Q&A: I was a consultant and interviewer at McKinsey

I spent 5 years working as an innovation strategy consultant at McKinsey in the Montreal office. During that time I worked on projects around the world on a wide range of innovation-related subjects. I also interviewed many applicants for associate and analyst roles in Canada and elsewhere. I'm now the founder of Juniper, a boutique consulting firm, and co-founder of Vocaprep, a case interview preparation website. Ask me anything!


Comments (25)

Feb 15, 2018 - 10:07am

Hi Mike - Thanks for doing this AMA.

For someone trying to break into consulting coming from a non-target and finance background, what are some ways we can best position ourselves to get interviews and ultimately impress recruiters? Am planning on getting an MBA in 4-5 years, but what are the chances of breaking in earlier?

Best Response
Feb 15, 2018 - 11:00am

Thanks for the question Mike (great name by the way)!

Although the process is easier with an MBA - that's mostly because the machinery is more structured in business schools - it is absolutely possible to break into consulting without one. In fact, most consulting firms are now primarily looking for people from a variety of backgrounds (less than half the incoming batches have MBAs these days), and if you are prepared and motivated that should not be what holds you back.

You will need, however, to be able to explain your educational and professional experiences, why you took that path and why it makes you valuable. You also need to demonstrate your drive, achievement and problem solving abilities throughout.

There's really two steps - getting and interview and then passing it. Getting the interview will require a really good resume and cover letter and a whole bunch of networking (find consultants from your school, or other connections and talk with them, cold email people on LinkedIn with really good introductions, etc.). Once you've landed the interview, your background doesn't matter - it's all about how well you've prepared and practiced.

Mike Ross Vocaprep/Juniper
  • 3
Feb 15, 2018 - 11:06am

Hi Mike. Thanks for taking the time to do this! I am wondering how American MBA programs are viewed by Canadian McK recruiters. I am a Canadian w/ Canadian undergrad working in finance. I know you guys love your Rotman MBA's but would attending, say, Columbia or Kelogg for my MBA put me at a disadvantage for full time recruiting for the Toronto, Vancouver or Calgary offices? If I want to work in Canada do I have to attend Rotman/Ivey/QC?

Feb 15, 2018 - 12:58pm

Hi Jimmy,

That certainly wouldn't put you at a disadvantage. Recruiters are really smart - they know the various schools, how hard they are to get into, what good grades look like at each, etc. So, go where you will do your best, and enjoy the process (not just the end result)!

I interviewed people, but if you're interested in getting a recruiter's perspective, check out our podcast episode with Nora who was a recruiter at McKinsey for four years.

Mike Ross Vocaprep/Juniper
  • 1
Feb 15, 2018 - 11:16am

Mike: Thanks so much for doing this, and congrats on all of your success.

My question: when recruiting new associates coming out of MBA programs, did you consider their undergraduate GPA, or just their MBA GPA? I had a solid undergraduate GPA, but nothing that would set me apart from the elite crowd applying to big 3 consulting firms (probably right in the average of this applicant pool), and I am wondering if it will be viewed by future interviewers once I am enrolled in an MBA, or if they won't see it at all.

Feb 15, 2018 - 12:47pm

Hi! Thanks for your question. Common practice is to include both your Undergraduate and MBA GPAs.

The reality is that Undergrad grades are indicative of your underlying drive and ability to achieve. Your Undergrad GPA will be part of the package reviewed when determining whether to give you an interview, but the interviewers themselves won't care that much - they'll be much more focused on your performance in the interview itself.

You should focus on doing your best during your MBA (grades, awards, extra-curricular) so that you can show self-improvement. It's all about how you present it.

Best of luck!

Mike Ross Vocaprep/Juniper
  • 2
Feb 15, 2018 - 1:14pm


Thanks for all the sage advice thus far. My question is somewhat similar to the question above regarding undergraduate GPA.

I went to a small liberal arts school in the Midwest and graduated with a 3.16 GPA (typical immaturity issues the first couple years - turned it around for the last two). On the plus side, I scored 780 on the GMAT (50Q, 47V) and will be attending an m7 business school this fall and hoping to land an MBB summer internship offer. How much of a detractor will my low GPA be for receiving interview invitations? Will other positives in my profile be able to outweigh my UG GPA?

Thanks for your help.

Feb 15, 2018 - 2:07pm

That's a crusher GMAT and will certainly help your prospects.

I wouldn't worry that much about the UG GPA. Do well in your MBA courses, and make a decision at the application time on whether you want to talk about the good times you had in your first two years in your cover letter... Happy to look it over then - drop me a line through the vocaprep.com website.


Mike Ross Vocaprep/Juniper
Feb 17, 2018 - 2:23pm

Is UG GPA really that much of a focus for people with a post grad degree and work experience? I review resumes for one of your non MBB competitors and I barely even look at UG GPA. If I happen to see a 2.5, that might raise a red flag that I'd need to see overcome elsewhere, but if they've got an M7 MBA on the resume I assume it's safe to say that they've had to express a lot of drive post-UG to get in. But if it's that low it's probably not on there anyway. My UG GPA also wasn't great, and I interviewed with every top firm in my grad program (including all three MBB). It never felt like a roadblock, especially from a top business school.

Feb 15, 2018 - 1:22pm

I came across your podcast recently and I've thoroughly enjoyed it. Thank you for taking time today to do this.

I'm currently in public accounting (audit) and am looking to pivot into consulting. My plan is to go to Washington University of St Louis to get my MBA. My question is, what would be realistic expectations of getting an interview with McK even for the Midwest region of the US after going to a mid-20s ranked MBA program? Would I be better served trying to get into other schools?

Feb 15, 2018 - 2:04pm

Glad you enjoyed the podcast!

It's always hard to predict chances without seeing your full profile and I don't know individual US schools that well. I would ask the career services folks at Washington University to see how many folks they place in MBB on a given year. Then you can compare that to other schools and that should give you a better idea. Good luck!

Mike Ross Vocaprep/Juniper
Feb 15, 2018 - 1:33pm

Thanks everyone for your questions! This has been fun, and I'll answer the couple questions that I haven't answered yet before leaving, but I'm going to stop here for today.

For those of you who want to get into consulting, you can check out Vocaprep for free stuff on applications and interviews, and get a 15% discount on the course by using the code AMA15 (within the next 24 hours).


Mike Ross Vocaprep/Juniper
Feb 15, 2018 - 2:13pm

Hey Mike! Thank you for doing this. I have found this discussion very useful. One quick question for you. In your time at Mckinsey have you seen any consultants make the shift from Big 4 Consulting (Pwc, EY, Deloitte, KPMG) to Mckinsey? Is this something very difficult/rare? I recently got an offer for an engagement manager role with EY Strategy Consulting and wanted to assess my chances of a future move to Mckinsey.


Feb 16, 2018 - 9:43am

Sure - I saw it happen a lot. It's not super rare, but I don't know the ratio of how many people try vs. how many make it. One way to improve your chances would be to have a really topical expertise (i.e. Advanced Analytics these days). But it'll be the rest of your profile that will get you in (I don't think that other firm work would either help or hurt you, beside the caveat regarding topical expertise).

Mike Ross Vocaprep/Juniper
Feb 18, 2018 - 2:00am

How does networking/referral/"pushing" actually work in the application process for MBB?

People often refer to sway that each rank has, in a qualitative manner, but how does that translate to the actual application process?

Say a partner really likes you, but your grades wouldn't normally qualify. Does the partner's recommendation unilaterally get you past the screening stage & take it out of the hands of recruiters? Or is it just a weighing factor? Or does this depend on what the partner does? E.g. mentioning something offhand to a recruiter v. acting much more affirmatively (assuming that this is something that they can do)

Does the same apply for Manager level? EM/PL level?

To go along with that in a more general sense, what is the effect of having people in a particular office know you? Excepting the earlier scenario, how do consultants in an office impact your application? (Besides the final decision at second round, when the office's consultants are actually deciding v. the screening done by recruiters)

Lastly, is that effect substantial? E.g. assuming that they both have the relevant ties and credentials, would a Stern undergrad and a UCLA undergrad be shooting themselves in the foot by applying for the opposite coast's offices?

Feb 21, 2018 - 3:30pm

Mike, thanks for your posts. They're informative.

I'm applying to MBB this summer as an APD candidate from sociology. What do you think I need to emphasize to most stand out in my cover letter/resume? I'm sure these firms know a sociology PhD isn't going to have the same types of internships as an MBA. So how can I compensate for this and show that I really stand out amongst the engineers and MBA students?


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