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McKinsey final round PEI

New answer on May 27, 2020
6 Answers
3.2 k Views
Sue asked on May 31, 2019

Hi there,

I had one of two of my final round interviews yesterday and unfortunately it did not go well. The interviewer asked me for a time I overcame a difficult challenge. I responded with an example where I was leading a client team and how I had to convince them to do the task at hand despite them not wanting to. He wasn't happy with that response and asked for another example. Can you please share examples of what a really difficult challenge is and specifically what was done to over come it - either from interviews you have heard or your own personal experiences?

Thank you

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Content Creator
replied on May 31, 2019
#1 BCG coach | MBB | Tier 2 | Digital, Tech, Platinion | 100% personal success rate (8/8) | 95% candidate success rate

HI Sue,

My first impression is that this wasn't really a difficult challenge - unless this was a long, drawn out issue of the client team underperforming, putting at risk the entire project?

Generally, you want to make sure your story:

  • Results in significant consequence - What would have happened if you didn't overcome this challenge?
  • Clearly demonstrates traits interviewer wants to see - Did you show strong leadership? Problem solving and insight? Adaptability? Persistance? Or, better, all the above?
  • Has a clear problem identification and resolution

When I was asked in interview about overcoming a difficult challenge, I used this story: I joined a project on which we were the prime. The project was on fire, failing fast, and about to be cancelled. I was tasked with leading the development team which was of incredibly low quality and moral. First, I fixed the dev team through x,y,z actions. Second, I went above my paygrade and fixed project management through x,y,z actions. This resulted in me saving the project worth x million $ and everybody happy.

I'm happy to dive into more detail around this outside of the Q&A, but I do hope this helps clarify what's expected!

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Content Creator
replied on May 31, 2019
McKinsey offers w/o final round interviews - 100% risk-free - 10+ years MBB coaching experience - Multiple book author

Hi Sue,

Thanks for sharing your experience. Based on the super-short summary of the real situation happening in the interview I can only give you a general impression and assumption though.

Firstly, technically speaking the McKinsey PEI is a behavioural interview which is based on a real situation/experience from your past (as opposed to a situational interview). By definition, we therefore need some context in which you demonstrated your skills. However, this general situation/context is way to overrated - what really counts is your contribution in terms of actions, but even more importantly your decision-making rationale. I.e. how you systematically overcome challanges in a very conscious structured thinking process.

Secondly, based on your short summary I understand your main focus was on convincing the team. Usually I recommend candidates having 3-5 challenges at hand, so that the interviewer can also choose in which direction he wants to go in more detail. So not sure if you discussed multiple challenges, or if this was the only one?

Thirdly, assuming now the convincing part was the only challange which you discussed, this sounds much more like a Personal Impact examples, as opposed to Entrepreneurial Drive (which I assume based on your summary it was). So it might be that you focused on a different dimension/aspect - and it sounds more like a "to-do" to me than a real difficult challenge for which you firstly need to think clearly on how to overcome it in a structured way.

Hope that helps!


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Sue on Jun 03, 2019

Hi Robert, thank you very much for your in-depth response. I will try to think of a time I faced multiple challenges, though I feel like they're after a REALLY REALLY challenging situation (success of project depend on you) of which I don't have. In my experience they have also not asked me a lot on my PEI, they just let me talk for a long time. Is this normal? Thanks again.

Anonymous replied on May 27, 2020

Dear Sue,

I agree with experts, that it's not about store itself, it's mostly about you, how strongly you communicate your achievements there. For your future tries I would recommend you to use the following structure (and remember not to run trhrough these points, but to communicate them brightly and clear):

1. Situation (background)

2. Problem (Complication)

3. Your approach (how did you manage this problem)

4. Results (Outcomes of your approach)

5. Your learnings (what you take from this situation)

If you can apply this framework to every of your PEI stories and communicate in a top-down way, you would definitely leave great impression. For more details, feel free to approach me.

Good luck,


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Content Creator
replied on May 27, 2020
McKinsey | Awarded professor at Master in Management @ IE | MBA at MIT |+180 students coached | Integrated FIT Guide aut


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replied on May 31, 2019
BCG | Kellogg MBA |82% Success rate| 450+ case interview| 5+ year consulting | 30+ projects in ~10 countries

Hi there,

I see that our experts already mentioned great points. I would add one additional dimension. Most of the times it is not about which story you are talking but it is more about how you are telling your story. How well are you addressing pain points and your actions and their impacts? Happy to offer you free 10 min call to refine your answer to difficult challenge together.



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Sue on Jun 03, 2019

Thank you Serhat, I really appreciate it! I would love to take you up on your offer if possible. My last interview is this Thursday if you have any time before then. Thank you!

Anonymous replied on May 31, 2019

Hi Sue,
At least in Germany, McKinsey provides very detailled information on the PEI Interview part in advance. Most importantly, it can count up to 50% of your assessment, so the return on invested time into the PEI definitely is significant.

McKinsey tests 3 dimensions: Drive, Impact and Leadership.

Drive refers to something you did, against all odds, on your own.

Impact refers to a situation where you convinced someone else of your idea.

Leadership refers to a situation where you enabled a team.

McKinsey considers these 3 to be the most important traits of successful consultants, and so they will ask in detail to ensure (1) the story is real, (2) you are structured and take time to reflect upon your thoughts, emotions and decisions and (3) you created an impact, ideally a measurable one.

I recommend to prepare 2 (or even 3) stories per dimension, and train all of them.

Each story can follow the STAR framework or the PARADE framework. If you google them you'll find information in more detail. Hope this helps.

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