An interview for a Strategy role can be very different to a standard interview. Typically the hiring manager is looking for three key things:
1. A structured problem solving ability and a strategy tool kit
Employers usually use a case study style interview to assess your problem solving abilities. Most candidates coming from a tier 1 consulting background seem to do well when tested. If however, you have not done a case study interview for a long time, I would recommend testing yourself by running through a few case study scenarios. These days most case study interviews are business situation based and sometimes the case is based around a past or present problem for the business.
I would recommend that candidates look at the websites of tier 1 consulting firms for examples of case studies and tips on preparing for case interviews. Some organisations are doing more extensive testing and when candidates are facing this we suggest logging on to some of the top MBA school websites looking at the entrance exam example questions. You should also be prepared for the off the wall “how many golf balls can you fit in a 747” type questions. We've added more tips on how to prepare for your interview in our interview preparation guide below.
We have written a number of blogs on our web site referring to tips on how to “Ace the Case”. It is fair to say though that you should expect some sort of case interview for any strategy type opportunity.
2. A good team and company fit
This is where a number of candidates fall down in the process. It is so important that you are able to build a strong rapport with the people you are interviewing with. It amazes me how often we get the feedback from a hiring manager that “the candidate obviously felt they knew more than I did” or “the candidate came across as if they were too good for the role”. It is imperative that, whilst making sure you come across as knowledgeable, you are not perceived as arrogant and that you show a real interest in the role and organisation.
Whilst most of the roles we recruit for have the requirement that candidates come from a management consulting background, it is worth bearing in mind that certain stakeholders within any business, for whatever reason, could well be “anti consultant”.
Many hiring managers are looking for bright candidates who also have a certain amount of humility, are not too precious to roll their sleeves up and to get their hands dirty but also who, at the end of a long project, they can enjoy having a beer with.
3. The ability to engage senior stakeholders and demonstrate gravitas?
Consultants going in to in-house strategy teams are often seen as the potential future leaders of the business. Strategy teams are viewed as incubators for talent and as such those candidates who secure these roles have to be able to display gravitas.
You will be dealing with various senior stakeholders across the business and will often have to push back on them, get them to buy into your strategies and positions yourself as the expert without causing offence. Hiring managers will be looking for EQ as well as IQ, which comes back to the previous point about personality fit - there is a fine line between confidence and arrogance and those that get this right are usually the successful candidates. This is harder to prepare for, however, we suggest having examples of where you have influenced senior stakeholders, pushed back and made things happen in complex and sensitive situations.
Other basic but (not to be underestimated) important tips are:
- A strong, confident hand shake and good eye contact
- Dress to impress
- Do not show up more than 10 minutes early, this shows poor judgement
- Prepare 5 intelligent questions about the role/company/career path available
- Make sure you know at least the basic information about the organisation - check the share price, recent press releases etc.
- Have examples of projects in mind that are relevant to the role you are interviewing for.
- Talk about what YOU achieved, not what WE achieved.
- Keep to the point, and answer the questions asked, do not waffle or digress.
- Do not talk about money; leave that to your recruitment consultant.
- Be positive and enthusiastic about the company and the role.
- Familiarise yourself with their terminology, usually by studying the job description prior to interview.
- Have your reasons for leaving past roles clear.