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PEI Interview at McKinsey

Patrizia

Hi all,

I found this article very useful to follow to prepare the PEI interview.

Is there somebody that has already used this structure and can provide feedback, if it was successful or not?

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At McKinsey, all your interviews will start with a Personal Experience Interview (PEI) question. This is a great opportunity to make a strong start and impress your interviewer.

You have probably already had CV interviews in the past and you will be able to use some of that experience. But PEI questions have some important particularities you should be aware of. We have put together a list of 8 preparation facts and tips to help you answer PEI questions and impress your interviewer.

1. Ten minutes

At many consulting firms, you will have a standalone 1h CV interview with a separate interviewer from your case interviews. McKinsey does things differently. Instead of concentrating the CV conversation in one session, the firm spreads it across multiple interviews.

At the beginning of each case interview, you will spend 10 minutes discussing some aspect of your CV with the interviewer. This strategy enables McKinsey to have several of its recruiters form an opinion on your personal experience. Overall, this helps the firm develop a more informed judgment on candidates’ personal abilities.

2. One single topic

Each of your personal experience interviews will cover a single topic. In other words, you will spend the full 10 minutes of the PEI discussing ONE particular skill McKinsey wants to test. For example, you might be asked how you demonstrated leadership in the past and you will discuss that topic with your interviewer for 10 minutes.

To be clear, you are not expected to give a 10 minute answer to the initial question your interviewers will ask. They will follow up with other questions as you tell your story to make sure they understand it in enough detail. The key point to understand is that these follow up questions will all be about the initial topic too.

3. Predictable questions

The good news is that the topics covered in PEI questions are predictable. In fact, more than 90% of PEI questions asked by McKinsey interviewers focus on 5 key themes.

We identified these 5 themes by analysing the full list of interview questions reported on Glassdoor.com for McKinsey. These themes are also consistent with the type of PEI questions the candidates who work with us are getting during their interviews.

Here are the main five themes:

1. Leading others (22%)
Tell me about a time you led a team through a difficult challenge

2. Managing a team conflict (22%)
Tell me about a time you worked in a team and had to manage a conflict

3. Managing a personal conflict (21%)
Tell me about a time you had a disagreement with a colleague / your boss

4. Influencing others (17%)
Tell me about a time you changed the mind of a group of people / an individual

5. Overcoming challenges (11%)
Tell me about a challenge you had to push yourself hard to overcome

6. Other (7%)

Notice that each of these questions relates to the “soft” skills consultants need to do their job effectively. They all relate to your ability to lead others, manage conflicts or disagreements, influence people and overcome challenges. Indeed, while the McKinsey PST and the case interviews are mainly assessing your “hard” analytical skills, the PEI is really gauging your “soft” people skills.

Finally, you should be aware that you will not always get the exact question we have listed above. Each interviewer will phrase the question slightly differently. But the point is that the themes on which the question will be are largely predictable.

4. People remember stories

Knowing what to expect in PEI questions is half the battle. The other half is preparing for those questions. When you interview with McKinsey, your interviewer will see another 6 or 7 candidates on the same day - it’s a long day for them. In this context, how can you set yourself apart and make a strong impression?

In our experience, the best way to do so is to answer PEI questions with a story. Notice that the way McKinsey phrases its questions (“Tell me about a time…”) is an invitation to tell a story. Our recommendation is therefore to start your preparation by writing down five stories; one for each of the skills McKinsey wants to test you on (leading others, managing a team conflict, managing a personal conflict, influencing others and overcoming challenges). During your interviews, you can then adapt these stories to the exact question your interviewer asks you. People remember stories. You should use that to your advantage.

There are different ways to tell your story but we suggest you keep it relatively simple. Here is an example of a structure you could use:

  • Situation: start by giving the necessary context
  • Problem: outline the problem you and your team were facing
  • Solution: explain the solution you came up with to solve the problem outlined
  • Impact: if possible, quantify the impact you had in solving the problem
  • Lessons: conclude with any lessons you might have learned in the process

Once you’ve written down your five stories, rehearse telling them out loud. Getting into this habit will help you tremendously on the actual day of your interviews.

5. Mistake #1: too much time on context

There are three common mistakes candidates make when answering PEI questions.

First, a lot of candidates spend too much time setting the context. You should only give the minimum context needed to understand the problem and the solution in your story. Nothing more. A good test here is to make sure you don’t spend more than 30 seconds on this part of your story. Let me give you an example.

Too much context: “The example I am going to give you dates back to two years ago when I was in my third year of university. I was playing for the football team and we had just had a fantastic season. At the end of every season there is always a tournament to determine who is going to win the championship in the region where my university is. Not all universities get to go there, only the best ones do. The first few games we played went really well. Throughout the tournament, we managed to maintain our performance. Finally after 3 very tough games we managed to make it to the finals.”

Right amount of context: “Two years ago, I made it to the championship finals with my university football team. The story I am going to tell you relates to that final game which was the most important one in the season”

Notice how in the second example I went straight to the point and only gave the necessary information. A lot of candidates fail to do that in PEI questions which results in their interviewer asking them to speed up and go to the core of the story.

6. Mistake #2: not talking enough about YOU

Second, some candidates focus too much on what the team did to solve the problem in general, instead of giving the specifics of what they did. The PEI is about YOU. Your answer should therefore focus on how YOU demonstrated the skill your interviewer is looking for. A good test here is to make sure that you use “I” a lot. When you tell your story, if you hear yourself saying “I did this”, and “I felt that way” and “I suggested this”, you are very likely to be on the right track.

Using our football example above, your answer should focus on what YOUR contribution was in the final game. Maybe you were the best defender in the team, in which case you should detail the tactics you used to prevent the opposite team from scoring. Or maybe you were the captain in the team and had to talk individually to players to maintain a cohesive group. Whatever your role was, you should tell your interviewer about the specific things YOU did to secure the victory, not what the team did in general.

Again, a lot of candidates fail to do that, which leads their interviewer to ask them to talk about what THEY did and THEIR impact in general.

7. Mistake #3: being shy about your accomplishments

The same story can be told in multiple ways, some more impressive than others. This is not the time to be shy about your accomplishments. You should carefully think about your story and make it sound as positive as possible. To be clear, you should not brag about anything, but you should try to tell a story with which you are comfortable and that sheds a positive light on what you accomplished.

Let's use the football example again.

Negative spin, too much focus on the team: “By the end of the tournament, the dynamics in the team were not great as the games we had played had been really difficult. But we had a very good midfielder and in the end we won the competition. I only played the second half of the game because I'm a substitute and one of our defenders got injured.”

Positive spin, focus on you: “The competition was very stressful for the whole team but we managed to make it to the final. I took a major role in the second part of the final when I subbed in for one of our best players as a defender. Although I'm not used to playing in that position I managed to really step up and prevent my direct opponent from scoring. This made a big difference in the final outcome and contributed to us winning the championship”.

Notice how these two paragraphs could describe exactly the same situation. There is no contradictory information between them. But one of them focuses on you and is positive, while the other focuses too much on the team and is negative.

8. Great opportunity to make a difference

A lot of candidates underestimate the difficulty of personal experience interviews and end up not preparing very much for them. But as you should have realised by now, there are quite a few traps one can fall into when answering PEI questions. This is therefore an opportunity for you to make a difference in a very competitive environment. If you do as well as another candidate on case interviews but much better on your PEI questions, you will likely get an offer. So why not start preparing today!

(edited)

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Matthew
Expert
replied on 10/03/2017
Only ex-McKinsey Partner on PrepLounge (also Oliver Wyman) and McKinsey MBA, Experienced Hire and Undergraduate Recruiting Leader

Your framework is a good one but I would add a few things.

  1. Make sure you are conversational: Don’t be rote in your response. Make sure that when telling your story, you are really “telling a story” that makes the interviewer feel like they can visualize what was really going on.
  2. Use unique stories: Remember that the interviewer is likely interviewing 7-8 candidates that day and maybe 14-16 candidates over 2 days. You need to make your story memorable. Many candidates may have a leadership story about how they led a team to achieve a goal at a previous job or how they led a volunteer effort. However, a more memorable leadership story could be starting a Horse Riding Club at a University or organizing a day-long ventriloquist festival.
  3. Try to add humor where possible: Interviewers love candidates that break the monotony of interviewing with entertaining stories and humor can go a long way. A senior partner once came into a decision meeting and said he barely got to the case interview because he asked the candidate about his hobby of being a stand-up comedian. For a large portion of the 45 minutes, the candidate shared some of his stand-up material. He got an offer.

It’s also important to know what the interviewer assessing during the McKinsey PEI portion of the interview. There are 3 components:

  • Confidence / presence: Asserts self-confidence outside areas of expertise in the face of change; would be comfortable putting the candidate in front of senior-level clients
  • Listening: Accurately understands meaning of what is said or implied and responds by adapting own content and style to reflect understanding
  • Influencing: Accurately anticipates or reacts to the need for various influencing tactics and deploys them appropriately
Francesco replied on 10/04/2017
Ex BCG | MBB Specialist | #1 Expert for meetings done (900+) | 100% recommendation rate

Hi Patrizia,

I would say the Situation-Problem-Solution-Impact-Lesson structure would be ok (STAR or PARADE methods work as well for most of the cases).

Based on my experience, some points in the article are not 100% correct though:

  1. Most of the firms do the 10mins initial fit interview, that’s not a peculiarity of McKinsey
  2. I didn’t have a specific single topic only presented from each interviewer when I interviewed at McKinsey; they actually asked me about 2-3 different topics

As additional tips besides the one mentioned by Matthew:

  1. Try to be specific: one of the biggest mistake candidates do is to keep the story abstract. Without enough details, it will not be possible for an interviewer to properly understand you. Best way to do so is to use numbers and specific names. Eg, if you want to mention you are a great traveller, don’t say, “I like to travel all over the world to discover new cultures”, but rather “I travelled in 13 different countries in the last 6 months, ranging from Malaysia to South Africa; these helped me to expand a lot my perspectives”. The second will be far easier to visualize for the interviewer.
  2. Practice in advance in two steps - since many candidates do just one of the two things, you will be ahead of the game doing both:
    • Write down a bullet list of your answers
    • Repeat loud the answers till when you feel confortable with your communication of the story (recording yourself would be a must, although not strictly necessary)
  3. Keep your answer short: in general, you should be able to deliver an answer in 1.5-2 minutes; there are exceptions to the rule (for example, in case of several points required in an answer, such as “Which are your three top strengths and weaknesses”, or if the interviewer asks you follow-up questions), but usually this should be a sufficient time to answer. If you go longer, you will lose points due to the fact that you are not able to synthesize your answers, a fundamental skill for consultants.

As a final note, do not underestimate the importance of your questions at the end, they may actually be an important point to help the interviewer to decided in your favour, in case he/she is uncertain. You may find a structure for how to prepare for them at the following link: https://www.preplounge.com/en/consulting-forum/open-house-at-bcg-311

Hope this helps,

Francesco

Vlad replied on 10/08/2017
McKinsey / Accenture / More than 300 real MBB cases / Collected all Big 3 offers / Harvard Business School

Hi,

I would structure it a bit differently:

Interviewer usually asks 3 sets of questions:

  1. “Tell me about yourself” or “walk me through your resume”- this is how Consultants usually begin the interview. It's an opportunity for them to learn about you and to pick some interesting facts. Don’t lose this opportunity since the 1st impression is usually the strongest.
  2. “Why consulting?”, “Why McKinsey” or “Why BCG” questions are used to assess your motivation to be a consultant in general and to work in that particular firm. They will check how you have done your homework and what you’ve learned about them. They also want to make sure that you have a clear intention to work in consulting. "Why consulting" is a question about you and your career path. "Why McKinsey" is more about a particular company and even particular local office.
  3. Next, the interviewer will also ask you to provide examples from your background to assess how good you are as a leader or a team player; how you can create impact and persuade people; or how you can achieve your goals. These are all parts of consulting mindset - DNA of consultants, and you should be ready to prove that you are one of them.
  4. At the end of the interview, you will also have an opportunity to ask your questions to the interviewer. Most of the candidates disregard this part in preparation, while it is a great chance to demonstrate the intellectual capacity and build some relationship with the interviewer.

It is also different across MBB companies:

  • Mckinsey is a bit more structured and demanding in its approach with the fit part, taking up to 30 minutes. They will ask all sets of questions including a story on 1 of 3 competencies: Leadership, Achievement / drive, Personal Impact
  • BCG interviews are a bit shorter, a bit less structured and detailed. They will also test competences like leadership, Impact, Teamwork
  • On the contrary, Bain consultants will be less concerned about your stories and will not have strict guidelines. They will mostly check your background and motivation

Best,

Vlad

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