My mail ringtone goes off on my phone, I got another e-mail. My inbox is staked with unread e-mails, but I realise immediately, that I got an e-mail from the strategy consultancy I applied a couple of weeks before. Inwardly I prepare myself to read a nice rejection phrase like ‘thank you very much for applying. Despite your great profile and qualification, we are sadden to tell you that we cannot consider your application for the further process….bla bla bla’. Why am I thinking like this? Because from my experience rejections come with e-mails and the good news via phone calls. However, I talk myself into courage and just open the e-mail. There is nothing to lose, right?
I am surprised! They thank me for the application and tell me, that they are looking forward to an interview with me. They also share a phone number, where I should call to schedule a date and to receive more details about the interview process itself. ‘Wow, that’s unexpected’ I think. I decide to call them another day, when I have more time and are mentally rested. This call could be very helpful to gather some insights upfront about how to best prepare for the interview.
When I finally call the number, a female voice answers. I introduce myself, that I was asked to schedule an interview date and that furthermore I would highly appreciate more details on the interview process itself. She explains to me how the interview is going to take place, which interviews I will have to attend with whom and that I will be treated slightly different due to my previous professional experience. This means for me, that I do not have to participate in a group project and a computer based assessment. I feel appreciate for my professional background by this statement and start to take this even more serious. I tell myself, that I have to be prepared top notch once I start the interviews. Therefore, the same day I shop online and order couple of books with case studies and prep-stuff for consulting. I have plenty of time, because my interview will take place 4+ weeks later.
The big day comes, the interview is today. I took a flight very early in the morning, but I do not feel tired at all. I am full of excitement and reiterate all the case-study tips and frameworks. My flight lands; I run through the gates and jump into a cap. I am luckily on time and not in a rush. I enter the building and a receptionist welcomes me warmly. I tell her the purpose of my visit and she offers me to have a cold or warm beverage while she is calling HR to inform them, that I am waiting in the lobby. I walk to the coffee vending machine, get myself an espresso and look into the large lobby/dining area. A women is sitting on one of the tables and I decide to join her. We are having a nice casual conversation before somebody from HR comes by and picks me up.
I am asked to make myself comfortable in the meeting room. The whole floor and its offices look modern and stylish. I take a seat and see, that there are three résumés laid out on the table. They belong to the interviewers I will have to talk during the day. Furthermore, there is a pencil and notepad for me, which I already plan to take home with me after the interviews.
In total, I will have to speak to three interviewers for an hour each. I am dressed super formal, with my best-looking suit fresh from the dry cleaner and a tie. I feel a little bit overdressed, maybe too formal. However, that feeling vanishes as soon as the first interviewer comes into the room. He is at least as formal dressed as I am. He introduces himself briefly and describes the procedure of the interview. He takes a coffee from the pot on the table and asks if I want one too. I say yes, because a positive response is recommended in those tense situations. He asks me to introduce myself, something I know how to do. I start to tell my usual bla bla, but then all of a sudden, he starts to ask questions about why I majored in this, why I studied there. I am caught a little bit off guard, usually interviewers are very calm and kind during the introduction phase and rather listen carefully than challenge. However, I play it cool, continue and answer his questions.
I tell him, that I worked for a longer period in certain industries, and this triggers more challenging questions like ‘Ok nice, but what strategic movements do you see in this industry’ or like ‘How is the market going to change in 10 years from your perspective’. Home turf, I was not expecting those questions, but I can answer them properly. Nevertheless, this gives me a first feeling that this is going to be a tough one. Moreover, the craziest thing is, that this guy not much older than me!
I recognise a certain pattern in his interviewing techniques: Once he realises, that I have profound knowledge in a specific area, he changes direction to find a weak spot. And of course, he finds it. Every acronym I use I have to tell what it stands for or define it. Then there is a certain one, I am not very familiar with from accounting and he got my weak spot. He sees that I am not very profound in my answer and looks at me condescending. I am little bit off-guard now; I mean there are things you just don't know. However, he is pressing more and more in this area to expose me. Finally he asks the impertinent question, why I do not know this, takes my CV and points with his finger on it saying ‘You majored in XXX, thus you should have this in university and know it.’ – Boom!
The rest of the interview includes a brief session in English and some personal questions (like ‘tell me how you overcame a personal challenging situation in your life’) which I find inappropriate to ask.
The case I am asked to solve is: the company in the FMCG industry is losing money. How would you approach this issue?
I take the profit cost model, and I go through the different sections, asking for more details and talk him through the analysis.
At the hand we shake hands (yeah pre-covid) and he leaves the room telling me, that the next interviewer will be there in 10 minutes.
I am sitting in this room by myself and thinking about just walking out immediately. I feel treated unfairly; I am not begging for a job, I mean they invited me. You cannot be this kind of condescending towards an applicant, I think. Nevertheless, I am far away from home, have a flight schedule for the evening and would not have an idea where to spend the whole day. Thus, I decide to stay and have a ‘fuck it, take it or leave it’ attitude.
During lunch break, which takes place in a nice hotel nearby, I meet the other applicants. Most of them are fresh graduates and seem to be very self-confident. I just hear stuff like ‘my gmat was so high’ or ‘yes, this university is leading for that’ or ‘yeah I got interviews here and there’. I am immediately annoyed, and decide just to enjoy my lunch break. In my opinion, this is just a bunch of rich kids, which hopefully I will not have to see anymore after this.
After the lunch break, we are back in the office. The next interviewer enters the room, again very formal and self-confident. He is much more senior and more relaxed. A common behaviour pattern I learned is, that the more senior the people are, the more relaxed the interviews. I guess this comes with the fact, that I am not a competitor to them, and that they already climbed the career ladder and don't have not much to lose. He is very kind, tells me about a business case he would like to solve with me. The more I ask about the case the more details he discloses. I am surprised, because when I ask about the revenue, he brings up a pre-printed chart about the revenue development of the company from the case. We work cooperatively through the case and I am able to solve it. In between he asks me to calculate margins, profitability targets etc. without a calculator. Once again, I am prepared, so I can pass this task without any concern.
Then the third interview starts. I was looking forward to this one, because this person was working in the same industry as I am. I was interested in asking him details about specific projects outlined in his resumé. But first I had to pass another case-study. Industry specific but very generic. Once he realised I knew the industry quite well he tries to challenge me on other level like: ‘ok tell it to me in English, stand up and draw a model up on the board, explain it to me like I am the CEO and have only a 30 sec slot for you in the elevator’. It is fair and I am doing a good job. But I am still shaky from the very first interview, about the way I was framed.
The last interviewer tells me, that he has to talk to the other interviewers and that he will get back to me in 20 minutes. Then beside an invitation to the next round or rejection, he will share feedback about my performance. While waiting for the final decision, I feel like ‘I’m out but it was a nice experience’ and ‘once I am here in this city, I could see my old friends and have a beer before heading back to the airport’
Then the interviewer comes in. I do not have any kind of expectation; I am just looking forward to leaving this building, to forget about everything and get over with it. He starts saying, that he would first share the decision on my process, before going into the details about my performance. I already imagine how he is going to reason the rejection. However, he goes like ‘we liked what we saw today and would like to schedule an interview with one of our partners; we just need to decide which industry group you prefer’. I am stunned and surprised. This was not what I was expecting. Then he shared with me what he thinks I need to work on. They told me that I wasn't good at accounting, but that I could still learn the details, so this is not a showstopper. I am delighted!
So next step is the partner interview. The person who ultimately decides. This interview takes place a couple weeks later in another city. It is scheduled for one hour, of course I am there little bit too early. I am asked to take a seat in a room, which is more like a lounge than a conference room. I think that this is little bit difficult to work on paper based cases. Then the partner comes into the office. He is much younger than expected, and as I did not google him beforehand (on purpose to not freak myself out by the usual ‘I achieved it all resumes’), I had no idea how he looks like. So first, I thought, that this is maybe one of the IT-guys or a junior consultant, coming to take me to the partner. But then he introduced himself, and it was the Name of the partner. I was a little bit confused, because he was wearing jeans and a company branded sweatshirt, which looked stonewashed but not on purpose, with wrinkles all over it. I was dressed again super formal with a tie.
The first question was, if I would like to go with him and get a coffee from the vending machine. Of course, I agree (you know, only positive vibes) and we come back with our coffees to this lounge room. We are sitting in very comfortable seats, with a nice view and starting to discuss.
To my surprise, there was not a single challenging question during the whole interview. It was just about to see, if the personal fit is there or not. Therefore, it was the total opposite to the first interview round. We are having a nice discussion about several topics and he closed the meeting with saying ‘”all right, happy to welcome you onboard, if you are still interested’. Again, I am delighted! I say yes and want to walk out of the door. Then I remember, that we did not talk about compensation or any other formal thing. Therefore, we sit back into the chairs and wrap those topics up within five minutes. Then I leave, or more accurately, I fly out of the office, as I am so hyped to get an offer!
The last interview was a game changer for me, I saw that the people are actually quite nice, and that I would probably be able to learn a lot from them. It gave me a glimpse of what the culture is actually like, the interview is just the entry barrier.
I was also thinking about my future, MBB has a crazy alumni network, who help you find an outplacement and the name on the resumé is a game changer.