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How smart do I have to be to join an elite firm like McKinsey or BCG?

BCG intelligence IQ MBB McKinsey smartness
New answer on Sep 14, 2020
7 Answers
14.5 k Views
Anonymous A asked on Dec 13, 2018

I have always been impressed and almost a little bit intimidated by the degree of smartness, speed of thinking and capacity to cut through complex concepts that can be observed with consultants at elite firms (MBB). So I wonder how smart do candidates need to be in order to break into these firms and to become successful? From the outside, it almost seems like everybody there is a genius in his/her own right - but from common sense I doubt this is possible. How would you see this - is "normal smartness" enough, or is it necessary to be an IQ>150 super brain? (for reference, I was measured on several occasions with IQ beween 126 and 132, which was enough to excel at school and at university).

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replied on Dec 13, 2018
McKinsey Senior EM & BCG Consultant | Interviewer at McK & BCG for 7 years | Coached 350+ candidates secure MBB offers

Hey there,

calm down! :-)

You certainly need to meet a certain threshold regarding cognitive smartness ("IQ"). However, you do not need to be Albert Einstein for sure! If you meet that required IQ floor level, it is much more important that you

  • are able to navigate social/political client settings,
  • build trust quickly,
  • know how to provide guidance and direction to individuals and groups, accounting for different types of personalities
  • have the work ethic to put in the hours, which can be brutal at times.

This is why you need a well-rounded profile as a consultant - if it was only about cognitive smartness, the firms could just go and offer huge salary packages to the best graduates from the most difficult PhD programmes at universities around the globe.

Cheers, Sidi

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replied on Dec 13, 2018
Ex-MBB, Experienced Hire; I will teach you not only the how, but also the why of case interviews

I am living proof you don't need a 150 IQ :)

As Sidi says, there indeed needs to be a certain "intelligence" baseline (whatever intelligence is) - but much of it is mind set, hard work and prep. I was actually just reading the story of Richard Feynman, who got a PhD in Physics, helped design the atomic bomb, got a Nobel, and did art, music, lock picking... in his spare time. His IQ? 125. See, YOU could be a Physics Nobel!

PS: The IQ test is extremely flawed. First designed in France in the late 19th century, it is a remnant of an older age, when people though you could quantify and measure everything. Its value is directional, at best - and for only one type of intelligence

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Anonymous on Dec 17, 2018

And by the way: IQ tests are always designed in a way that the inventor of the test scores extremely high. So it measures more whether you are similar to the inventor ;-)

replied on Dec 26, 2018
Collected McKinsey & BCG offers/ Ex-McKinsey consultant/Harvard/WBS/MSU

Hi A,

It is the nature of work that pushes people to be smart. Clients pay a lot like millions dollars for projects. People are to be creative, so that clients feel that the consultants are unique substances.

To be honest, common features all consultants have are the following:

  1. Unique story, which distinguishes them from other candidates
  2. Ability to divide complex projects into easy and manageable parts (idea of structuring came from physics in 1930s)
  3. Think outside the box to offer creative solutions, which they have never thought about, for clients
  4. Have stamina to work long hours
  5. Desire to develop constantly. (Working culture pushes a lot - if you don’t develop, you are out)

As you can see, it does not depend on your IQ at all.

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Anonymous replied on Sep 13, 2020

Hi A,

You don't need to be a genius! It may seem so from the outside but the thing is that consultants:

  1. study hard to get all needed knowledge;
  2. work on building a network;
  3. practice intensively preparing for the interviews and getting to know different types of cases and their structure so they succeed in real ones.

By doing all these things almost anyone strongly willing to be a consultant, trying his best, and having a strong motivation could become one. It's all about your desire, efforts, and uniqueness (what can you bring to the table?).



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Anonymous updated the answer on Dec 17, 2018

By the way, with an IQ of >130 you'd already be in the 98th percentile, and while people at MBB are smart, they are not all top 2%-smart.

As mentioned by all the others, intelligence is just one factor. I know some incredibly intelligent people (I'm talking Rain Man-esque abilities) that would not survive one day on a project and some people I wouldn't consider uber-brains but that are worth their weight in gold on a project.

So no need to worry.



PS: Being too smart can be an issue as well, by the way. If you are always 2 or 3 mental steps of your counterpart (say a client) it can be a challenge to adjust your pace, language, and communication without seeming patronizing or condescending.

I guess Shania Twain said it best:

I've known a few guys who thought they were pretty smart

But you've got being right down to an art

You think you're a genius, you drive me up the wall

You're a regular original, a know-it-all

Oh-oo-oh, you think you're special

Oh-oo-oh, you think you're something else

OK, so you're a rocket scientist

That don't impress me much

So you got the brain but have you got the touch?

Now don't get me wrong, yeah, I think you're alright

But that won't keep me warm in the middle of the night



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Anonymous replied on Dec 14, 2018

I fully agree with Guennael and Sidi. You do not need to be a genius or even that smart to be a consultant. The truth is most tasks just require you to have a basic level of intelligence and ability to think in a structured way, coupled with hard work.

In fact, being extremely intelligent does not necessarily mean you'd make a good consultant. In fact, MBB will reject hundreds of extremely intelligent people that wouldn't make good consultants.

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Anonymous replied on Sep 14, 2020

No, you don't But you do have to have the willingness to continue learning your entire career.

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