11 McKinsey PEI Questions You Need to Be Able to Answer 
Are you planning to interview with McKinsey? If so, you need to prepare for their PEI or personal experience interview.
Though the top management consulting firms have more similarities than differences, each has a unique corporate culture and their own way of assessing applicants. The McKinsey PEI is one of the bigger differences. On this page we’ll tell you:
- What the McKinsey PEI is,
- How it differs from the behavioral interviews of other consulting firms, and
- What McKinsey is looking for in PEI answers. We’ll also provide:
- A format to use for developing strong PEI answers and
- The 3 types of PEI questions you need to prepare for.
If this is your first visit to MyConsultingOffer.org – head to Case Interview Prep for an intro into the management consulting interview process. If you’re familiar with what a consulting case interview is and want more details on how to pass the McKinsey PEI, you’re in the right place.
Let’s get started!
What Is the McKinsey PEI
The McKinsey PEI is a behavioral interview question. You may have already read our article on Behavioral Interviews. As a reminder, here’s the definition of a behavioral interview:
There are 2 types of questions that management consulting companies ask recruits. Case study interview questions test analytic and problem-solving skills. The behavioral interview tests the softer skills needed for consulting.
Will you work well with your case team?
Will you be able to persuade clients to make the changes needed to improve their businesses?
How Is the McKinsey PEI Question Different from Other Behavioral Interview Questions?
The McKinsey PEI is different from other consulting firms’ behavioral interviews in 2 ways:
- The PEI question is part of every interview. Other companies focus on case questions in most of their interviews but leave one entirely for behavioral questions.
- McKinsey likes to go deep on one behavioral question, asking about several aspects of it. Other consulting firms are more likely to ask several different behavioral questions rather than diving deep on one.
Personal Experience Is Part of Every Interview
McKinsey interviewers typically spend ⅓ of the interview time or 10-15 minutes on the PEI as part of every interview. The PEI questions may be asked either at the beginning of the interview or after the case. The remaining 30-35 minutes of interview time will be spent on the case study question.
McKinsey wants all their interviewers to get a sense of whether a candidate would be a good fit for the firm. Because of this, it’s critical that your stories are clear in your head. If you ramble, you’ll cut into your case study question time. Make sure you don’t spend too much time setting up the story, but get to the heart of what happened quickly.
For instance, if you’re telling a story about how you managed conflict on a team you worked on in the past, you’ll need to mention what the team was tasked to do and what the nature of the conflict was so that the interviewer understands the problem you solved.
But if you delve into all the different personalities on the team, you could get lost in the minutia rather than getting to your impact or the problem you solved. Introduce the challenge quickly and focus on the action you took and the results for the team and yourself.
Inch Deep and Mile Wide versus Mile Deep and Inch Wide
McKinsey PEI’s are mile deep and inch wide. That means they look at one story from your resume or one personal characteristic (inch wide) and ask multiple questions about it (mile deep).
Take our example of someone who managed conflict on a team. Someone from Bain, BCG or Deloitte might ask about that experience, then go on to ask about something completely different— why you’re interested in consulting, about a time when you overcame a significant setback, etc.
A McKinsey interviewer will ask more about your experience with that team. They might ask:
How did the team get into the situation that led to the conflict?
What were the stakes?
What did you personally do to overcome the problem?
What did you learn from the situation?
How might you avoid that kind of team conflict in the future?
What Is McKinsey Looking for?
What do you need to do to pass the McKinsey PEI?
McKinsey has multiple PEI questions, but they generally boil down to 3 key characteristics that the firm is looking for in its consultants: leadership, personal impact, and entrepreneurial drive. McKinsey is also looking for candidates with great problem solving, but this is primarily tested with the case study question.
First round interviewers will focus on leadership and personal impact. Each interviewer will assess one of these traits. In the final round interviews, all 3 traits will be assessed, one by each of 3 interviewers.
If you prepare to answer questions on these 3 topics, you’ll be ready for the PEI.
Why does McKinsey test leadership?
Leadership skills are essential to success in consulting.
A consultant also needs to be a team leader, helping others to get work done and facilitating change.
They’ll lead client team members to find the data required to do analytical work, to structure the team’s problem-solving—breaking down large problems into manageable steps, and to brainstorm potential changes to processes or behaviors that are limiting the company’s success.
Your interviewer will typically test 3 sub-traits when assessing leadership: 1) leading others, 2) teamwork, and 3) empathy.
- Tell me about a time you led others.
- Tell me about a time when you were on a team that had a conflict that was keeping it from achieving its objective.
- How do you motivate people?
What does McKinsey say about personal impact?
Why does McKinsey test personal impact?
Personal impact is essential to success because a consulting firm’s clients are large organizations with multiple people who can influence business decisions: the business leader who asked for McKinsey’s help, peers of the business leader who run other parts of the organization, and employees within the business unit where the change is taking place.
To ensure a new product or process doesn’t just look good in a PowerPoint slide but is actually accepted and implemented by the organization, many people at all levels need to understand the benefits of the proposed change and buy into it. For this to happen, every consultant will need to impact key influencers of the decision.
Your interviewer will typically test 3 sub-traits when assessing personal impact: 1) listening, 2) confidence, and 3) the ability to influence.
- Tell me about a time you had to convince someone to change their mind on something important to them.
- Tell me about a difficult situation where you had to rely on your communication skills.
- What do you want to be remembered for and how are you achieving it?
What does McKinsey say about entrepreneurial drive?
Why does McKinsey test entrepreneurial drive?
Entrepreneurial drive is also essential to success in consulting. The problems businesses face are all different, and therefore so is the work done on consulting cases. There’s no checklist for a junior consultant to follow and the partner or engagement manager on a team might be busy with other work and unable to provide direction.
A consultant has to be a self-starter, directing their own work and pushing their problem-solving as far as possible in the absence of feedback. Their solutions to business problems need to be creative.
Your interviewer will typically test 3 sub-traits when assessing entrepreneurial drive: 1) goal-setting and overcoming obstacles, 2) practical judgment (using the 80/20 rule), and 3) creativity and entrepreneurship.
- Did you ever have a goal that you weren’t able to achieve? What did you do?
- Tell me about a time that you dealt with a tough problem.
- Tell me about a failure.
- Why are you interested in management consulting?
- Why are you interested in working for [particular consulting firm]?
These questions test whether you’ve really thought about consulting as a career and what it would be like to work at that particular firm. If you’re applying to Bain and BCG, you’ll need to have answers ready anyway, but McKinsey won’t hold not having a prepared answer against you.
Answering McKinsey Personal Experience Interview Questions
In our article on Behavioral Questions, we outline the A STAR(E) method for developing stories to use as answers to common behavioral interview questions.
Stories are powerful. You should use them because you want your interviewer to remember your answer at the end of the day after they’ve met with 8 or more candidates and need to choose 1 or 2 to move forward to the next round of interviews.
In addition to developing stories to answer these questions, you want to ensure that you show how you contributed to the positive outcome of any team you discuss. Yes, it’s good to credit all members of a team with the win, but this is an interview. McKinsey wants to know that anyone they hire will have a strong impact on their teams so you need to toot your own horn more than you might otherwise.
It’s also important to put the results in the best light possible. Quantifying results and highlighting the impact of projects is always recommended. If achieved a record performance, point that out in your story.
Watch Out! Things that Can Mess You Up on McKinsey PEI Questions
Two things sometimes mess up candidates on the personal experience interview. You should be aware of both.
- Interviewers occasionally ask candidates to choose a different story to discuss, and
- Candidates are instructed to not repeat a story with a second McKinsey interviewer.
Your Interviewer Asks You to Discuss a Different Story
McKinsey interviewers are listening for evidence that a candidate has the particular trait they’ve been assigned to probe. If you set up a story and the interviewer doesn’t think it will demonstrate the trait they asked you about (example: they ask you to talk about a leadership experience and it doesn’t sound like your story will demonstrate leadership), they may ask you to discuss a different story.
It’s easy to see how this can throw someone off. You’re laying out an experience and someone tells you to stop and talk about something else. The important thing to remember, though, is that each interview is tasked with assessing something. If your story won’t let them assess the trait, that will hurt your ability to move forward to second round interviews or get an offer. If you can come up with a story that does hit the trait they’re assessing, this will keep you in the running.
If this happens to you, take a deep breath and start over. Have multiple stories prepared in advance just in case.
You Repeat a Story with More than One Interviewer
In their instructions to candidates, McKinsey will ask that you do not repeat the same story to multiple interviewers.
If the interviewers find out that you’ve repeated a story, this can hurt you because it shows that you do not follow instructions.
To prevent this from happening, make sure that you have one leadership and one personal impact story prepared for first round interviews and different leadership and personal impact stories as well as an entrepreneurialism story prepared for final rounds.
11 Common McKinsey PEI Questions
8 Common Follow-On Questions to the McKinsey PEI
Because McKinsey personal experience interviews are inch-wide and mile-deep, you will get follow-on questions. They are likely to come from the following list of questions.
- Tell me about a challenge you faced.
- What was the situation and what were the obstacles?
- What were the main actions you took to overcome these obstacles?
- What did you say?
- What did you do?
- What were you thinking at that point?
- What was your team thinking at that point?
- How did the situation turn out in the end?
To learn more about the McKinsey PEI, check out this video.
For an example of an exceptional answer to a behavioral interview question, check out this article.
Congratulations! After reading this page you’re now well on your way to preparing for the McKinsey PEI question. You’ve learned what the PEI is, how it differs from other behavioral interviews, what McKinsey is looking for in PEI answers, how to answer PEI questions, and you have our list of 11 common PEI you can use to start preparing.
Still have questions?
If you still have questions on the McKinsey PEI, leave them in the comments below and we’ll have our coaches provide answers.
People who are prepping for personal experience interview questions typically find the following other My Consulting Offer pages helpful:
- McKinsey Case Interview,
- Bain Personal Experience Interviews, and
- Consulting Final Round Interviews.
Would you like to have a former McKinsey interviewer work with you on your McKinsey PEI and give you feedback?
To apply to work with one of our former McKinsey interviewers, find out more here.