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February 5, 2008 9:35 AM   Subscribe

What should I expect in a first interview with a consulting company for a summer internship?

I have an interview later this week with a large technology consulting company. I'm a junior in college majoring in mathematics with a concentration in computer science. The interview is for an analyst internship for this coming summer. What should I be expecting in this interview? Would they throw specific case questions at an inexperienced college student on the first interview? They have told us that there will be a second round of interviews in a few weeks and that this one will last less than thirty minutes. Any advice is welcome. Thanks!
posted by kjackelen05 to Work & Money (7 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
They are looking for enthusiatic, self confident folks who they think will fit in with there corp culture. I worked for one consulting company that was very staid and formal. Worked for another that was much more relaxed. If you can get a feel for the culture beforehand you can match your body language and interview technique to that.

If not, pay attention to the interviewer - if they are more relaxed you be the same. If very formal pull out your formal persona.

As for questions, they are trying to see if you are bright and can keep up. Probably will not ask specific cases but if they do, show them you are eager to learn and have your wits about you. Something like "I honestly have no idea how I would handle that. But would love to learn! I know this internship would give me that opportunity and that is why I want to be here."

Lastly, best advice I ever had and it has gotten me several positions, ask for the internship. "I want to work here this summer." "I want this internship." "I hope I am being considered because I want this internship." Something like that.
posted by shaarog at 10:31 AM on February 5, 2008

I work for a company similar to the one you are describing. I also went through several rounds of interviews. It's really not as bad as you expect, at least for me it wasn't. They ask you questions about what you did in college, any notable projects you worked on. They will inquire about anything that stands out on your resume. You will be asked to describe any previous work experiences, especially it if is in the industry.

They also like to ask you what you like to work on, what you are expecting, etc. And relax -- they spend a lot of time describing the company, what they do, how the culture is, etc. During those times you can just sit back and listen (look very interested, and ask questions based on the information you are given at that time, so you come across as thoughtful and curious).

Be sure to call/email/write the people who interview you and thank them, that can make a big difference. Mention that you look forward to speaking with them again.

Highly unlikely they will ask you specific questions to text your knowledge. They are more interested in your attitude and willingness to learn and work.

Try to have a few questions about the company ready, because they will wrap up the interview (usually) by saying "do you have any questions?" Don't ask something that could be easily found by browsing their website, either. I usually asked how much traveling I could expect, or what type of projects I would be working on, or asked about any recent big projects the company had completed.

Good luck!
posted by lohmannn at 10:47 AM on February 5, 2008

I disagree with shaarog about how to field a case question. They already know that you don't really know that much. My advice: take a moment to think then say - "I don't have any experience with type of problem but it seems to me that I might start by.... and it would be important to consider....." You always say you would start by getting information and then detail what type of information you might need and who you would want to talk with. Also expect question that assess your math and programming skills.

Also be prepared to talk about you bring to the table, why they should hire you. Give specific examples to back up your main points. Examples of being self-motivated and going beyond requirements are good. figure out what your best selling points are and be sure to work them into the conversation. It helps if you convince yourself that you really are a great catch for them - it help you project the self-confidence and enthusiasm that shaarog mentioned.
posted by metahawk at 10:56 AM on February 5, 2008

I would view every question that your interviewer asks as just being a different form of "Why should I hire you?" Even really broad, open-ended questions like "Tell me a little about yourself" are opportunities for you to show how your set of knowledge and experiences are the best fit for the job/internship.

An exercise that I find useful before job interviews is to list all of the skills I think are necessary for the job I am applying for. Then I go back and pull out the stuff from my resume which shows that I possess or can learn each skill, being as specific as I can. I also try to jot down a specific experience or anecdote which supports that as well, so I can easily expand on a topic if the interviewer wants to know more about it. Specifics are always more convincing than generalities- instead of, "When I was a TA for Prof. Z, I did a lot of research," something like "As a TA, I did research on topics A and B, using primary and secondary sources like Y and X, and then I used this info to creates quizzes for Prof. Z's class."

It can feel a little artificial or overly boastful to be "tooting your own horn," but in an interviewing situation, the only info they likely have about you is the distillation of experiences that appear on your resume. What seems really obvious to you (like, of course I did a lot of research and analysis during my last summer job at XYZ Corp., what else would I have been doing?), is not necessarily obvious to your interviewer, and it is your job during the interview to make it as obvious as possible.

If they do throw specific case questions at you, it is more important that you outline your work process, even if you cannot necessarily answer their immediate question off the top of your head. They likely do not expect you to know the answers, as they know you are a student, but take the opportunity to demonstrate your critical thinking skills, outline how you would attack the problem. The specifics they can teach you. Best of luck with your interview.
posted by that possible maker of pork sausages at 1:42 PM on February 5, 2008

I had quite a few interviews before landing my current internship, and almost all asked me situational type questions "describe a situation where you showed leadership/worked with others/failed" etc. I found it much easier to have a mental bank of possible answers, otherwise I tended to stretch my answers to fit the question. If you think you'll get these questions, it really helps to be prepared.
posted by piper4 at 4:07 PM on February 5, 2008

I agree with most of the comments here and second piper4 answer. When I did my internship interview they asked me questions along the lines of: "Have you ever worked on a project or problem you thought was above your skill level?", "What examples can you give me that show you are good at finding resolutions to problems on time?". Look over your resume and make sure you have a response to questions that could come up from it. They will ask you questions based on what you have listed as possible skill sets.

If they ask you a question that you don't know the answer to, explain how you would try and figure out the solution. I was asked such a question during my 3nd interview (I had to do 5 interviews back to back) and I thought for a minute before giving them the steps I would take to figure out the problem.

Try and stay calm or at the least make sure pause for a moment before responding so you can collect your thoughts and communicate them clearly. You don't want to just jump out and respond then wing it as you go along. You will get caught in some awkward pause and make yourself look like you don't know what your talking about. I've heard this happens quiet a lot by my co-worker who does the interviews for internships.
posted by spacesbetween at 7:21 PM on February 5, 2008

I interviewed with and was offered an internship at Accenture as a Computer Science major. In each of the five interview rounds (which were nearly identical) I was asked questions from the book of "behavior-based interviewing." I'm sure that this technique is still prevalent at consulting and professional services organizations. Examples include:
* Tell me about a time when you failed…
* Tell me about a recent (communication/analytical/technology) challenge…
* Tell me about a time when you received negative feedback from a peer or boss…

These questions are not designed to illicit a single "right" answer and instead are designed as a vehicle to explore your problem solving skills and character. These things, instead of any skill-set that you might walk-in with, will be a better predictor of your success in this position.

Your answers to these questions should be based on significant projects in terms of difficulty, time and complexity. I'd recommend brief narratives to ideally frame your responses.

I prepared for these questions by listing my academic/professional/volunteering projects along with a concise description of their key challenges and my besting of these challenges. During the interview, I simply selected the project that was a best-fit for the question then described a challenge and my response.
posted by meifool at 9:05 AM on February 6, 2008

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