I just concluded the third and final round of interviews for an associate summer internship at McKinsey and thought I would share my experiences and thoughts on the process.
McKinsey APD Interview Process
First a few disclaimers:
- I didn't get an offer.
- This will be applicable to people trying to enter through the APD process and probably less so for current undergrads.
- My aim is to summarize the whole process so I will inevitably repeat things from many posts that already exist on this board.
- I can't say for sure but I'm guessing this process is very similar to what will occur in September for full time positions.
- I applied without networking.
First Round Interview for PhDs at McKinsey
As I stated, I applied through the APD program because I have a PhD in biochemistry and I am currently nearing the end of my postdoctoral research. This was for a summer internship position because I figured I would get a jump on recruiting for full time positions that start in September for jobs available in 2012.
McKinsey Problem Solving Test
I was invited up to the DC office for round 1, which consisted of a 60 minute multiple choice test that sucks for everybody (the dreaded PST). I'm not sure whether you can practice for it or not, but all I did was take the practice exam on the McKinsey site and then proceed to the case studies thinking that I had already failed. The case studies were great.
The level of preparation at this stage had no correlation with who made it to round 2. I know this because they give you the contact info of everybody who makes it past the first cut. I'm 99% sure the only cutoff at this stage is whether you did well on the test.
You can learn more about the PST in the video below.
The next morning at 9:05am I got an email saying I was invited back for round 2 even though I was sure that I had not advanced to the next round. I was obviously shocked and felt like I had to get busy preparing immediately.
A great aspect of the process is that you get the contact info of somebody that did a case study with you and get their feedback on what to improve.
Preparing for the 2nd Round McKinsey Consulting Interview
My preparation for round 2 was to scour the internet for case studies and advice on how to take them. I didn't buy any books, didn't have anybody local who could help me with mock interviews and had zero experience outside of the group exercises in round 1.
I found the free content on Victor Cheng's site and case books on simplythecase to be very helpful. I read all the advice I could find, read up on frameworks, and went through the cases I had available.
I went through three interviews, each with a short personal portion where they asked me to describe a situation where I had a conflict, was a leader, or had to work as a team. While the questions and to a degree, my answers, were rehearsed, this portion proceeded pretty conversationally. In hindsight I would have been less honest.
They are NOT looking for honesty or out of the box thinking unless you actually did manage to double a company's profits, save children from a burning orphanage, and overthrow a dictator. They want concrete examples of where you resolved the conflict, saved the day, emerged as the team leader. I had stories that demonstrated some of those qualities, but my advice is polish them up and make sure they end in happily ever after. Of course, do that while making sure you don't sound like you're lying.
Second Round Case Studies
The case studies were pretty similar to others I had practiced except that they seemed to have more forthcoming information. They all had a quantitative aspect to them with varying degrees of qualitative discussion as well. The first was essentially a math problem with a few "anything else" brainstorming parts.
Second, was an easier math problem that developed from a straight forward profitability question (this one went the best of the three) and the last was a similar mix with a lot of "anything else" delivered by an EM with a very direct and almost confrontational personality.
Again, I wasn't sure how I did. But...I got an email at 4pm the next day inviting me to round 3. This one would be up in NYC and the HR people, being amazing at what they do, made me feel like I was being actively recruited. In their words, the NYC office was "very excited" about interviewing me.
Again, I got more feedback, this time from the very "direct" EM. He said I should work on my creativity in coming up with solutions, but that my structure and logic were good. No real feedback on what I'll affectionally call the storytelling.
Third Round Interview with McKinsey
I spent the next two weeks doing more of the same preparation. For the previous two rounds, McKinsey was very generous with reimbursement for travel and that didn't change for round three.
Then came the interview. Three more personality and case studies, this time with partners instead of associates and EMs.
My first one was with a very stoic partner and my best guess was that it went well. He seemed receptive to my background story and I'm pretty sure the case study went alright. The second one was another story. This guy was very outgoing and made me feel at ease. However, I'm pretty sure he didn't like my story. This was a time I had conflict at work and the take home message was how I handled the situation the best that I could and what I learned from it, but it didn't have a magical fairy tale ending and I think the partner didn't like that so much.
Final Round Case Interview
Then came the case study. It was different from any I had come across. It had some numbers in it, but that wasn't the point. Looking back I realize it was pretty qualitative and was supposed to be about brainstorming instead of what I did, which was forcing the limited data through a math meat grinder trying to answer it quantitatively. There's no way around it, I bombed this one. I think about a thousand more case studies in practice would have helped and slowing down a bit, but really it just threw me off my game and there was no saving it.
Lastly, my third interview went really well. The experience part was very short and the partner seemed happy with my responses and I'm pretty sure I nailed every aspect of the case, which was a pretty straight forward profitability one. The partner from the interview I bombed called me that night giving me the bad news in most polite way possible and gave me feedback that pretty much confirmed my suspicions.
- Prepare! Do a many case studies in a variety of formats and make sure you have stories with happy endings, even if the real story is more complicated
- They try to make you feel at ease, almost to a fault. It's hard to gauge how things are going when the people are so friendly no matter what
- They get back to you quickly and with useful feedback
- They take care of you. They have the money and are generous about reimbursement
I hope this helped and good luck to all of those that will hopefully make it where I couldn't. Feel free to message me if you have questions
Read more about McKinsey on the Wall Street Oasis Company Database.
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