From a top-down perspective, please differentiate McKinsey vs. all other top consulting firms.
Whereas in all "other" consulting firms you have more traditional and unstructured personal fit interviews, McKinsey has created a highly standardized "Personal Experience Interview" (McKinsey PEI).
For "other" firms, you can get your answer best from books like "Sweaty Palms" (Medley) and similar, so I don't go into more details for that here.
For the McKinsey PEI, all candidates underestimate the importance of the Personal Experience Interview (PEI), as well as the difficulty to do it really well. So it is comparably easy to stand out from the crowd, compared to the case interview (most candidates focus nearly exclusively on the case interview itself and neglect the PEI). So it's a good niche to massively improve your chances of getting an offer.
How to prepare your McKinsey PEI
1) Get a clear understanding of what McKinsey wants you to talk about
Many candidates come into my PEI coaching sessions well prepared. Well prepared for sure yes, but unfortunately they have well prepared answers for the wrong questions.
So before jumping into the middle of preparing your answers to McKinsey PEI questions, hold on for a second and don’t make the same mistake as many other candidates, and don’t waste your precious prep time to come up with answers for the wrong questions.
Therefore, before thinking about your answers, let’s think about the questions and - in broader terms - about the 3 PEI dimensions (yes, there are only 3 dimensions; “Problem solving” is referring to the case interview and thus not explicitly part of the PEI): Leadership, Personal Impact, and Entrepreneurial Drive. Before going any further, make sure you have a crystal-clear understanding of the 3 PEI dimensions and where to focus on.
2) Before going deep, lets firstly think broadly
Again, before jumping into the middle of preparing your answers, let’s firstly think broadly to get an overview of all your potential PEI examples. Like in a brainstorming, feel free to jot down as many potential PEI examples as you can think of - we can sort and order them in a second step.
For getting all your potential PEI examples in order, the following simple matrix usually helps. As a further categorization to the 3 PEI dimensions, I added the general context of the potential PEI examples on the x-axis.
(Whenever in doubt, rather use recent examples from a professional context, since those examples are the easiest ones for the interviewer to mentally transfer to a consulting context and imagine you succeeding there. At the same time, having examples from various different contexts will give your McKinsey interviewer a more comprehensive picture of your experiences and personality.)
3) Structuring your PEI examples
After having an overview of all potential examples and having prioritized them based on the fit to the respective 3 dimensions, it’s time to think about their storyline and start structuring them. Remember, “ABS” (Always Be Structured) is not only valid for McKinsey case interviews, but also for the McKinsey Personal Experience Interview. For this, I have dedicated a distinct blog post on how to structure your McKinsey PEI.
4) Practice, practice, practice .. and get outside feedback and fine-tune your PEI examples
Once you have chosen the best-fitting examples and structured them, it’s time to practice. It is of vital importance in the preparation process not only to develop your example in your mind, but also to really deliver it to another person.
Actually saying a lot of things out loud sounds completely different (and sometimes probably quite unnatural) than just thinking about them in your mind. Speaking out loud helps you to get your message across in an authentic manner.
In addition, here is a quick checklist of issues to consider, which proved to be useful for many candidates to remember:
- Be very, very specific with your stories
- Choose recent stories for the interview which you remember well
- Focus on your achievement/skills, not on your team or group
- Talk about your specific skills, not about the situation in general
- ABS .. always be structured, also in your PEI
- Show your self-reflection and how quick you learn
- Be prepared to also talk about "soft" facts of your story
- Practice a lot, but make sure it does not sound recanned
- Don’t fake a story – any skilled interview will notice immediately
For in-depth prep of your McKinsey PEI, I put together a a comprehensive dedicated guide (~170 pages solely on how to actually do well in your personal experience interview) available as ebook (https://pei.consulting-case-interviews.com/).
Recently I have added a blog with free expert advice on the McKinsey PEI where I am sharing some answers on the most common PEI questions that I receive from candidates - you might want to browse through some posts: https://pei.consulting-case-interviews.com/blog/
For individual high-impact PEI prep, time permitting, I also do have some slots every now and then for McKinsey PEI Coachings - just send me a message if you are interested in a McKinsey offer.
Hope that helps - if so, please give it a thumbs-up with the green upvote button below!