Interviews at Consulting Firms

March 18, 2019

Consulting as a general label can feel very vague, especially given that it is a huge and diverse industry. There are many different types of consulting firms and areas of practice within one firm. Some management consulting firms specialize in giving advice on business strategy and operations (downsizing, acquisitions, restructuring) while others are known for their expertise in specific industries like technology.

No matter the firm or the focus area though, consulting firms mainly run on their people and the intellectual capital they possess. Consultants are branded as smart problem-solvers who are expected to deliver results and firms look for candidates with these skills:

Top 5 Consulting Skills

  1. Analytical skills with a keen problem-solving ability
  2. Interpersonal skills and an ability to work well on a team
  3. Strong communication skills – both oral and written – especially presentation skills
  4. Creativity with a leaning toward an entrepreneurial spirit
  5. Ability to cope with pressure while maintaining flexibility

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How These Skills Are Tested in Interviews
Most consulting firms have a standardized and rigid interview process which consists of several stages for an applicant. Generally, you can anticipate an initial phone screen and multiple rounds of in-person interviews, where there will be two areas of focus: case interview and behavioral/fit interview.

Phone Interview – A preliminary phone screen is usually a half-hour conversation with either an HR representative or a consultant/partner. Expect a mix of standard interview and behavioral questions. Sample questions could include:

  • Tell me about yourself.
  • Walk me through your resume.
  • Why Firm X?
  • Why City Y?
  • Why consulting?

Behavioral/Personal Fit Interview – Don’t minimize the importance of your answers during this portion of the interview. You are often being evaluated for your fit with a particular team as well as the overall culture of the firm. Many firms report using the “airplane test”. This is when the manager will ask themselves, “In addition to having the qualifications and technical skills to do the job well, would I want to be stuck on an airplane or in an airport with this person?” Sample questions could include:

  • Tell me about a time when you exhibited leadership.
  • Give me an example of a time when you solved a problem creatively.
  • What is your greatest accomplishment to date?
  • What role do you normally assume within a group/team?
  • Tell me about a mistake that you made recently.
  • What is the last book you read for fun?

Case Interview – This is often an interviewee’s most dreaded part of a consulting interview, but it needn’t be if you remember that there is often no right or wrong answer. In a case interview, the interviewer will present you with an open-ended business problem or issue and ask you to discuss it or solve the problem.

There are two types of case interview methods:

  1. ‘Go With the Flow’ Cases (most common) – Your job is to ask the interviewer logical questions that will enable you to make a suitable recommendation. You are driving the discussion.
  2. Command and Control Cases – The interviewer guides the discussion and the case has a lot of quantitative work and brainstorming components.

Cases can cover any number of topics. It will be important for you to answer using a framework. Familiarize yourself with common frameworks; many samples can be found in books like “Case in Point” or “Crack the Case” as well as fee-based websites like AcetheCase.com. For case interviews, remember to ask questions and clarify any of your assumptions. It is extremely important to externalize your internal thought process as you lay out your strategy for answering the question at hand.

 

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KonMari™ Your Work Station

March 11, 2019

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Marie Kondo is the author of the extremely popular book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. The popularity of this book has even been turned into a Netflix series called “Tidying Up”. In both the book and the series, this world-renowned organizational consultant, helps people declutter and find organization and balance in their homes and hopefully by extension their lives.

The show focuses primarily on tidying one’s home and it has made phrases like “sparking joy” go viral. However, Kondo’s signature technique – the KonMari Method™ — could be applied in many different ways, including to your office, lab space, or work station.

According to the KonMari website, there are six basic rules for organizing:

  1. Commit yourself to tidying up.
  2. Imagine your ideal lifestyle.
  3. Finish discarding first.
  4. Tidy by category, not by location.
    1. Kondo recommends organizing by clothing, books, papers, miscellaneous items, sentimental items
  5. Follow the right order.
  6. Ask yourself if it sparks joy.

Kondo maintains, “When your office space is organized, it will result in increased efficiency because your use of time becomes much more productive. You’ll be comfortable in your office space, and that contributes to your overall performance and your creativity.”

It is unlikely that you have clothing at work (although some people keep blazers or shoes in a drawer, just in case). So, you will likely want to focus on the other categories of organization, namely books, papers, and miscellaneous items. Papers, outdated periodicals, old notes from meetings tend to be the most common items that clutter a workspace.

One of the biggest differences between organizing at work versus as home is Kondo’s signature question, “Does this spark joy?” Many items at work might not spark joy for you, but are essential for you to keep. Instead of focusing on the joy an item brings, pay attention to whether it is contributing to your productivity and performance at work. Maybe you have robust paper files which should be scanned and made into a digital folder instead? Perhaps you have a drawer full of office supplies that no longer function properly (i.e. pens that have run out of ink or paper clips everywhere).

Assess your space carefully and imagine how it could be situated in order to help you not only be more productive but also to feel calmer and more in control of your setting. When organizing your work space, Kondo encourages you to ask yourself, “Does this contribute to me feeling more positive and also does it contribute to my efficiency?”


So, What’s a Detail?

March 4, 2019

Post written by Sandra Bonne-Année, former postdoc at NIAID and current detailee at OITE.

If definitions like ‘an individual fact or item, a minor decorative feature, or a meticulous cleaning of a motor vehicle’ come to mind when you hear the word “detail”, you are certainly not alone. As a postdoctoral fellow at NIH, I had a vague understanding of what a detail was and no real understanding of when or how to secure one. The “detail” is a chance to volunteer in another work-space to gain skills and exposure to careers.

Entering the final year of my fellowship, I had reached a point of utter frustration with my research projects, dismay with my job search and confusion about my career path. In commiserating with other fellows during informational interviews, I would be asked, “Why don’t you do a detail?” However, the particulars on where I would find such a position were always left out. I began researching detail opportunities and after several emails and a few interviews I found myself no closer to securing a position.

So, I decided to ask for help on the matter and in doing so I landed my detail in the Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE). I know it sounds a bit serendipitous. It certainly felt that way, but what I found was a person who recognized that my interest in science education and outreach aligned with the work being done in her office. She could also see that I could benefit from the experience of working outside a laboratory setting. While my experience might not be the norm, many postdocs are able to secure detail opportunities simply by doing informational interviews with offices of interest. Don’t be afraid to ask what opportunities might be available within an office.

How do you go about finding a detail experience of your own? The first thing I’ll say is there is no one way to land a detail and no two experiences are the same. Keep in mind a detail experience can be created for you given of course that your interest and the circumstances align. Lastly, detail opportunities can also arise through job openings depending on the needs of the hiring office, your enthusiasm and qualifications. Details can be full or part time experiences, in which the later may encompass a hybrid of research and office time. When negotiating a detail opportunity, try to maintain an open line of communication between your detail supervisor and your PI, whenever possible. This is particularly important for a smooth transition or when crafting a schedule that includes both research and office time.

Explore the OITE Job Board or the Office of Human Resources for more information on detail opportunities at the NIH. The Office of Human Resources website includes opportunities for various levels so be sure to select opportunities that fit your experience level.

So, whether you’re interested in pursuing a different career path or feeling like it’s time to move away from the bench entirely, a detail may be the perfect experience for you to immerse yourself in a new environment and learn new skills. For me, once I was separated from the bench, I was able to spend more time working on myself by implementing more wellness and stress management techniques. By virtue of my detail office, it afforded me more time to devote to working with an OITE Career Counselor and enroll in a Job Search Group that allowed me to work on self-assessments, job search material and creating a realistic plan for my next job search. The experience also allowed me to take on new responsibilities, learning new skills and rediscovering things about myself that I had long forgotten. Ultimately, stepping away from the bench allowed me to rediscover my passion for research and what drives me as a scientist.


From the Archive: The Industry Job Search is a Marathon, Not a Sprint

February 25, 2019

Professionals in business attire running toward red finish line.For an industry job for scientists, the interview process generally takes six to eight weeks.  Starting with an initial phone screen, successful candidates move on to an on-site interview where they usually meet with a number of people from the organization and give a scientific presentation.  Next is the final interview, during which a verbal offer may be extended.  What is not as well elucidated is how long the overall search process is likely to take.

The rule of thumb in industry is that your job search will take one month for every $10,000 of the job’s salary and generally longer for your first industry position.  The positions sought by postdocs often times have annual salaries approaching $80,000, so it is easy to do the math.  It is likely that your industry job search will last the better part of a year.

Therefore, a job search is more akin to a marathon than a sprint.  As with many successful long-term projects, it is important to set and meet interim goals along the way. Weekly and monthly objectives are recommended for your job search.   The most critical areas to make continual progress on are:

  • Develop and follow a target list of companies.
    The most common targeting criteria include: companies with a common research focus as your experience; companies within your preferred geographic locations; and companies in which you have contacts.  It is important to follow company news, which may include information on key employees, strategies and financial reports.  For smaller companies in particular, news of a large cash inflow, an initial public offering (IPO), or a licensing deal is often a harbinger of increased hiring.  Overall, this type of data can help set you apart from other potential candidates when that interview comes because you have done your “homework.”
  • Create and foster your network of industry contacts.
    Effective tools for this step are LinkedIn, in which you can sort by company name to identify your contacts within your target companies, and the NIH Alumni Database.  Informational interviews are a good place to start to acquire not only information about particular jobs or a company’s working conditions, but many other answers to the varied questions you may have.  You may even be able to get advance information on potential job openings before they are posted.  From these initial contacts it is important to then expand your network to include their contacts.  A great final question for these sessions is, “Is there anyone else that you might recommend that I speak with?”

Since interviewing for a particular job normally takes only six to eight weeks but your total job search can take upwards of a year, it is likely that you will face some disappointment along the way. Taking care of yourself is essential. Scheduling time for activities such as exercising, meditating, spending time with friends and loved ones, and speaking with a therapist and/or career counselor is often helpful to job-seekers.

This is important not only to cope with possible frustration or sadness, but also to maintain your edge during the interview process.  Feel free to connect with the OITE for guidance and support. https://www.training.nih.gov/career_services.


Feedback Audit – Guide to Working with Me

February 18, 2019

11In last week’s blog, we discussed how to receive feedback well by focusing on the types of feedback (ACE – Appreciation/Coaching/Evaluation) you might receive as well as aspects of the feedback which might feel triggering (Truth, Relationship, and Identity Triggers) to you.

The Triad Consulting Group has developed handouts and worksheets that you can access on their website to help guide you through various aspects of difficult conversations and feedback.

When thinking about how to improve how well you receive feedback, it is first important to consider your past experiences taking in feedback. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  1. What are your pet peeves about feedback?
  2. How sensitive am I to feedback?
  3. What is my processing time for feedback? Do you need time to reflect or can you discuss and engage in the moment?
  4. How long is my recovery time when receiving critical feedback?
  5. If you are triggered by feedback, how can others tell?
  6. How about email? Is coaching by email and not face-to-face acceptable?
  7. What areas are you particularly sensitive about?
  8. When do I feel appreciated?
  9. What is the best setting and timing for me to effectively hear coaching feedback?
  10. What advice would you give others regarding giving you feedback? How can they interpret your reactions?

It is important to be introspective, thoughtful, and genuine when answering these questions. Perhaps you are very sensitive to feedback and your swing/recovery time is not swift. Take a moment to own up to those characteristics and not feel badly about it. Evaluate what could possibly be triggering for you from different feedback scenarios. The only way to begin receiving feedback well is by gaining these personal insights first and foremost.

Remember that you have the right to choose whether you apply the feedback, but you also are able to coach your coach about the feedback in the first place. Without going overboard, you can tell your coach generally how you receive feedback and ask for their consideration in helping you to hear their insights well. If you get overwhelmed by too much information in a coaching session, try to look for themes to these evaluations. If necessary, ask “What’s one thing you see me doing, or failing to do, that you think is getting in my way?”

For more information, check out the book, Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well which is available for checkout at the OITE Library.

 


Thanks for the Feedback – How to Receive Feedback Well

February 11, 2019

10Maybe you are not sure how to process your latest performance review at work, or maybe an offhand critical comment has left you ruminating. In any shape or form, receiving feedback is crucial to one’s personal and professional development; however, it can also be extremely challenging to hear.

Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen are the authors of Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well (book available for checkout at the OITE Library). They have spent over a decade working with corporations, nonprofits, governments, and families – all with the purpose of discovering what helps people learn and what gets in the way of a growth mindset.

Within this blog, we have discussed difficult conversations at work and tools to help you structure the feedback you give, but we haven’t focused on a very simple question:

What makes feedback so hard?

Most advice books are focused on instructing you how to give feedback effectively and productively, but fail to focus on the act of receiving feedback. With this in mind, it is important to note two basic human needs: the first of which is that we want to be accepted and loved for how we are now; the second of which is that we also want to learn and grow. In thinking about the first point, it is important to recognize what makes you feel appreciated. For some it might be a public recognition or informal words of affirmation, while for others it could be an act of service and somebody willing to help you out with a favor. If you go into any feedback feeling underappreciated, then it could be a potential obstacle to how effectively you hear any coaching/feedback.

According to the book, there are three types of feedback – ACE.

Appreciation – Feedback focused on giving thanks and encouraging a person to keep up what they are doing.

Coaching – Feedback focused on showing you how you can do something better whether that is improving a skill or fixing an imbalance in a relationship.

Evaluation – Feedback focused on explaining or clarifying how you stand up next to others or against expectations.

Coaching and evaluative feedback can be triggering and Heen/Stone noted three triggers that can be a challenge to receiving feedback well.

Truth Triggers (Challenge to See) – We often view feedback as wrong or unfair, feel defensive, and completely reject the information we are given.

Relationship Triggers (Challenge of We) – We are speculative of the person and/or relationship with the person giving the feedback and view the information as faulty.

Identity Triggers (Challenge of Being Me) – An aspect of the feedback causes us to question ourselves or our abilities and can stifle our growth identity.

Triad Consulting Group has a variety of online resources for improving your conversations. Included in this are preparation worksheets that can help guide you though a feedback audit of yourself. In next week’s blog we will focus on insightful questions to help you understand more clearly how you receive feedback.


JOMO – Embrace the Joy of Missing Out

February 4, 2019

aaron-burden-20304-unsplashMany are familiar with FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). This acronym was coined by Patrick McGinnis, an entrepreneur and investor, during his time at Harvard Business School. As a small-town boy from Maine he describes the overwhelming nature of being “transplanted from a calm place with a simple lifestyle to a hub of 1,800 highly ambitious, connected young people.” His mania to try to fit it all in led to his FOMO discovery and his book FOMO Sapiens is now available.

What is the antidote to FOMO and the accompanying feeling that you are never doing quite enough?

JOMO – the Joy of Missing Out – is about being present and content with your current life and not feeling the need to compare your life to others. It often means tuning out the external or internal background noise of what you “should” be doing allowing you to free up the competitive and anxious space in your brain.

Give Yourself Permission to Say No
You don’t have to accept every party invitation. It is important to be intentional with your time and prioritize what is truly important to you. Do what you feel is necessary for you and don’t worry about what others are doing or thinking.

Embrace Real Life, Not Social Media Life
Social media can often trigger FOMO feelings. You don’t have enough money to go on a cool vacation like some of your friends or you feel you aren’t as professionally or personally successful as a peer’s profile might suggest. Take time to disconnect and not fall into the rabbit hole of scrolling through social media feeds. Unsubscribe from accounts and unfollow individuals that make you feel negatively triggered.

Be Present
Slowing down and being in the present moment can help calm us down but it can also allow us to more fully reflect on our thoughts and feelings. This is akin to meditation, which has a slew of benefits. Give yourself permission to disconnect and not feel like every moment of the day has to be scheduled and/or productive for a specific purpose.

Danish psychology professors, Svend Brinkmann, recently wrote a book The Joy of Missing Out. He notes that the Latin motto “Carpe Diem” is one of the most popular tattoos because as a society we have this prevailing mood where we feel “we must all rush around seizing the day” and maximizing our time at every turn. Brinkmann points out that less often delivers more in terms of meaning. “If we want to be friends with everyone, we cannot truly have a friend. If we want to do something well, we cannot do it all.” Learning to embrace limitations and self-imposed boundaries can help offset our neurotic hyperactivity and maximalist expectations.