When I was recruiting for an internship in college, it seemed like 90% of my interview preparation for one strategy consulting firm was directly transferable to my interviews with other strategy consulting firms (McKinsey, Bain, BCG, etc.)My friends interviewing for professional services firms across management consulting, investment banking, marketing, design, accounting, etc., experienced the same trend -- interview questions with professional services firms tend to be similar to one another.
As a result, students learn to prepare for these types of interviews well, but forget to adapt their preparation method when interviewing for non-professional services companies like Apple, Google, Proctor & Gamble, Levi Strauss & Company, Genentech, etc. (referred to as in-industry companies).However, when it comes to interviewing with these in-industry companies, I found that roughly half of each interview is unique and specific to the company.
This means that you already know the topic of discussion for half the interview. Better yet, you can drive the conversation! Yet many students don’t leverage this to their advantage to beat the competition for highly selective internships or full-time jobs.
Through my experience interviewing for strategy and M&A positions across professional services firms and in-industry companies, I put together this guide to show you exactly how I prepared for each in-industry internship and full-time interview.
This is the exact playbook that helped me stand out from more experienced students and land the following in-industry offers:
- Corporate Strategy Internship @ Levi Strauss & Co.
- Strategy and M&A internship @ The Walt Disney Company
- Strategy & Analytics Rotational Program @ LinkedIn
While my recruiting experience is biased towards strategy and finance positions, I’ve written this guide such that the general lessons are applicable for any industry, function, and position. This material is vetted by my friends across industries including product management, design, engineering, marketing, etc.
The three components to an internship or full-time interview are:
- Behavioral/leadership interview questions
- Function-specific technical questions
- Company-specific knowledge
Behavioral interview questions
The purpose of the behavioral interview is to assess your personality, character, and fit. Companies typically do this by assessing you on four categories of questions:
- “Tell me about yourself.”
- “Why are you interested in this position and company?”
- Deep dives on your resume and professional experience
- General behavioral and leadership scenario questions
Students often run the risk of being unprepared for the behavioral portion of the interview after over-preparing for the technical interview. Don’t make this mistake! At many companies (including professional services firms), the behavioral interview holds immense weight in the overall interview rubric.
This portion of the interview deserves hours of dedicated preparation and practice. Luckily, most of the preparation work is directly transferable to your interviews with other companies. I’ve written a thorough guide on behavioral interview questions, which I strongly suggest you read well in advance of your interviews. Throughout this guide, there are lots of examples of my exact responses to behavioral interview questions during my internship and full-time interviews.
Function-specific technical interview questions
This is the portion of the interview most people are familiar with, and it entails different questions for different functions.
This could mean...
- Designers -- a portfolio review and design challenge questions
- Product Managers -- product development and metrics questions
- Strategy -- case interviews and problem-solving questions
- Finance -- valuation, accounting formulas, and investment questions
- Marketing -- case interviews, positioning, and value proposition questions
The formula for finding out how to best prepare for these interviews is universal:
Ask older students, alumni, and professionals for 30 minutes of their time to discuss the interview process. Learn about their journey preparing for interviews, the types of questions employers ask, and the best resources to prepare with. Repeat this 5-10 times until you have a crystal clear understanding of what is expected in the interview process for your specific function. (This is also a fantastic excuse to build your network and insider connections at companies via cold emails) Don’t let yourself walk into an interview for an internship or job you really want without a clear understanding of the types of questions they will ask you. To help get you started, I crowdsourced a list of my friends’ favorite technical interview-prep resources across a wide range of functions. Note: I will keep updating this list. Comment below and let me know if there’s a specific function you’d like to see represented here or if you have resources that I should include! Corporate Strategy & Management Consulting
- 12-part case interview workshop videos
- Victor Cheng Case Interview Secrets
- Case in Point (very popular, although personally not a big fan of this)
Investment Banking & Private Equity
- Mergers & Inquisitions investment banking interview guide
- WallstreetOasis prep guide (paid resource)
Product Design (Tech)
- How to get a design job
- Whiteboard design interviews
- How to make your portfolio stand out
- Lessons from product design interviews
You may be wondering -- between technical questions and behavioral questions what else is there to test?
The answer: company-specific knowledge.
These are questions that test or demonstrate deep knowledge of the company you’re interviewing for. This comes in two forms: answering questions asked by your interviewer and asking your interviewer great questions -- both demonstrate your company-specific knowledge. This is the secret sauce and most underrated portion of an interview with in-industry companies. Strong behaviorals and technicals will make you a good candidate for a position, but it’s not enough when competing against 20 other strong candidates. Company-specific knowledge is where you can stand out and leave a memorable impression on the interviewer. By rigorously preparing for this portion of the interview, you will impress the interviewer with your depth of understanding the company’s current problems -- whether that’s in strategy, finance, design, marketing, engineering, etc. Below are three steps I used to prepare for this portion of the interview. I generally spent 4-6 hours preparing for this portion of the interview per company. If you really want the offer, you have to be willing to invest the time to stand out. Step 1: Build a basic understanding of the company (2 - 3 hours)When I first sat down to prepare for my in-industry interviews, I started by Googling the company, reading everything I could find, and taking notes.
Since I was interviewing for strategy and finance roles, I had to thoroughly understand the most pressing business challenges and opportunities facing the company. To do this, I read:
- Financial Filings (10-K, Earnings Calls, Quarterly Reports, etc.)
- Investor stock analysis (Seeking Alpha)
- Latest M&A activity (Crunchbase, press releases, random articles)
Specifically, I found that earnings calls were the most helpful. An earnings call is a publicly available transcript where Wall Street analysts barrage the CEO and executive team with difficult questions about the business. If you only have fifteen minutes to prepare for an interview, this is the easiest way to get a quick understanding of the business’s pain points. The focus of your research will vary depending on your specific function. For example, if you’re interviewing for a brand marketing role, allocate more time towards reading blog posts, press releases, and analysis related to the company’s brand. Investing in this research will likely put you in the top 5% - 10% of candidates. I’ve found that most students will not put in the effort needed to extensively research the company. This is especially true for in-industry positions, which are often thought of as “Staples” and are less of a priority relative to big name professional services firms. Step 2: Talk to an insider (0.5 - 1 hour)After developing a foundational understanding of the company and its challenges and opportunities related to your function, you should have a list of comments, ideas, and questions from your notes. To further refine your thinking, discuss your understanding of the company with someone on the inside. The best way to do this is with a friend who works (or worked) at the company or through an informational interview (send a new cold email or follow up with someone you previously spoke with). Ask for thirty minutes of their time to answer questions and get feedback on ideas from your initial research. Once you’re on the call with them, ask a variety of open-ended questions to validate your understanding of the company and dig deeper into your knowledge gaps. For example, here are a few questions I like to ask in preparation for strategy interviews:
- What are the biggest strategic priorities for the company?
- What was the investment thesis behind the abc M&A deal?
- Why hasn’t the company invested in xyz strategic initiative?
It’s important to keep questions broad and spend a few minutes digging into each response with follow-ups. If you’re speaking to a friend at the company, make sure to clearly tell them not to disclose any private information. Mentioning sensitive information in an interview may put your friend’s job and your candidacy at risk. By talking with someone on the inside, you will crystallize and deepen your understanding of the company and refine your thoughts in preparation for the interview process. Doing so will put you in the top 1% - 5% of candidates. Step 3: Take initiative by making a small pitch (1-2 hours)The last way to stand out is to showcase your initiative and desire for this job by coming to the interview with concrete hypotheses on what the company should do. When done right, this can leave a lasting impression on the interviewer and place you far ahead of your competition. So, how do you develop ideas on what the company should do?
Imagine you got the job you’re interviewing for. What are a few big challenges you think are the utmost priority for the company to solve given your research? Outline these opportunities, put together a small solution for one or two, and pitch them to your interviewer. For example, after extensively researching Disney’s market positioning and prior M&A activity, I thought it would be interesting to spend a few hours putting together an investment thesis on why Disney should invest in the E-Sports industry by acquiring a big gaming company. I calculated a rough valuation of an E-Sports company using back of the envelope math and wrote a few bullet points on why this acquisition makes sense given my understanding of Disney. Given that I was interviewing with the M&A team, putting together this acquisition pitch demonstrated my deep interest in the role. The same idea can be applied to any industry. My friend Parth loves to use this trick when interviewing for product manager roles at some of Silicon Valley’s most competitive companies. He wrote about it in his article on actionable tips to get a job offer. In Parth’s words:
“So as a Product Manager, if I was interviewing for Uber, I might ask the interviewer if they have considered offering “Uber Haul”—a class of service that will have my Uber be a pickup truck to serve the use case of needing to transport both myself as well as some large item (eg. a new dresser) from Point A to Point B (eg. from Ikea to my house).By proposing something out of the box, you will immediately stand out in the mind of the interviewer and be memorable.”
I couldn’t agree more. Presenting a pitch frames the conversation around an idea that you’ve already given some thought. It’s the ultimate interview hack -- rather than being at the mercy of the interviewer and their black box of questions, you can take control by framing the conversation around your pitch. Once you have a list of questions and a pitch or two, you can weave them into the conversation throughout the interview and ask incredibly thoughtful questions in the Q&A portion at the end. That is how you stand out and beat the competition. Lastly, remember that all your questions and pitches should be framed along the lines of: “after my initial research, this is my hypothesis.”
How you communicate your ideas is very important. Your ideas could be completely wrong and that’s totally okay.
The goal is not to have a brilliant answer that the company never thought about, rather it’s to show that you really care about this job and took the initiative to prove it.
The unfortunate (or fortunate) reality is that most of your peers will not put in the work to thoroughly prepare for behavioral and technical questions along with developing company-specific knowledge prior to their interview.
Yet it is exactly this level of rigorous preparation that will help you stand out from the crowd of smart students.
Towards the end of one of my internships, I asked my manager why she hired me over the other 12 bright students in the final round. All of them were more experienced than I was and had stronger resumes. Meanwhile, I was underqualified and barely managed to land an interview because of a lucky cold email.
“You were by far the most prepared candidate for the role, which was apparent through the conversation we had about the business”
Preparation goes a long way in making an impression -- it’s just a matter of knowing what to do and putting in the work.