6 Things to Know Before Your McKinsey Case Interview & PEI

  • Last Updated August, 2020
McKinsey Case Interview

Table of Contents

If you’re interested in a career in management consulting, McKinsey & Company is probably on your list of firms to apply to. It’s the oldest consulting firm, established in 1926 by James McKinsey, a University of Chicago professor and expert in management accounting.

Today, the firm employs 30 thousand professionals working in 130 cities around the world. McKinsey regularly ranks at the top of lists of strategy consulting firms and is hired by businesses, governments, and non-profit organizations to help solve their toughest problems.

It’s difficult to get a job offer from McKinsey.

Like its top management consulting competitors, Bain and BCG, McKinsey typically hires only 1% of candidates who apply. In particular, McKinsey case interview questions tough to crack…but not impossible.

If you’re interested in trying to beat the odds, this article will tell you what you need to know to succeed. We’ll tell you:

    • What’s different about McKinsey,

    • 6 things candidates recruiting with McKinsey should know,

    • We’ll provide a mock McKinsey case interview video with an ex-McKinsey Engagement Manager, and

    • Provide tips on acing your McKinsey interview.

If this is your first time at MyConsultingOffer.org, you should read this first. But if you want to get ready for your upcoming McKinsey case interview, you’re in the right place.

Let’s get started!

 

What’s Different About McKinsey? 6 Things Candidates Should Know

1. Consultants Are Hired For Either The Generalist Track Or A Specialist Track

Generalists at McKinsey are consultants who could be staffed to help clients in any industry and dealing with any type of business problem. Specialists are consultants with a particular area of expertise.

Areas of specialization within McKinsey include digital and advanced analytics, marketing and sales, business turn around, operations,  software development and design, and implementation.

2. Consultants Work On-Site At The Client 4 Days A Week.

This allows them to work alongside client staff and create solutions that are not just elegant, but implementable at the organization. It also allows teams comprised of consultants from multiple offices to work together. 

Most consultants travel a lot and at McKinsey, this is definitely the case. Consider whether regular plane flights and hotel stays are right for you.

3. Cases Are Interviewer-Led Rather Than Candidate-Led.

Candidates are still expected to identify key issues to be addressed to solve the business problem presented by their interviewer and outline a plan to explore these issues. 

After they do that, their McKinsey interviewer is likely to tell the candidate which issue they’d like to discuss first. Other management consulting firms, like Bain and BCG typically let candidates steer their case interview.

4. Interviewers Assess Fit As Part Of Every Interview With Personal Experience Interview (PEI) Questions.

While all strategy firms ask candidates Consulting Behavioral Interview Questions to assess their fit with their firm, many have one interviewer focus entirely on fit while others focus entirely on a case study question. 

McKinsey interviewers split their interview time between the case and PEI in every interview

5. The Firm Looks For Personal Impact And Entrepreneurial Drive In Candidates.

This is in addition to the structured problem solving and leadership skills that McKinsey, as well as other top consulting firms, look for in candidates.

6. Mckinsey Recruiting Is Developing New Assessment Tools Such As The Digital Assessment.

These new tools are meant to broaden the firm’s reach to find the best talent regardless of geography as well as provide deeper insight into candidates’ problem-solving skills.

If you’d like to know more about McKinsey and how their interview process differs from other consulting firms, keep reading! We dive deeper into these topics below.

Generalist versus Specialist Track Roles

When the management consulting industry was first founded, simply having an MBA and expertise in solving business problems was enough to set a consultant apart.

Consultants hired by McKinsey could expect to be staffed on a case in any industry and solving any type of problem.

Ninety years later, great problem-solving skills are sometimes not enough to solve a client’s problem efficiently and cost-effectively.

For some types of business problems, deep skill sets developed over time are essential.

To help clients solve these types of business problems effectively, McKinsey hires people with years of experience in functional specialties.

These include advanced analytics, marketing and sales, business turn around, operations, software development and design, and implementation.

Specialists work alongside generalists on projects to leverage their functional expertise across the work of the team.

The specialist practices are growing faster than generalist roles and get fewer applications, so if you have the right kind of expertise and apply to the practice, you may have a better chance of landing an interview.

How McKinsey Interviews Differ from Bain and BCG

There are two main ways that McKinsey’s interviews differ from those of other top management consulting firms. McKinsey uses interviewer-led case interviews while other firms use candidate-led case interviews.

In the “fit” portion of the interview, McKinsey uses the personal experience interview and each interviewer you meet with in all rounds will assess fit.

Interviewer-led Cases

At the start of any case interview, candidates need to go through 4 phases to solve the business problem the interviewer has given them in a structured manner: the opening, structure, analysis, and closing. For more information on these 4 phases of answering a case interview question, see Case Interview Prep.

The opening and structuring phases are the same whether the case interview is led by the interviewer or the candidate. But in the analysis phase, the approach candidates need to take is different.

In a candidate-led case interview, candidates will pick which part of the problem they want to dive into first and proceed with it. In McKinsey’s interviewer-led cases, the interviewer will pick the first part of the business problem they want the candidate to address.

Is the interviewer-led case interview easier or harder than the candidate-led one?

If you’ve structured the business problem well, breaking the problem down into the MECE issues that require further analysis, it should not matter who picks which aspect of the problem to address first. What is helpful is knowing what to expect in your case interview so that you don’t start down one path just to be redirected by your McKinsey interviewer.

You don’t want anything to throw you in the middle of your case!

Behavioral Interview Questions - The McKinsey PEI

As mentioned above, fit or personal experience interview (PEI) questions are part of every McKinsey interview. 

How else is the PEI different?

While other top management consulting firms focus on bringing the best creative problem-solving to their clients’ problems (BCG is notable here), McKinsey is interested in candidates’ personal impact and entrepreneurial spirit.

McKinsey interviewers look for these characteristics in answers to PEI questions. Because of this, it’s good to have some insight into why the firm thinks these characteristics are important.

Personal Impact

McKinsey says this about personal impact on its career website:


McKinsey does not want to create PowerPoint presentations with elegant solutions that sit on an executive’s shelf, not implemented.

Personal impact means that McKinsey consultants work shoulder-to-shoulder, on-site with client executives, developing solutions that don’t just solve a business problem in theory but also do it in practice.

This can require facing resistance to change in the client’s organization head-on and persuading people to reassess long-held beliefs.

During the PEI, questions like the following will be asked to assess personal impact:

  •   Tell me about a team you worked on when you needed to change someone’s mind on a topic that was important to them, or
  •   Tell me about a time when you needed to rely on your communication skills to solve a difficult interpersonal situation.

This belief that personal impact is key to developing an implementable solution is what drives McKinsey consultants to spend 4 days a week on client site.

Entrepreneurial Drive

McKinsey says this about entrepreneurial drive on its career website:

McKinsey doesn’t seek to hire consultants who can only implement solutions they’ve seen in previous businesses. They want people who are willing to try new things, take solutions to new industries or new types of problems.

The McKinsey problem solving approach treats each client problem as unique. Each solution should push thinking about best-practices.

In addition to personal impact and entrepreneurial drive, McKinsey also assesses leadership using the PEI.

We won’t address this in detail because this is similar to other consulting firms, but you can find more about how McKinsey assesses leadership in our page on McKinsey PEI Questions.

It also includes What McKinsey Is Looking For and provides a list of 11 Common PEI Questions.

The McKinsey Interview Process - Traditional and Recent Changes

The Traditional Recruiting Process

For years, McKinsey focused on a group of core schools to find new analyst (undergraduate hires) and associate (MBA hires) candidates. 

While the firm now recruits from a broader set of schools as well as more diverse candidates, recruiting at these core schools still starts in much the same way.

McKinsey consultants conduct on-campus presentations and coffee chats to talk to potential candidates about what it’s like to work in the management consulting industry and at McKinsey, in particular.

If the firm hosts an event at your campus, you should attend to make personal connections and to find out first-hand if a career at McKinsey is right for you.

If there are no events at your school or if you’re already employed, check out the company’s career site for articles and videos that will tell you what it’s like to work at McKinsey and what it takes to get an offer.

Candidates submit their resumes (and optional cover letters) to the firm’s recruiting department via their school’s department of career services and on the firm website.

Candidates who are invited to interview typically have their first round interviews on campus.

During first round interviews, candidates meet with 2 interviewers back-to-back.

Candidates who pass first round interviews are invited to a McKinsey office for second round interviews.

In second round interviews, candidates meet with 3 interviewers.

Unless a candidate’s interviewers are split in their decision, second round interviews are also final round interviews.

In each round of interviews, McKinsey interviewers walk candidates through a business problem and asks a series of McKinsey PEI Questions, aimed at evaluating their potential fit with the organization. 

The Recruiting Process for Candidates at Non-core School and Experienced Hires

Candidates from non-core schools submit their resumes (and optional cover letters) directly to the recruiting department of the 3 offices they’d like to work in.

If they are invited to interview, candidates who live relatively close to a McKinsey office will be invited for in-person first round interviews.

Others will be asked to do their first round interviews via video conference.

Candidates already working in another industry or those working at another consulting firm submit their resumes (and optional cover letters) directly to the recruiting department of the three offices they’d like to work in.

They will typically have a phone interview before the “first round” of in-person interviews.

In both cases, once candidates are passed to second round interviews the recruiting process is the same as for core school candidates.

Recent Changes - The McKinsey Digital Assessment

Today, McKinsey has a goal to diversify its talent pool.

The firm is reaching out to more candidates outside of their traditional core schools.

One change in their recruiting process that is helping them to do this is the new McKinsey Digital Assessment, an online game that assesses candidates’ problem-solving skills.

One benefit of the digital assessment is that it can be taken anywhere, allowing McKinsey to consider candidates in geographies where they don’t have offices.

Another benefit is that it allows evaluators to gain a deep understanding of the problem-solving process a candidate goes through to arrive at their solution.

This makes the digital assessment an improvement over multiple-choice tests such as the PST where evaluators can see only answers, not how the candidate arrived at them.

This additional data gives candidates from non-core schools a better shot at getting a McKinsey interview than they’ve had in the past.

The digital assessment has already been tested by Summer Associates and has been rolled out as part of the recruiting process in some geographic regions.

It continues to be rolled out more broadly.

Differences Between Recruiting at McKinsey and Other Top Consulting Firms

While Bain and BCG do not have complex game-based assessment tools, they are also experimenting with new recruiting processes, including one way or video interviews.

One way interviews allow the management consulting firms to ask candidates a few fit questions before scheduling them for a full round of interviews.

Candidates asked to do one way interviews are provided with links to click when they are ready to record their answers via video.

The link takes them to a website that gives them the questions they need to answer and walks them through the process of recording their answers using their computer or phone.

To find out more, see this article on the Bain One Way Interview.

In addition, BCG has introduced a series of short, game-based problem-solving tests.

BCG worked with Pymetrics to roll out these digital games which test a variety of traits they are looking for in their recruiting process.

You can read more on this on our BCG Pymetrics Test page.

Example McKinsey Case Interview - Video

Now that you have a sense of what McKinsey and their interview process looks like, it’s time to see a sample case interview.

Below, we have 4 videos that walk you through each segment of a McKinsey case interview from beginning to end. 

My Consulting Offer founder Davis Nguyen, and Rebecca, an ex-McKinsey Engagement Manager, go through this sample case interview question. 

Mock McKinsey Case Interview - Opening the Case

Mock McKinsey Case Interview - Structuring the Case

Mock McKinsey Case Interview - The Case Analysis

Mock McKinsey Case Interview - Concluding the Case

Now that you’ve watched our sample McKinsey case interview, you should be ready to start practicing for your own interviews. 

Here are 5 tips on making the most of your preparation time:

5 Tips on Acing Your McKinsey Interview

  • Practice casing with another person. Answering case interview questions does not come naturally and it is not enough to practice on your own since casing requires having a dialogue. Give yourself as much time to prepare as possible by starting early.
  • Record yourself during practice cases using your computer or phone. Study these videos to see how you can improve your performance in each phase of the case interview. Aim to make your answers more fluent and conversational.
  • Practice McKinsey interview-led case interview examples. Use the link to McKinsey case interview examples below to make sure you’re not just familiar with cases, but with McKinsey cases. Make sure you are comfortable with being redirected at times.
  • Brainstorm several  stories to answer common personal experience interview questions. You can find a list of these common questions here.
  • Find out more about the new digital assessment in this article.

Last but not least, there are links to examples of McKinsey case interviews, as well as sample case interviews from Bain, BCG, Deloitte and AT Kearney on our Case Interview Examples page.

Be sure that you review at least a couple of the McKinsey case interview examples to familiarize yourself with the interviewer-led case format.

After reading this article, you should have a good understanding of what McKinsey’s recruiting process looks like and how recruiting with McKinsey is different from other management consulting firms. You’ve also seen a mock McKinsey case interview and read our tips on acing your McKinsey interviews.

You’re well on your way to being ready to ace you McKinsey interview!

Still have questions?

If you have more questions about the McKinsey case interview, the PEI, or working at McKinsey, leave them in the comments below. One of My Consulting Offer’s case coaches will answer them.

People interested in this topic have also found the following pages helpful:

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