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Starting a consulting career or finding a new job in the consultancy sector can be a challenge even to experience job seekers. The consulting industry is one of the most highly competitive industries for job candidates, especially for recent graduates who have yet to take their first serious steps on the job market. Landing a job interview with a consulting firm is a pretty big step for your consulting career, but it hardly guarantees that you will get the role you applied for. For this reason, it is important to know what to expect from a consulting interview and to be well prepared in advance, so that you can put your best foot forward with a potential new employer.

The consulting job interview typically lasts between 15 and 30 minutes. The person at the other end of the table is either an experienced consultant or a partner at the consulting firm to which you are applying. His or her main task is not to assess your qualifications - you already have those covered if your consulting CV has landed you the interview - but to find out more about your intellectual and communications skills first hand, as these are a crucial asset for a consulting career. The job interview is structured specifically to reveal these to the interviewer.

To make sure you present yourself in the best possible way, there are several things you need to review before the interview. First, there is your work history and especially any experiences that are particularly relevant to the consulting job for which you are applying. Even though they are hopefully listed on your CV or in the cover letter, it does not hurt to emphasize why you are the right candidate for the job face to face when you are given the opportunity. Since first impressions are sometimes crucial, take the time to revisit any highlights of your career or education process that you feel the consulting firm in question may benefit from if they hire you.

The most important thing you need to accomplish during the consulting job interview is show the interviewer how you think. The interviewer, on the other hand, needs to learn this about every job candidate he or she talks to in a very short period of time. This is why, at some consulting interviews, you can expect to be hit with an estimation question.

The estimation question – e.g. "How many cows are there in New Delhi?" – is never about actual numbers, but is designed to deliver relevant information about you to the person interviewing you. From your answer, he or she will know if you can think on your feet, if you can think in a structured way when approaching a new task, how you handle yourself in unfamiliar circumstances, how you deal with pressure, and how you communicate in general.

It is important that you allow the interviewer to see what factors you will consider when tackling the guesstimate and how you will go about solving the problem. It is usually a good idea to start with a general number – how many cows there are in India, for instance – and then work your way down to the final answer. Do not worry about accuracy as it is not the point of the estimation question.

If you are not sure whether or not the interviewer wants you to give a hypothetical answer or do some actual research, go ahead and ask for clarification. Asking questions shows not only eagerness to solve the task, but also a fair degree of responsibility and good communication skills.

The same advice applies to consulting case study interviews.

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