The Graduates Guide to Getting a Job in Consulting: Part 5 – Interview Advice
There are some basic principles that apply to almost all interviews. When applying for a graduate consulting job you are often competing with the academic cream of the crop. This is you opportunity to jump off of your CV and impress potential employers for the first time. Take time to understand the following interview advice to get the upper hand.
Obviously turning up looking respectable is extremely important. Snap judgements are made by all humans, all of the time about each other. They may not be fair but a first impression is just driven by what comes out of your mouth. Set expectations high in line with your abilities by dressing well.
It is always worth remembering to adjust your appearance in context with the organisation. Try to wear what you imagine the employees at the firm you’re applying for would wear on their first meeting with a new client. Some firms will actually specify their specific dress code on an interview briefing or invite. Ignore this at your peril.
If you’re interviewing at a firm that deals with a large number of financial services and banking clients, it’s best to keep things understated. Although a little 80s many banking institutions scoff at the idea of employees turning up to work in anything other than black or grey suits and black shoes. It seems incredibly biased but turning up to interview with a pair of brown leather shoes on could be the reason you don’t get a call back! This theory of course flips the other way as well. Consider going for a job as a tech developer in an office where t-shirts and jeans are the norm. Turning up in a finely tailored 3 piece suit and tie would make you stand out, but possibly not in the way you intended.
If you want a role, present yourself well and play to the industry stereotype or at least lean into it.
Identify Interview Type
As mentioned in Part 4 of this Graduate Job series, there are many different types and styles of interview. Studying these different hiring techniques and creating a strategy of how to meet each of their unique demands and curve balls will keep you from tripping up and making basic mistakes.
Although it is a horrifically cliche saying ‘fail to prepare, prepare to fail’.
Show some Personality
Your recruiter has read your CV, they know about your qualifications and extra curricular record. It can be good to occasionally refer to your CV, but do it too much and it can make you look one dimensional.
Work a little to stand out. Consulting firms are looking for people they would be comfortable leaving in front of their clients unsupervised. Show you are a people person, that you can communicate eloquently, build their trust and make them feel comfortable being in your presence. You may be the most intelligent person in the room, but being able to communicate that in an intelligent fashion is an art in itself.
A lot of very clever people with first class degrees fall down at the first hurdle. They forget that a qualification only takes up one line on a cv. It is not unheard of for companies to prefer candidates with 2:1 degrees with a range of other interests, skills and experiences over their counterparts who just have a first class degree.
This is not to say don’t try and get a first, just try to not make that the beginning, middle and end of your story.
Display Commercial Awareness
Companies have to make money. They have to make more money than it costs to employ you and deliver their services. Sounds like common knowledge, but it is astounding how many graduate interviewees fail to show any commercial awareness at interview.
Display value to your potential employer, show an understanding of the social contract you intend to enter into between your employer and yourself. Both parties in a negotiation need to see perceived benefits of entering into a contract. For you those benefits might be an income, a sense of purpose, company benefits or the opportunity to travel. To an employer the core purpose of employing a consultant is to generate revenues. They do this by billing out their time to clients and make a profit on that time.
Show you are willing to hit the ground running, that you will easily be able to communicate complex ideas with clients and if you can identify value in other areas you may be able to contribute to then make your voice heard! Do you enjoy writing? You may be able to write industry articles for the firms marketing. Enjoy mentoring? Show how you intend to share knowledge and motivate junior staff members as you rise through the ranks. Have an idea about a piece of software or unique offering to clients? Pitch it to them in your interview!
Show an understanding of what makes the business world go around and display your value.
Discuss Industry Trends and Events
All consultancies work within one niche or another. Some may have many niches under one umbrella corporation. Understand the specific role you are applying for and do your research on the industry online. Google is now your god, each niche within the business world has its own lingo, terminology, fads and happenings. Show you can speak the same language and that you have an active interest in your chosen area.
This can really spark some interesting conversations that can derail you off of a formal interview schedule and create positive intrigue between candidate and interviewer.
Show you are a prospect and not another carbon copy graduate. After all, long term these people are looking for a colleague they have to work with on a daily basis.
Be Aware of the Bleeding Edge
In several industries things are changing rapidly. High growth in industries like AI and Cybersecurity are creating a significant skill gap between the amount of available roles and the amount of people skilled enough to do them. Irregardless of your niche try to learn as much as possible about the most valuable and scarce skills around.
Learning even basics in a sought after technology or methodology can be a big tick for many employers. Extensive training can be costly and risky for many employers. Show an ability to easily and independently pick up niche skills sets to set yourself apart.
Deal with Confrontation like a Business Negotiation
There may be moments in your interview when an interviewers probes hard into a line of questioning or acts in an aggressive manner.
There are a number of reasons for this behaviour. They may not believe a detail on your CV, or perhaps they are trying to see how you cope under stress. They might just be having a bad day and have found themselves in a position where they have someone to take it out on.
Stay composed in these situations. Don’t feel rushed to answer and reply quickly as it may make you appear panicky.
If the interviewer is persistent or rejects your answer, address the hostility in a calm manner. Explain you feel you are responding in reasonable detail and enquire as to any other information that may help them get closer to the answer they are looking for. If they appear unimpressed or discontent with any of your answers, ensure to address this early and head on. ‘I sense that I haven’t fully met what you were looking for on this topic, In the interest of clarity can you tell me what you feel I lack in this area and I will try to elaborate?’
Give your interviewer permission to ask difficult questions. Not only does it show emotional intelligence in that you can read how other individuals are feeling, but it shows you are unafraid to tackle personal criticisms.
Never say I have no questions
At the end of almost every interview, you will likely be asked if you have any questions about the company. Saying you don’t implies you either were not paying attention throughout the process, or that you are generally uninterested in the role.
This is your opportunity to find out about the inner workings of a company (the stuff you won’t find on the website). It also shows you’ve done your research. Have a number of industry specific questions memorised and as the interview progresses make sure to pick up on specific topics that the interviewer references.
Save questions on salary or benefits to the very end if you simply can’t wait or hold onto them until the offer stage.
End Strong and Follow Up
Make sure to end professionally. Thank them for their time and briefly explain what you have found useful about the experience. A good smile and a firm handshake will rarely go against you.
Remember that a good lasting impression is as or more important than an initial first impression. After you leave, the various parties involved in a interview session will spend some time deliberating and comparing notes. Leave them with a fresh memory of you to help influence this session.
If you are still interested in receiving an offer, it is good practise to send a follow up email. Again, thank them for their time and detail the parts of the interview process that you found to be professional. If worded correctly it’s perfectly appropriate to ask when you can expect to hear from the result of this interview.
Interviews can be daunting. But if you prepare well and concentrate on displaying potential value and they can feel like an enjoyable challenge.
Best of Luck with the job hunting, C.