October 23, 2016

Three things I wished I knew before my final round at McKinsey

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I am Edlyn, a recent graduate from University College London determined to become a top strategy consultant. About a year ago, I had my final round at McKinsey and I failed. The reason why I am writing on this blog is that after getting rejected at McKinsey I reached out to My Consulting Coach and they helped me secure an offer from BCG, where I've been working for the last 3 months. So, all's well that ends well? Yes, but I am still disappointed in my performance on the day of the McKinsey Final Round and I feel there are some good suggestions I could give to other candidates. Some of them might be obvious, others might be marginal; nonetheless, if I knew all of them I would probably be now sitting in the McKinsey office. First of all let me introduce the key difference between the first round and the final round:

WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN FIRST ROUND AND FINAL ROUND INTERVIEWS?

  1. Focus: Since interviewers in the Final Round are senior (usually partners with 10+ years experience), they will be more interested in your personality and ability to handle challenges independently
  2. Time pressure: the Final Round tests your ability to perform under pressure, with 3 interviews in a row and often very small breaks between them
  3. Psychological pressure: while interviews in the first round are usually more focused on simply cracking the case, second round interviewers often use the "bad cop" strategy to test the way candidates react to challenges and uncertainty

THREE THINGS I WISHED I KNEW BEFORE MY FINAL ROUND AT MCKINSEY    

#1: LEARN TO STAND PEI DEEP DIVES

Some partners will literally drill down into your experiences and achievements to the extreme. It does not necessarily mean that your experiences are weak or irrelevant, it's simply their style. They want to understand how you react to challenges and how reflective you are with regard to what you have done in the past. My mistake? I was explaining the way I reacted to an unexpected challenge as the leader of a club and, asked why I chose that course of action vs. a different (better) alternative, I was overly defensive and began rambling about the reason why the course of action that I picked was better. The interviewer got really disappointed. They don't expect you to be dismissive, but thoughtful and open to re-thinking yourself. Not being open to feedback is clearly a no-go for consultants. I wish I had watched this video before.

#2: DON'T EXPECT TO USE COPY-AND-PASTE FRAMEWORKS

Before my McKinsey final round I prepped intensively using Victor Cheng resources and Case in Point. The truth is that those frameworks are great if you are dealing with a simple, open ended case like "We are starting to export Coca Cola in Burma, what should we think about?". However standard copy-and-paste frameworks are not that adaptable if you are getting a case like "Should I buy a house on the beach or should I rent it?". They expect you to come up with a structure that is simple, relevant, and which gets to the final answer quickly. And that's exactly what I did not do in the beach house case: faced with a case that I could not force fit into any framework, I was totally unstructured. It's about a way of thinking, not a collection of frameworks. The good news is that you can learn it, the bad news is that books are not enough. In order to get there you need to practice with experienced mentors.

#3: COMMUNICATE IN A TOP DOWN WAY

I heard a lot about top-down communication and it seemed intuitive and obvious. The truth, however, is that I was very far from being a top down communicator. When asked whether I would choose option A or B, I started explaining in detail what the consequences of both actions were on the business, and, after a long introduction I realized I didn't even answer the question. The interviewer was clearly disappointed and moved on to the final part of the interview. A clear no-go again: Partners are incredibly anxious to get to the punch line. Even if the answer is "it depends" you'd better start with it.

BONUS: NEVER SURRENDER

While in the first two interviews I clearly made some serious mistakes due to lack of preparation, the third one could potentially have been a success. "Potentially, because I was so overwhelmed and angry with myself for my mistakes in the previous two interviews that I felt everything was lost. So, I did not put enough effort, got simple calculations wrong, was not able to come to an obvious conclusion of the case. To be fair I am not sure whether a good performance in the last interview would have been enough to counterbalance the previous two, but I lost that tiny chance. And it was entirely my fault.

EPILOGUE

After my failed final round at McKinsey I had three more weeks to prep for my big day at BCG and after hearing a good review from a friend, I joined the Booster Mentoring programme. I can say it was the best investment of my life, for the three typical reasons that make investments good: yield, time, and cost. The yield is pretty straighforward: I managed to get the best offer I could ever get after being rejected at McKinsey. Time worked well: in less than three weeks the interviewers pushed me to understand the way a consultant would think about basically any problem. And cost. It's true: the Booster programme was about 2,400 USD, but several other programmes online were way more expensive and less structured. And in BCG I was able to recoup the money within a few weeks.