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PEI, leadership skills - is it ok to describe a project that actually failed?

interpersonal skills personal experience interview Personal Fit personal story
New answer on Mar 31, 2024
11 Answers
1.7 k Views
Giorgio
Skilled
asked on Feb 09, 2021

Hello everyone! I am finalizing my PhD in acoustic engineering, and before I enrolled for this degree I was a researcher at Siemens. Because of this background, I do not have many leadership experiences related to my professional career, except for mentoring two students.

I have some leadership stories coming from my hobbies (for instance, leading a group of people when scuba diving), from my high school period (I used to be the leader of a small PR team for some discotheques, and I was involved in my institute "politics"), or from my university period (I was a volunteer for Erasmus Student Network - ESN, and I was involved in the organization and management of trips and small events for foreign students).

Frankly speaking, none of the previous experience sounds amazing, with one exception: when at ESN, we organized the so-called annual general meeting, calling all ESNers from all over Europe in Milan (it's one of the big event of the network). I was on the organizing committee, and I was also the leader of a spin-off project, a start-up competition. Organizing this start-up competition was quite an experience, involving institutional partners. However, due to circumstances (only partially related to me and my team), the project derailed just at the end.

I was wondering whether I should prepare this story about the start-up competition even if it was not a success, or if it is better to focus on the other stories, which frankly speaking are way less exciting...

Thanks a lot to everyone who will answer, especially people with previous PEI experiences!

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Clara
Expert
Content Creator
replied on Feb 09, 2021
McKinsey | Awarded professor at Master in Management @ IE | MBA at MIT |+180 students coached | Integrated FIT Guide aut

Ciao Giorgio!

1st of all, I did plenty of activities with ESN Milano! (Did Erasmus in Politecnico). Brought me some memories back and a big smile!

Now to the serious topic: the story sounds a priori okay. However, it all depens on how you tell it and the degree of insights one can take from it.

If you want to prep further on the topic, the "Integrated FIT guide for MBB" has been recently published in PrepLounge´s shop (https://www.preplounge.com/en/shop/tests-2/integrated-fit-guide-for-mbb-34)

It provides an end-to-end preparation for all three MBB interviews, tackling each firms particularities and combining key concepts review and a hands-on methodology. Following the book, the candidate will prepare his/her stories by practicing with over 50 real questions and leveraging special frameworks and worksheets that guide step-by-step, developed by the author and her experience as a Master in Management professor and coach. Finally, as further guidance, the guide encompasses over 20 examples from real candidates.

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Hope it helps!

Cheers,

Clara

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Ken
Expert
replied on Feb 09, 2021
Ex-McKinsey final round interviewer | Executive Coach

Although the focus is more on showcasing your successful leadership, the outcome being a failure creates unneccessary complexity which I would avoid.

Frankly, what you've described as your "not so amazing" experiences are the types of leadership PEI stories that I often heard as a McKinsey interviewer. I would worry much less about how amazing the story sounds and much more about whether the story really exemplifies your formal or informal leadership role. The "inclusive leadership" dimension is much more about your ability to lead a diverse team to work well together in an inclusive way and achieve a postitive outcome together.

Below is the way McKinsey currently defines it on their website:

"Harnessing the power of diverse thinking to drive results requires the ability to lead teams of people with different backgrounds and create a sense of belonging where everyone can be at their best."

Good luck!

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Ian
Expert
Content Creator
replied on Feb 09, 2021
#1 BCG coach | MBB | Tier 2 | Digital, Tech, Platinion | 100% personal success rate (8/8) | 95% candidate success rate

Hi Giorgio,

Be careful here!

You need to make sure to really wordsmith this story so that it is clear that you did a great job but external forces meant the overall project failed.

Moreover, if possible, I wouldn't even mention the failure part....just talk about how you led!

As an example, my entreprenuership story was about a company I launched based on a prediction of where the market/demand was going. I was hugely successful (built it all myself, exponentially growing customer base, etc) BUT the platform I was using as a lynchpin of my product/project got acquired by a large corporation that cracked down on all kinds of activities. They squeezed me out.

^This is a big "success" story, where the failure was clearly not my fault.

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Adi
Expert
Content Creator
replied on Feb 09, 2021
Accenture, Deloitte | Precision Case Prep | Experienced Interviewer & Career Coach | 15 years professional experience

Hi Giorgio,

Leadership doesn't always mean you need to manage teams over a lengthy period of time. You can be an individual contributor but assume leadership role in a situation or event because perhaps you are the person with most knowledge in that situation, or you have previous experience or because no one is stepping up and you volunteer or you stepped up and helped someone with something that mattered a lot to them and showed them direction or you had a profound positive impact on someone/group of people. I hope you get the point. Now think of such situations from school, uni, internships or project work.

I would avoid failure stories unless you can land them impactfully and help the interviewer understand the "so what" i.e. what was good about that failure which changed you as a person, what did you learn and how did you improve and more importantly how did you ensure that impact of the failure was minimum to you and others involved.

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Vlad
Expert
replied on Feb 09, 2021
McKinsey / Accenture Alum / Got all BIG3 offers / Harvard Business School

Hi,

The example itself is fine, however, the story should be impactful enough. If it failed, I guess there was no impact. I would either not mention it, or will pick another story

Best

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Antonello
Expert
Content Creator
replied on Feb 09, 2021
McKinsey | NASA | top 10 FT MBA professor for consulting interviews | 6+ years of coaching

Ciao Giorgio,

consulting firms are not looking for the next Elon Musk (: So, no exceptional experiences will be required during the PEI. What really matters is crafting impactful stories from your background, that can really leverage your personal impact, leadership, and entrepreneurial skills. I think the story you mentioned is a great example for dimensions 2 and 3.

If you are interested in knowing how I support PhD candidates and experienced hires in structuring impactful stories, feel free to text me.

Best,
Antonello

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Alberto
Expert
Content Creator
replied on Dec 30, 2023
Ex-McKinsey Associate Partner | +15 years in consulting | +200 McKinsey 1st & 2nd round interviews

Hi there,

Being asked for a leadership story you should focus on your best experience leading a team (of any size), either on a personal or professional situation. Keys here:

  • You leading style is and how you inspire the team to reach a challenging goal
  • Your teamwork skills to coordinate work and make everyone shine
  • Your ability to understand and act on team dynamics, even the personal ones (motivations, frustrations)

I hope this helps.

Alberto

Check out my latest case based on a real MBB interview: Sierra Springs

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Udayan
Expert
Content Creator
replied on Feb 09, 2021
Top rated Case & PEI coach/Multiple real offers/McKinsey EM in New York /12 years recruiting experience

I would avoid outright failure - which is to say you worked to achieve something and got nowhere. What is more reasonable is if you had a really high goal (raise $10M funding for a startup) and you came close but not exactly there ($8M raised in the end).

Issue with outright failure is that it does not answer the question being asked (e.g., tell me about a time you solved a challenging problem) and does not tell the interviewer how you would behave in a similar situation and the skills you used to tackle the issue etc.

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Cristian
Expert
Content Creator
replied on Mar 31, 2024
#1 rated MBB & McKinsey Coach

It's absolutely ok. 

What matters is that you show what you learned from it and how it ‘transformed’ you. 

If you demonstrate that growth mindset, it comes across as a very strong and candid story. 

For anyone else who is preparing for the PEI component, I've created a video course with my 6-step storytelling framework that has helped my candidates get distinctive feedback on the McKinsey PEI. You can find out more about it here:

Best,
Cristian

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Florian
Expert
Content Creator
replied on Feb 09, 2021
1300 5-star reviews across platforms | 500+ offers | Highest-rated case book on Amazon | Uni lecturer in US, Asia, EU

Hey there,

If you focus on yourself, your actions, and your impact and the outcome was not successful because of reasons outside of your locus of control, that is totally fine.

You can still hit all the necessary dimensions relevant for the inclusive leadership dimension regardless of the outcome.

If you want an objective McK perspective on your PEI stories, let me know. :-)

Cheers,

Florian

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Giorgio on Feb 09, 2021

First, let me thank you for the quick answer! Let me ask you another question, on a deeper level: what exactly is McK looking for in a leadership story? The answer to this question may change my mind about the "less exciting" stories that I mentioned

Florian on Feb 09, 2021

I sent you a message,

Gaurav
Expert
Content Creator
updated an answer on Feb 10, 2021
#1 MBB Coach(Placed 750+ in MBBs & 1250+ in Tier2)| The Only 360 coach(Ex-McKinsey + Certified Coach + Active recruiter)

Hi Giorgio!

I think you can definitely use this story if you know where to draw attention and how to structure it in the best way.

What I can think of this: Now you can look back at it and be completely honest with yourself, i.e. you'll be able to have more or less an objective perspective on the project:

  • what was good about it,
  • what you think was a success no matter what,
  • what could have been done better from your side,
  • why do you think you failed,
  • what could have been done differently to prevent it (or was it possible in the first place)
  • were you happy with your team / colleagues
  • etc. etc.

I would avoid the story though if it was your failure and not the circumstances.

Please prepare the story wisely:

  • don't make it too long. It is proved that a person can't listen to monologue of 3+ minutes without losing it
  • Try to involve the interviewer by asking questions as "It was one of the project in Milan, you've been there, right?" I think it's hard not to have neem in Milan when you're a consultant, but you get the idea
  • Storytelling is the key!

It's a small piece of advice but I hope it helps. Feel free to write me if you want to discuss it further or for any other inquiries.

Cheers,

GB

(edited)

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Clara gave the best answer

Clara

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McKinsey | Awarded professor at Master in Management @ IE | MBA at MIT |+180 students coached | Integrated FIT Guide aut
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