More on Confidence in Case Interviews

Email:

I am a regular reader of your emails discussing ways in which to succeed at case interviews and can without doubt say that they assisted me in getting an offer for an associate position with McKinsey in Johannesburg.

I stumbled upon your website quite far into the application process (about two weeks prior to my final round interviews) and was amazed by how much the advice you provide correlates, and expands, on the advice provided to me by my McKinsey assigned coach (one of my first round interviewers who was made available to assist me with any queries, etc. I had prior to the final round).

Unfortunately, as a result of work pressure and the short amount of time prior to my interviews, I could not justify investing in the LOMS program (although I agree that the price is beyond reasonable, even from an African perspective) - however if I had discovered it sooner I am sure it would have proved invaluable.

Regardless, I just wanted to thank you for the effort you put in to assist dreaming-future-consultants such as myself - while apprehensive about the long hours and time spent away from home, I cannot wait to start at McKinsey, and your materials and advice contributed hugely to this dream becoming real!

In respect of your most recent post regarding how to overcome nervousness, I took an additional step to those you mentioned that I feel helped me greatly in securing my offer.

I had interviewed previously with Bain Johannesburg and had made it through to the final round, where a combination of an uninterested/irritable interviewer and my nerves cost me any chance of an offer.

Obviously this experience helped me perform better during my McKinsey interviews, but a slight change in attitude helped me remain calm and in charge of the interview process at all times.

I'm not sure how similar the application process is across the globe, but with both Bain and McKinsey, I found the process to be incredibly supportive - employees were assigned to coach me through the process, and the interviewers genuinely wanted me to demonstrate my best.

I realized this prior to my final round interviews, and it was amazing how much more confident one is when it feels as though the interviewer (judger, person who has all the power and can crush your dreams and ruin your life, etc.) isactually rooting for you, and hoping that you demonstrate the standard required to join their company.

Knowing that everybody wanted me to do my best made the final round interviews an extremely pleasant experience - the personal skills questions passed by enjoyably as I engaged with the interviewers as if they were friends and colleagues (professionally of course) rather than terrifying people, out to prove that I'm not as smart as my mom keeps telling me.

I approached the case questions as if the interviewer and I were simply brainstorming and problem solving together - the only difference being that I took the lead.

Where I made a mistake or got off track, it didn't feel like my world was crumbling, instead I was confident that the interviewer would guide me appropriately (and because the nerves were gone, I was able to pick up on these hints and use them constructively).

I definitely prepared more for the McKinsey interviews, and I convinced myself that there was less at stake than with Bain - additionally the Bain interviews provided me with great experience that also gave me an edge with McKinsey (one of the reasons I applied to Bain first!).

The key element to my success in those final round interviews however was convincing myself (of what I actually do think is the truth, but it's hard to think otherwise when feeling under pressure) that the application process and the interviews, as tough as they are, are about the interviewee completely.

If nothing else, these interviews are a time to interact with super smart people, solve interesting problems, and getting to discuss yourself with someone who is actually interested in finding out about you, and hoping that you have what it takes to be a successful consultant.

This knowledge helped calm me down dramatically - and the results speak for themselves - I'll be a McKinseyite soon!

Thanks again, and apologies for the length of this mail!

My Reply:

Congratulations on your offer. I hear great things about the Johannesburg office, as one of my former colleagues spent some time in that office and loved it enormously.

I'm glad my materials were helpful to you in achieving this next step in your career.

There are two things I'd like to elaborate on.

First, I am slowly coming to the conclusion that perhaps I'm a tough interviewer.  While I do get comments from readers about a difficult interviewer, the majority of comments are neutral to favorable.

I am curious if those who have Look Over My Shoulder® feel my tone and style mirrors what they are seeing in actual interviews. Basically, am I a hard *ss? Inquiring minds (or mind) wants to know.  Let me know.

My guess is the various firms have placed an emphasis on either training or reminding interviewers to be more approachable -- to take the intimidation out of the process so that people can perform better, and firms can evaluate the candidate at their best... rather than create circumstances to cause candidates to perform at their worst.

When I was interviewing, I found the helpful demeanor to be inconsistent. Some very friendly and helpful, others cooler and more of distant professionalism demeanor.

I am glad that you brought out this point and were generous in sharing your experience with others.

Second, there was one thing in particular that you mentioned that I not only agree with, but also really want to emphasize.

How you perceive the interview is very important with respect to your confidence.

If you see it as a trial by jury where your entire life and future career is at stake, this is not a very productive way to think about it.

I really like how you characterize the case interview as a chance to meet a super smart person, and work together on an intriguing business problem... while taking the lead a bit.

In hindsight, this was exactly how I thought of my case interviews.

I know this will be just a shock to some people, but I actually looked forward to my case interviews.

Why?

Because, I'm 1) very curious, and 2) like to learn new things about business.

Once I got into the case, I was just so curious to get data, test my hypothesis to see if I was right... I found the whole discovery process very intriguing, much like being a detective on a TV show. I quickly forgot that the person infront of me was evaluating me, in my mind the interviewer was just my analyst -- someone who had the data that I needed to satisfy my curiosity.

I figured worse case, I would go to a case interview and learn something new about business that I didn't know the day before. A productive way to spend a day....

And oh yeah, there is the evaluation form the person across the table will end up filling out, but forget about that... tell me more about this really interesting case.

And what I discovered through the many case interviews that I had was that I was learning a lot about business at a very fast rate -- just through the interviews.

And guess what?

This is exactly what happens on the job after you get the offer too.

For example, I spent the day learning about Alzheimers and dementia, as I have a new client that is in that market. It is just fascinating the psychological factors that influence clients with dementia and their families.

I mean, how do you sell a service to a client who is in denial about the problem they face? How do you sell a service to a family member who is equally in denial about the problem they face?  Very interesting... never had to deal with such a challenge before.

So the takeaway here is to mentally perceive the interview as something other than an evaluative process. It almost doesn't matter how you choose to perceive the interview, so long as it is a positive perception.

The other idea here is you get back the demeanor you give to the interviewer.  If your face looks like you're constipated, you will get back a similar look from the interviewer.

By the way, that last sentence is known as a "pattern interrupt." Next time you see an interviewer who gives you such a look, remember what I said, hopefully laugh a little to yourself, smile and perhaps the interviewer might just do the same.

On a related note, it is odd for an interviewer to be the only one smiling.  If you smile, she smiles. If you are miserable, it just feels awkward for the interviewer to be smiling as it sometimes feels like you're smiling at their misery.

I suspect the reason many of the interviewers were warm to you is because you were warm to them first.

You can read related posts on projecting confidence in case interviews here:

http://www.caseinterview.com/case-interview-confidence

and

http://www.caseinterview.com/case-interview-confidence-2

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