October 23, 2016

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

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My name is Edlyn. As a recent graduate from University College London, I was determined to become a top strategy consultant. About a year ago, I had my final round at McKinsey. I failed…

Now, 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 past three months. So, all's well that ends well, right? Of course I can’t complain, but I am still disappointed with my performance on the day at the McKinsey Final Round. The reason I am writing this post, then, is that I believe I can give some useful advice to other candidates.

Some of what I say might seem obvious, some might offer only marginal gains: nonetheless, if I had known everything this post a year ago, I would probably be sitting in a McKinsey office right now.

I’ll start with the basics by explaining the key differences between the first and final rounds and then set out the three main lessons I learnt from my own failure.

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 the details of your personality and your  capacity to handle challenges independently.
  2. Time pressure: the Final Round tests your ability to perform under pressure, with three interviews in a row and often only very brief breaks in between. Within each interview, you will also be subject to more time pressure than earlier rounds.
  3. Psychological pressure: while interviews in the first round tend to more directly focus on simply cracking the case, second round interviewers often use a "bad cop" strategy to test how you react to challenges and uncertainty and perform under stress.

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

1: LEARN TO WITHSTAND PEI DEEP DIVES


Some partners will drill down into your experiences and achievements to an extreme. Don’t let this panic you - it doesn’t necessarily mean that your experiences are weak or irrelevant, it's simply their way of doing things. They want to understand how you react to challenges and gauge your capacity for reflection on past actions. That said, this cross-examination is a good reason (beyond basic honesty) never to lie in interview – under this level of scrutiny, it’s only a matter of time before things don’t add up!

Learn from my mistakes - in my final round I explained how I reacted to an unexpected challenge as the leader of a student club. When asked why I chose the course of action I did, as opposed to a better alternative, I was overly defensive and began rambling, trying to justify why my strategy was better. The interviewer looked very disappointed. They’re not looking for you to be dismissive of suggestions, but to be thoughtful and open to re-thinking your own decisions. Not being open to feedback is clearly a no-go for consultants. This alone could have finished my chances.

2: COMMUNICATE IN A TOP DOWN WAY

I had heard a lot about top-down communication, but thought that it seemed intuitive and generally pretty obvious. Unfortunately, the fact 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 for the business. I effectively delivered a tedious pre-amble without ever actually answering the question. Once again, the interviewer was clearly disappointed and moved on to the final part of the interview. Another definite no-go: Partners are incredibly anxious to get to the payoff. Even if the answer is "it depends" you need to start with that!

3: DON'T EXPECT TO SIMPLY COPY-AND-PASTE FRAMEWORKS

Before my McKinsey final round, I prepped intensively using Victor Cheng’s 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 very adaptable. Say you are given a case like "Should I buy a house on the beach or should I rent it?" - the interviewer expects 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 frameworks, I was totally unstructured in my analysis. I had yet to learn that consulting is about a way of thinking, not a collection of frameworks.

SO WHAT?

None of these three points are rocket science, but the fact is that most candidates struggle with precisely the same basic issues. If we think like a consultant and run a root-cause analysis of this phenomenon, we quickly discover the core issue - low quality preparation.

Now, let’s be clear, this is not a lack of preparation, or failure to learn. Consulting candidates are far from being either lazy or stupid. I poured time into my prep and learnt the sources I used cover-to-cover. Rather, the problem lies with the materials candidates are using – they are frankly just not fit for purpose. The sources candidates trust and throw themselves into using are what is letting them down.

This is where MyConsultingCoach comes in. They have developed a new, better approach to case prep - and it makes a lot of sense. MCC teach you the fundamental skills consulting interviews actually assess. It’s what got me into BCG and what I wish I had have used to prep for McKinsey. I’ll hand over to the MCC guys to let them explain more…

Our case interview method

Our MCC Academy case interview course was developed with a single goal in mind – to help candidates succeed by teaching them to think, act and communicate like a world-class strategy consultant. After completing our course, you’ll be equipped not only to ace the interview process, but also to hit the ground running on day one of the job.

The idea of getting hired by acquiring the fundamental skills associated with the job might seem obvious. However, our approach is actually in stark contrast to the old-fashioned case interview systems you have probably have run into already.

These other methods simply have you memorise perhaps a dozen “standard” frameworks. This short list of generic recipes is supposed to allow you to answer any case question the interviewer comes up with. This is in spite of the fact that that cases will be based on real engagements, where major firms were forced to call in consultants as they couldn’t solve the problem in-house… In short, frameworks are unlikely to give you correct answers.

Our unique Problem Driven Approach allows you to tackle each case on its own merits, developing a bespoke solution to capture all of the problem’s unique complexities – just like a real consultant! We equip you with everything you need to know, starting from the ground up. Specifically, we can support you in:

  1. Understanding business fundamentals: Get your mini-MBA with our Marketing, Strategy and Economics, Accounting & Finance modules
  2. Learning how to crack cases:  Identify the problem, build a bespoke problem driven structure, lead the analysis and how to provide recommendations.
  3. Accelerating your approach with our building blocks: Master profitability analysis, competitive dynamics, pricing discussions, among others to let you deal with recurring themes in cases without restricting you to simplistic frameworks.

Our coaching sessions

Coaching from a real MBB consultant can help even the best candidates pinpoint their weak points and turn them into strengths. As well as helping you master case studies, a coach will give you a new self-awareness of your profile and how best to position yourself for an MBB offer. Just as importantly, they will give you the confidence to know for sure you can succeed against such a formidable challenge!

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