Many people only train on cases and neglect the personal experience part of the interview. Big mistake. It is as important as the case and will help the consultant determine a decisive question about your fit: ‘would I want to have this person on my team?’. The good news is that this part of the interview is more predictable than the case and thorough preparation will help you a great deal.
What to expect during the personal experience interview
Contrary to common belief, the personal experience part of the interview is not a long monologue where you brag about your merits. This is not a bedtime story. What will happen is that you will be asked to give a very brief summary of the situation, after which a dialogue with the consultant will ensue. This dialogue will sometimes go into very small details such as what you did and how you felt at a certain points in time, what a certain person said to you, what their body language was like etc.
What to prepare
The part you can prepare is 2-fold:
The 1-2mn summary. Don’t reinvent the wheel and follow the STAR framework (Situation – Task – Action – Result). The situation, or context, should only be 3-4 sentences long, the result, only 1-2 sentences long. The bulk of the time shoud be spent on the tasks (a.k.a. challenges) and actions. Don’t forget to focus on your actions. Here is an example:
S: “During my senior year at university, I was elected captain of the rowing team”
T: “At the beginning of the year, as we started training, I observed 2 challenges: 1) some people were not following the training schedule and started to lag behind in terms of fitness level, and 2) we were facing a cash problem as the school had reduced our funding due to budget cuts”
A: “To solve the first challenge, I did 2 things: 1) I paired everybody up, mixing those who were consistently training and those who were not so as to motivate the latter to follow the schedule; 2) I built a tracker of all training performances such as rowing machine power output, max weights, max reps and updated each rower with their month-to-month progression. For the second challenge of cash shortage, I created a calendar featuring artistic pictures of the athletes and sold it in our school by visiting dorms door-to-door”
R: “With these initiatives, we soon reached an attendance level of over 95% to training sessions, saw record fitness progress for many of the athletes and raised over $10K for the club via the calendars”
The nitty-gritty details. For each challenge and actions, try to remember details such as names, conversations, reactions. They will be useful when the consultant will probe your story
The topics you should address
You should prepare several of these stories before your interview. Try to cover the following topics, but remember, never make things up! If you do, you will be at great risk to find yourself entangled in lies during the interviews as the consultant probes for more details. If that is the case, the consultant will figure it out.
A story about leadership. All consulting firms want to hire leaders. And if you have been called to interviews, chances are your leadership skills transpired through your CV and cover letter. Choose an experience when you were clearly the team leader, with a group of a least 3 people to manage, and where the situation was quite challenging, e.g., many stakeholders, tight timelines, large impact.
A story about something you did because you were passionate about it. Consultants love passionate people. Did you become a wedding photographer during your spare time because you love photography? Did you prepare for and run a marathon without having run much at all before? Did you travel across a continent to meet new people? Great! Just remember to show the challenges you faced and how this helped you grow!
A story about a tough situation. We’ve all lived tough situations, professionally, with friends or at home. Pick a story that showcases your resilience and your skills when managing these uncomfortable situations. Remember, it’s not about winning, or being right, but about overcoming the challenges to move forward.
A story about executing a challenging project. Solving problems is what consultants are hired for. Demonstrating how you solve problems and that you finish what you started is a critical part of assessing your fit to be a consultant. Choose a multi-phased project, and show how you defined the problem, deployed resources to solve it, straightened out the bumps on the way, to finally achieve a impactful result.
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