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Consulting Interview Case Studies and More

Posted by James M on December 9, 2008

If you are interested in the field of consulting, as many young entrants into the work force are, then indulge in this consulting smorgasbord I have put together for you.  I’ve included links to over 15 case study examples and explanations straight from the websites of some of the world’s top consultancies.   In addition, there are some great links to delve more into what a consultant actually does and what the companies themselves look for.  To view the referenced information, just click on the highlighted names or phrases which I’ve linked to the websites.

1) Let’s start with what you are probably most interested in—details about the dreaded case study interview.  I have complied a list of practice case studies (over 15 in total) and other interview preparation tips from some of the biggest names in consulting:

  • Oliver Wyman offers a fantastic, comprehensive interview preparation website with case method overviews, tips, strategies, a breakdown of different types of cases and 2 interactive full length practice cases.
  • Bain and Company offers 3 sample cases and a helpful set of “Crack the Case” interview tips.
  • One of the perennial rivals to industry leader McKinsey, Boston Consulting Group (BCG) offers 4 practices cases as well as 1 interactive case.
  • Shrouded in secrecy, but purportedly able to fetch over $10,000 a day for a small team of consultants, McKinsey is the employer of choice for major MBA programs like the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business and Wharton’s famed business program at the University of Pennsylvania.  Their website is filled with case study information including two online cases, a case preparation video, and a downloadable tip sheet.
  • Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, better known simply as Deloitte Consulting, offers 3 practices cases for entry-level Analyst positions as well as 2 in-depth case examples for MBA hires.

2) Ace The Case offers three representative cases with sample responses including basic accounting calculations when requested by the interviewer.  A large volume of sample cases is available for a fee (Boo!! We like free stuff!).

3) Graduate Tutor has two resources for those interested in case interviews, an overview of the case interview process and a Top 10 Tips page.

4) Business week offers a great day-in-the-life series which includes several employees at consulting firms.  To view each person’s day-in-the-life, simply click on their name.

  • James FitzGerald is a government consultant with Booz Allen Hamilton.
  • Adam Watson founded his own consulting company Sequitur.
  • Courtney Anne Cochran is founder and principal at Your Personal Sommelier, a wine-consulting company.
  • Punam Ghosh is a strategy manager with Accenture, one of the largest consulting firms in the world.
  • Kelsey Leigh Kitsch is a Senior Consultant with Ivey Business Consulting Group, a small 12-person firm based out of Toronto.
  • David Grrison is a senior associate at Katzenbach Partners, a management-strategy consulting firm.

5) MBA Podcaster offers terrific programing for those thinking about going back to get an MBA.  In particular, they recently released a special consulting podcast featuring a panel of three top industry insiders:

  • Rich Schneider, Director of the MBA campus recruiting program at Deloitte Consulting.
  • Peter Sullivan, U.S. Director of people services at Booz Allen Hamilton.
  • Richard Wallen, Human Resources Manager at Watson Wyatt Worldwide.

Click here to listen to the special consulting podcast.

6) If you are willing to shell out some cash (why does everything cost money!??!), Vault offers some great information online as well as providing hard copies in stores.  They specialize in compiling industry data and conducting surveys.  I have a couple of their books at home and find them generally helpful, especially if you are interested in finding out what current and past employees have thought of a particular firm, or if you are interested in reading advice and interviews from industry professionals.  Click here to view their online consulting page and view the limited amount of info available for free.

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Additional Career Resources

Posted by James M on December 5, 2008

In case you can’t find what you are looking for on my blog, I’ve put together a list of terrific resources:

Career Point – 5 Tips for College Student Resumes offers 5 simple tips on how to improve your resume.

Lindsey Pollak has a wonderful blog with a great format that many new college grads would find very useful.

Collegegrad.com has a terrific set of resources including a job search database as well as interview and resume tips.

About.com has one of the most comprehensive set of resources for job seekers available anywhere.

Enjoy Your Job’s compact set of 7 great tips for your resume.

Geek Hunter’s 10 simple, but amazingly powerful advice about how to be competitive in your job search.

Posted in Career Fairs, Cover Letters, and More | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Should I list a low GPA on my Resume?

Posted by James M on December 4, 2008

I’ve gotten a few e-mails lately regarding putting a low GPA on your resume as well as a ton of referrals from Google searches on the topic so I thought a post addressing it was in order.  Ok, let’s not waste any time!

Table of Contents:

  • What will happen if I don’t put my GPA on my resume
  • What about just putting my major GPA on my resume
  • Arguments for listing your GPA
  • Arguments for NOT listing your GPA

Additional Blog Posts to help with a low GPA:

What will happen if I don’t put my GPA on my resume?

In most cases the recruiter will probably assume you have a low GPA.  Think about it, if you had a 4.0 is there any doubt you would slap that achievement front and center under your Education section?

How low will they assume your GPA is?  Well obviously that depends on the recruiter, but I think typically they will assume your GPA is somewhere between a 2.5 and 2.9 which is where, in my experience, most GPAs lie on the spectrum when they are not listed.

Rest assured all recruiters have seen many resumes without a GPA and have had to ask follow-up questions to obtain this information.  Therefore each recruiter will bring their own bias about what an unlisted GPA implies for a particular candidate.

What about just putting my major GPA on my resume?

The question of whether you can exclude your cumulative GPA in favor of your major GPA on your resume is a tricky one.  It is true that most employers put a premium on your major GPA over your cumulative GPA, however many may still require that you provide your cumulative.

In addition, major GPAs are more relevant for graduating students than those seeking an internship.  With graduating seniors a major GPA represents two years of continued in-depth work with increasing focus and difficulty as one moves from 300-level classes to 400-level classes (from Junior-level to Senior-level).  A major GPA for a college junior is usually made up of just a handful of classes which makes it much less relevant.

By listing a major GPA you may entice a recruiter to have follow-up communications to determine your overall GPA at which time you can begin an engagement about why your other relative merits should outweigh your GPA.  On the other hand there is the chance they will need your cumulative GPA to process your application and won’t have time to contact you to obtain that information.  More on that in a bit.

Of course this is all under the assumption that your career of choice is in the field you majored in.  Simply listing a major GPA if you are a career changer won’t do much for you—who cares about your Forest Management GPA if you are trying to go in to Construction Management?

Many of the arguments I provide in this article regarding the discussion of a no GPA vs. a cumulative GPA strategy also apply to a cumulative GPA vs. major GPA placement.  I’ll let you decide for yourself whether you want to solely put your major GPA on your resume, however I strongly recommend a dual strategy of placing both GPAs on your resume as in:

* Communication Major GPA: 3.41, Cumulative GPA 2.94

That way you highlight your major GPA while at the same time playing it safe if a recruiter wants to see both.  Let’s discuss some more argument for listing your GPA and then follow it up with some counter arguments about why it might be better not to list your GPA.

Arguments for listing your GPA

I think the arguments for listing your GPA differ depending on whether you are applying in person or online.  First, I’ll talk about in person applications and then online submittals.

In Person Applications

If you are applying in person there are really two strategies representing two different schools of thought of career consultants.  The school of thought I subscribe to is that you should list your GPA, and there are five main reasons I believe in it:

1.  Recruiter Assumptions – By using a resume with an unlisted GPA, the recruiter will almost always assume you have “low” grades, defined, as we talked about above, by their experience working with students who don’t list their GPA.  So the recruiter may assume you have a higher or lower GPA than is actually the case.  Either way this is bad for you—if they assume your grades are higher than they are it will be a let down when they find out your actual GPA; if they assume your grades are lower, you are going through the application process with an unnecessary handicap.

2.  Peace of Mind – Since no company is likely to hire you without finding out your cumulative GPA first, why not reveal it up front.  If you don’t, you’ll always have the fear in the back of your mind that when the recruiter does find out your GPA, they’ll kick you out the door.  I would rather go through the process knowing the recruiter is at least open to the idea that I am more than my grades.

3.  Minimize Recruiter Effort – I am a fan of making a recruiter’s job as easy as possible—I want my resume to be completely self-contained with all information easy to access.  Making the recruiter inquire about your GPA is one more thing they have to do.  This may not be a big deal if they are looking at one resume, but after looking at 100 in a matter of a few hours, it starts to get annoying.  You don’t want to be the brunt of a recruiter’s bad day.

4.  Recruiter Error – In addition, let’s imagine the recruiter forgets to inquire about your GPA or doesn’t notice it in the initial contact session with you.  Now imagine the recruiter has whittled the 100 resumes they spent two hours looking at down to 6 finalists.  But here’s the catch—they only have 5 interview spots open.  Given two candidates with similar experience do you think the chances are better that they will take the time to e-mail you and wait for your response, or simply choose to interview the candidate that has included all relevant information on their resume?

5.  Mitigation Techniques – There are a variety of resume techniques you can use to mitigate a low GPA on your resume.  See the links at the top of this article for more information on the technique specifics.

Online Applications

Submitting a resume that includes a GPA is even more critical when using an online application process.  Let’s talk about why.

1.  Difficult Engagement – During a career fair, company information session, or interview it takes a matter of seconds for a recruiter to inquire about your GPA and solicit a response.  When submitting online, the employer no longer has that luxury.  At a minimum, they have to take time away from what they are doing and give you a call or send you an e-mail.

In the best case situation you pick up their phone call or see their e-mail right away, but what if you don’t?  You could easily find yourself playing a game of phone tag and at worst the recruiter might get frustrated and give up.  And what about your e-mail, what if you are out of town or simply don’t check your e-mail for a few days?  This back-and-forth communication is all a waste of time at the expense of not only you, but also the recruiter.

2.  Busy, busy, busy – During a career fair, company information session, or job interview, the recruiter is able to carve out some one-on-one time and really spend a few minutes addressing your candidacy for the position.  In an online review process, that same recruiter may be sifting through hundreds of resumes trying to find an ideal applicant.  The only way to stand out in this case is on paper, and that means having a complete and well-flowing resume that doesn’t require the recruiter to do anything but read.

3.  Online Applications – Many online applications contain text boxes or drop down menus where you are required to list your GPA.  In this case not listing your GPA becomes moot point.

Arguments for NOT listing your GPA

Although I do not subscribe to this school of thought, there are some valid arguments which I’ll try to represent fairly.

In-Person Applications

1.  Recruiter Prejudice – Listing a low GPA subjects you to the subconscious prejudice of recruiters who won’t be able to separate you from your low GPA.  Although most recruiters are good natured and are there to help, it is true that all people carry biases regardless of how hard they try not to.

2.  Recruiter Engagement – Not listing your GPA allows you to engage the recruiter when the subject does come up.  Once the recruiter asks you about your GPA, you’ll be able to instantly address the shortfall and provide a verbal mitigation describing how your other qualities outweigh your low GPA.  However, I feel that this same strategy can be used when listing your GPA.  There is nothing stopping you from obtaining all the benefits of listing your GPA on your resume and at the same time engage the recruiter during first contact.

3.  Alternative GPA – As I discussed towards the beginning of this blog post, sometimes simply listing your major GPA is enough to satisfy the curiosity of employers regarding your academic aptitude.   This is because most employers put a premium on your major GPA over your cumulative one.

4.  Much Ado About Nothing – Maybe all this emphasis I am putting on GPAs is just overblown.  Personally, I think your GPA is one of the biggest contributing factors to your hire with a particular firm, but I am just one guy writing a career blog.  It is completely reasonable and possible that you’ll get a recruiter that just doesn’t care about GPA.  Maybe they can identify with low GPAs and so they don’t ask, maybe they judge you by their rapport with you first and grades second, maybe they think previous work, internship, or volunteer experience speaks volumes more than your grades.  Whatever the reason, all recruiters are unique so the importance they place on your GPA is all relative.

Online Applications

Choosing a strategy of an unlisted GPA on an online resume is extremely risky.  Since you won’t be able to use the engagement strategy for unlisted GPAs I described above during the submittable process (as you can during a career fair or other recruitment event), you’ll have to hope you make it to the interview rounds where you can begin this discussion.  In addition, as I stated above, many online applications have a separate text box or drop down menu for you to list your GPA, so not listing it on your resume becomes moot in that case.

Well that’s it for today, I hope you found this post useful.  As always, if you have any questions feel free to leave a comment or e-mail me at collegegraduatejobs@gmail.com.

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Interview Questions – What is your biggest weakness?

Posted by James M on November 28, 2008

This is one of the most difficult questions for entry-level job candidates during the interview.  There are some helpful tips about what makes a “good weakness” and an important structural framework that will help you ace this question on the interview.

We’ll work our way backwards on this one.  First, I’ll give an example and analysis of how to answer this question correctly, then I’ll delve more into what a bad answer looks like  and how to get yourself to a place where you can respond to this question in a way that will impress the recruiter.

Example Response
So let’s talk about an actual response to this question and what it might look like.  Let’s imagine that my lack of leadership skills is my weakness of choice and I read a leadership book and did some basic volunteer work to help shore up my weakness.

“What is your biggest weakness?”

“Well, after being assigned a group project in a film production and editing class, I was tasked with leading our group of 5 students to make a short 45-second commercial.  Although we completed the assignment on time, I noticed my leadership skills were lacking.  The group continually looked to me to lead them and I had trouble striking a balance between delegating the work evenly and wanting to do it all myself.  Some sections of the project I spent 12 hours a day doing while other times I delegated so much work I had nothing to do.  In addition, when disputes arose between team members about the direction of the film or a particular type of editing style, I didn’t know how to handle the disagreements and because of the constant fights one person dropped out of our group.

I knew if I wanted to be a successful television editor, a job that involves delegating a lot of tasks, I would need to learn how to lead a team more effectively.  I remembered hearing about a book called The One Minute Manager on a business talk show I was watching a while back so purchased that book and was able to read it in about two weeks.  It gave a lot of great advice, particularly about delegation and giving constructive criticism.

In addition, last month I sought out an opportunity to lead a group of 25 volunteers during a day long park clean up project.  I inspected the park before the event to see what areas might need the most cleanup and talked to the local chapter of the parent organization about useful tips based on past clean up projects.  This helped me get a good sense of the delegation needed before the event even started.  This was an item the book recommended—having a plan for the distribution of work before it comes time to actually parse the project into small tasks.

The day of the event several volunteers didn’t show up so I had to re-delegate a few tasks.  I used the strategies I read about in the book to help motivate the team as well as worked very hard myself to show the team I was committed.  When there were disputes about who wanted to do what job I was able to talk to several volunteers to find a balance of work.  In particular no one wanted to do the “boring job” of pulling weeds so I decided to assign every volunteer a few minutes doing it.  Because the volunteers spent most of the time doing other tasks that they had chosen and each volunteer felt the system was fair, they didn’t mind pulling weeds for a short time.

I have already started reading another book entitled Leadership 101 to continue to learn about the art and science of leadership.  In addition, I signed up to lead another park rejuvenation project early next month.  This project involves 40 people and I’m excited to challenge myself and continue to improve my leadership skills.”

Example Response Analysis
Notice that this answer uses a modified form of the STAR framework I talked about in my Behavioral Interview Questions post.

  • First, I talked about the initial situation that led me to realize that leadership, the weakness I choose for my response, was a problem.  I mentioned the task or project I was assigned and what went wrong.  Notice that I was very specific about the particular elements of leadership I was weak on—delegation and resolving disputes.  The more specifically you answer this part of the question the easier the entire question will be to answer.  For example, depending on who you talk to, leadership might involve dozens of different components. Improving one or two elements of my leadership skills at a time is much easier than improving every the entire continuum of leadership itself.
  • Second, I formulated a realization of career success that involved improving upon the weakness.  Using one of my long term goals of being successful in the film industry I framed an “improvement space” that existed to achieve that success.  It is good to have some motivation for the improvement you have chosen.  There are hundreds of different attributes in a professional career and no one person is strong at all of them.  You should pick and choose the attributes you want to be strong at based on your career goals and interpersonal strengths.
  • Third, I talked about my plan—how was I going to improve on this weakness?  In my case I read a leadership book and then decided to sign up for short leadership position with a local non-profit organization.   Actually doing something about my weakness shows tremendous initiative and gets past the “fluff” that the typical candidate uses in their response.
  • Forth, I talked about the situation where I led more successfully.  What happened this time when those same issues of delegation and resolving disputes came up?  How did I handle them differently and achieve success this time around?  In particular I cited a strategy shift that was informed largely by the information I acquired in the leadership book I referenced earlier.
  • Fifth, I talked about future plans for improvement.  This is really a great way to wrap up the question.  Show the interviewer that although you’ve made some improvements to date, you are taking the initiative to get to a state of excellence with regard to your current weakness.  It also shows a very positive attitude.  Showing a track record of initiative and a positive attitude will get you much further than you can imagine in an interview.

A poor response to this question
Now let’s look at a response to this question from a slightly humors angle.

“What would you say is your biggest weakness?”

“My biggest weakness is that sometimes girls are jealous of me because I’m just too pretty.”

Yes, that is a bad answer, but maybe not for the reasons you think.  Yes, it is bad because it is conceded and uninspiring (albeit a joke in this context), but, even worse, being exceptionally pretty is not a weakness.  Neither is being a perfectionist.  Let me repeat that.  Being a perfectionist is NOT a weakness.  If the average HR representative had a dollar for every time someone said their biggest weakness was being a perfectionist or their biggest strength is working with people, they’d have enough money to retire and take up sailing.

Answering “weakness” questions this way is insulting—to yourself.  It shows that you have very little, if any, self-awareness.  That’s right I said it!  We all have enough actual weaknesses without needing to take a positive characteristic and put a negative spin on it.  Moreover, these answers are cliche, overused, and boring.


What makes a “good weakness”?

Ok, so now let’s look at the constituents that make up what you might call a “good weakness”.  In other words a weakness that actually challenges you in your life and passes muster with a recruiter during an interview.

  • First, it should be a weakness that has actually given you problems in the past.  You need to be able to tell a story (as we saw in our example response) about how this weakness has inhibited you, so having a vague sense about what you would like to improve isn’t enough.  You need concrete examples, so spend some time thinking about group projects, internships, volunteer experience, etc. and try to think of some situations where you didn’t perform up to par and what characteristics of yourself contributed to that.
  • Second, it should be a weakness that you have actively worked to improve.  This is really the key part of your response.  If you can really delve into this “improvement space” if you will, you’ll hit the ball out of the park on this question and leave a fantastic impression with the recruiter.
  • Third, you’ll need an example of how things worked the next time you were put in the same situation. There is sort of a before-and-after type dichotomy at play here.
  • Lastly, if you are a non-traditional applicant to a position you may want to consider mentioning your lack of experience in a particular area as your weakness and describe how you’ve mitigated that gap.  For example, say you are an art major applying for an investment banking job.  The obvious weakness would be your lack of a rigorous financial background.  So you can talk about how you took some finance and accounting classes, how you joined the finance club, how you read the Wall Street Journal regularly, etc.  Doing so will help to kill the “elephant in the room”, namely why in the world an art major is cut out for investment banking.  It is better to tackle these non-traditional applicant situations head on rather than assuming you are on equal footing as more traditional candidates.

How to mitigate and improve a weakness
To really set your response apart, you’ll need to show that you’ve actively tried to mitigate the weakness you described.  First, you should think hard about the conscious and subconscious steps you’ve already taken in the mitigation process.  Perhaps you did some soul searching and concentrated extra hard on a particular characteristic the next time you did a group project or sought a different position with your volunteer club to help fill a knowledge gap.

If you haven’t begun to work on your weakness yet, no need to worry.  It is never too late to start working on self-discovery and self-improvement.  After spending some time thinking hard about what some of your key weaknesses may be it is time to start improving upon them.  Depending on how much time before your job search commences you may be able to do any one of the following:

  • Take additional university classes to cover any knowledge gaps you may have.
  • Join a club at school or in the community that focuses on a particular area of study or soft skill.
  • Consider volunteer opportunities.  They are likely the fastest and most efficient ways to shore up key weaknesses such as leadership and teamwork.
  • Do some independent research.  Depending on your school, major, and available professors, undergraduate research can often be set up on short notice and tailored to cover specific gaps in your knowledge or skill sets.
  • Consider simple things such as subscribing to publications, newspapers, reading online journals etc.  Sometimes it is the simple initiatives we take that set us apart.
  • Take community classes.  Public speaking, organization, leadership and many other courses are often available at community colleges in the evening or from various community organizations.
  • Consider student government.  Many school’s student government and other school sponsored organizations offer really great chances to quickly gain valuable soft skill experience.

Note that you don’t need to be 100% complete with this process by the time of your interview.  If your weakness is public speaking a simple story about how you have enrolled in a public speaking class offered by Toast Masters, given your first intermediate length speech and received positive reviews will do wonders.  Because we are allowed to be somewhere in the process of improvement, I wouldn’t worry too much about having a short time line.  All you need is to show the initiative to improve yourself and one simple example of your improvement thus far and you have competed the ingredients needed to do fantastically well in your response.

Also note that you need to walk a thin line—after a certain amount of improvement a weakness ceases to be considered such and can actually be thought of as a strength.  That is not the type of situation we are looking for here.  We are looking for you to be somewhere in the process of shoring up the weakness.

Wrap-up
Well there you have it, everything you need to do to hit the ball out of the park on this question in the interview.  You really only need a couple of weeks to get from square one to a completed series of story points for this question.  Just spend a little bit of time thinking about your weaknesses and take a few steps to mitigate it either on your own, by getting involved with your university, or seeking out a community organization.  Along the way you’ll gain a lot of insight and experience that you can use elsewhere in your interview.

If you have any questions about any aspect of your job hunt or would like a free in-depth resume consultation, I invite you to e-mail me at collegegraduatejobs@gmail.com.

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