McKinsey interviews are tough, but they are also predictable. If you understand what to expect, you can prepare properly and increase the likelihood of getting that elusive job offer.
Although these factors are specific to McKinsey, my understanding - from chatting with friends who have interviewed candidates for other firms - is that they also apply at other top-tier consulting firms like Bain and BCG.
1. TransparencyMcKinsey is very clear about what will happen during your interviews and what they'll be looking for - they post the details on their webiste. That means you'll know exactly how you need to prepare. I've also posted some additional details on what your first-round and final-round interview days will look like. The Firm wants the best candidates available - it's in McKinsey's best interest to make sure all candidates are well-prepared to able to show their maximum performances in their interviews.
You will be given personal experience interviews (PEI) that are used to probe on what makes you distinctive in terms of:
- Personal impact
- Entrepreneurial drive
- Orientation around achievement
- Leadership abilities
You will be given case interviews that will test your problem-solving skills. McKinsey's website clarifies what their interviewers will be looking for during case interviews. McKinsey also offers several practice cases on their website.
Given all the information on interviews that McKinsey provides to candidates - plus all of the 3rd party sources, including this blog that are available - there's no reason for candidates to put forth anything but their best performance on interview day.
2. ConsistencyMcKinsey has to interview and hire thousands of candidates each year and the Firm wants to seat a uniformly high bar that new hires need to clear. To accomplish this, McKinsey has developed a scoring rubric for both PEI and case interviews. The scoring rubric defines the specific dimensions against which candidates are assessed during each type of interview. Furthermore, there are clear, objective criteria that must be met to give candidates specific scores on each dimension.
In theory, this takes some of the variability out of the process. And, having been in dozens of "decision meetings", it does appear to work as long as the scoring rubrics are followed. As a candidate, you don't have to hope for an "easy" interviewer, pray that you don't get a "tough" interviewer, or hope to avoid someone who's in a bad mood or having a bad day. You also don't have to worry about how your classmates are doing - on a given interview day, you're "competing" against an objective bar for performance, not your fellow candidates.
3. You don't have to be perfectMcKinsey interviews have some room for error built into the process. Unlike figure skating or downhill skiing, one stumble will not take you out of contention. McKinsey realizes that candidates are human and might make mistakes - the Firm doesn't want to miss a great consultant because he or she flubbed one part of the interview.
You can afford to make a mistake or two as long as you exhibit distinctiveness (also known as a "spike") in other parts of your interview. The more spikes you show, the more margin for error you have in other areas.
Interviewers are also trained to follow-up on areas where you might have exhibited weakness. If you make a misstep, you'll likely get a second chance to show that your mistake was an anomaly. So, shrug off that math error you made early in your case and make sure you knock the next calculation out of the park.
You also don't need to get to the "right answer" in case interviews. The case interview is less about the answer you reach and more about how you get to your conclusions. Furthermore, there can often be more than one good, acceptable answer to a given case question. The case interview is more about how you get to your answers and how well you can communicate and support your recommendations.