The Supply Chain Management (SCM) Master’s program at MIT is a top-ranked professional program designed for early-mid career professionals who wish to grow their skills in operations, strategy and technology. One of the major benefits of this program is its relatively short duration (and correspondingly high ROI) compared to other professional degrees such as MBA and MPA. However, this short duration also poses some challenges that SCM candidates must address to reap all the potential benefits of the program.
In addition to the program’s rigorous and demanding curriculum, the recruiting season kicks off in early September with world-class firms visiting campus – only two weeks after the beginning of orientation in mid-August. By Thanksgiving, many students have received employment offers. Candidates must therefore prepare thoroughly, smartly and efficiently for job interviews if they wish to participate in fall recruiting.
In my case, I knew even before coming to the SCM program at MIT that I wanted to join the consulting world after graduation. I was also aware that joining top-tier consulting firms could not be achieved without extensive preparation – well in advance of arriving on campus.
After successfully completing the rigorous interview process, I was very fortunate to secure offers from McKinsey & Company, The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and Bain & Company – “a nice problem to have”, as many people kept telling me when assessing which firm to select ?.
That said, I am pleased to share with you some insights, in the form of a high-level guide, to help you better prepare for, and ace, consulting interviews. My hope is that it will also help you decide on the company to choose should you face the same “nice problem” that I faced a few weeks ago.
The Pre-interview Phase
The pre-interview phase is the most critical and most time-consuming stage in the entire process, as showcased by the number of actions that need to be completed prior to the interviews (plan, learn, research and practice).
- Plan: Consulting firms typically give candidates a couple of weeks, if not less, to prepare. Hence, planning is essential to ensure the optimal allocation of your time. This includes assessing your skills, identifying any gaps in your skillset, and developing an action plan to address those gaps. As you certainly know, consulting interviews have 3 major components: the “fit”, “case”, and “ask the interviewer” sections. My advice here is to allocate enough time for both the “fit” and “case” portions. When I attended the info session for one of the firms and asked for pointers, one of the consultants told me: “My only advice for you is not to overlook the “fit” portion. If you do very well on the “fit”, you would leave a good impression on the interviewer, who in turn would be more flexible in the “case” portion”. Please keep this advice in the forefront of your mind!
- Learn: Learning about the consulting process is key to familiarizing yourself with consulting interviews and their structure. A good consulting case interview guide to learn the basics is “Case In Point” by Marc P. Cosentino. The MIT Sloan Case Book was also extremely useful if you are looking for additional cases to practice. However, I highly discourage simply memorizing and applying specific frameworks as it can prevent you from thinking more creatively in solving a case during the interview. Always keep an innovative and critical eye!
- Research: Researching the company is crucial to learn more about the company itself, its projects, culture, and the learning and development opportunities it offers. The best research often comes from speaking with current or former consultants. These insights, in addition to helping you figure out whether you really want to join this specific firm, could be leveraged in the “fit” as well as the “ask the interviewer” portions of the interview. Believe it or not, two of my interviewers were not aware of a huge, international-wide project that another office within their firm had recently delivered!
- Practice: I cannot stress enough the importance of practicing for BOTH the “fit” and “case” components of the interview. I recommend that you initially practice alone. Once you feel comfortable with the interview flow and key steps (summarize case, ask clarifying questions, develop framework, walk interviewer through framework etc.) as well as your quantitative skills, I would then recommend that you start practicing with others. You can (and should) also reach out to those with a consulting background to get more solid feedback regarding your performance and readiness. Len Morrison, our dedicated Career Services Officer for the SCM Program, was extremely helpful on that front. In addition to building a robust fall recruiting schedule, and providing rigorous 1:1 interview preparation, he also put me in touch with numerous SCM alumni to help me prepare for the “fit” and “case” parts. Finally, the most useful practice strategy I used consisted of playing the role of the INTERVIEWER. This was very insightful as it allowed me to (1) put myself in the interviewer’s “shoes” and observe how the interviewee reacts throughout the case; (2) understand the thought process of interviewees and learn from them since it is easier to recognize another’s mistakes than your own.
The Interview Phase
The 3 major recommendations I would suggest in order to ace the interview stage are (1) connect with the interviewer, (2) structure your thoughts and (3) enjoy the process:
- Connect: Establishing some sort of connection or bridge between you and the interviewer is of paramount importance. After all, interviewers are human beings who enjoy learning about others and appreciate having informal, not work-related discussions. Trust me, showing your human side, without abusing it, would serve you well in the process.
- Structure: Adopting a structured approach is very important as it demonstrates your ability to gather, process, and convey information – attributes all consultants must showcase at work!
- Enjoy: I know that this is easier said than done, but try to enjoy the process as much as you can. Stressing out only hinders your performance. Instead, consider the interview as an opportunity to learn more about the company’s culture and type of challenges the company helps its clients to overcome. Also, keep in mind that some interviewers try to stress-test candidates to evaluate their reaction under pressure. For instance, one of my interviewers literally asked me why I was sweating though this was not the case AT ALL. Another interviewer asked me to put my pen on the table and do the math mentally – “you’re an MIT student, do you really need a pen and a paper to do those calculations?”, he asked!
The Post-interview Phase
This is the easiest part of the recruiting process, although it can become a bit more difficult if you receive multiple offers from top consulting firms such as the MBB. My recommendation is to simply assess each company and offer, and decide on the one that suits your needs and career aspirations best:
- Assess: If you receive multiple offers, I suggest that you assess the pros and cons of each offer. Don’t limit your decision to just financial factors – look at the non-financial elements as well, such as the culture of the company, career progression, professional development, mentors/advocates. This can be evaluated throughout the interview process (was the recruiting process personalized and human-centric, or formal and rigid?) and in speaking with professionals.
- Decide: Based on your assessment, decide which firm to select and don’t look back.
Joining the SCM program was the best career decision I’ve made and I’m sure it will be for you as well.
Best of luck! ?