Have you ever been stumped by a question like “Tell me a little bit about yourself?”
Dude, come on! That’s interviewing 101. It gets so much harder than that.
While you can rely on certain basic interview questions, some can feel like a punch in the face. But guess which industry gives the toughest interviews?
According to recent interview candidates, the answer is: consulting.
Job site Glassdoor.com dug through more than 80,000 interview ratings that people had shared on its site and came up with the top 25 hardest companies to interview with.
Consulting firms dominated the list, with seven out of the 25 being consulting firms. In fact, the top five were all consulting!
“I’m not surprised to see consulting firms on the list,” said Samantha Zupan, director of corporate communications at Glassdoor. “They do case-study presentations. Their job is about thinking through those challenges.”
McKinsey & Company came in at No. 1, with an interview difficulty rating of 3.9 out of 5 — 5 being the hardest. Next, were Boston Consulting Group with a rating of 3.8, and Oliver Wyman at 3.7.
Job candidates were asked the following questions at recent interviews at those consulting firms that topped the list:
- “There are three products: tomatoes, luxury cars, T-shirts. What value added tax is applied to each product type?” — McKinsey & Company junior consultant candidate (location n/a).
- “How many people would use a drug that prevents baldness?” – Boston Consulting Group associate candidate (Boston).
- “What is the profit potential of offering wireless Internet service on planes?” – Oliver Wyman consultant candidate (location n/a).
One person, who recently applied for a job at McKinsey, described it this way: “They do an odd style of interviewing they called ‘McKinsey Speed Dating.’ There were 5 applicants and 5 interviewers and we were shuffled through the interviewers offices every 5-10 minutes.”
Another candidate, who applied for a research analyst job at McKinsey, said they were asked by the HR person to come in and “take the test,” which meant doing case studies and then a Q&A with interviewers about the findings.
A person recently interviewing at Boston Consulting spoke of being interviewed by three people, each one-on-one. The interviewers gave hypothetical scenarios and asked for the candidate to present solutions. One such situation was: “A coal mining company with majority market share in Canada is witnessing declining profits. Find out what’s wrong.”
And, much like some of the tough questions asked by Wall Street firms to see if you get rattled or can handle the pressure that will come with your job, they might poke you with a stick at a consulting firm interview as well — just to see if you can handle it.
A candidate who recently applied for a job at Oliver Wyman described the experience this way: “Friendly and very thorough interview process. But if you mess up once it really counts, even if you recover. They also try to stress you out a bit during the fit interview. But don’t panic.”
One question that was asked to try to rattle the candidate was, “Why don’t you go to law school?”
You might wonder why anyone would want to subject themselves to such a grueling process, but Zupan said it’s actually a good indication of what the job is going to be like — and if you can handle it. Typically, she said, two-thirds of job candidates say the actual job winds up being completely different than what the candidate expected based on the interview!
By contrast, employees at a majority of the companies on the list – 14 out of 25 – said the job turned out to be what they expected and that they were “satisfied” or “very satisfied” at work.
Rounding out the top 10
- A.T. Kearney (consulting)
- ZS Associates (consulting)
- ThoughtWorks (information technology)
- Bain & Company (consulting)
- Shell (energy)
- Google (technology/internet search)
- Unisys (information technology)
Here are some sample questions asked at those firms recently:
“After streamlining and reducing purchasing cost for raw materials, can you think of another way to reduce the cost of making a piece of chocolate?” – A.T. Kearney business analyst candidate (location n/a).
“A pharma company you are consulting is coming up with 2 new products. What factors would help them decide how to distribute their sales force?” – ZS Associates associate candidate (San Mateo, Calif.)
“Interview me and then tell me if you would hire me” – ThoughtWorks talent scout candidate (Porto Alegre, Brazil).
“Estimate how many windows are in New York” –Bain & Company associate consultant candidate (Boston).
“Give 2-3 negative points of diversity in a company” –Shell Oil supply chain graduate candidate (location n/a).
“How many hotels are there in the US?” – Google product manager candidate (Mountain View, Calif.)
“What is more necessary, skill or will?” –Unisys systems analyst candidate (Bangalore, India).
The rest of the top 25 companies that give the hardest interviews includes a bunch of technology companies, as you might expect, including Facebook and Amazon. However, it also includes some names you might not think of, including Procter & Gamble, Progressive, and Teach for America.
You mean, Flo from Progressive had to go through a tough interview, too?!
“For Progressive, many candidates speak to the level of detail they are asked to provide about past experiences, as well as the many steps candidates have to go through as part of the interview process (i.e. skills test, personality tests, background checks, phone screens and in-person interviews),” Zupan said.
And, for Teach for America, “Candidates speak to the lengthiness of their interview process, which includes a full day of interviewing where candidates must take part in group activities and discussions, as well as a sample lesson,” she said.
Here are a few examples of what candidates said about recent interviews at the firms:
“The interviews are tough, both the over the phone and 2 interviews face-to-face. Be prepared to provide detailed examples of times when you helped customers in previous jobs.” – Asked of a claims contact representative candidate at Progressive.
“During the phone interview they reviewed your resume and asked you 7-10 STAR-based questions,” one candidate said. “I was informed 2 weeks later the managers made the exception and will do a phone interview which was scheduled for 2 hours. All the manager did was ask STAR-based questions and the recruiter asked about 10-18 questions during the whole 2 hours, which I thought was out-of-this-world crazy. Then I received a call 2 days ago saying I was not selected because they thought I didn’t give the best answers to the STAR questions and next time I apply I should study more on them.” – Asked of a claims adjuster candidate at Progressive.
“This interview consists of a short sample lesson (so interviewers can see your presence in front of people), a panel interview, a group simulation (to screen your dynamics working with others), a role-play scenario (to see how you respond to situations in which you would have to be persistent and professional), a debrief of the role play, and a one-on-one interview in which you talk a lot about leadership experience, how you respond to adversity, and your attitudes toward education and low-income communities.” – Asked of a Teach for America Corps Member Candidate
Here is the rest of the list (11-25):
- Rackspace Hosting (technology/managed application & network services)
- Cypress Semiconductor (technology/chips)
- Susquehanna International Group (financial services)
- Bazaarvoice (information technology)
- Procter & Gamble (consumer products)
- Teach for America (education)
- L.E.K. Consulting (consulting)
- Juniper Industries (shipbuilding)
- Sapient Global (financial services)
- Stryker (medical equipment)
- General Mills (food manufacturing)
- Progressive (insurance)
- Headstrong (information technology)
- Facebook (technology/social media)
- Amazon (online retail)
Even if your business isn’t consulting or technology, Zupan recommends that interviewers ask harder or more challenging questions to make sure they get the right candidate for the job. All too often, when you ask softball questions like “Tell me about yourself” or “Where do you see yourself in five years?”, a person can nail the interview and then be a total disappointment on the job.
“If an employer has a clearer plan of action for how they’d like to attack an interview, instead of asking general questions, they’re likely to get the right person for the job,” she said. “Strategically approach the interview process by asking not only what the person did in the past, but how they can help the company move forward.”
So no more winging it, interviewers!
She also suggests that interviewers not waste their time on questions like “Tell me your strengths and weaknesses” or “Tell me where you see yourself in five years.”
“You want to see how they think,” she said. “Are they a creative problem solver?” And, for job candidates, even if you’re not applying to one of those companies with the tough interviews, you should be ready! No winging it for you, either. “Do your homework and prepare! Read the news about the company,” she advises.
And whatever you do, don’t say, “I don’t know.”
“I despise it!” Zupan said of the “I don’t know” cop-out answer. “It is supposed to be a thinking process — whether you’re an employee or a job candidate. … If you don’t know, use that time to ask more questions such as, ‘Tell me more about why you’re asking the question’ — think of something!” she says.
All right, now get in there and nail that interview!
“Can You Handle It? Companies with the Hardest Job Interviews” was provided by CNBC.com.