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The Difference Between First Rounds and Final Rounds

One of the questions that seems to come up pretty frequently is, what’s the difference between first rounds and final rounds?

In this context I’ll define first rounds as the first in person interview (if applicable) and final rounds as the final in person interview.

My answer, based on experience (both my own and other people’s), is that it really depends on the company.

First off, most consulting firms won’t bring you in for multiple in person rounds anyway. The only ones that do are either boutiques or MBB. If I had to speculate as to why that is I’d venture that:

1. Boutiques want everybody who works at their firm to vet you.

2. MBB uses recruiting as a way to build their brand (as discussed in this article), so they’re willing to spend the extra money.

So, I think that it’s reasonable to conclude that:

1. For most mid sized consulting firms, there’s only one in person interview round (and probably multiple phone rounds). The format of these interviews depends on the firm, though most have at least one partner (part owner of the firm) involved to make a decision.

2. For MBB, there are multiple in person interviews. The main difference between first and final rounds for them seems to be the lack of structure. In final rounds, many of the interviewers go off script (whatever it is for that particular firm) and do / ask whatever they want. So, you might end up getting a candidate led case for a firm that only does interviewer led cases or you may get resume based questions for a firm that only does behavioral questions. Basically, just expected the unexpected.


There’s more difference in interview styles between firms than in between rounds. My advice would be to find someone you know who’s interviewed recently at the firm you’re going in for and just ask them.

But, I’d always be prepared for your interviewers going off script, especially in a final round interview. Make sure you can answer any type of:

1.  Resume based question.

2. Behavioral based question.

3. Interviewer led case.

4. Candidate led case.

…and you should be fine.


How to Transition in Cases

As we discussed in how a candidate led case should flow, the most important part of a case is the process of elimination portion in which you’re trying to identify the problem. To do this, you’ll usually structure the problem (which usually ends up either looking like an issue tree or a hypothesis tree).

What we haven’t discussed yet is how you’re supposed to transition between various parts of your structure (i.e. from customers to products) so that it’s easy for your interviewer to follow. That’s what today’s article is about.

What Should the Transition Sound Like?

There’s a three step process for transitioning between different parts of your structure:

1. Updating your hypothesis (if necessary).

2. Synthesizing what you know so far.

3. Explaining where you’re transitioning to, and why.


Market Entry

Let’s take a market entry case as an example. You are asked whether an organic foods company should introduce a new organic pizza crust to the Cincinnati, Ohio market.

You start with the market attractiveness portion of your hypothesis, size the market, look at the growth rate, and examine various customer segments and conclude that from a market attractiveness standpoint it looks pretty good. Your transition might sound something like this:

1. Updating Hypothesis. It looks like based on the market attractiveness analysis introducing organic pizza crusts to the Cincinnati market could be a lucrative opportunity.

2. Synthesis. There are approximately 1 million potential customers (around 25% of the urban + metro population), the growth rate in the organic foods market is around 20%, and there’s a fairly well defined customer segment that wants healthy food options.

3. Where to Next? However, to confirm that hypothesis I’d like to move to an analysis of the product. I’m still not convinced that an organic pizza crust is sufficiently differentiated from a normal pizza crust to appeal to the healthy foods segment of this market.

And that’s it! Every time you move from one area to another in your structure you say a similar thing.

By the way, concluding a case is just a special type of transition. That’s why they sound so similar


Transitions help your interviewer follow along as you move between different parts of your structure.

A good transition looks like:

1. Updating your hypothesis (if necessary).

2. Synthesizing what you know so far.

3. Explaining where you’re transitioning to, and why.

Good luck!

How Much Do Consulting Firms Spend on Recruiting?

We’ve all heard the rumors that consulting recruitment is an enormously expensive ordeal.

In today’s article I’m going to attempt to size how much a consulting firm spends on recruiting based on information I’ve read from Duff McDonald & Victor Cheng (we’ll use McKinsey as an example, though they probably spend more than most), perform a sanity check on my calculations, and try to explain why it’s such a large number.
Continue reading How Much Do Consulting Firms Spend on Recruiting?

The Importance of Timing

Have you ever had this happen for a consulting position? You apply for a job through an online portal, perhaps with a referral if the company you’re applying for has such a system set up. A few weeks or months later you get an automated email saying something to the effect of “we’re sorry, but we looked at you in detail and there were better people out there for this position.”

In the past I used to take this literally. Now I know better.

Continue reading The Importance of Timing

The Importance of Context in Cases

Back in February, McKinsey published an article claiming that the pharmaceutical megamergers of the past two decades have generated significant value for shareholders. The article set off a substantial amount of debate.

It got me thinking. Why did this end up becoming such a big problem? What was it about the way they communicated their finding that created so much pushback? Were their calculations incorrect? Based on improper data? Were their conclusions patently false?

No, I think it’s much simpler. They didn’t consider enough context. And it’s a very common mistake in case interviews as well.

Continue reading The Importance of Context in Cases

What Does a Consultant Do, and How Are They Compensated?

I recently stumbled upon a report by Charles Aris (a strategy consulting executive search firm). Charles Aris apparently assists strategy consultants find jobs in industry, and thus has a fair amount of information about the skills of consultants, how much they’re compensated, and where they end up.

You can download a copy of their report here.

Before I get into the details of their report, a few caveats:

1. The Data is Likely Skewed.Charles Aris has every incentive to report high salaries for both what strategy consultants make at their firms and out in industry. The reason? It helps them attract candidates, and gives them their candidates better negotiating power with the companies they’re interviewing at.

2. The Data is Self Reported. It’s a well known fact that people exaggerate their salaries. Also, when they did these surveys bonuses had not been assigned yet, so people were asked to estimate what they thought they’d be receiving (and people are usually wildly optimistic).

3. The Candidates Are Self Selected. The people who use an executive search firm of this kind probably have the best credentials amongst the pool of consultants. As a result, their job offers when they switch out to industry will have compensated on the high end.

4. The Sample Size is Small. They only polled 366 consultants, and when you segment them by role it ends up being a very small number of people. As a result, any outlier could significantly skew the data.

5. The Data is Only for US Based Strategy Consultants. They focused on people from the top 9 firms, and only strategy consultants at that. Keep this in mind as we proceed through the rest of the report. Here’s a breakdown:

Charles Aris Breakdown

Continue reading What Does a Consultant Do, and How Are They Compensated?

My Favorite Consulting Books

Here are my top picks, in no particular order:

The Boston Consulting Group on Strategy by Carl W. Stern & Michael S. Deimler – This book is a compilation of BCG’s most famous insights over the past 40-50 years. Some of the stuff is outdated, but it gives you a really good picture of the development of business theory over the ages.

The Billionaire’s Apprentice by Anita Raghavan – Not a book about consulting but rather a book about consultants. This book is about the insider trading scandal that involved Rajat Gupta and Anil Kumar (former Managing Director and Senior Partner of McKinsey, respectively). It’s a really good picture of the psychology, lifestyle, rise, and fall of two of the world’s most famous consultants.

Continue reading My Favorite Consulting Books

How To Get Started

This article is intended for people who are new to case interviews and want to know how they can prepare themselves and what resources exist.

We’re going to focus on three things:

1. Resources

2. How to Approach Cases

3. Practice Partners

Continue reading How To Get Started

How to Ask Great Questions

There are two parts to a great question:

1. The Content – What it’s about.

2. The Delivery – Why it’s being asked and what that means.

I’ve noticed between the two most people are pretty good content wise if they structure the problem effectively. However, most people have substantial room for improvement on the delivery side of things.

Continue reading How to Ask Great Questions