Thursday, January 31, 2013

Get Feedback From Your 1st Round McKinsey Interview - Why It's Important

To get hired by McKinsey, you typically have to pass two rounds of interviews.  McKinsey's feedback-driven culture doesn't just apply to the job, it applies to interviews as well.  It's also possible that former McKinsey consultants will apply this approach when interviewing candidates for non-consulting jobs.  In this post we'll cover why it's important to get feedback from your 1st round interview...

The best football and basketball teams look at their first-half performance with a critical eye and make adjustments at halftime so they can play better in the second half.  Think of 1st round interview feedback as your coach's halftime locker room speech, only much less inspiring.  Just a reminder - because of McKinsey's tendency to focus on negative feedback or "improvement opportunities", you might come away from your 1st round feedback feeling like you're getting routed at halftime rather than up by 10 points.

Can every candidate get 1st round feedback?

Yes, but you might have to ask for it.

After your 1st round interview, one of your McKinsey interviewers will call you with your decision - you'll be offered a 2nd round interview, get dinged, or, least frequently, informed that a decision is pending.  Regardless of the outcome, you have the option of receiving feedback on your 1st round interview performance.  If it's offered to you, take it.  If it's not, ask for it.  I cannot emphasize this enough.  If you pass up the chance to get feedback from any consulting firm on any interview, you're missing a huge opportunity to improve your performance during future interviews.

What can I expect from 1st round feedback?

Every interviewer rated your performance during the case and personal experience interview (tips for doing well on the PEI) along multiple dimensions.  Good interviewers also take notes on specific things you did well or missed during both parts of the interview.  Diligent ones will also compare notes with the other person who interviewed you and can give you feedback that reflects both interviewers' perspectives - those conversations usually inform the post-interview decision meeting where your outcome was determined.

As with any McKinsey feedback, you should be getting feedback that's specific and actionable, even if it's not framed according to the McKinsey feedback model.  At the very least, you can expect directional feedback like "you need to show better structure in the case", "you should consider a different PEI story", or "your public math needs work".

If your interviewer is good and/or you're being offered a 2nd round interview, your feedback is likely to be more detailed and actionable.  In that case, your feedback might sound like these examples
"Your initial case framework was good, although you missed a key lever.  But, you made up for it by being creative and thorough when you drilled down into each of the levers you did identify".  Or, "even though you fumbled that one calculation, you caught it yourself, which showed good understanding of the case.  And, because you were walking me through your math, I could see that you have a good grasp of numbers and just misplaced a decimal."

Why is this important to me?

If you got dinged:

Your feedback will be helpful if you have other consulting interviews in your future.  If you were interviewing for a summer internship position, I hope you'll try again next year for a full-time position.  In that case, your feedback will be highly relevant.  If you still have upcoming interviews with other firms, McKinsey feedback can still be helpful to you as you course-correct and prepare for them.

If you were offered a 2nd round interview:

It's critical that you receive and apply 1st round interview feedback prior to your 2nd round interview.  Here are a few reasons why...

1.  Your feedback is meant to help you get a job offer

During "assessment training", McKinsey interviewers are instructed to help each candidate demonstrate their best possible performance (while being fair to other candidates, of course).  That means the person giving you feedback is on your side and wants you to do as well as possible in the next round.  Their feedback is being given with the best intentions - for you to perform even better in the next round and get a job offer.  Whether the feedback is nitpicky or harsh, take it with an open mind and address it.  Your feedback should help you feel more confident about the areas where you did well and help you focus your time and efforts on improving where you did not perform as well.  In this case, nitpicky feedback is a good sign - it means that in the 1st round you did well enough on the big things that your two interviewers had to think pretty hard for things for you to improve.

2.  Your 2nd round interviewers will also see your feedback

Each of your 2nd round interviewers will have seen your interview assessments from the 1st round.  That means if you performed poorly along a particular dimension, at least one of your 2nd round interviewers will be asked to probe or test you further on that dimension.  If you fumbled the math, you'll likely get at least one 2nd round case with a challenging quantitative element.  If you struggled with PEI, you'll be asked more questions on the same PEI topic.  Remember that in the 2nd round the stakes are higher - the result of a "false positive" assessment is a job offer, not just a follow-up interview - so the bar is also higher.

3.  It's your chance to show that you respond well to feedback

McKinsey is all about feedback - a good consultant has to be able to take a lot of negative feedback but also be able to process it and make the necessary improvements.  In addition to seeing your 1st round interview assessments, your 2nd round interviewers also know that you've received feedback on these points.  So, if your performance on those dimensions doesn't improve significantly, it will a) confirm the initial assessment and b) reflect poorly on your willingness or ability to improve based on feedback. 

In some ways, it's almost better to have a minor stumble (that doesn't get you dinged) on a particular dimension in the 1st round only to crush that same dimension in the 2nd round - you'll be seen as a candidate who learns from mistakes, takes feedback well, and is "coachable".  That said, I wouldn't advise that you tempt fate by trying to do this on purpose!  But I hope you find it reassuring if you made a misstep during your 1st round interviews but still got a 2nd round interview offer.


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