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Although McKinsey is a global firm - with thousands of consultants in over a hundred locations spread across more than 50 countries - you'll have to select one location to be your home. For some people it's an easy decision, for others, it can be more challenging.
Terminology: Office vs. LocationAt McKinsey, Office and Location are not interchangeable terms (even if they sometimes are used that way). Think of "Location" as a city and "Office" as a region. For example, the Southern California (SCA), Silicon Valley (SVO), San Francisco (SFO), and Seattle (SEA) comprise the McKinsey West Coast Office (WCO).
How location preferences work:During the recruiting process, you might be asked several times for your location preferences. Typically, you'll be asked for your top 3-5 locations, weighted by preference. The location preferences you provide going into your first-round interview will inform where you end up going for your second-round interview and - if all goes well - ultimately working for McKinsey.
Typically, at our core business schools - places like Harvard, Wharton, and Kellogg, your first-round interviewers will be from the Office complex that best matches your preferences. (CAVEAT - this post is for US b-schools and US McKinsey locations - interviews for international Locations are handled differently and the process varies by which international Office is involved) Based on Office and Location needs and number of applicants preferencing Locations, your interviewers might be from the Office of your 2nd, 3rd, or 4th Location preference, but the Firm typically tries to match you with your top choice.
If you pass your first-round interview, you will then be flown to a specific Location (hopefully your top or second preference) for your second/final round of interviews. Any job offer would be from the Location of your second-round interview.
I have seen some rare cases of horse trading occur during first-round decision meetings. Depending on Location needs and preferences of passing candidates, there's sometimes a need to adjust second-round interview Locations.
Three tips for making your location preference decisions
1. The bar doesn't get lowerOne of the guiding principles of interviewing is that McKinsey never "lowers the bar" - that is to say that we always maintain the same high standards for passing a candidate on to the next round or making them a job offer. That means no matter what Office or Location is doing the interviewing, you still have to exceed a Firm-wide performance standard.
However, the bar can get higher if there are a lot of qualified candidates vying for a small number of slots. This is why the summer internship interviews are viewed as a more rigorous and selective than full-time interviews. Also, if a particular Location is over-subscribed - more candidates have preferenced it and passed to the next round than there are openings - the bar might go up. This is when some of those candidate who clear the Firm's bar might be offered 2nd round interviews in other, preferenced Locations.
2. You can't "game" the systemEvery recruiting season there are candidates who think it might be easier to get into certain Locations than others - unfortunately, this is not true. For some reason, it seems that the Cleveland Location is one that's often cited by McKinsey consultants who tell candidates that there are no easier paths into the Firm, as in "it's not like you can apply to Cleveland and have a better chance to get an offer because no one else is applying there". The best you could hope to do would be to avoid the locations where the bar might get raised.
As we covered in the first point on this list, the bar for passing to the next round or getting an offer isn't lower in any of our Locations. The other reason you can't game the system is because, as a candidate, there's no way to predict the following: 1) what a particular Location's needs will be, 2) how many other candidates will preference that Location, and 3) how those candidates will do in their interviews. When you add in other factors like the supply and demand dynamics for other Locations on your preference list and the lists of other candidates, it becomes impossible to predict where your chances might be best. Better to save your mental energy for case prep and thinking about PEI.
3. Know yourself and what you wantThe more you understand and can be honest with yourself about what you want, the better your location preference decisions will be. There are three primary reasons to preference one Location over any others.
- Where you want to live: Even though McKinsey consultants travel a lot, you'll still be spending a lot of time in your home city, including most weekends and several months at a time if you get staffed locally. If you don't mind traveling, you can do client work in other cities if your Location doesn't serve the industry or clients you want.
- What work you want to do: The leadership in an Office and Location can provide you better opportunities to work with certain clients or industries. McKinsey consultants can't discuss clients with you, but you should know what industries are around a given Location. If you also considering the Firm serves most of the Fortune 100, you can guess what companies near
- Who makes you feel most comfortable: If you get an offer, make sure you attend the cultivation weekend so you can get to know people from the Location. Also, get to know your fellow offerees since many of them will be in your incoming class and a significant part of your McKinsey experience.