5 surprising secrets of a killer McKinsey resume


Haven’t you always wondered what a McKinsey resume looks like?

Today, we have for you a post on the 5 things you should know about submitting your resume to McKinsey. After the rave reviews we received from our McKinsey firm profile, we decided to give you even more insight on the world’s top consulting firm – this time letting you in on the secrets of what it takes to make it past the resume screen at McKinsey.

Now, there are the standard set of rules for your consulting resume that apply for any firm – a results-oriented resume, formatting consistency, using proactive language, quantifying competitive accomplishments, providing context for key activities, etc. – and you can make sure your resume is consulting-ready by working with our fantastic resume editing team.

These 5 tips below, however, are focused specifically on McKinsey. So for all of you McKinseyite wannabes, this one’s for you! Ready to land an offer at McKinsey? Read on, and reach out to our expert resume editing team (led by a former McKinsey consultant!) to put you over the top.

Here are the 5 things you should know about submitting your resume to McKinsey.

1. A Harvard business degree isn’t enough

McKinsey hires the best of Harvard’s best, so just being from Harvard isn’t good enough. We’re talking about the most prestigious consulting firm in the world here – so a regular ol’ degree from Stanford or INSEAD isn’t sufficient to get you to the interview round. The competition at McKinsey is more than stiff – it’s almost impossible.

Without prestigious leadership experience on your resume – e.g., if your highest achievement is Student Body Treasurer or you made the Dean’s list 50% of the time – you’re going to have a tougher time. Your family may be gushing with pride over your accomplishments, but you’ll have to have really killer professional/internship experience to get past the firm’s resume screen.

Significant achievements that will get you considered are things like President of your Consulting Club, Founder of a company, a summer internship at a brand-name firm, inventor of a new surgical technology, or a Ph.D. in some cutting edge and radical new research.

A knock-out McKinsey candidate is an influencer with a variety of interests that make you uniquely and powerfully you. You’re Type A, polished, and a winner – when you run, you’re elected; when you compete, you win.

Does this sound like the type of experience you have? If so, you’ve got a good chance. If not, either start obtaining it or consider back-up options.

2. Don’t use the McKinsey buzzwords, DEMONSTRATE them

McKinsey buzzwords include structurecredibility, and credentials. Don’t use these terms on your resume – a McKinsey recruiter will see right through that. Anyone can say they’re great at using structure to solve problems. You’re much better off giving an example that presents the problem, briefly explains how you approached it, and what the results were.

Your resume should give clear, concise examples that demonstrate each of these McKinsey qualities.

Structure – Weave a story that presents a problem you faced, the structured approach you took to solving it – including breaking the problem into its component parts, and the positive results you achieved. On the job, you will rely on best practice work (i.e., the same report, but for a different company or industry) to get the job done – so if you can show you’ve done this before, you’re golden.

Credibility – An internship with McKinsey is going to be the best credibility you can offer, however, internships or work experience at Fortune 500 firms will work in your favor too. Other non-profit experiences can additionally give you an up, like a term with Teach for America, as long as that’s not all you’ve done (otherwise, the sudden interest in business might be suspect). Basically, anything you can include on your resume that shows you went through a rigorous selection process and came out on top is going to win you points with a McKinsey recruiter.

Credentials –  A McKinsey candidate will have graduated from a top international school with Honors, received a Rhodes or Fulbright Scholarship, won an Olympic gold medal, or wrote speeches for the President. Your credentials must be seriously impressive to be considered McKinsey-worthy, so include the most prestigious scholarships, merit awards, and industry accolades that you can on your resume.

3. McKinsey staffs globally, so show them you’re ready to go global

Under McKinsey’s global staffing model, you’ll work on project engagements with 5-6 member teams pulled from locations around the world. Even if a client doesn’t demand your presence on-site, you’ll need to fly to connect with your team. That means you’ll be traveling 100% of the time.

What does this mean for your resume? Well, an internship with Deutsche Bank in Germany paired with an economics study abroad program in Argentina is going to convey your ability to get along with multi-national teams, handle living/working in another country, and demonstrate maturity traveling/living on your own. This isn’t necessarily a make or break for your application, but it will definitely have a positive influence on the review team.

I started my first consulting firm while I was living in South Africa, and it was focused on Corporate Social Responsibility. I worked with international governments, local South African bureaucrats, and multinational company’s business leaders to implement and measure the impact of business-focused programs. Yes, I had top grades from a great school and had won awards while there…but it was my international experience on top of all that that put me on McKinsey’s radar as an experienced hire.

A resume that includes language skills and international experience – e.g., study/work abroad, international competitions, globetrotting, etc. – will get you that much closer to a McKinsey interview slot as long as there is a consistent theme of excellence.

4. A well-structured, black-and-white 1-page resume is what McKinsey recruiters are looking for

Don’t get creative on your resume. Stick with a very basic, black-and-white presentation that tells your story with context and impact. Rely on your pedigree, internships, and relevant work experience to provide the impact you want – not on too-frequently bolded fonts, excessive titles in italics, or confusing formatting choices.

You’re going to be representing a highly-established firm with Fortune 500 C-level executives, the majority of whom are older and probably more conservative than you. Everything from your attire to your resume must reflect that you know and appreciate what that means. McKinsey wants you to be highly intelligent, yet predictable. Creativity on your resume is appreciated, but only in terms of what you’re presenting – your experience, etc. – not in how you present it.

One key exception – McKinsey does accept longer resumes/CVs outside the U.S. The absolute maximum, however, is 2 pages, and you should have at least 5 years of professional work experience if you’re going to justify having a longer presentation of your education and experience. Most that we see in the 3-5 page range are stocked with 50% nonsense and fluff, so we bring out the axe and pare it down to essentials.

5. McKinsey values specialization in work experience 

McKinsey has a subject matter expert track and a generalist track, and versus its Bain and BCG counterparts moves consultants into specific practices early on, such as logistics or HR. Because McKinsey hires candidates into specific areas of expertise, the firm is more open to considering applications from candidates who’ve chosen not to go the typical MBA route. In fact, more than 50% of McKinsey consultants don’t have a graduate degree in business. If your education and/or work experience is “outside the norm,” don’t be afraid to highlight that on your resume.

Here’s another tip – if you do have a specialization outside of business, research McKinsey’s Insight weekend a swanky, 2-day informational conference for hot target prospective consultants, held at a Ritz – Carlton near you. Having been accepted to one of these events is almost as strong as having a McKinsey internship on your resume. It shows you’ve already been vetted, moving you one step closer to the inner circle.  

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Pretty sure that you don’t have McKinsey credentials yet? Let’s talk about your next steps. Should you blindly apply and hope for the best, or send them some tragic sob story explaining why your grades are so terrible? Should you give up completely?

If you’re really serious about consulting, get strategic about your application to McKinsey and take a long-term view. Don’t have brand-name experience on your resume? Get some. Don’t have a top degree? Go back to school. Didn’t win an award? Get creative in your free time. Remember, McKinsey consultants aren’t born – they are made. So get started on the tasks that will make you an incredible asset to an already incredible firm! Need help getting there? Book a Power Half Hour with one of our former McKinsey consultants today – they’ll help you build a personalized plan to break into The Firm.

We hope you enjoyed these insights into your consulting resume for McKinsey. Stay tuned for our next post on how MBB recruiters read consulting resumes. Best of luck!