If you interview for McKinsey, you will most likely come across the McKinsey Personal Experience Interview (PEI). The McKinsey PEI is a separate behavioral portion of the interview process, usually replacing standard behavioral questions in favor of this structured approach. Years ago, the firm realized that its best case interview performers ended up being its worst consultants. Shocking, right?
So, the firm instituted the McKinsey PEI (based on legal interrogation methods) to better screen candidates and hire those with strong soft skills who would also be cultural fits. You’ll be asked one question about a particular professional experience, and will receive 10-15 follow-up questions all related to that one experience. Sound nerve wracking? It doesn’t have to be.
Table of Contents: (click to jump to section):
- What is the McKinsey PEI?
- McKinsey PEI Topics
- McKinsey PEI Example Questions
- McKinsey PEI Stories
- McKinsey PEI YouTube Video
What is the McKinsey PEI?
During every interview with a McKinsey consultant, you will be asked behavioral questions for ~20 minutes before the case. While that is normal for many firms, what’s unique about the McKinsey PEI is that it focuses on just one particular experience for the entire interview. As a result, the McKinsey PEI focuses on the depth of your experience, not the breadth.
McKinsey interviews are almost always 1 hour long, with one PEI for 20-25 minutes, a case for 20-30 minutes, and other questions for 5-10 minutes. One round is usually 2 or 3 sets of interviews, so 2 or 3 total hours with each hour split into this format.
Here’s how it works. Your interviewer will ask you an initial question about leadership or one of the noteworthy experiences on your resume. (We share McKinsey PEI question examples further down – don’t worry!)
After your initial answer, your interviewer will ask follow up questions that dig deeper into why you made certain decisions and what you would do differently. Consequently, it’s important to prepare 5-10 stories for each noteworthy experience on your resume so that you’re prepared for probing follow-ups.
McKinsey PEI Topics
McKinsey is very up-front about the qualities it tests for in the McKinsey PEI. According to the McKinsey Career page, the firm will ask candidates about the following qualities:
- McKinsey looks for candidates who have proven they can drive change within a challenging environment. McKinsey clients are the top companies in their respective industries, and high expectations are par for the course. As a McKinsey consultant, you will be expected to produce results effectively and be able to handle the high internal and client expectations that come with the job.
- McKinsey is looking for self-starters. At the firm, you don’t have a formal boss, and you own individual workstreams early on in your tenure. As a result, you must possess the ability to work independently, a tenacious attitude to see a project through, and an entrepreneurial mindset that looks for more efficient ways of driving impact. As a result, McKinsey values candidates who have the ability to take initiative and navigate through ambiguity, all the while knowing how to prioritize their work to drive to a solution.
- Building upon the first trait, you must be able to take charge, regardless of level or title. Even if you have just joined McKinsey, you will be expected to quickly interface with clients and contribute to your project team. McKinsey views every candidate through the lens of being a potential future leader at the firm, or a leader in industry who will be a future potential client.
- This is the most recent addition to the McKinsey PEI. Consultants are often faced with major changes that they did not expect, and the nature of the response is often an imperfect decision made with ambiguous information. Embracing change and adapting appropriately is a pivotal aspect of the consulting industry.
McKinsey also lists “Problem Solving” on their career page. Note that this is referring specifically to the case interview that you will complete after the PEI. The PEI itself is always focused on one of the four topics above.
McKinsey PEI Example Questions
Below are some McKinsey PEI example questions, straight from the source, that you can use to prepare for your interview. Since the PEI will always focus on one of the four topics above, the initial question will usually sound like a variation of one of these four.
PEI Example Questions:
- Explain a challenging situation you encountered when working with someone with an opposing opinion (Personal Impact)
- Talk about a time when you worked to achieve something that was outside of your comfort zone (Entrepreneurial Drive)
- Share an example where you effectively worked with people with different backgrounds (Inclusive Leadership)
- Revisit a time when you experienced a significant change or encountered an ambiguous situation and share the actions you took to adapt to the new circumstances (Courageous Change)
You are most likely to encounter variations of these questions instead of the exact question when you interview in later rounds and/or with more senior interviewers, such as Associate Partners and Partners.
McKinsey PEI Stories
To perform well in the McKinsey PEI, you will need to answer every query with a story. Instead of coming off as calculative and robotic, you must have 15-20 total stories prepared to successfully navigate the McKinsey PEI.
When preparing for your McKinsey PEI, think through your most impressive accomplishments and filter them through the aforementioned McKinsey PEI topics. When crafting your stories, follow this 3-step process:
- Situation and Context
Provide some background about the experience.
- Think about the following questions:
- Where were you and how old were you?
- Were you working with anyone else?
- Was this a professional experience or a personal one?
- Think about the following questions:
- Tackling the Problem
Provide information on the challenge you faced and overcame. What’s important here is to really build up the drama just like any good book or movie. Don’t be shy about the lengths you went to in order to solve a problem or how hard you had to work.
- The Impact
Speak upon the impact your actions made both externally and internally. If possible, provide any quantitative details on what you were able to accomplish. Lastly, conclude with any important thoughtful lessons you’ve learned from the experience.
Tackle the PEI Head-On
The Personal Experience Interview includes multiple dimensions and presents a unique challenge for candidates. However, like the rest of the recruiting process, with some insight, structure, and preparation, it can be handily overcome. Get personalized coaching from an ex-McKinsey consultant today to prepare for your interview! For more information about the McKinsey PEI, see what McKinsey has to say about the interview.
McKinsey PEI (Personal Experience Interview) – YouTube Video and Transcription:
McKinsey PEI. It’s enough to strike fear in the heart of anybody who is in the middle of one. But a lot of people don’t know, when they’re about to walk into a McKinsey interview, what’s about to face them. And we’re here to pull back the curtain on that today. I’m Jenny Rae Le Roux, the Managing Director of Management Consulted. And our team of ex McKinsey consultants have build an incredible body of resources on the McKinsey (PEI) Personal Experience Interview.
McKinsey PEI Personal Experience Interview Overview
The Personal Experience Interview, otherwise known as the PEI, or the McKinsey PEI, is a test that is focused on really honing your soft skills, and identifying who has the ability to hand pressure. As well as, a number of other characteristics that we’ll talk about in this video. Overall, the interview usually is around a half an hour, sometimes up to 45 minutes. It’s usually a separate part of a McKinsey interview, although they do use the PEI format just in “chit-chat”, when you’re with a McKinsey interviewer, if you have 10 minutes at the end of a case interview as well. And the PEI is basically one single question, with multiple follow up questions. The standard is about 20-25 follow up questions.
History Of The McKinsey PEI
Let me give you just a little bit of the history of the McKinsey PEI. A number of years ago, McKinsey was looking at some data that they tracked, and it was focused on the ranked scoring of everyone who came into McKinsey as an interviewee. And they had scores, McKinsey has very rigorous scoring, 1st and 2nd round, it’s numerical, so they were able to track who were their top performers were, in the interviews. And then they matched that against the performance inside the organization. By bucket and tier, and what the tenure was of folks.
What they discovered was a kind of alarming oddity, which was the top performers in the case interview, were NOT the top performers, in fact in many cases, the worst performers, actually on the job. So they felt like the case interview, although it’s a very robust test of people that make at least good consultants, wasn’t testing for great consultants. And so, they refocused on how to figure out how the soft skills could be tested.
What The PEI Is Really Structured From
And to really hone in on this, there was no better way to figure it out than going to the legal industry. So the PEI is based on cross examination tactics, from the legal industry. Congratulations, have fun!
4 Main Areas of the PEI
Let’s talk about how to prepare your stories for the McKinsey PEI. There are 4 McKinsey PEI topics that you must prepare for, and these align with the traits McKinsey looks for in prospective consultants:
- Entrepreneurial Drive
- Personal Impact
- Problem Solving
And so, one PEI story will really begin with a “nut” that focuses on one of those things, and usually the PEI story will be selected by them, or selected by you. So you can assume that it will be selected by them, that will help you prepare more broadly, just in case in happens. You also might however, get to select one of your stories. And in either situation they’re going to start with one of these. So if it was an entrepreneurial experience, they’ll start with some entrepreneurial drive questions. But they’re going to lead to all of these key areas, regardless of where it starts.
If you’re focusing on a time you were in a leadership role, they’re going to focus on that first. And then go into the other areas. So entrepreneurial drive, leadership, problem solving, and personal impact are the 4 key areas.
Example PEI Questions
Some example questions from an initial part of the PEI, would be for example, “Tell me about the most significant accomplishment of your career.” It sounds innocuous, and it sounds like the beginning of every other interview. But then what happens next, is kind of the rigorous part. So then they would say, “After that, what we’d like to focus on a challenge that you faced, when coming against that accomplishment. And we’d like you to talk about somebody you had to pursued to get things done, when pursuing that accomplishment. Then they’ll talk about the biggest obstacle you had on your team, when completing that accomplishment. And one weakness that showed up, that was your weakness, when pursuing that accomplishment.” So everything hones back to that initial singular story.
And other potential questions that they could start with would be, “Tell me about a time you convinced a colleague to consider and agree on an alternate approach. Tell me about a time you overcame a significant challenge at work. Notice! A lot of these are very professionally focused. They are focused on your times when in a work or professional environment. Finally, tell me about a time when you demonstrated exceptional leadership.
Preparing For The McKinsey PEI
Now, when you’re preparing a McKinsey story, when we have you prepare bodies of stories, we usually have you prepare 15 stories about 15 different experiences. That is great, no matter whether you’re interviewing for McKinsey or not. You’re going to use those stories.
But if you’re going into McKinsey in particular, you need to prepare 15 aspects of any one of your big stories that you highlight, and walk me through your resume. So it’s a different prep process, that is incredibly focused on deeper, not wider, stories.
When you’re preparing for the PEI, the first thing is to really begin to develop those stories, at a deep level. You want to write them down and really reflect on the facts and the numbers and the details. And also how to be transparent and honest about the things that were difficult. Good stories never have only one side or one part. There’s challenges, and sweat, and struggles, and then you accomplish something at the end. So you’re really going to want to explain the nuance of what happened in the story.
So number one, prepare your story. Number two, you want to get into a practice arena, with somebody who has worked at McKinsey ideally, where they begin to ask you these kinds of digging questions. Number three is that, during those sessions, recorded or getting the coaching from them, you want to integrate the feedback from those and tweak your story.
So number one, prepare your stories. Number two, test your stories. Number three, go back and tweak your PEI stories so that you’re ready to improve on that experience.
Overall, the PEI is literally THE hardest FIT interview you will face in your entire life. It’s harder than business school interviews, and really harder than anything. So, you definitely, definitely want to practice this. We’ve got a great team to practice with you, of ex-McKinsey and other consultants, who are all trained in the McKinsey PEI. And there’s nothing like the real thing, so we’d love to work with you. Contact us at [email protected] to get answers to specific questions – we’re here to help!