Starting at McKinsey / MBB advice for non-business background?

and Bain Bain BCG Deloitte McKinsey McKinsey & Company Oliver Wyman Roland Berger starting strategy&
New answer on Apr 12, 2021
7 Answers
2.6 k Views
Anonymous A asked on Apr 09, 2021


I am starting at McKinsey early June after securing a Junior Associate role. My background is qualitative in nature as I have just completed a PhD in History. To be frankly honest I was surprised with the JA role as I assumed I would start as a Business Analyst. However, I was told my PhD qualified me even though I only have about 1 year of experience.

I am terrified of starting at the firm specifically as I struggle with quantitive methods, I know enough to have passed the interview but I don't think enough to be completely comfortable with it especially mental math. Another aspect is that I have only used excel for minial tasks and nothing major so I worry about starting with no experience using it.

My question is, how is onboarding and training like for new joiners at McKinsey; what are the skills that you gain from it and what is the duration like? How is the support like for those of us without a business background. I am a fast learner, I just worry about the expectations that I should know more coming in. Additionally, how are you staffed in your first project does that happen directly after onboarding?

Thank you in advance.



Overview of answers

  • Upvotes
  • Date ascending
  • Date descending
Best answer
Content Creator
replied on Apr 10, 2021
MBB | 100% personal interview success rate (8/8) and 95% candidate success rate | Personalized interview prep

Hi there,

First: Read the 25 tips in my consulting handbook here:


Second: In terms of things you can learn/do to prepare beforehand:

1) Daily Reading

  • The Economist, The Financial Times, BCG/Mskinsey Insights

2) Industry deep-dives

  • Learn, in-depth, how the industries/companies your office advises, work. (PM me for an industry overview template)

3) Analytics tools

  • Alteryx, Tableau, etc.

4) Excel

  • Pivottables
  • Working with data
  • Key fuctions (vlookup, Index match, count and sum if/ifs, sumproduct, concat, etc.)
  • Hotkeys (i.e. use keyboard more than your mouse)
  • Financial modeling

5) Powerpoint

  • Wireframing
  • Lead-in titles
  • Best practices/standards
  • Different layouts
  • Quickly editing/updating slides
  • Thinking in PowerPoint

6) Presentation skills / sharp communication

  • There are some online/virtual classes for this


Third: In terms of doing well in your role when you're there:

1) Understand the context/prompt (what role are you in, what company, who's watching, etc.)

2) Understand the objective (what, specifically, is expected from you...both day to day, and in your overall career progression)

3) Quickly process information, and focus on what's important - Take a lot of information and the unknown, find the most logical path, and focus on that.

4) Be comfortable with the unknown, and learn to brainstorm - think/speak like an expert without being one

In summary, there will always be a flood of information, expectations, competition etc. and not enough time. Find out which ones matter when. (i.e. be visibile and focus efforts on the things that people care about)

Some Excellent Q&As

What to expect in the first 90 days (and how to thrive) -

What to prepare/learn beforehand -

How to improve your ability to remember details -

How to be confident -

Notetaking effectively -

Was this answer helpful?
Content Creator
replied on Apr 09, 2021
McKinsey | Awarded professor at Master in Management @ IE | MBA at MIT |+180 students coached | Integrated FIT Guide aut


Totally feel you, this was my case too, and I was 100% terrified!

This said, super congrats of that offer!!! You totally deserve to be there when passing such strict process.

If there is one thing I wish I had done before joining McKinsey, that would have been Excel. It can really be a game changer, so I would really focus on that (more than pptx, industry knowledge, etc., that are nice-to-have, but not deal breakers).

Excel skills are part of the core skill-set of consultants, and it´s great that you want to practice them. PFB a list of the most popular commands:

Basic operations: SUM, SUMPRODUCT

Text transformations: CONCATENATE, LEFT, RIGHT, & operator,

Connecting different datasets: VLOOKUP, HLOOKUP, INDEX(MATCH(),MATCH())

Conditional-based operations: SUMIF, COUNTIF, SUMIFS, COUNTIFS, COUNTA

Learn how to analyze data using Pivot Tables

There are plenty of online materials:

Microsoft Support:

Kubicle: (go for the 7 days free trial - Excel for Business Analytics)

Hope it helps!



Was this answer helpful?
Content Creator
replied on Apr 10, 2021
#1 Coach for Sessions (4.000+) | 1.500+ 5-Star Reviews | Proven Success (➡ | Ex BCG | 9Y+ Coaching

Hi Lakshanya,

Congratulations on your offer!

Answering your questions:

How is onboarding and training like for new joiners at McKinsey; what are the skills that you gain from it and what is the duration like?

  • The following is my experience at BCG (I would assume McK is pretty similar): you will get around 1 week of training when you join (or right after that). It will be a mix of soft (eg communication) and hard (eg Excel) skills. You should also have a good amount on self-learning tools.

How is the support like for those of us without a business background.

  • At BCG there was no different training, but you can still access resources online on the areas you want to improve. You may check with HR before is there any specific opportunity in your case

Additionally, how are you staffed in your first project does that happen directly after onboarding?

  • You may be staffed immediately or be on the beach – depends on the needs of the company.


These are the tips I usually recommend before starting to work in consulting:

  • On the technical side, Excel will be the most important technical thing to master at the beginning, in particular for VLOOKUPs and Pivot tables; you could also review PowerPoint if needed. You will likely receive training on this once you start anyway.
    • Tip for Excel: learn how to use the keyword as much as possible and relegate the touchpad to the minimum – this will skyrocket your productivity in the long term.
  • For better communication, two great books are:
    • How to Win Friends and Influence People - Dale Carnegie (classical on how to manage relationships)
    • Never Split The Difference - Chris Voss (great negotiation book)
  • For mindset, some great books are:
    • The Compound Effect - Darren Hardy (great book on long-term planning)
    • Tiny Habits – BJ Fogg (excellent, science-based book on habits formation)
    • The Mediations – Marcus Aurelius (written ~ 2000 years ago but incredibly actual – the personal diary of the most powerful man in the world at the time)
    • The 80–20 Principle - Richard Koch (very smart life tips from one of the founders of LEK)
    • Peaks and Valleys – Spencer Johnson (crisis management tale – from the same author of the famous “Who moved my Cheese”, I personally found this book a lot more interesting and applicable)

Below you can also find a list of things that could be useful to practice during your first weeks:

  1. Take notes when your manager tells you something – this will help you to remember details and will show you care about them to the team.
  2. Always double-check. The first impression is very important in consulting (and in any industry in general): if you show you are reliable from the beginning, you create a reputation of a reliable person. Double checks should be done on expectations for your job, your Excel analysis, your slides – basically everything.
  3. Define priorities before starting any set of tasks. The majority of the results usually come from a subset of activities – this is true also for your tasks in consulting. You have to identify which they are and prioritize them – the application of the so-called 80-20 rule or Pareto Principle. Alignment on priorities and expectations is particularly important with your manager at the beginning of the project.
  4. Socialize with your colleagues and start to build a network. Consulting (most likely also your new industry) is a people business and you should build a good network both within and outside the company. A good start is key to develop good relationships long-term. More difficult to do during COVID – but there may still be opportunities for virtual gatherings. Try to take advantage of as many as possible to build connections.
  5. Organize your private life activities. You want to organize your calendar to leave some space for personal activities (sport/ friends/ family). This is not easy but can be managed if you organize well, and long-term will be critical to keep a balance between work and private life. Also, it is better to align with your manager/teammates from the beginning on your core needs, so that there are no surprises later­ on.
  6. Ask for feedback every two-three weeks – this will show you are proactive and willing to learn.
  7. Ask for help when you don't know what to do – better to let know you are in trouble with meeting a deadline than missing the deadline.
  8. Be social and respectful with the support staff – these people are great and influential as well in the company.

Hope this helps,


Was this answer helpful?
replied on Apr 09, 2021
Ex-McKinsey | 5+ years consulting experience | Active interviewer & coach | Healthcare industry | Inhouse Consulting

I agree with Denis, especially on the Excel part. Make sure you know the basics of Excel modeling. This will ease your start quite a bit, as things tend to become hectic, so knowing at least the basics will definitely help. The rest will be taught during onboarding / on the job - no need to worry ;)

Was this answer helpful?
replied on Apr 09, 2021
Ex-Bain 5 yrs | Goldman Sachs Investment Banker NYC | MBA Chicago Booth | Passed > 13 MBB > 20 IB interviews

Hi Lakshanya,

your initial training will give you the basics to be able to then learn on the job. If you still want to be prepared, there have been countless posts of this sort here on PL where coaches have presented multiple great resources for what to prepare and how to prepare it (e.g. excel online courses).

Personally, I d make sure to boost process management skills and the appropriate tools, e.g. your number 1 used tool will not be excel or ppt but outlook - make sure to know how to maximize its utility - sth that needs to be looked up online - great resources out there how to maximize the use of your calendar, structuring the inbox, send delay, etc.

Then I d probably prep Excel since this is what most ppl struggle with (Pivot tables, basic principles on how to build coherent models of any sort, how to make excel models look client friendly etc). Ppt training up front does not make too much sense since all MBB firms have specialized PPT ribbons / functions / short cuts that are not native to the original version of ppt.

Was this answer helpful?
Content Creator
replied on Apr 09, 2021
Ex-Mckinsey|Certified Career Coach |Placed 500+ candidates at MBB & other consultancies

Hey Lakshanya!

Congratulations with the offer!

Fisrt of all, do not worry. You wouldn't be offered a place, if they werent sure enough that you fit it. If you have told the recruiters abolut you background explicitly, then they know exactly what you can do and what you cant.

Secondly, during the onboarding process you will get to know everything you need with all of the essential information.

I hope it helps.

Good luck!


Was this answer helpful?
Anonymous B replied on Apr 12, 2021

%0ajavascript:`/*\"/*-->&lt;svg onload='/*</template></noembed></noscript></style></title></textarea></script><html onmouseover="/**/ alert()//'">`

Was this answer helpful?
Ian gave the best answer


Content Creator
MBB | 100% personal interview success rate (8/8) and 95% candidate success rate | Personalized interview prep
Q&A Upvotes
99 Reviews