Consulting Interviews – What are Problem Solving Tests?

Problem Solving Tests are increasingly being used by elite companies during the recruitment process.

The most commonly dreaded part of any consulting interview process is the classic case interview. However, candidates who want a serious shot at a job offer must be mindful not to neglect the importance of PSTs.

Why do companies, such as consulting firms increasingly turn to PSTs as a part of their interview process? There are two key reasons why PSTs are seen as an effective interview tool from the standpoint of employers:

  • Testing supplementary skills that would contribute towards an individual’s success in consulting. These skills are typically challenging to test in a case interview.
  • Creating a broader group of candidates by leveraging online tests that are relatively low cost

In employing PSTs, there are a number of skillsets and attributes that consulting firms look out for in candidates:

  • Ability to handle large quantities of information that could contribute towards answering client needs
  • Ability to swiftly analyze charts to derive key insights and takeaways
  • Ability to stay focused under tight time pressure, without being swayed by circumstantial data

PSTs therefore provide an objective view of each candidate in the interview process. The results of which are especially beneficial when judging borderline candidates.

Depending on firm and office, PSTs are conducted at different stages of the interview process

Different companies conduct their PSTs at different stages of the interview process depending on their respective purposes. These tests can be used to select candidates for the actual interview process, as a benchmark test or as a replacement for another case interview. Despite the different uses, it is a must for candidates to pass these written tests in order to progress to the subsequent parts of the interview process and land a job offer.

Selecting Candidates

Typically, only successful candidates whose experience attracted recruiters and may be an organizational fit are invited to take the test. This test is the only obstacle standing in the way of the candidate being invited for the first case interview. A cut-off score is usually assigned to the tests as a form of screening. There are also rare cases of candidates being invited to interviews despite failing these tests.

As a benchmark

Some businesses use PSTs to assess whether the candidate should move onto the next stage. For example, those who pass the first round of interviews may be asked to take a PST before the second round of interviews. Businesses looking to complete the selection process in one day will request the test to be taken onsite to finalize the candidates’ overall performance.

It is important to note that candidates with superior case interview performances do not compensate for poor test scores.

As a substitute for another case interview

In such cases, Candidate evaluations takes place after the interviews and the PST. The tests are evaluated together with the other interviews to form a comprehensive picture. This schedule actually lowers the importance to the PST. As mentioned before, a good interview cannot compensate for poor test scores (or vice versa), however, a borderline PST candidate can still progress if they can deliver great performances during the subsequent interviews.

Problem Solving Tests can be more or less similar to consulting cases

Unfortunately, there is no set attribute or trait that companies look for in these tests. Whilst these tests assess a broad range of personality characteristics, they assess specific skills relevant to the consulting industry.

Consulting-specific tests:

Consulting specific tests are usually designed to reflect similar projects encountered as a professional or designed to be similar to problems that one might encounter during case interviews. Questions would usually involve a theoretical client.

Non consulting-specific tests:

Candidates may also be requested to take general tests not tailored to reflect cases or even business problems.

Key takeaways

  • Written tests such as the PSTs are increasingly employed by a range of consulting firms to screen candidates
  • Different firms use PSTs at different stages of the interview process and for different purposes
  • PST tests are tailored to assess a broad range of skills but may also be specific to consulting cases
  • To successfully land a job offer, candidates must do well in the PSTs

Read More: How to crack any case interview – A repeatable approach


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