Preparing for a job interview: tips from an insider

Esade Careers

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In this episode of Career Beats, Mike Mascarenhas, International Campus Recruiter Lead at Boston Consulting Group, will be talking about how to increase your chances for success in an interview process.

Listen to the episode if you want to know how to prepare, apply and face an interview process while keeping the focus on your career goals and personal values to consciously decide where you would like to be in the upcoming years of your career.


Carmen Gonzalez: Hi, listeners. I’m Carmen Gonzalez, Associate Director of Esade Careers, a coach and passionate about unlocking talent. I’m so pleased to be here with you today.

Are you tired of coming out from an interview thinking that better preparation would have helped? Would you like to have insider information about what recruiters look for in an interview? For today’s episode, we are so excited to have Mike Mascarenhas, International Campus Recruiter Lead at Boston Consulting Group. Mike is originally from the US where he graduated from Cornell University in Applied Economics and Management. He started his career at PWC New York in risk and regulatory advising, and, after a few years in PWC, his international mindset took him to Barcelona to pursue an MBA at IESE Business School. After completing his MBA, he joined IESE as a career coach, working with thousands of students to help them navigate their job search. This experience surely gave him the best foundation to succeed as a campus recruiter in his current role at BCG.

We are so excited to have Mike with us today and get insider information about what recruiters look for in an interview in consulting and in general. Mike, thank you for being with us today. We are so excited. Welcome to the show.

Mike Mascarenhas: Thank you for having me. I’m really excited to be here.

Carmen Gonzalez: Yes, we are so excited. You have such an interesting profile. Just a shame you didn’t study at Esade.

Mike Mascarenhas: I’m really excited that I’m working with a lot of different Spanish schools now, and Esade has been incredibly impressive so far.

Carmen Gonzalez: Yes, thank you. Okay, so regarding interviews, I will start with a very general but crucial question. What are the key aspects you look for during an interview, in fact, during the entire recruitment process?

Mike Mascarenhas: Sure, I think it’s a really good question, and it’s something that maybe students don’t fully understand when they’re applying and then subsequently interviewing with companies. But we don’t hide what we’re looking for as recruiters. The company values, the job description... These are written with a lot more care than some candidates may think. So the first thing I would say is really understand the values and motivation of the company and then also the job description, what is written actually there for the job that you applied. You can imagine that in the interview process you’re going to be asked a lot of questions that align specifically both with the company values and with the job description. From there, of course, I think that, as much as technical skills are important, communication and presence in an interview are key. We all have the sense that maybe we’re not perfect for the job that we’re applying to. And, if you allow that sense to come off, that lack of confidence can be killer in any type of interview process. I would actually say that many people, many interviewers, are looking just to connect with the interviewee, and, consequently, when someone feels that they aren’t good enough for the role or that their profile doesn’t fit perfectly for the role and you convince yourself that, that comes across in the interview when you’re meeting with someone. So, just that kind of presence and confidence that this is the right job for you is hugely important and often undervalued by candidates. People spend a lot of time trying to, you know, memorize their technical skills, without actually convincing themselves that this is a job that they will be a good fit for.

Carmen Gonzalez: Yes, absolutely. That’s amazing. Communication indeed is absolutely key and how you transmit your added value to the company and that confidence about, you know, the value you bring to the company as a candidate. Thank you, Mike.

Mike Mascarenhas: Yes, totally. And, I think, maybe if I just wanted to add one other thing, it would probably be that preparation really does matter. I think some candidates think that, if they over-research their interviewers or tell an interviewer that, “Oh, I looked you up on LinkedIn,” that might come across as a little too forward, a little too aggressive. But, in reality, that’s not the case. Interviewers tend to really appreciate that candidates have put time and preparation into understanding the company, their values, even the interviewer themselves.

Carmen Gonzalez: Yes, absolutely. My colleagues know that I always say that preparation makes perfect. I always say that to our students, as well. And, I really believe it and I completely agree with what you’re saying. And, sometimes candidates think that, if they prepare too much, they’re going to come across a little bit, you know, mechanical, not natural enough. But, it’s really the opposite. The more you prepare, the more confidence you put in your communication and you transmit, you know, you’re clear and much more structured in your pitch.

Mike Mascarenhas: I totally agree and the thing that I usually would say to people that feel they’re becoming too robotic: Practice pauses, practice vocal intonations. You can have something memorized and not come off as robotic. I mean, actors on your favorite television shows do that all the time.

Carmen Gonzalez: Yes, absolutely. And, I think it also shows motivation, right?

When you prepare and take time to really prepare for something, you’re showing your motivation, as well, so, that leads to my second question. At Esade Careers, we focus very much on motivation when we help students to prepare for interviews. From your experience, how important is motivation in an interview? And, how do you measure it?

Mike Mascarenhas: Yes, I think motivation is one of if not the most important things in the interview. Most candidates that don’t have the right technical profile for a role will probably be screened out in the application phase. If you’ve been invited to an interview, you can assume that the company feels that you could be a reasonable fit for them. So, then, when you get to the interview, motivation is everything. I can give my examples from the consulting industry in which we’ll ask specifically: ”Why consulting?” And then, “Why BCG?” Oftentimes, if someone gives a very generic answer to why BCG, I’ll say, “Well, I think you could say the same thing about being in Mackenzie.” You are not differentiating between even the competitor firms in this industry.

There are a lot of ways to do that differentiation and really showcase your motivation for a company. But, if you go in with a very generic answer to something like that, if you go in with a generic answer for Google that could be applied to Facebook or even a tech startup, you know, the company is going to realize that you’re not prepared and that you’re just looking for a job. And, it’s really important not just to look for a job, but to look for a job that you’re motivated for. Because that’s going to come across in the interview, and, at the end of the day, once you get that role, it’s going to make you happier to be there.

Carmen Gonzalez: Yes, absolutely. And, I guess it also shows in your tone of voice, you know, the spark in your eyes, you know, all those things are also very important in an interview, right?

Mike Mascarenhas: Most of us are not great liars. We can certainly train ourselves to use pauses and vocal intonation to not sound so robotic, but, if you truthfully don’t want the role you’re interviewing for, it’s going to be really difficult to come across as truly motivated for that position.

Carmen Gonzalez: Yes, absolutely. So, Mike, specifically for consulting interviews, we know that they have 2 main parts, the fit part and the case part. How important is each one?

Mike Mascarenhas: Yes, absolutely. What I’ll do is I’ll kind of break it down into each of these pieces and give you a little bit more perspective on each. The short answer is: We really value both of these things. The difference is that there is no real right answer to the fit component, and cases are often looking to drive to a certain conclusion. Maybe there isn’t one answer, but there is a process by which you have to learn how to do a case, do it properly, and showcase your learning to really advance in the consulting interview process. So, if I had to assign percentages, I really do think it’s probably 50-50. With the fit interviews, in consulting specifically, really, really focusing on that motivation piece, why BCG, why consulting, is important. But, then, also making sure that you understand what a consultant actually does. I often will hear people say, “I want to work in strategy.” Strategy is such a mysterious word, but it sounds really cool, because you get to have lots of impact. But people can’t actually define what strategy is and what strategy consulting actually requires of you.

So, ensuring that you have that understanding in the fit is really important, and then also making sure that your competency-based stories are very well-structured. We really do look for structure, not only in the case, but also in the fit. So, if I ask, “Tell me a time you tried and failed,” you should probably lead with the answer, give a short amount of context, structure your body, maybe say 3 things that you did, give a learning and a result at the end, and really just showcase that you’ve prepared these stories and you’ve organized them in a way that is very useful for the interview.

Carmen Gonzalez: Yes, that’s great. Sorry, continue.

Mike Mascarenhas: No, no. And, on the case side of things, I would say that what ends up happening is, a lot of times, people fail on the case, but no one ever really gets the job on the case. Oftentimes, you will get the job on the motivation and the fit. But, because the case interviewing is so specific to the consulting industry, a lot of people don’t prepare adequately to really pass through this piece. What I would suggest is really start by trying to find someone that knows this industry really well, if possible. I know that Esade Careers’ counsellors, for instance, have a lot of knowledge about the consulting industry. But even asking alumni or, you know, someone in your extended network that understands this industry, to help you get started, I think that’s really, really important. And, then, when you’ve learned the basics of the case, the key thing that people don’t do very well is that they treat it like an exam. Especially university students, people that don’t have a lot of experience in the workplace, they think that the case interview is an exam that they need to get through and get the right answer. And, while there are certain pieces that need to be correct, at the end of the day, we want this to be more of a conversation. We want to see your creativity; we want to understand how you’re tackling this business problem; and we want to hear you articulate your thought process behind all of these answers. So, if you just go in thinking, “Alright, I’m going to show my motivation in the fit and then I am going to get an A+ on the case,” you’re probably not approaching the case right, because we really want to see more creativity and not just, you know, getting through the balance sheet and telling me that profitability, or getting through the income statement and telling me that profitability is going up. That’s an exam that you take at Esade; that’s not a consulting interview.

Carmen Gonzalez: Yes, and I guess that, you know, consulting firms are also looking to see how candidates will perform in front of a client, right? So, it’s really a simulation of how the candidates would, you know, talk about their proposal to a client, their suggestions to a business situation, etc., right?

Mike Mascarenhas: It’s something that in the interview report, the literal scorecard that the interviewer will write about you after they, you know, have interviewed you, one of the things is: “Would you send this person to a client?” And, “Would you trust that this person can present in front of clients?” Because this is a very, very interpersonal job, our consultants need to be able to understand that, you know, the candidates that are applying and that they are interviewing will be able to really represent BCG’s brand very quickly. This is a job in which you learn a lot really, really fast, but, also, that learning curve can be intimidating. You don’t have a lot of time to really, you know, do a ton of training. We provide, of course, a lot of good training, but your first case, your first project, will only be a few weeks after you start working at BCG.

Carmen Gonzalez: Yes, absolutely. And to prepare for a case interview, as you said, you know, preparation is really important. Again, as we were saying before, preparation makes perfect. So, what do you recommend? What specific things can our audience do to prepare for case interviews?

Mike Mascarenhas: Sure, the first thing that I would do is understand what resources and tools your university provides you. I know that Esade has some subscriptions to different platforms online and also runs sessions. So don’t feel that you have to do this alone. First of all, really take stock of what resources are in front of you. From there, I think finding people that really understand this process to start training you quicker is useful. What a lot of candidates do is they end up doing mock interviews only with other students, and then it becomes the case of the blind leading the blind.

While, it’s… Inevitably, you’re going to do mock interviews with your classmates. It’s really important to learn truthfully what casing is from someone that understands it early on. And that might be someone in Esade Careers, in Esade Alumni. There are also YouTube videos that all of the big firms put out, that are showcasing the kind of the mock case flow that you can watch.

Carmen Gonzalez: Perfect, amazing. And, this is actually quite important because case interviews are not a thing of consulting specifically anymore. Many industries are currently using cases as a way to assess the analytical skills of candidates. So, it’s very important regardless of the industry that you’re targeting that you prepare for case interviews.

Mike Mascarenhas: Yes, I think on that topic... The term “case” is utilized by many different companies. The consulting case interview is quite unique. What I see is that a lot of companies are utilizing pieces of the consulting case interview to evaluate their candidates. For instance, I see a lot of rotational programs in consumer goods and healthcare, utilizing, say, maybe case exhibits to test people in the interview. If you’re not interviewing with consulting, but you have an interest in this type of strategy or work, I would suggest that you begin the consulting prep, because the foundational prep is really good for a lot of industries. But, from there, what I would suggest is really understanding what elements of the case are tested in the companies you are targeting, because everybody uses this word “case,” and it’s not the same evaluation. The way that a product manager role in in a big tech company delivers a case is very, very, very different; usually it’s take-home, which requires a lot of different skills. So, you get that foundation and then ask. Whenever a candidate emails me, the recruiter at BCG, saying, “Hey, I’m not sure what this case will entail,” I don’t say, “Oh, my God; they’re a bad candidate.” No, no, no, of course, I answer them. So, candidates, if you’re unsure what type of interview you’re going to be getting, even if they say “case,” and you don’t understand what that case will entail, it’s really important that you ask for specifics. Because sometimes the recruiters are vague just because they don’t have a lot of time on their hands. But if you follow up, you’ll get more information.

Carmen Gonzalez: Yes, amazing. Great advice. So, Mike, we’ve chosen 3 questions from our audience, from our students, so you can give us a short and practical answer.

First question, what is your advice to perform well in a virtual interview?

Mike Mascarenhas: Yes, I would say that… When we were talking previously about communication and presence, you know where your interview will be if you’re going to do a virtual interview, right? You know what room you’re going to take that. Set your computer up, making sure that your entire body is in view of the screen. You want to make sure that your hand gestures can be seen, so, this might require you to push your computer back a little bit. And, remember eye contact. Because a lot of people will look at the eyes of the interviewer, but because your camera is usually above or below the screen, it might seem like you’re not making eye contact with them. So, I would really try to test with someone beforehand and see where you have to look to really make that eye contact. By setting yourself up that way, I mean, all of your preparation and everything else is going to come through.

Carmen Gonzalez: Yes, perfect. And second question, what are the common mistakes to avoid in an interview?

Mike Mascarenhas: Yes, it’s a really difficult question to answer, right? I think that one of the most common mistakes that candidates make is just, truthfully, not understanding why they want to be there. People panic, they apply to a lot of jobs, they just freak out, and decide, “Alright, I’m going to apply to everything and see what happens.” But then they are not actually spending time understanding the companies, understanding the values and being able to communicate that motivation that we talked about before. Apply to fewer jobs and learn them better.

Carmen Gonzalez: Yes, that’s amazing. So, their unique selling point as a candidate, right?

Mike Mascarenhas: Yes, exactly.

Carmen Gonzalez: And final question: When is the right time to follow up during an interview process and how?

Mike Mascarenhas: I don’t mind being reached out to on LinkedIn. I also don’t mind being reached out to on my email. I would always be sending a follow-up, just a thank you letter, something very, very brief, either on LinkedIn or email, the same day that you have your interview. Now, the benefit to having… Now, the benefit of being able to reach out on LinkedIn is that you’ll add that person to your network. So, even if you don’t end up getting that job, you have a connection to that person, you know, as long as you have LinkedIn. So, perhaps, you never know, maybe in 3 or 4 years, you’re going to reapply and you can send the follow-up to the person that you interviewed with years ago if you keep it all on LinkedIn. With emails, you know, one at a time, and you tend to lose those addresses. I kind of like LinkedIn, but as long as you send something the same day, I think it works.

Carmen Gonzalez: Yes, absolutely, that’s great advice. So, it’s not only thinking about the short-term, but also about the medium/long-term, and, you know, to make sure that you’re actually developing the relationship with the interviewer, regardless of the outcome of the interview.

Thank you, Mike. And, as a final remark, what would your main piece of advice be for our students to build a strong career, regarding interview performance and in general?

Mike Mascarenhas: Yes, I think both in general and in an interview performance, investing in learning what you want to do early on in your career adds so much value as you approach your late 20’s, your 30’s and beyond. I work with a lot of MBAs who made a decision when they were 22, that they didn’t really think about perfectly. And, then they have to kind of do an MBA and make a switch, and it’s a little bit more difficult. So, the more time that you spend with yourself, the more time you do self-reflection and really think about what you like and what you want in a career early, the better. And, maybe I’ll just end on an anecdote. I started as a consultant at PWC and I liked it. I enjoyed the impact of the industry, but I always had this itch, because I love media. So, I really know the television and entertainment industry really well, and I did my MBA actually to move into that industry. I got a really nice internship with a pretty famous actor in their media agency, and it was really interesting. But once I started learning about that, I realized that my skillset didn’t fit that industry. And, just because I like that industry doesn’t mean that I want to build a career in that industry. I see a lot of young people thinking that they want to have a career in something that they really like, but, when you really challenge them on what they know about the inner workings of the roles available in that industry, they have no idea. And, it’s a lot easier to do that research early, make that mistake, and then grow in your earlier mid 20’s than if you’re seeking that out in your late 20’s, 30’s and beyond, only to realize that, if you had done more research, that might not be the industry you want to be part of.

Carmen Gonzalez: Wow, amazing, that’s great… great feedback and advice. So, Mike, I’m sure that our students are eager to find out more about you, to start a… to start developing a relationship with you, so, where can our students find you?

Mike Mascarenhas: The best way to communicate with me would definitely be on LinkedIn, if you search for Michael Mascarenhas. I think the actual URL is Michael-Mascarenhas19. If you type in Mike Mascarenhas BCG, you’ll be able to find it. And, I’m pretty good with it. So, if you reach out, of course after the holidays, I would happily, happily respond to any of your students.

Carmen Gonzalez: That’s great, thank you Mike. Thank you so much for this conversation. All your insights about how to successfully perform in an interview have been great.

And, the Career Beat goes on next month. In our next episode we will talk about another key topic for a successful career: Networking. Our guest will be Vishal Tucker, an expert networker and founder of Sun Consulting, a boutique consulting firm specialized in helping people to bring their full potential. And, if this wasn’t enough, he is also an Esade MBA alumni, so, the best person to understand your journey.

I’m looking forward to seeing you in our next episode of Career Beats.

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