Ace your next consulting interview: Strategies for freelancers and independent consultants

The world of freelancers and independent consultants has grown, grown, and how! Be it the flexible work hours, the freedom to pick and choose projects in different industries, or the move away from the shackles of a bureaucratic organization to pursue and advance career goals of one’s liking — independent consultants seem to have it all.  

However, with freedom comes the desire to work with the best, most sought-after consultancy firms and to get hold of lucrative, “keeping you on the tip of your toes” projects. Hence, most independent consultants are vying to work with the top consultancy firms of the world. With the global freelance market expected to grow to over USD 12 billion from 2021 to 2028, the competition to crack interviews with the best firms is stiff. 

And that’s why we at Outsized brought in the expertise of our directors, Anurag Bhalla and Amneet Kaur, to organize a tell-all LinkedIn Live Event on “How to ace your next consulting interview!”   

We present the key takeaways from our session to give you a quick yet understandable and comprehensive take on “getting that extra edge” during your next consulting interview. 

So let’s begin by understanding what makes a resume a cut above the rest. Further, we’ll move on to breaking down the essentials of a consulting interview and cover tips for each of the steps. 

Ensuring your resume stands out from the crowd

A Partner, a Project Manager (PM), or any other stakeholder in such firms would typically have 30 seconds to scroll through your resume. MAKE IT WORTH THEIR TIME! 

  • Have multiple variations of your resume. Make sure your writing aligns with the role, organization, and project you are applying for. Highlight all relevant points. 
  • Highlight all the organizations you have worked for that hold some credibility in the market. Or, to build credibility for organizations that you may have worked for but which are not big brand names, talk about their size or the type of work you have done with them. 
  • Evidence all statements with data points, such as number of MNCs, market size, benefits achieved, etc. For example, if you have worked on a cost optimization project, it would be worth mentioning the percentage improvement in EBITDA would be worth mentioning. 
  • Use your CV to demonstrate that you can work in a framework-oriented manner. Divide your resume into sections. Do not include too many unstructured paragraphs. While you may have 10+ years of experience, follow the KISS principle (Keep it short and succinct) and ensure your resume is no more than two pages. 
  • It is imperative to demonstrate how you influenced C-Suite level stakeholders at the client organization through data points and other relevant information on projects, such as tangible outcomes achieved, challenges overcome, etc. 

Case interviews and what to expect 

After the successful submission of your resume, you will be invited for the first interview round, which is usually called the case study round, generally conducted by a manager, a project lead, or an engagement manager, to whom the candidate (if selected), will be aligned daily. The case study presented in this situation is a real-time problem statement; usually one the manager is currently working on for a client.  

What an interviewer likes to understand, or test the candidate on in the case study round, is 

  1. The framework used to resolve a problem 
  1. The articulation of the resolution – to test if the candidate can do the same in front of the client 
  1. Creativity brought into the process – since each problem is unique, they are not looking for candidates who repeat frameworks, but for candidates who can bring in innovation 

“The case study round is a go or a no-go round, so please go PREPARED.” 

Amneet Kaur, Director, Outsized 

If you are a beginner, this case study 101 guide will help you know everything about case study interviews at top consulting firms, including preparation strategies, materials to refer to, and sample case study situations – all in one place! Experienced independent consultants can check out this complete prep guide, which gives you a deeper understanding of what is expected from relatively experienced candidates during the process.  

The Deciding Round 

The second round, or should we call it “the yes or no round,” usually happens with a Partner or a Managing Director who decides whether to hire the candidate or not.  

The definite checks in this round include the following: 

  1. Communication skills with senior stakeholders 
  1. How the candidate responds to authority, 
  1. If the candidate is the right cultural fit for the organization 

As Anurag, our co-founder, put it accurately,  

“Knowing who you are speaking to is important.” 

Each key stakeholder at the consulting firm must be looked at as a separate persona searching for different qualities within the candidate.  

  • A Partner – Looks for the credibility the candidate will bring to the organization in front of the client. 
  • A Project Lead Will look at questions like “Is this person the right fit for my project? “Does he have the right knowledge, skills, and expertise to shoulder the project?” “Can I depend on him to add value to my team?” 
  • The Consulting Team Being the team members who will be working with you day in and out, the consulting team looks at factors like high emotional quotient (EQ). Does the candidate have the ability to get through high levels of stress and pressure? Is the person amicable enough to spend long hours together? Can we trust him to deliver on his work? 

While multiple rounds of interviews may sound intimidating at first, the interviewer is only trying to test you on certain skills. A clear understanding of what the interviewer is searching for will give you an edge during the process. Read on to know further! 

Critical skills the interviewer will test you for

Since clients look up to consulting firms to find solutions to critical business challenges by analyzing complex data sets and presenting outcome-oriented solutions to problems; the top skill sets interviewers to look for in consultants include the following: 

  • A knack for problem-solving 
  • Strong commercial skills (modeling and analyzing data, comfortable navigating large numbers and data sets) 
  • Logical reasoning 
  • Research and analysis 
  • Don’t forget, sometimes the ability to communicate solutions confidently and assertively influence C-suite clients holds more power than the actual information. 
  • A creative mindset or the ability to bring new ideas, ventures, and disruptions would grow the client’s business or drive efficiency. 
  • Do you have the grit and resilience to work in a challenging, fast-paced, and demanding consulting environment? 

But wait! It’s not the end of your interviewing journey here. Candidates must pass the following checks that may make or break the hiring decision. 

The final checks! 

So, what other factors can influence the outcome of a candidate’s application or the final checks before the decision to hire is made? 

  • Inform of any vacation/extended leaves booked if you are vying for a short-term project with a consulting firm.  
  • Ensure you have a right to work in a particular location to avoid any complexities and added costs later. 
  • Showcase your willingness and preparedness to dedicate a certain amount of time on-site in case of a hybrid working model on the project. 
  • Lastly, the information sought from background checks can also make or break a hiring decision. If possible, ensure your referrals are people (peers/seniors) who will give positive feedback about you.  

Red flags candidates must stay away from! 

  • Be mindful of how you structure questions around working hours. While working styles are usually more liquid and fluid in consulting firms, your project manager would expect you to operate within a predefined structure that the rest of the team already follows. 
  • Any impression that conveys that you are not enthusiastic or dedicated to getting the project kills your prospects of cracking the interview. 
  • No matter how good your profile is on paper, poor communication skills may most certainly negate your chances of landing the consulting project. 

A final run-through of tips to prepare for your next consulting interview! 

  • Research. Research. Research. Gather as much information as possible about the company or the vertical the project falls under. A handy trick would be researching the interviewer to find common areas of interest. 
  • Use online resources and tools to prepare for case interviews. An ideal strategy would be to practice with someone you don’t know to receive honest critique. 
  • Before the interview, try to connect with someone within the organization to understand cultural fit. 
  • Never forget basic interview hygiene. For example, join the call on time if it is an online interview, always have a smile on (even when you are nervous) – this can all go a long way. 
  • Always prepare (or we would rather say, by heart) a good introduction about yourself. Don’t forget to add what you are passionate about in addition to your professional achievements. 
  • Prepare a few questions to ask the interviewer; a few good examples would be about the client or what would be your career trajectory within the firm. Listening well can always help you refer back and ask relevant questions during the interview. 
  • Expect the unexpected. Be prepared for any type of interview
  • Create an equal power dynamic and respectfully steer the conversation in your favor.

Pssst: Struggling to retain all the information? Download our compact mini guide that provides you with comprehensive details in a bite-sized format. Click here now!

Where does Outsized come into the picture? 

At Outsized, we help freelancers and independent consultants get the opportunity to work with big consulting firms. As a team led by former management consulting and financial services professionals, we understand what it takes to crack daunting consulting interviews to land major consulting gigs successfully. 

This is why we are here to help make your journey a little bit easier. We hope you find these tips and insights useful and leverage them while applying for your next role. In case of any queries or additional support, feel free to contact us at via email or directly in the community

Did you know? 

You can now connect with other expert independent consultants and the Outsized team directly in the community itself!