Published: Sep 21, 2017
In this post, we share three interview communication tips from Genelle Kahan, a former Bain & Co. Manager who spent nine years at Bain in their San Francisco and Boston offices. During her tenure as a management consultant, Kahan headed up the East Coast undergrad recruiting efforts, conducted over three case hundred interviews and was a key member of Bain's retail practice.
According to Kahan, because consulting is often extremely quantitative and analytical in nature, candidates mistakenly ignore the importance of communication skills. Don't fall into the same trap! At the end of the day, it's critical that every single team member, from partners all the way down to the junior rungs of associates, can communicate his/her work to effectively to the rest of the team and the clients. While every interviewer varies a little in the key things they look for, Kahan says that everyone always asks themselves: "Would we be comfortable putting this candidate in front of a client?"
How do you ensure you end up on the favorable side of that question? Kahan shares three tips that are solid reminders for any interview: be concise, structure your thoughts and demonstrate that you are "client ready." Let's jump in and walk through each of them.
1. Be concise
First, say what you mean, and say it crisply. Equivocations, lots of verbal fillers, or long, verbose, flowery language isn't going to win you many points. In fact, it will probably end up harming you. Remember that your interviewer will be giving the same case about eight to ten times in a single day, and he/she will likely hear very similar answers over and over again. If you're crisp and concise on the core parts of the interview, it likely means there will be more time to dive into interesting, dynamic aspects of the case down the line.
Finally, there is nothing worse, Kahan says, than sitting through "a whole day of interviews and listen[ing] to candidates ramble on." The top executives and Partners that consultants interface with will expect crisp, concise explanations and updates; therefore Bain interviewers expect the same from their candidates.
2. Structured and clear
The second key piece of advice is to structure your communication so it's logical and clear. Kahan recommends that you think about employing a verbal scaffolding to give structure to your thoughts. While it might be tempting to blurt things out as you think of them to demonstrate the pace of your thinking, try to hold back. Rather, put a structure around your thoughts that will it make it easier for the person on the other side of the table to follow your logic and ultimately, understand your argument.
For example, if you're concluding a case and recommending that a client take a specific action, you could just state all the reasons why you believe so and then state the final recommendation. However, if you state the recommendation up front and then say it's supported by three key arguments, now you've got a useful framework to follow. Then you can walk through each key argument which backs up the recommendation you already stated. Your audience will end up with a clear grasp of your point and supporting arguments.
3. Client ready
Finally, Kahan says that Bain wants to see candidates that "exude poise, confidence and maturity" in their communication. Understanding what exactly poise, maturity and confidence mean in this context is tough, so let's break this down further.
Confidence is the easy one to explain. Essentially, this means that you articulate your points definitively and don't second guess yourself or weaken your point by changing tone (e.g. ending a sentence on in a higher tone like it's a question). Okay, so if you're articulating confidently, what does it mean to do it with poise and maturity as well? Typically, those traits are demonstrated when the nature of the conversation itself is tough (e.g. recommending layoffs based off your analysis) or spirited debate breaks out among your team and/or client.
For example, how does your communication change when your reasoning or facts are challenged? Do you wilt under pressure? Or can you stand up for your beliefs, reiterate your logic and supporting evidence in a clear, polite and convincing manner? If someone still isn't convinced, can you find another analogy or way to describe the issue that wins them over to your way of thinking? If so, that's the type of poise and maturity they're looking for!
Given the nature of consulting, tough situations are a common occurrence. After all, clients won't hire companies like Bain, BCG and McKinsey to help them solve easy problems. Thus, demonstrating that you're a "client ready" communicator is a critical part of nailing the case interview.
One final piece of advice from Kahan: "Communication is really one of the most important pieces of the entire case interview." So much of what the value consultants provide is predicated on their ability to clearly, confidently and convincingly deliver their findings to their clients. Thus, a great way to demonstrate the value you can bring to the firm is not only great insights, but excellent communication of those insights. For more interview insights from the conversation with Genelle Kahan, you can find the full series here.
About the Author
Kenton Kivestu is the Founder and CEO of RocketBlocks, an online platform that helps students prepare for case interviews. Prior to RocketBlocks, he worked as a strategy consultant in BCG's San Francisco Office, launched online ad platforms at Google and led the Zynga mobile poker franchise. He has successfully navigated hundreds of case interviews himself and believes that the case interview is an important recruiting tool that helps simulate the on the job experience. He started RocketBlocks to help candidates hone their analytical skills so they can put their best foot forward on interview day. Kenton graduated as an Echols Scholar with distinction from the University of Virginia and holds an MBA from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth.
It’s terrifying to know that the person you’re speaking to is weighing your every word—and could hold the power to change your future. This is why interviews can be so stressful, and why sometimes it can be hard not to blurt out the first thing that comes to mind.
At a barbecue this past weekend, I ran into an acquaintance who has been trying to make the transition from academia to the private sector (he's an international relations/foreign policy specialist now seeking a consulting role).
When I asked him how his search has been going, he expressed frustration: he has an impressive resume, which has been opening doors for interviews, but he's been struggling to get past the first couple of rounds.