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WHAT IS THE PEI?The McKinsey personal experience interview (PEI) is similar to what other companies might call a fit interview. You'll be asked to talk about an experience that reflects how you demonstrate a particular trait, like leadership. The format of the PEI question is usually something like "please tell me about a time you exhibited X" where X is the trait the interview is probing for.
WHY IS THE PEI IMPORTANT?There is a scoring rubric used during McKinsey interviews that allows us to calibrate and hold many candidates to the same standard. Your PEI assessment gets roughly equal weight as the case interview evaluation during decision meetings. The Problem Solving Test (PST) plays an important, but secondary role in the process - one that I'll discuss in a future post.
If you bomb either the PEI or the case, you will not get a "pass" to a 2nd round interview or job offer. Nor will you get a pass if your performance is adequate on both. A "clear pass" aces both the case and the PEI, and other candidates who pass are adequate in one and shows a "spike" or clear strength in the other. As you can see, you need to do well on PEI to have a chance of passing, so being distinctive on PEI is a big advantage.
FIVE TIPS FOR DOING WELL ON PEIAs is the case for resume screens, I know enough about the evaluation criteria that I can help anyone spike on the PEI, but I won't do that for two reasons - (a) quality - I want the Firm to pass the best possible candidates and (b) fairness - I don't want someone to get a resume just because they read a blog post. However, in this post I will share some PEI tips that are either generally accepted knowledge, common sense, or freely shared by McKinsey with potential applicants.
1. FOCUS ON THE TRAITS MCKINSEY LOOKS FORMcKinsey wants you to perform as well as possible during your interview. They are transparent about what they look for in candidates - you can find the list of what McKinsey looks for on their website.
- Problem solving
- Personal impact
It is critical that you familiarize yourself with these traits your interviewers are looking for and make sure you can demonstrate that you possess these qualities. The case interview will address problem solving, so you can focus your PEI prep on the other traits.
2. DEMONSTRATE WHAT MAKES YOU EXCEPTIONALYour interviewers are evaluating you against a very high bar, and you need to stand out among a large number of your highly qualified, exceptionally impressive classmates. On a typical interview day, each McKinsey consultant will see 8 candidates and first-round decision meetings usually review over 30 candidates. Think about how to make your stories strong enough to be memorable at the end of a long day of interviews.
It's imperative that each PEI response conveys what makes you distinctive in achieving, personal impact, or leadership. This is not the time to be humble - but be careful that you do not come across as arrogant or self-centered. You should highlight the traits and contributions you made that others in the same situation could not. Make sure it's clear when and how you were personally driving progress and impact - for example, don't just tell us you exhibited leadership, give us specific examples and evidence that show us you're a leader.
3. REMEMBER THE DETAILSIt's likely that you'll be asked for many specific details about your story, like what exact words were spoken or the thought processes you used when making certain decisions. It's not because we're testing you or doubt your story. We do this because we want to have a thorough understanding of the context and the specific role you played in your story. We're also trying to understand how you think through tough issues and challenging situations.
Make sure you've thought through your stories so you can recall these details easily during your PEI interview.
4. PRACTICE WHAT YOU WILL SAYIt takes time and can feel awkward to practice telling these stories aloud, but it's well worth the investment. It's easy to underestimate how hard it is to recall details, tell the story without stumbling, and highlighting your distinctiveness without coming across as arrogant unless you actually say the words out loud.
5. PREPARE AN INVENTORY OF STORIES
This way you'll be prepared with multiple responses for the questions you're most likely to be asked. Since your McKinsey interviews will be in pairs (or more for later rounds), you'll want to have more than one answer ready for each topic. When your interviewers compare notes and realize you used the same story twice, they'll wonder "is that all this candidate has to offer?" It's also helpful to have some variety in case you're asked something unexpected or in an unexpected way so you can be ready with a story that's relevant and answers the question that was asked. It's obvious to us when a candidate is trying to shoe horn a story to fit a question - sometimes they pull it off, but more often than not, it leaves us (a) questioning their judgment and/or (b) wondering why they couldn't come up with a better example.