What differentiates between a good and a great candidate?

Case Interview Case Interview Prep
New answer on Jun 05, 2020
7 Answers
Anonymous A asked on Jun 03, 2020

Hey Experts, would like to know from your experience what differentiates between a candidate who is good (on the fence on hiring) and great (must have him/her in my team)?


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replied on Jun 03, 2020
Ex Kearney Senior Manager | Ex McKinsey Engagement Manager | Interviewer & Case Coach at McKinsey (200+ Real Interviews)

Hi There,

A good candidate (on the fence on hiring) - basically not that bad, but just ok - is:


  1. Sufficiently confident, I can put him/her in front of working-level clients
  2. Good interpersonal skill, able to connect with people
  3. Able to collaborate and can be flexible sometimes
  4. A good drive to do something beyond but not really something that is inspiring

Problem Solving

  1. Good structure, MECE but look like unnatural & forcing it hard to get there
  2. Able to synthesize an insight, but may not as concise & effective.
  3. Accurate math, but unable to say the impact out loud
  4. Came up with just "okay" recommendation - not really creative

Meanwhile, a distinctive candidate will have either the PEI or PS or both of below:


  1. Show a great confidant with a strong articulation ability - I am comfortable to put him/her in front of senior & top clients
  2. Able to understand and read people
  3. Able to lead and coordinate with minimum direction
  4. Inspiring and willing to go extra mile


  1. Solid structure, MECE, and able to articulate the thought in a flowing conversation. He/She can easily point out complexities inside its structure
  2. Very effective in synthesizing an insight - concise, clear and creative (able to point out rare insight)
  3. Able to quickly tell the implication of a math calculation to the client's main objective, sometimes with the next steps
  4. Came up with actionable and easy to understand recommendation with some creativities

Possessing distinctiveness in both PEI & PS is extremely rare, it was usually either one of those, even inside the firm. If the candidate has one of PEI/PS, I would definitely make sure to get him/her in my team.

Hope this helps

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Content Creator
replied on Jun 03, 2020
McKinsey offers w/o final round interviews - 100% risk-free - 10+ years MBB coaching experience - Multiple book author

Hi Anonymous,

There are a many small details which form an impression, but let me focus on the most important differantiators:

  • Self-conscious and interested, professional overall impression, positive tone
  • Rigidly structured, logical thinking
  • Rigidly structured, logical communication (!)
  • Laser-sharp focus on key aspects
  • Feels naturally comfortable with numbers
  • Lightning-fast math
  • Facts and quantification instead of opinions and ideas
  • Strong structure at the beginning of the case
  • Driving and structuring case discussion pro-actively in a driver-seat position
  • Keeps overview of content, process and time
  • Action-oriented, so-what is always clear
  • Strong synthesis with top-down structure and clear recommendation and rationale

Hope that helps - if so, please be so kind and give it a thumbs-up with the green upvote button below!


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replied on Jun 03, 2020
BCG | Strategy& |Roland Berger | Interviewed >100 candidates in formal hiring process


Great candidates: Very systematic thinking, communicate with purpose, strong leadership potential, I will be comfortable to leave him / her with client, passion for the job

Good candidate: Weak performance in any one of the above characteristics

Hope this helps :)

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Content Creator
updated an answer on Jun 03, 2020
McKinsey | Awarded professor at Master in Management @ IE | MBA at MIT |+180 students coached | Integrated FIT Guide aut


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Graph importance of fit interview


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Anonymous replied on Jun 03, 2020
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Content Creator
replied on Jun 04, 2020
BCG | 100% personal interview success rate (8/8) and 95% candidate success rate | Personalized interview prep

1) Takes analysis/insight to the next level (i.e. says something I really hadn't considered)

2) Is quick to adapt/adjust - take feedback well, and if they make a mistake or gets stuck, they pivot quickly

3) Is likeable! I.e. they're modest, not imposing, seem kind/want to learn, seem like they'll just figure things out, etc.

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Anonymous replied on Jun 05, 2020

Dear A,

Pretty often, the difference between great and average good candidate is not that big. But what really makes a difference is experience and preparation. So the more smart hours and approach you have used for the entire preparation, actually makes you paid off during the interview, because very great candidate would be able to interact actively with an interviewer, involving in the case solution, build it as a dialog and it will be very easy way to go for both of them. The perfect candidate will also hypothesis driven and will crack all the cases consistently and very easy. This is what we are looking for in the interviews while selecting the people.

Good luck,

and let me know if you want to be one of the few.


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Anrian gave the best answer


Ex Kearney Senior Manager | Ex McKinsey Engagement Manager | Interviewer & Case Coach at McKinsey (200+ Real Interviews)
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