What kinds of questions should you ask your interviewer at the end of the interview?
Your asking the interviewer questions and the small talk between the two of you are opportunities where the interviewer is assessing your cultural fit with their firm. They’re thinking, “what kinds of things have interested this candidate so far and what are they interested in learning more about?”
My advice here is to think through why you want to go into consulting. What do you want out of your time in consulting? What questions come out of that thought process and that you’d want to learn more about that this interviewer may answer for you.
For example, in my case as someone coming from a PhD background, I was curious about how PhD’s develop in consulting, what strengths they already bring and how much their soft skills improve. So I would ask this kind of question to a more junior consultant in the first round who either has a PhD themselves or who has worked closely with PhDs in consulting. I think that demonstrated to my interviewers that I would fit in well with the feedback-focused culture at McKinsey and that I would be open to and take feedback seriously in order to develop my soft skills that PhD’s don’t come in with. Everyone has distinct things they’re interested in learning more about so think through yours. It may interest you to learn about opportunities to do consulting engagements abroad so ask about that.
I want to emphasize that you want to ask questions appropriate for the audience. I would never ask a partner or senior partner in the final round about what it’s like to work with a PhD because at their level, their peers are not freshly minted PhD’s. Instead I would ask them about some idea or trend that I find interesting in their industry of expertise. For example, I’d ask a partner who is focused on oil and gas about recent news involving OPEC. (When I interviewed in the Houston office, I suspected that I’d encounter an oil and gas partner, so I had been reading oil and gas news in the preceding days).
Pay close attention to the background of your interviewer from the biographical information you receive prior to your interview and when they introduce themselves to you. Then try to intersect your interests with their experiences. Another one of my interviewers specialized in public sector work. Public sector was something I wanted to get involved with but it wasn’t at the top of my list. I admitted to him I didn’t know much about McKinsey’s work in the public sector but that I was interested in learning more if there was anything he could share with me. We ended up having a fascinating discussion about work that McKinsey was doing in Colombia.