20 lbs, so that is 4800 lbs right there.” You don’t have to get the right answer, but your answer should be reasonable.
  • For the fit portion of the interview, make sure that you are very familiar with your resume. This was the one item that every interviewer looked over during this part of the interview. You should also think of your “personal brand”, or, what three things do you want interviewers to remember about you. For me, it was that I have strong ties to Texas, I have an established quantitative background (woot for Engineering), and I’ve overcome a variety of personal and professional challenges that position me well for consulting.
  • I’d suggest getting a case book. They helped me out a lot, as did the materials available via the consulting club website.
  • Be prepared for cases that may not fall neatly into any categories or processes that you have read or learned about. It is impossible to be 100% prepared for the interview, because the interviewer can ask you about anything. This is especially true for later rounds, where the senior consultants are more familiar with all of the different aspects of the case. Right before my last practice interview, I had started slacking off with my studying. I felt confident that I could tackle any case that was thrown at me. During the practice interview, I hit a wall and absolutely collapsed. It was a terrible experience, but it definitely gave me a renewed respect for the case interview.
  • For BCG case interviews, you are expected to drive the case. Normally, this is as easy as asking questions, discussing the answer with the interviewer, and then repeating. It gets hard if you hit a wall, but I describe a few ways to get out of that below. Don’t expect the interviewer to show you the way, though they will try to help you out!

Refined Guide to the Case Interview This is based on a post from last month where I first laid out a guideline for handling case interviews.

  • As the interviewer reads the case, take notes (notes are your friend!). At the end, repeat back the case highlights and objective(s) to verify that you understood everything correctly.
  • Ask any clarifying questions that you may have. For example, if the case involves a product that you’ve never heard of, don’t be afraid to ask what it is. They want to see that you are willing to ask questions and learn instead of making unnecessary/incorrect assumptions.
  • Ask the interviewer “for a moment to collect your thoughts.” Use this time to develop and write down a framework for analyzing the case. By framework, I don’t mean something like 3Cs, 5Ps, or whatever they are called. This is something that you come up with to address the specific case. If possible, try to come up with a hypothesis that you will try to prove or disprove for your case, and use that to develop your framework. This will help you put together a better framework. If your case involves a problem with declining profits, your hypothesis might be that costs are going up, possibly from new products. Then, you could look at the market to verify that you aren’t losing market share to competitors and that it is still growing (meaning it’s an internal issue). Then you might look at the sources of revenue and product performance over the past 3-5 years and related costs.
  • Show the framework to your interviewer and explain why you are using it. BCG likes for you to state your hypothesis here, but it is not necessary. You should only do this if you feel comfortable enough making one.
  • Follow your framework and begin asking the interviewer questions. This should be a 2-way discussion. Take notes of any key findings along the way and make sure that you are actively listening to their responses and reacting appropriately. If you suggest that labor costs might be increasing, and they tell you that labor costs are in line with the industry, you should focus on another area. Try not to ditch your initial framework here; it looks good if you are returning to it throughout the conversation. This was something that I had trouble with up until the last two interviews.
  • If you hit a wall during the case (which is awful!!!), try not to panic and whatever you do, don’t say “I don’t know.” Keep looking over the information that you have and your framework. Check to see if you missed any areas that you wanted to look at or any clues that the interviewer might have given you. Worst case scenario, ask the interviewer for help. This is not viewed negatively if done no more than 1 - 2 times.
  • You don’t have to do the “public math” in your head, unless the interviewer asks you to do it. I asked one of the BCG reps that walked me through a practice case about this, and he said that it is far more important to give the right answers, even if you have to write it down and work it out quickly on your scratch paper. Once I found this out, I performed all of my “public math” calculations on paper.
  • Personally, I’d suggest using multiple sheets of scratch paper, especially for any calculations. I kept on trying to do my calculations on the same sheet of paper where I was keeping key points, and it would clutter the sheet and make it confusing. I started doing the math on another sheet and then transferring the values over to my “key points” sheet in a suitable format (normally an Excel-like table). Keep the information organized neatly on your main sheets; looking disorganized will not help.
  • Proactively ask for data and explain why you want the data. You can’t just ask for the state of the market over the past couple of years; you have to mention that you want the data to see if any competitors are gaining market share, if any competitors have entered/left the market, if we have economies of scale on our side, etc, and then explain why this info would be useful to you. If they know why you want the data, they may volunteer some other piece of info that allows you to arrive at the same conclusion
  • If you are given any charts or tables of data, take a moment to review them and then make a conclusion about the data. Like, “I see that Competitor A is able to offer a larger quantity of the same product for a much cheaper price. Economies of scale must be playing a factor here, so we might look at increasing our volume levels to reduce costs”. Again, I was told by a couple of BCGers that it is important to come to a conclusion about the data, and both of the Principals in the last round asked me what I thought about the data they had given me.
  • At the end, be prepared to summarize your key findings and recommendations into an elevator pitch (60 seconds or so). The interviewers always prompted me for this. Ask for a moment to write out your recommendations; try to keep it organized, with a bullet list for example. A suggested format was to have a 1 sentence summary of the problem, then list your recommendations and why you are making them, and finally, include 1 other item that the company should investigate further or consider. If you move manufacturing overseas to save on costs, then it might negatively impact the product’s quality or customer perception.

This is everything that comes to mind at the moment, but I’m sure that there are items that I am missing. I am looking forward to helping my classmates prepare for the consulting recruiting however possible when class begins, and I hope that anyone will feel comfortable enough to reach out to me.