“What is the most common reason candidates fail the interview with you?” I asked my friend, a McKinsey partner and former mentor.
I had done by then plenty of mock interviews with candidates and had once been a candidate myself, but I was curious what he’d say. Everybody has their own answer.
“Common sense,” he replied.
At first I thought he was joking, but reflecting on my own experience, there’s hardly a better way to put it. The thing is, many elements are important to pass an interview with a top consulting firm: case study practice, knowledge of frameworks, genuine personal fit stories, self-control under pressure, etc. Partners making the final hiring decision may bat an eye at one of these, deeming it coachable along the way, but they will never pass someone without common sense.
Common sense, of course, means critical thinking, which is the ability to genuinely, actively think through the case and have a conversation with the interviewer. It does not mean taking a super busy senior consultant or Partner and dragging them through frameworks. That’s not what the job is about. That’s not how it works. What they all have in mind as you’re speaking is “What will happen if I have this person in my team and I put them in front of the client? Will they manage?” They usually figure it out quite fast.
That’s what I focus on primarily - coaching mindset. That is, of course, a lot harder than teaching you frameworks, but it is essential. For instance, having a positive, constructive outlook about the recruitment process and engaging with the interviewer like they are a supporter and not a gatekeeper, will help you not only pass the interview, but perform among the top consultants once inside the firm.
Of course, beyond this, we will cover all the things that are important and you can’t do without: the case studies, the frameworks and so on. My approach goes along the McKinsey personal growth strategy: strengths based development. We’ll find out your strengths and make them shine. Those are your spikes. Then we’ll figure out where you’re missing the mark and how to bring you at a good enough level. If you try to be great in everything, you’ll most likely be great in nothing.
The reason I do this is because I have a strong belief: anybody can be a top management consultant. Everything is coachable. Nobody is born doing it. What makes the difference is how committed you are to the goal (i.e. what is the intensity you’re willing to practice at x the time you’re willing to take).
Lastly, as a word of warning: I am very honest. I have nothing to lose. And the only way I can win is to get as many people hired as possible. As I’ve often told candidates, interviews can be moved, rarely repeated. If you are not ready, I will tell you on the spot and we’ll then plan together how and what you need to get there. Now you can relax, you’re in good hands.
About me (the too honest version)
I joined McKinsey out of accident. As I was about to graduate from Oxford I was offered a great job which I decided last minute not to take. The job required some sacrifices I was not willing to make. Fresh out of university, I found myself jobless and with no clue which way to go. My girlfriend at the time was applying for management consulting. It seemed like the cherry at the top of the corporate world. It was worth a shot. I practiced hard (including on PrepLounge), got a few offers and chose McKinsey. I was so happy!
Thing is, I hated the job at the start. My performance also suffered. By the end of the first year I was close to “issues”, which in McKinsey terms is the last step before being encouraged to look for another job. I sought out mentorship and I spent a lot of time thinking about my own path. I gradually understood that I was not just ‘a consultant’, but an agent of change within the Firm and the client’s organization. With my mindset, my performance changed. During the last three years at the firm I was consistently in the top quartile of Firm performers in the region. I was promoted twice, worked across eight countries and nine industries. I had clients genuinely, personally, thank me for the impact I delivered. I spent time coaching more junior colleagues and acted as faculty at McKinsey’s new joiners training (basically coaching those already in about how to take their game to the next level).
Recently, I quit McKinsey. It was a great place, but I decided it was time to move on. Like in a marriage where we just grew apart but stayed friends, we still share nice memories of each other. I now write, I started a professional coaching business and I cause mayhem with my one-year old son. It’s great a life.
Feel free to reach out! I’m always happy to share advice and talk about my experience. Most importantly, stay positive. Anybody can do this. Just set a clear goal, make a plan, listen to the experts, stay consistent and just do it! I’ll be cheering you on from the back.