Consulting interviews are a two-way street. Your interviewer will test if you have the skills needed to become a consultant. And they will also give you the opportunity to ask them questions usually at the end of the interview.
But here's the thing. It's actually quite hard to ask good questions at the end of interviews. If you ask questions that are too generic your interviewer might think that you haven't really prepared questions in advance. And if you ask questions that are too detailed you might not learn anything valuable.
Let's go through the top 8 questions we recommend asking at the end of consulting interviews. And let's also list the main things you should avoid when you prepare your own list of questions.
Top 8 questions
The questions we've listed here will help you find out if the company is a right fit for you. And they will also give you the opportunity to continue showing that you are a strong and motivated candidate for the job. You should read through them and memorise the ones that resonate most with you so you can ask them in your upcoming interview.
Before your interview, you'll also want to understand the overall consulting recruitment process, and you can get an overview of the steps in our article on how to get into consulting. Now let's jump into the questions!
1. What are the common attributes of consultants who excel and advance quickly in your company?
This question can often lead to valuable information. For instance, quant skills are more important at some firms than others for junior consultants. Asking that question shows that you are interested in performing well if you are hired. And it also gives you a chance to assess if you would really be a good fit.
2. What will I be expected to accomplish in the first 3 months / first year with the company?
Similarly to the first one, this question shows that you've got drive and want to perform at your best. It also gives you a chance to learn more about what you will really be expected to achieve in your first few weeks and months as a consultant with the firm.
3. If I make it to the next round of interviews, is there anything you'd recommend I try to improve on before coming back?
You should only ask that question if you think your interview went well. There's no need to ask that question if you already know you've messed up the maths part of the case for instance. But if you ask it at the right time, you will both show that you are willing to hear feedback and you will also collect useful information to prepare for your next round.
4. How is your company different to other consulting firms in this country / city? I've asked people around but I'm interested to hear your perspective.
Your interviewer will often ask you Why McKinsey / Why BCG / Why Bain? As we have explained in the past, at the global-level consulting firms are quite similar. The differences really start showing at the office-level where the culture and type of work can vary. Asking that question at the office-level usually reveals useful information to help you decide between different companies.
5. I'm interested in Energy consulting. Can you share what you know about this area of the company?
You should obviously replace "Energy consulting" by any topic you are interested in here.
This question is really powerful for two reasons. First, it differentiates you vs. other candidates and shows you've really thought about what kind of consultant you want to be. In a given region / city one or two firms will typically dominate a particular industry. It's a good idea to find out which ones it is for the industries you are most interested in. Second, this question can lead to follow up conversations. Your interviewer might not be able to give you the full picture and might decide to put you in touch with people from the practice you are interested in. This can turn into a massive win for your application!
6. What are the biggest opportunities / challenges facing the company right now?
Large consulting firms like McKinsey, BCG and Bain are pretty resilient. But their strength will vary by office / region. It's therefore a good idea to understand what the internal narrative about opportunities and challenges is. For instance, you could try to find out what new areas / practices the office you are joining is investing in at the moment.
7. What do you enjoy most / least about working for this company?
If you have already found out everything you wanted to know about the company and office you are interviewing with it can be a good idea to ask slightly more personal questions to your interviewer. Who doesn't like to talk about themselves after all? Asking them what they enjoy most / least about their firm is a good way to get their perspective on the company you'll be joining.
8. I'd be interested to hear about your most challenging case so far and what you have learned.
This question is similar to the previous one. Getting your interviewer to tell you a bit more about their experience at the firm can't really hurt!
Guidelines on what to avoid
In our experience, the 8 questions above work really well. But if you find yourself running out of questions you should feel free to put together new ones to find out about the things you are interested in. When you do this you should try to keep a few best-practices in mind. Here are 3 rules we recommend following.
Rule #1: Don't ask questions you could answer by yourself
First, you should really avoid asking questions you could answer by yourself by doing a Google search or by going to recruiting events on campus. These questions really make you come across as unprepared and will generally hurt your application. Examples of basic questions to avoid include:
- Avoid: "What's the day-to-day of a consultant like?"
- Avoid: "What kind of projects does your company work on?"
- Avoid: "What will I be expected to do when I join?"
Rule #2: Avoid "Yes / No" questions
Second, your questions should ideally lead to a conversation with your interviewer. "Yes / No" questions are conversation killers and you should therefore really try to avoid them. For instance:
- Don't ask: "Do you enjoy working for this firm?"
- Ask instead: "What do you enjoy most / least about working for this company?"
Rule #3: Don't put the cart before the horse
Finally, you should really avoid putting the cart before the horse and delay any questions about salary, working hours, vacations, etc until you are officially made an offer. Asking this type of questions before being made an offer will play against you with certain interviewers. Once the company has decided it wants to hire you the HR team will be at your disposal to answer all these questions for you. There's therefore no need to rush as it will only decrease your chances of being hired!
- Avoid: "How much will I be paid?"
- Avoid: "How many vacation days can I take?"
- Avoid: "What are the working hours like?"
Knowing what questions to ask at the end of the interview can be tricky. But if you pick a few questions from the list above in advance you should be able to have a good conversation with your interviewer.
Your objective should be to find out the information you need to make a decision on whether the company is a good fit for you. And at the same time, you should also use that part of the interview to continue showing that you are a motivated and capable candidate.
If you're reading this article, you've probably got a consulting interview coming up and want to give yourself every possible chance of landing an offer. While you can do a lot of excellent case study preparation on your own, you'll probably get to a stage where you need to get feedback from an expert or two in order to reach that top level.
Ideally, this would be with ex-consultants who have experience running interviews at McKinsey, Bain, BCG, etc.
If you know anyone who fits that description, fantastic! But for most of us, it's tough to find the right connections to make this happen. And it might also be difficult to practice multiple hours with that person unless you know them really well.
Here's the good news. We've already made the connections for you. We’ve created a coaching service where you can do mock interviews 1-on-1 with ex-interviewers from MBB firms. Start scheduling sessions today!