Candidates will spend countless hours practicing case interviews and marketing sizing questions — but almost no time preparing themselves for the “why consulting” question.
It’s surprising, especially because “why consulting” is practically the only question that you know you’re going to get in your interview.
In this article, we’re going to deep dive into the “why consulting” interview question. We’ll cover why it’s important, why consulting firms ask it, and what differentiates a good vs bad answer.
Why the “why consulting?” question is important?
You can expect to get the “why consulting” question in the behavioral section of any consulting interview, such as the McKinsey Personal Experience Interview.
The first thing to understand is that the “why consulting” question isn’t a warm-up or formality. Your interviewers do care about how you answer it.
In fact, your interviewers are judging you on two dimensions:
- Do you have genuine motivations for becoming a consultant?
- Do you seem like you could become a great consultant?
Think about it from their perspective. Their perfect team member is somebody who is a highly capable consultant and is motivated to be there.
At this early stage, your interviewers won’t be able to fully gauge your competence. So let’s call these two dimensions “motivations” and “potential”, and dive into each one.
How to show your motivations
There are a few key ways that you can show your motivation:
- Demonstrate detailed knowledge of the role: Having a detailed knowledge of consulting shows that you’ve spent the time researching the role and industry. A willingness to spend time and effort on research demonstrates that becoming a consultant is something that’s very important to you.
- Show a strong interest in the firm: As an extension of the previous point, detailed knowledge of the firm shows your enthusiasm. And if your interviewers had two candidates but only one showed a strong interest in the specific firm, which candidate do you think they’d choose?
- Display genuine enthusiasm in your demeanor and mannerisms: You clearly have an enthusiasm for consulting, why else would you be reading this article? So simply make sure that your enthusiasm comes through in your tone of voice and body language.
How to show your potential
There are a few key ways that you can show your potential:
- Structure your answer: Perhaps the most important skill of a consultant is the ability to structure complex information. Show that you already have this skill by ensuring your answer to the “why consulting” question is well-structured (we cover this in detail in a later chapter of this article).
- Link to the skills required of the role: As you talk through your reasons for becoming a consultant, link back to relevant experiences you’ve had in the past. Things like conducting research and analysis, problem-solving, etc.
- Communicate clearly: Consultants are master communicators. Be a consultant during the interview; build a rapport with your interviewers, speak clearly and coherently, and don’t be afraid to ask clarifying questions to ensure that your answers are on point.
Common answers given by candidates
So far, we’ve talked about general principles that demonstrate your motivations and potential. But what about some specific answers that candidates give in interviews?
Before we get into it, don’t copy these answers. Just use them as inspiration to help craft your own answers.
Here are 7 common answers to the “why consulting” interview question:
- You will work on a broad range of challenging business problems across multiple industries and functions
- You will learn business best practices that you can apply in any context or environment
- You will have visibility with senior executives and help influence the organization from the top
- You will work with bright colleagues and build a strong network as those colleagues venture into industry
- You will develop quickly with the support of mentorship, coaching, and training
- You will be guaranteed the opportunity to continually learn; be it a new industry, business problem, market, etc.
- You will have the chance to work in different geographies and understanding the cultural difference of doing business
How to structure your answer
As we mentioned earlier in the article, the ability to structure complex or ambiguous information is one of the key skills of consultants. Therefore, it’s extremely important that you can show that skill as you answer the “why consulting” interview question.
To structure your answer, you should apply something known as the Pyramid Principle. There are three key aspects to the Pyramid Principle:
- Start with the answer
- Follow with your main arguments or rationale
- Support your arguments with evidence
In the context of your answer, this means:
- You should start with a summary of all the main reasons you want to work in consulting. Generally, you should pick no more than 3-4 reasons.
- Follow up your summary with a thorough explanation of each reason
- Ensure that your explanation has real-world examples of why this is important to you
Not clear yet? In the next chapter, we’ll run through a full, real-world response to the “why consulting” interview question and apply this structure.
Example answer: good vs bad
Ok, let’s look at an example of how an unprepared candidate might answer the “why consulting” question and then apply some proper structure.
Here’s an example of a bad response from Disorganized Dan:
A bad answer to the “why consulting” interview question
Interviewer: Why do you want to be a consultant?
Disorganized Dan: Ohh, umm, I really like the variety of work that consultants have. You know… in my current job, I’m always doing the same thing. There’s no variety in the work.
Actually, when I was at university, I took all different classes. As in, different types of subjects. I did some maths, business strategy, psychology. And I liked the variety a lot.
So I really like that consultants work on different types of projects. And plus there are the other benefits too, travel, training… and things like that.
Disorganized Dan seemed somewhat caught off-guard with the question. It looks like he latched onto the first idea that popped into his head, “variety of work”. He then proceeds to bounce around and talk about variety again and again. Then wraps up with a quick mention of some other benefits.
Not a good answer.
Let’s compare this to a good response from Structured Sam:
A good answer to the “why consulting” interview question
Interviewer: Why do you want to be a consultant?
Structured Sam: That’s a great question. I’ve thought about it a lot and there are three main reasons. First, the opportunity to work on really challenging business problems. Second, the opportunity to work closely with talented colleagues. And third, the variety of work you experience as a consultant.
Let me talk more about why these are important to me.
First, I am attracted to the idea of working on challenging business problems. I led a lot of research during the course of my Psychology degree at university. Ultimately, research is about identifying an important problem, developing a hypothesis, and then trying to prove or disprove that hypothesis. Although I realised that I enjoyed business more than psychology, I really enjoyed research and the idea of solving really tricky but valuable problems.
Second, I am excited about the prospect of working with high performing talented teams. During my internship with Chase Bank, I worked alongside a McKinsey team that was running an organizational design project. I became close to a new consultant named Chris Brookes, and he walked me through his team, how they operate, and how they ensure an “only McKinsey” level of insight. I admired Chris and the team, and it’s a personal goal of mine to work in a team just like that.
Finally, I’ve been thinking a lot about the philosophy of being a specialist versus a generalist. There are certainly benefits to specializing and becoming a domain expert in a particular area. But for me, I really enjoy the novelty of working on different problem spaces; taking ideas and concepts from one space and applying them in another. That’s why I took such a breadth of subjects at university. Plus, at this stage of my career, I should take the opportunity to experience different business functions and problems to get a better feel for what interests me.
Structured Sam seems very prepared for the “why consulting” question.
He started by summarizing his three reasons for wanting to work in consulting. Then he follows up by explaining those reasons in detail, and links them back to real-world evidence that supported those reasons.
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How to practice the “why consulting” question
There’s no magic to practicing the “why consulting” question. It’s really a matter of:
- Structure and memorize your answer: Invest time thinking about the most compelling and relevant reasons for your answer. Then link your reasons to your personal experience and background, focusing on “motivation” and “potential”.
- Practice, practice practice: Practice delivering your answer. In fact, record yourself saying it, then playing it back. You’ll find areas of improvement, particularly in the flow and enthusiasm of your answer.
- Get friends to test random follow-up questions: You’re most likely to stumble on a tricky follow-up question from your interviewer. Answer the “why consulting” question with some friends and get them to ask follow-up questions. This way, you’ll be prepared if your interviewer does the same thing.