Advanced Professional Degree McKinsey Application Process

mopman's picture
Rank: Senior Monkey | 88

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:

  1. I didn't get an offer.
  2. This will be applicable to people trying to enter through the APD process and probably less so for current undergrads.
  3. My aim is to summarize the whole process so I will inevitably repeat things from many posts that already exist on this board.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Summary Points

  1. 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
  2. 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
  3. They get back to you quickly and with useful feedback
  4. 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

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Comments (13)

Mar 7, 2011

This is really helpful! Thanks for the insider's scoop! All best of luck for your future pursuits!

Mar 7, 2011

Thanks man. This was great! I feel for you man for having made it that far and still coming up a bit short, but hey, keep it up and I'm sure you'll land a gig at a top consulting firm soon enough.

"Rage, rage against the dying of the light." - DT

Mar 7, 2011

I should also add that you should never get too excited and take anything for granted during the process. It just sets you up for a real punch in the gut if things go poorly

Mar 7, 2011

Nice buddy

Mar 7, 2011

As a candidate with a PhD's title, how can you leverage your degree as well as your research background? Have you received any questions related to your past research? Thanks.

Mar 7, 2011

My impression is that they don't care at all about your past research. Nobody ever asked anything close to detailed questions. They do care about why you want to switch and for that, I had a great story.
What they do care about is the problem solving you put into place every time you planned, hypothesized, conducted, troubleshot, and analyzed and experiment. Case studies are like really good group meetings where you get a great discussion going on how to fix a problem. That part translates directly and is something I took for granted. McKinsey's recruiting process actually made me appreciate the intangible training I have had and I didn't even realize was there.

Mar 7, 2011

I'll second exactly what mopman has been saying. it's all a very accurate description of the process.

MABird:

As a candidate with a PhD's title, how can you leverage your degree as well as your research background? Have you received any questions related to your past research? Thanks.

Every firm I interviewed with asked about my research at some point. They didn't care what it was about, but they were clearly testing whether I was capable of taking something complex and hard to understand and explain in a way that anyway can understand. It was like taking you research and explaining it to your grandmother.

At one point I was asked about my pharma internships, but it was more about how I would compare the different companies I worked with. That was a bit harder...trying to explain the high level view of an industry I had 9 months experience with to someone that spent the last 25 years in the industry.

Mar 7, 2011

Thumbs up!

phdconsultant:

I'll second exactly what mopman has been saying. it's all a very accurate description of the process.

MABird:

As a candidate with a PhD's title, how can you leverage your degree as well as your research background? Have you received any questions related to your past research? Thanks.

Every firm I interviewed with asked about my research at some point. They didn't care what it was about, but they were clearly testing whether I was capable of taking something complex and hard to understand and explain in a way that anyway can understand. It was like taking you research and explaining it to your grandmother.

At one point I was asked about my pharma internships, but it was more about how I would compare the different companies I worked with. That was a bit harder...trying to explain the high level view of an industry I had 9 months experience with to someone that spent the last 25 years in the industry.

Mar 9, 2011

Case study pointers
I've been thinking over this post and the responses that I've received and wanted to add another point. When preparing for case studies, you're going to come across a lot of profitability problems. You should be able to get good at these but do not make the mistake of studying them to the exclusion of other types of problems. In all honesty, they're the easy ones. They make up the majority of prep materials, case books, and actual interview case studies but they're probably the ones you need the least work on.

The one that dinged me was how to handle a competitor's offer to either buy your clients small business or directly compete with a free product. I'm not huge on frameworks, but looking back the 4Cs seem awfully appropriate or at least more appropriate than the weird reverse private equity buyout crap I came up with.

Mar 9, 2011

I found that McKinsey cases have a random/creative/hard to guess point that you don't have to get every time, but that you should probably figure out in 2-3 of your 5-7 interviews. I'm talking stuff like thinking used car auction prices for a car rental P&L case

Mar 10, 2011

I'll second that
The hard to guess part for one of my second round interviews was the idea of a rebate to stimulate demand of medical devices. There were some payer vs consumer issues that made it a little obscure but since I got 95% of the case, it went fine.
My impression is that the first ten minutes will make or break your case study. When you have to go through the motions of "do you mind if I take a moment", make sure you think about multiple approaches and don't just plunge headlong into a single one.

Mar 10, 2011

Thanks for sharing, mopman - best of luck.
I found that having studied the rigid 'Case In Point"-type frameworks for a few weeks was useful just because it gave me the confidence to move beyond them and know that I wasn't missing anything critical.

I definitely agree on being prepared for more than just profitability cases: one of my cases was about educational reform (school district as client), though that's probably an extreme example.

In terms of how to work out how to deal with the question, I found being very up front worked: ask for a moment to think, work about what you're being asked and brainstorm a few possible ways to get to a solution, and then directly propose your strategy(ies) to the interviewer. That way they know that you're aware there are multiple approaches, and can clarify whether or not they want you to focus on the quant side or just keep brainstorming out loud.

I tried to force enthusiasm even at the moments when I didn't feel it - maybe it didn't make a substantial difference, but I did get the offer, so I guess something worked right...

Feb 17, 2017
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