To aspiring management consultants, McKinsey is akin to the holy grail. The company consistently ranks as one of the top firms in the world to work at. This is despite its distinctive aura of mystery. But now, we lift the veil on McKinsey. Read on to see what it takes to land an offer at McKinsey.
The McKinsey Interview Process
McKinsey has a thorough and meticulous recruiting process that the firm has spent several decades perfecting. Barring any slight variations, there are four main steps you must go through:
- Resume and cover letter screening
- McKinsey Problem Solving Test
- First round of interviews
- Second round of interviews
Note: There is also a new McKinsey digital assessment tool that some liken to a game. It assesses how one problem solves and makes decisions. It’s a new development in McKinsey’s interview process – often, candidates from non-traditional backgrounds are asked to complete this assessment.
Each of these rounds are designed to test for a different set of skills and qualities. These include:
- Work ethic and discipline
- Data interpretation and analysis
- Problem structuring
- Quantitative reasoning and math skills
- Business sense and creativity
- Communication under pressure
Round 1: Resume and Cover Letter Screening
Depending on your academic background and set of experiences, passing the resume and cover letter screen may be the hardest round for you. McKinsey is extremely selective during this phase due to the large number of applicants (over 200,000 each year). Read on for the steps to take in order to get past Round 1.
Choose the Right Academic Background
It’s no secret that McKinsey hires from the top schools and business programs. The company considers schools like Harvard, Yale, Wharton, and Stanford to be hotbeds of talent and spends a majority of efforts recruiting from these target schools. This holds true whether you are pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree, Masters Degree, JD, MD, or PhD. For a best shot at making it to McKinsey, aim to enroll at one of the top U.S. universities.
Recently, McKinsey has expanded its outreach to more schools around the world. If you fall into that non-target school bucket, your focus should be on three things to land a McKinsey offer. First, maintain the highest GPA (think of 3.5 as the minimum) you possibly can to showcase your discipline and commitment to learning. Second, choose either a business related or quantitative major, both of which are the most common amongst students who land McKinsey internship offers. Though the company hires from a wide range of backgrounds and walks of life, following these two tips will maximize your chances. Finally, network! McKinsey hires 80% of its entry level hires from 20% of schools. The good news? That still means there are 20% of seats left for those from non-target backgrounds!
Build up Professional Experience
Especially if you had a low GPA, you’ll need to compensate with relevant – and ideally brand name – past experiences on your resume to be selected for interviews at McKinsey. Unlike industries like investment banking which prefer candidates to have previous finance experience, McKinsey hires from a wide range of backgrounds. The firm has repeatedly publicly stated that they don’t require you to have previous professional consulting experience (in fact, they actually prefer that you don’t). Firms so believe in their professional development programs and problem solving toolkits that what they care most about are the things you can’t necessarily teach – i.e. an affinity for numbers, analytical aptitude, executive presence, and a positive attitude.
One of the ways McKinsey lessens risk in the recruiting process is by placing heavy emphasis on brand name experience. If you are an undergrad/grad student, aim for competitive internships at companies with strong brand names. This shows that you’ve made it through a competitive interview process before, and so will be much more likely to do it again. Additionally, you’ll work on challenging projects and build skills that are transferable to McKinsey. Examples of these kinds of jobs include analyst positions at a top investment bank, business development positions at a leading consumer company, or engineering roles at a tech firm.
Network, Network, Network
Regardless of the school you go to, networking is essential so you don’t get lost in the sea of applicants aspiring to land a McKinsey offer. To make a long story short: in general, you are 80% more likely to land an interview invite after getting a referral from a current consultant at the firm.
Begin to reach out to your alumni/professional networks, or begin the cold networking process with professionals at McKinsey. Either way, it’s never too early to learn more about McKinsey and ask someone to be your advocate.
Round 2: McKinsey Problem Solving Test
If you made it to round 2, you deserve to pat yourself on the back. You just beat thousands and thousands of applicants, but of course, the work isn’t done yet. It’s time for Round 2, the (in)famous McKinsey Problem Solving Test.
About the McKinsey Problem Solving Test
The McKinsey Problem Solving Test is a 1-hour multiple choice test with 26 questions that helps McKinsey understand how you approach problem solving and how well you can size up a situation. The firm is more interested in how you think rather than what you can memorize.
The test is designed such that anyone from any background can take the exam successfully. No business background is necessary but the test does involve data and math. Each question is based on real McKinsey work, so it’s a great way to get a better insight into what the company works on as well. In order to land a McKinsey offer, you must be able to do well on the PST.
Tips for the McKinsey Problem Solving Test
See below for the most important skills to prepare for, straight from McKinsey:
- Absorbing: You’ll be presented with information in text and exhibits. Absorbing and understanding this information is critical to answering the questions in the test.
- Solving: You’ll be asked questions and given four options to choose from in answering each question. Often, you won’t have the time to check each option in detail. You’ll need to be comfortable using judgment and shortcuts when you can.
- Managing time: 26 questions in an hour means just a little over two minutes per question. But you’ll also need time to absorb the information. You’ll need a strategy to manage time well, so that you can do your best to answer as many questions as possible.
Beyond these tips, be sure to take as many practice tests you can get your hands on. With enough practice, you should be able to take the McKinsey Problem Solving Test with confidence! This gives you the best chance to land a McKinsey offer.
Rounds 3 and 4: Interviews
Interviews sit at the crux of the McKinsey recruiting process. Though there are some differences between first and second round interviews, they are also largely similar. Each are usually 45 to 60 minutes long and can be broken down into three parts: the standard fit interview, the Personal Experience Interview (PEI), and case questions.
The Personal Experience Interview
The PEI usually lasts for 25% of the interview, so roughly 10-15 minutes. While most management consulting firms ask candidates behavioral questions, McKinsey goes one step further in the PEI because your interviewer will only assess you on one of your stories. In other words, McKinsey will ask up to 15 follow-up questions to the first behavioral question they ask you.
McKinsey generally tests for one of the following four qualities (also listed on the McKinsey website):
- Personal impact
- Entrepreneurial drive
- Problem solving skills
- Leadership abilities
The questions you’ll be asked will sound similar to typical behavioral questions, such as “Tell me about a time when you had to solve an extremely challenging and complex problem.” After you provide an answer, your interviewer will ask for details and ask why you made certain decisions.
Tips for the Personal Experience Interview
In order to perform well in the PEI and land a McKinsey offer, we recommend focusing on crafting stories that make you sound interesting and unique for each of the above mentioned four qualities. When brainstorming, think about the following questions:
- What are some experiences I have that no one else has had?
- What are the most pivotal moments in my life I’ve gone through?
- What are the most challenging obstacles I’ve had to overcome?
These questions are designed to help you think about stories that will set you apart from other candidates. Contrary to most candidates’ beliefs, your story does not have to relate to professional work. Your stories can really be about any topic as long as they showcase the qualities McKinsey looks for. After brainstorming these stories, organize them in the following 3-part structure:
- Context: Set the setting for your story
- Action: Build up the drama and explain the challenge you faced and how you solved it
- Result: Talk about the impact your decisions made and what you learned as a result
As you tell your story, place a heavy emphasis on the result. Dig deep and think about what you took away from your experience, as well as what you achieved. Authenticity and genuine responses are the best answers, and will make it easier for you to answer your interviewer’s follow up questions.
The Case Interview
Like other management consulting firms, McKinsey uses case interviews to test a wide range of a candidate’s abilities. These cases take about 75% of the interview, so roughly 30-45 minutes. However, McKinsey cases are different in two ways.
First, McKinsey interviews tend to be interviewer-led. This means that the interviewer will have questions that they’ll want you to think through and will move the case along to other topics if you are taking too long on one part.
Second, McKinsey interviewers will test the quality and logic of your responses at a higher standard than most other firms. With that said, McKinsey interviewers are expected not to try to trick or misguide candidates and instead genuinely try to understand how a candidate thinks about and works through a problem.
Differences Between First and Second Round Interviews
Both are similar in format and difficulty, but there are a few key differences between first and second round interviews.
First is the number of interviews. Each round will consist of 2-4 interviews, but your second round will usually consist of more. Be sure you’re mentally prepared to go through 4 rigorous case questions by practicing several in a row before each round.
The second key difference is the experience level of the interviewers. Your first round interviewers will usually consist of associates (2+ years of experience) or Engagement Managers (4+ years of experience). Your second round interviewers will be led by Partners (10+ years of experience).
McKinsey Case Interview Structure
McKinsey case interviews will start off with a business problem a client is facing. These cases are based on previous McKinsey projects and cover a wide range of topics, such as profitability, market entry, and product strategy.
McKinsey case interviews typically use the following structure:
- Framework question
- Quantitative question
- Creativity question
Your interviewer will start by providing you with the situation and problem the client is facing. This is commonly known as “a prompt”. As you listen and take as many notes as you can, your interviewer may also provide you with data through graphs, charts, and tables.
After gathering your thoughts, you should structure out the problem into Mutually Exclusive, Collectively Exhaustive categories – this is the framework question.
As you then go through each category, your interviewer will ask you questions about your thoughts and provide you with additional data or information. If you ever reach a dead end, that’s a sign that you’re looking in the wrong place.
At some point in the case, your interviewer will also ask you an open-ended creativity question to test your ability to think beyond the data. Questions like this may include, “what are some of the ways the client could increase its manufacturing capabilities?”
Once your case is coming to a close, your interviewer will ask you to make an elevator-pitch style recommendation. Using the information you’ve gathered, your job is to synthesize the information into a summary with actionable steps that you would tell a potential client.
McKinsey Case Interview Tips
Though no two cases are the same, there are many similarities amongst case questions that you can identify to help you prepare for them. These include:
- Build a consistent approach to cases – As discussed, there are 5 parts to a McKinsey case interview. Build strong habits by practicing each of these parts so you are able to quickly identify the type of question you are being asked.
- For practice, quantity AND quality are important (but if you have to choose, go with quality) – You’ll need to be exposed to a wide variety of potential business problems to succeed in McKinsey cases. At the same time, you must practice out loud with people who know what they’re doing so you don’t miss blind spots.
- Get comfortable with mental math – Quite often, mistakes in calculating your numbers can be the difference between a successful or nerve-racking interview. Keep your mental math skills fresh by practicing through our online drills.
- Stay calm – Remember that McKinsey will be testing to see how you react and communicate under pressured situations, similar to a client setting. When asked a challenging question, pause and take a deep breath to gather your thoughts before answering. Accuracy and sound logic are more important in your replies than speed.
Landing an offer at McKinsey is no easy task, but taking the process step by step makes everything much more manageable. We hope this guide has helped demystify McKinsey in some way, and we wish you the best of luck on your journey!
- The Best of the Best: McKinsey’s Problem Solving Test, Case Interview Prep, and Life
- Case Interview: Complete Prep Guide
- McKinsey PST: Complete Prep Guide