The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) wants its graduate consultants to have ‘the courage and creativity to blaze new paths’, so if you can demonstrate your pathfinding skills at interview and throughout the application process, you’ll be well on your way to a job offer.
In the Norwegian film Pathfinder, a young Viking boy, confronted with the slaughter of his family and destruction of his village, uses his courage and creativity to outsmart a bloodthirsty enemy tribe and lead his own to safety, overcoming terrifying obstacles along the way. Working at BCG will be nowhere near as life-threatening, so what do the recruiters at BCG mean when they talk about being pathfinders? Vehicles that are designed to enter unknown territory, with a spirit of adventure? Well, yes, in a way: candidates who can show that they’re comfortable charting a path through the unknown. As a consultant you often have to try new approaches and take the initiative.
The BCG interview process
You can usually expect two rounds of interviews at BCG, which will focus on three areas: you, your analysis of a case study and your questions about the firm and the role. The first interview usually focuses on a candidate’s CV and motivation. Here, make sure you demonstrate your pathfinding skills by talking about an example of when you were faced with a problem to solve (‘My team and I had to figure out a way to market our latest production for our drama society, with no budget’). Explain how you found a way through any hurdles and came out with a workable solution (‘I suggested we use social media to achieve this, as it’s free and reaches a large number of potential audience members, and tickets sold out!’).
BCG interview: the case study
The second part of a BCG interview typically involves a case study, during which the interviewer will ask you probing questions about your comments, hypotheses or conclusions to test your capability to use your judgment. How can you impress?
Practice makes a perfect pathfinder
First of all, make sure you practise the case studies on BCG’s website. This is not so that you’ll know what you’ll be asked. Case studies in the past have involved anything from strategies to sustain the brand image for a top-end airline company wanting to enter the low-cost market to calculating the number of gas stations in the US, but the firm is keen to stress that they use fresh cases for their interviews, and that ‘jumping to conclusions about the case before you have heard all the details could be distinctly disadvantageous’. But a good pathfinder needs to be prepared for the kind of terrain ahead.
Those who have been through BCG case study interviews before stress the importance of using logic – don’t be afraid to enter the unknown (see BCG’s impressive interactive case library for good examples of logical ways to structure a framework). Once you’ve absorbed the information given, make sure you demonstrate the observational skills, judgment and decisiveness that characterise path finders. You’ll need to find your own path, and then walk your interviewers through your strategy. Recruiters need to see that when you’re faced with a situation you’re not too scared to find a way through it, so be confident (calm, decisive, clear), but not arrogant (showing off). Remember, there is generally no right or wrong answer, but a good pathfinder does not appear indecisive.