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Partner interview style - to pause or not to pause?

Anonymous A asked on Nov 27, 2018 - 5 answers

Hi all, I have a final round partner interview coming up at AT Kearney and was wondering about the recommended style.

I understand that in partner interviews, after some small talk, they might ask a question without 'obviously' moving to a case.

So if the partner says "so what do you think is the impact of driver-less cars?" (or something similar), is it expected that I take a minute and write down a structure - or would they expect a 'think out loud' approach?

Do you lose points for taking a minute of silence and breaking up the conversation? Once you've done it once, can you do it again for a later question?

What is the general approach here? Any advice would be much appreciated :)


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updated his answer on Nov 28, 2018
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OK, I might be in a minority here, but I would find it very weird to actually pause, say nothing and then come up with some ultra-structured approach.

If I were the interviewer, I would want to see whether the candidate can think on his / her feet and doesn't fall into "analysis paralysis" if a client throws you a curveball and asks an unexpected question.

So I would try to keep the conversation going, play for time a little bit and all the while trying to structure my thoughts. So applied to the specific question: "so what do you think is the impact of driverless cars?" my answer would be something like:

"Oh wow, that's a BIG question. Lots of places to start from." (Playing for time here but keeping the conversation going)

"I mean, there are the obvious 'first order effects' on the automotive value chain, the OEMs, the tier-1 and 2 suppliers, on urban transport, how people travel and commute. And then, of course, there will be completely new business models emerging, around transportation as a service for example." (showing that you have done your homework AND laying a trail of breadcrumbs for the interviewer to follow - you obviously only mention things you feel comfortable talking about)

"Beyond these first order effects there are a ton of less visible, but often very large, 'second order effects'. Take insurance, for example. Driver-less cars will have a lot fewer accidents, which in turn leads to much lower insurance premiums. So the car insurance industry will most likely contract" (show that you can structure and lay more bread crumbs)

"And then, if we look beyond the purely economic effects, we have a whole lot of ethical and societal questions to solve. I mean we've all heard these examples of the driver-less car needing to make choices between killing the driver or killing the pedestrian. And while these seem made-up and theoretical, it's just the law of large numbers that these things will happen at some point". (show that your horizon is broader than what business school taught you)

[PAUSE and wait for a queue on where to dive in. Pausing here will give the interviewer the chance to consider your answer and lead the conversation further. It will give you time to structure your thoughts, no matter what happens next.

RESIST the urge to keep talking to fill any silence that might occur. Really wait a few seconds, maybe 3-5. Many people, including partners in consulting firms, have a very hard time tolerating silence in a conversation for more than 1-2 seconds. Chances are, they are better at this game than you. if this happens and they wait it out, you can continue after a few seconds. In this case, you proceed from the top down.

But maybe, just maybe, your silence forces their hand and they give you a signal like "you mentioned insurance / urban transport / tier-1 suppliers. What do you see happening there?"

--> This is the breadcrumb trail at work. Go for that!

If they don't fall for that or just ask you to continue, you proceed from the top down, as mentioned.]

"As I mentioned, the automotive value will be impacted strongly by the move to driverless cars. For the OEMs, this means building entirely new capabilities, especially around software development and Machine-learning based technologies. They are obviously facing very different customer demands. Once we move to driver-less, transportation-as-a-service will really take off, like UBER on steroids. Once that happens, the demands of fleet operators operating fleets of driverless cars around maintenance, modularity etc. will be very relevant for OEMs, maybe even more relevant than end-user demands. And these changes will, of course, trickle down through the supplier value chain to the tier-1 and tier-2 suppliers,"

[And so on, and so on...]

I found that with this approach you can have a spirited, very convincing conversation with even only the most superficial grasp of what you're actually talking about. You can apply this approach to any industry where can do a bit more than spell its name. Try questions like

"What effect will AI have on the mining industry?"

"What do you think about over-the-top services like Netflix or youtube. How do they impact the entertainment value chain?"

And many more...


This one would be the preferred method for me as well. Feels like a natural conversation. The challenge here is that you only have a few seconds to come up with 3-5 areas that it will impact; so you need to buy a lot of time if you can't think of any. Otherwise you are forced to using generic buckets "producers of cars","suppliers of car producers", "users of cars", "other stakeholders of cars" — Jacob on Nov 28, 2018 (edited)

Hi Jacob, you are absolutely right. This is why reading a business newspaper like WSJ, FT or Handelsblatt is almost a pre-requisite. It will give you the necessary keywords and "broad strokes knowledge". — Elias on Nov 28, 2018 (edited)

I am by absolutely no means an expert on the automotive industry. Never did a project in the field etc. But I would feel comfortable having a 10-Minute conversation about the mentioned question using this approach and my general knowledge about how the industry works. And once you go down to the fundamentals, you can figure out most industries (on a high, broad strokes level) pretty easily. — Elias on Nov 28, 2018

replied on Nov 28, 2018
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Remember, we do not really ask you to crack the case (or find THE answer). What we ask you is to showcase a structured & MECE approach that will allow you to crack the case today and tomorrow and the day after. Actually cracking the case is just a byproduct.

As a result, you should always ask for some time to think through the question and come back with a plan, a framework.

Vlad replied on Nov 27, 2018
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Always take a minute to structure your thoughts and come up with a structure.

  • It's not OK to take 30 seconds and then come up with just 1 or 2 ideas. And then if the ideas are not correct to keep the science again. This is called "Guessing"
  • It's OK to take 30 seconds, draw a new structure (or continuation of your previous structure) and come up with a structured way to approach the problem further.



replied on Nov 28, 2018
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Always ask if it is ok to take a moment to structure your thoughts. The worst case scenario is that they tell you "no, just talk me through your thoughts", in which case you are in the same situation you would have been if you hadn't paused.

In cases where you can't take a formal break, you should still be structuring - just out loud. To do this, think of categories/buckets, before diving into ideas. As Guennael said, consulting firms are looking for structured candidates, so it's important to be structured in all your answers - including brain storms and behavourial questions.

Gregor replied on Nov 27, 2018

I would always recommend to gather your thoughts. The partner interview is an opportunity for the partner to gauge your maturity and potential to be sent to a client. So ask yourself: what would I do if there was a client sitting there?

Surely you would hardly blurt out the first thing that comes to your mind. At the same time, you would not draw a structure for a minute for every question that the client would ask.

If the question is touching on something complicated you could start sketching like a "three points here" graph. But in any case, I'd always take my time, since anything else tends to come out really unstructured.