McKinsey Experienced Hire: Transitioning into Consulting

Wambui Waiganjo
Wambui Waiganjo

Former McKinsey Senior Associate. MBChB University of Nairobi. MBA, UCLA Anderson School of Business.

Interested in transitioning into a career in consulting as an experienced professional? Well, I have good news and great news for you. 

The good news is, you are not the only one. Many people apply to McKinsey as experienced hires. The great news is that McKinsey is actively recruiting and extending offers to experienced professionals at different levels of the consulting ladder in all their global offices.

In this article we’ll discuss:

  • The value of experienced hires in consulting from the perspective of the consulting firms, experienced professionals, and my own perspective,
  • How to decide whether you’ll be good at management consulting,
  • How to tell if you’ll enjoy the work,
  • What the McKinsey experienced hire interview process looks like, and
  • How to prepare for the experienced hire interview process.

The Value of Experienced Hires In Consulting

The Consulting Firm Perspective

Consulting firms are looking to grow their ranks with experienced professionals. Why? 

Because their clients want the functional and industry expertise they can bring to the table to solve their toughest problems. Clients are increasingly seeking experts over generalists. 

It’s easier for a consultant to build trust with a new client if they are perceived as a peer. For example, a life sciences client developing a commercialization strategy for a new drug will have trouble entrusting a million-dollar project to a team with no technical experts. Clients want consultants who can:

  • Speak the language of the industry, 
  • Understand who the players are and where their organization fits in, and
  • Are familiar with industry trends. 

Only once this legitimacy test is passed do they ask for the strategy and operational value add. In the past, consultants built this legitimacy by specializing in an area as they worked their way up the ranks. Today, more people are bringing this expertise to the consulting firm from industry experience.

For a consulting firm, knowledge depth is king. In order for a firm to position its consultants as industry and functional leaders, investment in learning and thought leadership plays a key role. For example, McKinsey invests in McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) as its business and economic research arm. MGI publishes reports that provide a fact base for public, private, and social sector leaders to make informed decisions. Experienced professionals provide expert insight on these external-facing reports and facilitate sector-specific internal training programs for specific engagements.

Additionally, experienced professionals have the network to bring in future clients for the consulting firm. Having worked in industry, the experienced professional has built relationships within their organizations and in the industry more broadly that can be cultivated into client engagements.

Consulting firms are looking for experienced hires. So, whether your background is technology, engineering, operations, implementation, marketing, or something else entirely, this is a great time to explore a move to the consulting industry.

The Experienced Professional Perspective

What drives experienced professionals to a management consulting career? Though there are a number of personal reasons to make this particular career switch, including travel, friendships with colleagues, mentorship opportunities, and continuous learning.

I will highlight 3 common reasons:

1.     Desire to Strategically Steer Corporations, Governments, & Other Organizations

You have progressed upwards and you are a mid-career professional. You know all the nuts and bolts that go into your job. Within your role and across the industry more broadly, you constantly see opportunities for doing things in a “better way.” Most importantly, you are ready to roll up your sleeves and figure out how to execute these improvements. 

Those are signs of a budding strategist.

How to do things a “better way” is what keeps the leadership up at night. Top-down influence is a tenet at McKinsey. The firm will not work in an engagement that is not supported by the highest leadership of the organization. At that level, leadership is concerned about making the right decisions to position their organization in an industry to achieve its goals over the long run. 

Seeking to generate a large impact and “do more” is choosing the growth path, which is a reason experienced professionals choose to transition into consulting.

2.     Accelerated Post Consulting Career Progression

“Develop, excite and retain” exceptional people has been a tenet of McKinsey since its founding. The company spends substantial resources training its consultants on how to solve problems.  This consulting tool kit consists of:

  • analytical thinking,
  • powerful storytelling,
  • persuasive communication, and
  • client management.

This training prepares all consultants for leadership positions. It is for this reason that consulting is seen as a route to the C-suite. 

Dominic Barton, McKinsey Global Managing Partner Emeritus, calls McKinsey a “Leadership factory.” Some well-known CEOs with backgrounds in consulting include: Susan Wojcicki (YouTube), Eric Baker (Stubhub and Viagogo), Margo Georgiadis (Mattel), and Martin Roper (Boston Beer Company). 

Government leaders include Bobby Jindal (55th Governor of Louisiana) and Mitt Romney (United States senator from Utah). Other common high-level careers for ex-consultants include entrepreneurship, private equity, and venture capital.

Management consulting offers experienced professionals a unique skill set and the brand value to propel their career advancement.

3.     Sizeable Compensation Package

To attract talent from top MBA programs and to retain this talent in a demanding and fast-paced environment, top consulting firms offer attractive compensation packages. Of all the issues consultants complain about (e.g., long hours, demanding clients), compensation is hardly ever on the list. 

The compensation package includes a base salary and bonus tied to individual performance (up to 20%). As an experienced professional, the entry-level into consulting is usually at McKinsey’s senior associate level or higher (or equivalent in another firm). At McKinsey, a senior associate’s compensation (salary + bonus) is estimated at $230,000. 

Occasionally, a senior executive in a highly sought-after field receives a “straight to partner” offer which includes a base salary of up to $1,000,000 and a performance bonus of 25%-30%.

Though compensation is for socio-cultural reasons understated by experienced professionals as a motivator, it isn’t a detractor either.

To find out more about the benefits of consulting, see MCO’s article on What Is Consulting? 

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A Personal Perspective

The first time I heard of McKinsey & Co., or consulting more broadly, was in a newspaper article. A national airline was experiencing significant operational and financial challenges and share prices were plummeting. McKinsey & Co., was contracted to assemble their best team on the subject and deliver a turnaround restructuring and transformation. The restructuring and transformation were tied to their pay. 

No results, no pay. I was captivated.

Fast forward 2 years later, I joined McKinsey after 5 years working as a medical doctor, providing clinical care to patients I served, and performing managerial responsibilities at the hospitals I worked in. That’s right, I had no business background at all. I found several other folks in McKinsey who came from non-traditional backgrounds such as non-profit, academia, and even military service. 

To make the transition to consulting without a business background, you must be willing to do the extra work to build your business and problem-solving knowledge. Part of my case preparation was done in the hospital, between rounds and on quiet nights in the doctor’s room. The learning curve can be quite steep, but with the extra work and focussed determination, it can be accomplished. 

The main reason I wanted to become a McKinsey experienced hire was my desire to strategically steer the healthcare industry onto a path that could generate a large positive impact for all stakeholders. Big and ambitious goals are the mainstay of management consultants.

With an ambitious goal set, I began the work preparing for the transition. Let’s go through the key transition questions facing experienced hires:

  • Is the field of management consulting for you?
  • How to tell if you’re a good fit for management consulting.
  • What does the McKinsey experienced hire interview process look like?
  • How to prepare for the experienced hire interview process.

Is the Field of Management Consulting for You?

The best way to approach this question is to understand the expertise-based and values-based requirements of management consulting.

Expertise: Can You Establish an Area of Expertise or “Niche?”

Management consulting requires the experienced professional to bring the full range of their knowledge and capabilities to clients. The management consultant must be able to :

  1. Contribute expertise valued by others within the firm and externally. Within each engagement, the consultant contributes to problem-solving sessions with insights based on their experience as well as those sought with rigor and efficiency through primary and secondary research, data analysis, and synthesis.
  2. Tailor approaches and knowledge to client needs. This can involve working for competitors, suppliers, customer groups at different times and bringing different points of view that are consistently neutral/unbiased. 
  3. Accept changes to their recommendations based on input from both senior and junior team members. Consultants work in teams to provide the best solution for the client. There is little room for “that would never work” and instead emphasis is on “what needs to be true for that to work?” 
  4. Build client capabilities. Client training is needed to ensure client teams can successfully implement recommendations and sustain impact once the consultant team leaves the engagement.

Values: Are You Ready to Uphold Firm Values?

McKinsey has a values-driven culture. This is emphasized at every opportunity, including a day set aside for the entire global firm to reflect on the firm values and re-energize on their execution in day-to-day interactions. McKinsey’s values include putting the client ahead of the firm and maintaining standards for client service.

To uphold the firm’s values, you’ll be expected to:

  1. Partner selflessly with colleagues in delivering a dual mission to the firm and the client. All engagements are conducted by teams. As a team player, the consultant encourages others in strengths-based ways to elevate team performance and health while inspiring a broad followership.
  2. Establish enduring trust-based relationships as a client counselor. Consultants act as a source of direction and empowerment, mobilize people to act, and communicate effectively with all relevant stakeholders.
  3. Create opportunities to broaden client impact. This can be done through building client capabilities in tactical as well as strategic ways. Client learning is built into engagements. A consultant might lead training on a functional or industry topic. As an experienced professional, there is an expectation that you will take initiative aligned with your strengths and passion to bring value to the internal team and the client.

Will You Enjoy Working for a Consulting Firm?

Consulting clients are as diverse as the problems their organizations face, so it is imperative that the experienced professional has an appetite for constant change. Typically, client engagements last 3-4 months, though this varies. This means you need to be ready to move to a new client site with new problems every 3-4 months. 

On every project, you’ll start from a low knowledge base. As milestones are delivered over time, you go through a knowledge spike, synthesizing large amounts of information and making recommendations. By the time the engagement is coming to an end, you’ll feel like an industry expert. But then it is time to move on to the next project.

Experienced professionals are used to seeing activities executed and results measured over years. This is rarely the case in consulting.

 

Characteristics that Make You a Good (or Bad) Fit as a Consulting Experienced Hire

Characteristics that Make You a Good Fit:

  • You are excited by a constantly changing work environment. Every 3-4 months means a new client, in a new city, with new problems to work on.
  • You do your best work in a team setting. Engagements typically involve 4-5 smart and hard-working internal team members working closely to deliver high-quality end products.
  • You are motivated by solving difficult strategic problems. Clients only work with consultants on the problems that are too big a lift to perform on their own. Solving these problems requires deep research, analytical frameworks, and creative recommendations.

 Characteristics that Make You a Poor Fit:

  • You derive satisfaction from owning the end-product and executing on strategy. After the engagement, implementation is carried out by the client teams and they own the “win.”
  • You work best where there is a clear hierarchy based on years of experience. Your first managers may be younger than you. Their experience will be in consulting with several engagements on their belt. In problem-solving sessions, the best answer can come from any level and there is no expectation that the most senior colleagues get the final say.
  • You do not like to travel for work. Though the Covid-19 pandemic has brought into question whether the weekly travel to the client site is really the mainstay of client engagement, it is likely that some travel will remain a part of the consulting experience.

The McKinsey Experienced Hire Interview Process 

The McKinsey experienced hire recruiting process takes months to complete and requires a significant investment in understanding the industry, the position, and preparing for your interview.

Before you apply:

  1. Read about consulting as an experienced hire. McKinsey’s website provides live interviews with and perspectives from experienced hires. Take some time and read about their experience both in the firm and in the interview process.

  2. Identify the right role for you. Like with most employers, you are required to search for the job that you believe is a fit for you and submit your application. The job descriptions provided on the firm website should be your ultimate guide. However, experienced professionals can be unclear on which titles fit them the best. (See the table in the next section.)

  3. Ready your resume. Ensure your experiences clearly describe the tasks you carried out, your professional accomplishments, and your ability to work in a team. Read MCO’s article on how to create a Consulting Resume for tips.

  4.  Reach out to folks in the different firms you are interested in. Learning about other experienced professionals’ perspectives on their organization and the interview process can help you prepare your application documents.

Consulting Roles at McKinsey

Each consulting firm has its own titles. These are specific to McKinsey.

Role RequirementsExperienced Hire Fit?
AnalystTypically, is straight out of college with 0-3 years work experienceNot a fit
AssociateTypically, 4-5 years work experience or Post-MBA or other graduate studiesFit for emerging experienced hires
Senior AssociateRequires deep industry expertiseGreat fit for experienced hires with 5 – 7 years industry work experience
Engagement ManagerRequires previous consulting project or engagement manager experienceFit for experienced professionals with a consulting background that includes manager experience
Associate PartnerRequires previous consulting associate partner experienceFit for experienced professionals with a consulting background that includes Associate Partner experience
PartnerStraight to partner is where the firm head-hunts senior executives with no experience in consulting from various industriesGreat fit for experienced hires with >10 years industry experience and unique accomplishments and career trajectory
Functional rolesThese are non-consultant roles and include People & HR, Accountant, AnalyticsCan be a fit for experience hires interested in supporting client service teams

Steps in the McKinsey Experienced Hire Recruiting Process

There are several steps in the McKinsey experienced hire recruiting process:

  • Application,
  • Pre-screening tests,
  • The HR interview,
  • The McKinsey MAC coaching session,
  • Round 1 Interviews,
  • Final round interviews.

I’ll provide an overview of the consulting positions at McKinsey and then outline each step.

Pre-screening Tests

Once your application is accepted, you may be invited to take a pre-screening test. McKinsey has implemented a new game-based pre-screening test that most North American offices now use. Some offices still use an older, timed basic math and logic test. This is sometimes called the PST test. It is sent over to you via a link from the recruiter with instructions to follow.

The game-based pre-screening test gives you a high-level understanding of what a consulting engagement looks like by walking you through the various stages. The math-based test ensures you have the math and logic skills needed to succeed in consulting.

For a crash course on math, see MCO’s Consulting Math article.

HR Screening Call 

The recruiter will stay in close communication with you and invite you to a screening call. During this call, more information about the McKinsey experienced hire role is shared to make sure you feel confident in your understanding of the role. There will also be an opportunity to discuss your experience and ask questions.

The recruiter will conclude the call with a breakdown of the next steps in the interview process and direct you to firm resources you can use to prepare for the upcoming case interviews. Typically, these are limited and external resources such as our McKinsey case coaching provide extra support in the preparation.

Round 1 McKinsey Experience Hire Interviews

These 2-3 interviews are often carried out by Engagement Managers or Associate Partners. They are looking for your skills as well as fit. Top on their minds is, “Can I work with this person on my team?”

The interview is broken down into 3 parts:

  1.  Case interview: A hypothetical client problem is presented to you with a problem statement posed at the end. The goal of this part of the interview is to understand how you structure a large, ambiguous problem: to identify its key levers, understand the implications of emerging information, and use the facts in the case to draw insights and make conclusions.

    Experienced professionals have most likely not come across case interviews before and extensive preparation is required for them. For an overview, see the MCO Guide to Case Interview Prep.
  1. Behavioral interview or Personal Experience Interview (PEI): Questions that typically begin with, “Tell me about a time you…” are asked in this part of the interview. The interviewer will be looking to learn about your previous experience where you have shown leadership, entrepreneurial drive, and integrity.

    Experienced professionals have an advantage here as they usually have a myriad of professional accomplishments and experiences to select from. The trick is selecting and practicing the right ones.
  1. Your questions: You now have the opportunity to interview McKinsey. This is a good opportunity to learn more about the firm beyond what you have heard up to this point.

Round 2 McKinsey Experienced Hire Interviews:

These 2-3 interviews are carried out by the firm Partners. They are looking for skills and career trajectory. Top of their minds is, “Can this person find a meaningful career here?”

The interview’s 3 parts are the same as in Round 1.

The Offer

Less than a week after Round 2 interviews, candidates receive a feedback call from one of the interviewers letting them know if they were successful. Successful candidates expect to receive a written offer in the weeks that follow. 

Applying to McKinsey as an experienced hire candidate is a long process. It requires a good bit of work as you’ll need to learn about the firm, the consulting industry, and how to do well in a case interview. It’s not something to dive into without a great deal of thought, but can provide a gateway to an exciting new career.

In this article, we’ve covered:

  • Why consulting firms are hiring experienced professionals,
  • How to decide whether you’ll be good at management consulting,
  • How to decide whether you’ll enjoy working in consulting, and
  • What the McKinsey experienced hire recruiting process looks like.

About the Author

Dr. Wambui Waiganjo is an Associate Director at Rakuten-Medical Inc. in San Diego California, where she focuses on Corporate Strategy and Business Development. She worked as a Medical Doctor, then transitioned to a strategy role at McKinsey & Co. where she led cross functional engagements across a variety of industries. Wambui brings 9+ years’ progressive work experience on a wide range of topics and industries in various countries in Africa, Europe, the Middle East and the USA.

Wambui received her MBA from UCLA Anderson School of Management, focusing on finance and marketing, with a master’s thesis on developing a strategy for using data science (AI, Machine Learning and real-world evidence) in the drug development life cycle as a competitive advantage for a biopharma company.

Still have questions?

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Help with Your Consulting Application

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