Business knowledge interview

business acumen business knowledge business sense
Recent activity on Dec 12, 2018
3 Answers
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Anonymous A asked on Dec 12, 2018

Hi everyone,

In some of the second round interviews at some firms, they have a round called: business knowledge interview (or similar names). I have also heard that sometimes the interview with a partner might end up like this, although it is not officially called business knowledge interview. I was wondering if you can share your experience/opinion on :

  • How likely it is to get such an interview?
  • What is expected, and how can you define good enough? I know this is a bit general to answer, but assume that the candidate is not having business background, what is then the usual expectation?
  • How to best prepare for this interview, especially in a short time frame?

I am personally a bit afraid of if such an interview comes up, as the feedback I got from the first round was that I should work on my business judgement/knowledge. I don't have business background and since then I am reading more business articles and journals such as Economist. but I have to admit that in such a short time it is impossible to get to an MBA/business studies level. so any extra tip is very much appreciated.

Thank you very much!

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replied on Dec 12, 2018
McKinsey Senior EM & BCG Consultant | Interviewer at McK & BCG for 7 years | Coached 350+ candidates secure MBB offers

Hi Anonymous,

I can talk for MBB interviews, and here the likelihood of such an interview is 0% (for the generalist track! Will be different for expert tracks of course!).

The reason is that MBB firms are only interested in your principle skills (such as problem solving skills, communication skills, capacity to influence, maturity etc.). If these principle skills are given, then all relevant sector or functional knowledge will be absorbed on the job and via structured training curriculums at the firms! When I recruitied for McKinsey and BCG, my guiding principle was: "I need to hire the right brains and personalities. I am not interested in their business knowlege, since if they have the right capabilities, they will be able to quickly absorb the relevant knowledge anyway". This is the reason why MBB firms insist on the point that your major doesn't play a role in whether you can get an offer or not.

Cheers, Sidi

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Parisa on Dec 12, 2018

Thanks Sidi for the reply. I can tell from my own experience at BCG interview in Amsterdam that such this opinion is not necesserily valid. The feedback I got after first round interview is that my business judgement is not mature enough, and that's why I haven't been passed to the second round. They told me everything else (structuring, math, fit, etc) was good enough. Either they haven't given me the honest feedback, or business accumen for the generalist consultant positon is really a defining criteria


Sidi on Dec 12, 2018

I believe you have a misinterpretation: business judgement/acumen is NOT business knowledge! Judgement comes from thinking on your feet and understanding the basic logic of how economic value is created. This has nothing to do with knowledge and expertise on any industry or function!

replied on Dec 12, 2018
Ex-MBB, Experienced Hire; I will teach you not only the how, but also the why of case interviews

For 2nd round at MBB, agree that likelihood is basically zero. Partners will want to know how you think, not really what you know.

For 1st round however, I have heard of a new type of interviews however (BCG specifically), where they actually push the candidate and ask questions they expect you won't know to answer. Objective is to see how you handle stress. So yes, you may have business knowledge questions there but the objective is still not to actually test your expertise

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Anonymous on Dec 12, 2018

Is the goal then for them to see how we react under pressure and if a client asked a question we didn't know the answer to we'd either have a polite response vs. making something up? I feel the polite/intelligent options for what to say to a client are varied depending on the situation, but what would you say in the case interview? Ask for clarifying questions or just explain that you don't presently have enough insight to give an accurate answer?

replied on Dec 12, 2018
McKinsey / Accenture Alum / Got all BIG3 offers / Harvard Business School


There will be no official business knowledge interview, however, it will be part of the case for sure.

Although officially most of the companies would say that you don't need any specific business knowledge, in reality, it is hard to solve a case purely based on common sense. So the lack of business knowledge becomes a very common problem among people with various backgrounds

Business Acumen is actually about building proper industry and functional knowledge.

Focus on the most common industries in the following priority (sorted by probability of getinga case): 1-retail and CPG; 2-airlines; 3-Telecom; 4-banking; 5-natural resources; 6-tech

There are several sources of information that will help you develop the business sense:

1) Cases - you simply solve 50-70 cases and get a broad knowledge of different industries, common pitfalls and questions. The key here - find good partners who already had case interviews with MBB companies

2) Company reports, equity reports, IB roadshow docs - usually have a good overview of company and industries.

3) HBS cases - quite useful, but not sure if lot's of them available publically. Probably worth buying

4) Industry Books - one good book about airlines with numbers and industry analysis can give you all needed industry knowledge

5) News, Industry blogs

For each industry, you should understand:

  • Revenue streams
  • Cost structure
  • Margins
  • Key performance indicators
  • Key revenue drivers
  • Industry trends

I strongly recommend drawing the typical structures for each industry - profitability, value chain, etc

Then I will switch to getting functional knowledge:

  • Marketing (Brand and trade marketing tools, etc)
  • Supply chain (Ops metrics like cycle time and throughput time, distribution and delivery specifics, etc)
  • Operations (Process optimization basics)
  • Finance (Very basic Finance and Valuation)

Good Luck

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McKinsey Senior EM & BCG Consultant | Interviewer at McK & BCG for 7 years | Coached 350+ candidates secure MBB offers
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