Non-Traditional Background - Interviewing at McKinsey

First Round McKinsey McKinsey & Company Non-traditional
New answer on May 15, 2023
8 Answers
Emma asked on May 02, 2023

Hi Everyone! I'm ecstatic as I just received an interview invitation for McKinsey, but there's a small problem…

I graduated in Art History from Brown University. I feel like I'm completely lacking in analytical ability and business sense, and I worry that I'll fail this.

I've just started my case prep journey – and if any of you have packages that you would recommend for a total beginner, I'd love to chat.

But my question is… even if I do well on cases and I demonstrate ability, will my non-traditional concentration count against me in the interview process? Or am I essentially on the same footing as everyone else?

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Content Creator
updated an answer on May 03, 2023
Ex-BCG Principal | 8+ years consulting experience in SEA | BCG top interviewer with ~5 years of interviewing experience

Hi Emma,

Congrats on the interview invitation!

Sharing my perspective based on coming also from a non-traditional background (I majored in History in undergraduate), as well as spending 5 years as an interviewer at BCG. I do also understand and empathize with your struggles as I have been there myself. I'll answer your key question first, before sharing a couple of other thoughts and tips w.r.t. to a concern earlier mentioned

Will my non-traditional concentration count against me in the interview process? Or am I essentially on the same footing as everyone else?

  • Your background will not count against you at all in the interview process, and you will be on the same footing as everyone else
  • Once you are in the interview process, you will be solely judged on your performance during the interview itself
  • Of course, interviewers may choose to probe or test you on certain areas they feel you might be weaker in, but if you demonstrate sufficient ability it doesn't matter what background you are

I feel like I'm completely lacking in analytical ability and business sense, and I worry that I'll fail this

  • Coming from a non-traditional background typically means that you will have some weaker areas
  • Normally, this is in terms of business knowledge (e.g. understanding basic business concepts needed for the interview), business sense, as well as quantitative reasoning/skills (typically for liberal arts / social science backgrounds)
  • However I would strongly challenge (or urge you to reconsider) whether you are really lacking in analytical ability
    • All top undergraduate programs have some form of rigour, and I believe that a liberal arts / arts based degree also does train analytical ability (with the exception of maybe the performing arts)
    • In Art History - you are thinking about the past and trying to understand what happened, why and even the how; you are trying to understand the implications and interconnections between for e.g. milieu, ideas/concepts, personalities, technical knowledge/skill etc → all of this to come up with a POV on something
    • I'm guessing you've sat through exam papers or class papers that required you to come up with an argument to answer a question. Maybe something like “To what extent was Caravaggio an important influence to the Baroque period” or “how successful do you think modern and contemporary artists are in changing museum and gallery concepts/contexts"
      • Questions like these still require you to demonstrate analytical ability and to take ‘data’ (pieces of information) to support your argument
      • Writing something like 'in this painting, Caravaggio is able to introduce a drastic change in religious and emotional tone vis-a-vis the earlier renaissance era with chiaroscuro" is a form of argumentation and analysis
      • Or even if your analysis is a technical one e.g." This effect is achieved by the artist using these brush strokes and by combining these special pigments" → This is still a form of analysis

Based on my own experience studying history, I realized that during my preparation I was actually very familiar with hypothesis-based problem solving, qualitative analysis and argumentation, but I had zero familiarity with business knowledge/sense and quant. However these things are definitely possible to build up with the right preparation.

I feel that many non-traditional candidates have transferrable skills, but often struggle how to think about it. Happy to chat more - feel free to drop me a dm.

All the best!


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Content Creator
replied on May 03, 2023
#1 Coach for Sessions (4.000+) | 1.500+ 5-Star Reviews | Proven Success (➡ | Ex BCG | 10Y+ Coaching

Hi Emma,

Q: Even if I do well on cases and I demonstrate ability, will my non-traditional concentration count against me in the interview process? Or am I essentially on the same footing as everyone else?

Once you reach the interview stage, in theory you should be judged just based on your performance there. 

At the same time, if an interviewer can review your CV it could be indirectly influenced by it, which is why some companies like Bain started to use a CV-blind interview approach. In any case, for major consulting companies I would not worry about a possible bias as they are actively trying to increase diversity.

For general prep tips, you can check the following:

▶ How to Prepare for a Consulting Interview

Good luck!


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Victoria Christine
updated an answer on May 03, 2023
1st&2nd session 33% off|Incoming BCG Consultant ME|President of the Consulting Club|Esade MBA|Offers from McKinsey & BCG

Hello Emma,

Congratulations on receiving an interview invitation from McKinsey! Don't worry too much about your non-traditional concentration. McKinsey, and consulting firms in general, value diversity of thought and experience. Your background in art history could actually be an asset, as it may allow you to approach problems from a different perspective and bring unique insights to the team.

That being said, it's important to demonstrate your analytical abilities and business acumen during the interview process, as these are key skills required for consulting. As a beginner, I would recommend starting with some basic case interview preparation materials, such as Case in Point and the materials here on PrepLounge.

Once you have studied for about a week and understand what a case is, I would suggest scheduling your first coaching session. A coach can explain to you how to crack a case, what the structure should be, what phrases to use, and other important details for your interviews. However, it is recommended that you do some studying beforehand to make the most out of your coaching session.

Lastly, to answer your question: once you are invited for an interview, yes, you are on the same footing as everyone else and your CV is not evaluated anymore. HR has already determined that you have the potential to be a good fit for the company. You will be evaluated solely based on your performance during the interviews. However, in some cases, if your performance is similar to another candidate's, they might take a look at your CV again in order to decide, but this has nothing to do with your Bachelor's degree in Arts.

Best of luck with everything!


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Content Creator
replied on May 03, 2023
#1 McKinsey Coach by rating & recommendation rate

Hi Emma, 

Congrats on approaching the interviews and starting your preparation!

It's totally fine if you come from a non-traditional background. So did I. And I was also bad with numbers. The full package :D I just invested quite a lot of time in preparation and managed to get an offer with McKinsey where I then spent almost five years. 

Also, coming from a non-traditional background will not count against you, but it means that you also need to compensate for it during the recruitment process. You will get the offer based on your performance in the interviews. There, they will not care whether you studied Business or Fine Arts - they just want to assess your skills. So that means you just need to put more effort into developing these skills than traditional candidates would. But it's by no means, impossible. 

Feel free to reach out with questions and I'm happy to guide you through the process.

Sharing with you also a couple of free guides that I wrote on PrepLounge to help you at this point:


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Content Creator
replied on May 03, 2023
MBB | 100% personal interview success rate (8/8) and 95% candidate success rate | Personalized interview prep


Congrats Emma! Nice applying work :)

When is your interview? If it's within the next 2-3 weeks please get coaching ASAP.

Since you have jus started your prep and don't have the business background, you ideally need 2-3 months to get ready on your own.

Don't worry…you can learn all of this! But, if time is short you need the personal draining.

A piece of reassurance: The best consultant in the Sydney BCG office come from the Sydney Opera house…he was a professional violinist before joining. Every knew him as the best consultant in the office.

You can do it!

Here's some reading to get you started:


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replied on May 03, 2023
Lowest price for Top-Ranked Coach on PrepLounge| McKinsey San Francisco | Harvard graduate | 6+ years of coaching

Hi Emma,

Congratulations on getting an interview with McKinsey, that's great news! Don't worry about having an unconventional background - McK truly hires people from all walks of life (in fact, my mentor at McK was also an art history major!). The fact they invited you to interview means you have passed the resume screen, and beyond this your interview performance will be much more important than your major. In that sense, you are pretty much on the same footing as everyone else.

In the case interviews, you won't be assessed on your business knowledge, just on your analytical skills, so those will be crucial to develop (I'm sure you are not lacking in analytical ability at all - but regardless, this is something all candidates need to work on!). For a total beginner, I usually recommend starting by doing some reading on case interviews to get a sense of how they work, what some standard frameworks are, etc. You could take a look at some of the guides here on PrepLounge, skim through classic books like Case Interview Secrets or Case In Point, or go to McKinsey's website to look at some of their case guides. Once you've gotten a sense of what case interviews look like, I recommend getting straight into live case prep! You might not feel like you're ready, but that's ok - by far the best way to practice for case interviews is to regularly do mock cases yourself (i.e., don't just read cases by yourself - have someone, be it a coach, case partner, or friend run an actual case interview with you), and everyone faces a steep learning curve at first and then quickly gets better. 

I mentioned already that you won't be assessed on your business acumen, and while that is absolutely true, it can help to have some familiarity with how various businesses work as background knowledge and to help bring the cases to live a little. If you have had little prior exposure to the business world, I'd recommend doing a bit of light research like starting to read the Wall Street Journal, or looking at McKinsey's articles to see what they've been working on. Less important than live case prep, but could still be helpful and informative.

Feel free to reach out if you have any more questions or if you'd like to chat - I've worked with lots of beginner candidates, and would be happy to help you get started too!

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replied on May 15, 2023
McKinsey EM | Top MBB Coach | >70% Success Rate | Free Introductory Calls

Absolutely not. Take your non-traditional background as an asset rather than a liability. Prepping for cases & personal fit is not rocket science & there are many resources to help you. Good luck!

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replied on May 04, 2023
Bain | EY-Parthenon | Roland Berger |Former Head Recruiter | Market Sizing

You are on the same footing. You will be based on your performance. If anything, given your background, for a similar performance they will consider it a higher achievement, because you did it without significant exposure to business topics (but don't hope for much slack or advantage here: it's really about the interview performance).

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Benjamin gave the best answer


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Content Creator
Ex-BCG Principal | 8+ years consulting experience in SEA | BCG top interviewer with ~5 years of interviewing experience
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