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by Vault Consulting Editors | March 10, 2009

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As times change, so does the way consulting firms hire. Another trend worth discussing is how to handle interviews over the phone. If you're not interviewing as part of an annual campus recruiting cycle, you will in all likelihood be dealing with this. The first step is typically a phone screen with a recruiter, followed by the case interview over the phone.

Phone screening by HR

Having a recruiter conduct an initial phone screen of candidates seems to be a relatively recent phenomenon (i.e. over the last few years) in the consultant interviewing process. The primary reason for this step seems to be volume handling. Consulting jobs have been relatively scarce over the last few years, and the numbers of resumes that hit the recruiter's inbox for each new position that is advertised has swelled by an order of magnitude. Consulting senior manager and partners don't have time to interview all of the qualified candidates, so they rely on HR (and occasionally junior consultants) to conduct phone screens. Phone screens are primarily about your background and why you are seeking this position, so you will rarely have a case interview question come up.You can prepare for the phone screen by thinking through the highly concise, incisive version of your story. Keep in mind that the next step in the process is for the recruiter conducting the phone screen to pass along notes to a partner for evaluation; what do you want those notes to say? What you say should be crystallized into a form that the recruiter can capture and communicate well, so be ready with the show answer as to why you should be considered. (Hint: you can write this out ahead of time. After all, you are on the phone and the recruiter can't see you.)

Case interviews by phone

The basic interview format for a phone interview is the same: fit questions, case question, and questions for your interviewer. The bad news, as some of us by now have realized, is that it's incredibly difficult to make the same impression over the phone that you could in person. Ever try to tell a joke to someone over the phone and get greeted by silence? Sometimes people need to see your face to know what you really mean or, as in the case with phone interviews, you simply need to tell them more explicitly.Here's another thing: have you ever noticed that your in-person interviewer may not be able to see exactly what you're writing on your page, but they can see and are therefore aided by the layout of what you're writing? This helps you in your in-person interviewer because you are providing the interviewer with mental guidance. For example, they can see you jotting down those bullet points for your case structure; when you indent, they are mentally indenting as well and know that what you're saying (or where your pen is pointing) refers to the "outer" bucket. When you outdent, they know you're going to talk about the next major point. In other words, the visual aid of watching you take notes helps them follow your framework better. (Interesting, huh?) Over the phone, you don't get the benefit of this guidance.

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Filed Under: Consulting

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