If you’ve been following this site for any length of time, you know that I receive a lot of success story emails.
More recently, I’ve been asking members of my case interview preparation community to not just share the news of their success, but also how they achieved it.
The first time I did this was on a whim. Then I got feedback from my readers that they found these success stories both inspirational and useful at the same time.
I recently received a success story from a reader who earned a McKinsey internship offer in Latin America.
I asked this person to elaborate on the process he used to get the offer, point out any surprises along the way, and to share any advice he might have for others.
The email that follows answers those questions.
Before I share the details with you, let me mention that although this person’s offer was for an internship position in Latin America, the process and themes (what interviewers asked and why they asked it) is very reflective of:
1) multiple consulting firms (not just McKinsey)
2) positions at the internship, analyst, and Associate levels (Keep in mind, today’s intern is tomorrow’s analyst. And an analyst today becomes the associate tomorrow… so there is much more commonality than most people assume.)
3) how McKinsey and other firms across countries operate (e.g., You could use the advice that follows in Malaysia or Germany and it would still be quite applicable.)
Also, since this success story is quite detailed, I’ve included my comments interspersed throughout the story marked with [brackets] rather than waiting until the end to add my comments.
*** How to Get a McKinsey Offer ***
I got an internship offer for McKinsey today. I want to personally thank you for all the information and advice you’ve provided publicly and at no cost.
Your videos helped me tremendously, and I couldn’t have done as well as I did without your advice.
I owe you one. Thanks again.
1. Preparation Process:
My selection process consisted of a standardized test (it was in English so I assume it was the same as in the States), a workshop, and finally a round of interviews.
For the test, you actually want to make sure you’re quick with numbers, the calculations aren’t hard (finding market share percentages or estimating growth rates) but they do take some time of which you don’t have much.
[VC: This is consistent globally. For more information, check out the McKinsey Problem Solving Test . ]
Before the interviews, they offered us to attend an optional workshop.
I really recommend attending.
[VC: I do too.]
Not only will they tell you about McKinsey and the selection process (as well as what they are looking for in a candidate), but you will get to meet some of the people working there and maybe some of them will be your interviewers, so you want to make a good first impression.
[VC: For on-campus recruiting… the people who host the events are often the interviewers too. If you have such an opportunity and you do not attend, it is a big mistake.]
They also give you a case and help you solve it step-by-step as well as telling you how you should approach and structure the problem.
The way I prepared was first reading a lot about McKinsey (what they do, their values, what type of person they are looking for, etc.).
I then went into the “Articles” section of caseinterview.com and read the ones that either said McKinsey or caught my eye (“McKinsey Interview Format” and “Case Interview Preparation” were especially useful).
[VC: My site has a new search feature so you can pull up every article on McKinsey. It’s at https://www.caseinterview.com/search ]
Perhaps the best use of my time was watching the full six hours of the Case Interview Secrets Video Tutorial.
I took my time, watching two or three segments per day and actively taking notes. Finally, once I had the proper structure developed, I proceeded to tackle the online case studies at McKinsey.
And, although I probably shouldn’t say this, BCG has on its website four cases as well as an interactive one which are both more challenging and better explained.
2. What transpired in the interviews:
The interviews were a little less than an hour long, consisting of 15 minutes of your personal achievements/goals, followed by 30 minutes for the case and finally at the end, five minutes of Q&A if you had any questions about McKinsey.
I had two back-to-back interviews, the first one in Spanish and the second one in English. In both of them I felt very comfortable; it’s more like a conversation than an interview.
They start with the classic “tell me about yourself” and then steer the conversation to the topics they want to focus on (personal impact, leadership, etc.).
The cases were challenging but at the same time fun; they really pick your brain. You want to make sure you thoroughly understand both the context and what they are asking you to find out.
[VC: I totally agree. Many of the mistakes candidates make in a case are due to their misunderstanding of what the interviewer was asking. Ask clarifying questions and confirm your understanding. For example, if the client’s goal is to grow… you should clarify grow what? Profits? Market Share? Revenues? If you assume incorrectly, it is impossible to do well on the case.]
Don’t be afraid to take your time. In my case, I tried to answer quickly, thinking the longer I took, the dumber I appeared.
I felt embarrassed constantly asking, “Can I take a minute?” until the interviewer told me, “You don’t have to ask me can I take a minute every time, we’re not expecting you to do this in your head and we expect you to take some time.”
It also helps to guide them through your reasoning — every time I gave them an answer, they were more interested in the “how” or “why” than in the “what.”
3. Surprise/things I found interesting:
Although the first case was more “traditional,” focusing on profitability and a new competitor entering the market, the second one was much more challenging.
For starters, it wasn’t a company but an NGO, and its goals were not profitability or revenues but rather lowering unemployment and fomenting investment.
This definitely took me by surprise, since most of my prep had been focused on for-profit enterprises and revenue, cost and demand problems in most cases.
I had to change both my thinking and my approach and constantly remind myself that the main goal wasn’t economical but social.
For example, when asked in what country should the NGO invest, I was already looking at the costs and potentially revenues when I realized that the goal wasn’t “let’s make as much money as possible” but rather “let’s have the greatest social impact as possible.”
[VC: If you look at the underlying logic of the profitability framework, it is just a disaggregation of what comprises profits.
If you take the same underlying logic and reapply to an NGO, you would replace profit with “social value” and then deconstruct what defines social value, make it MECE, isolate what is the most 80/20 area to focus on, and basically use the same process.
To see a visual representation of this, I refer you to the “issue tree” diagrams (the official term for a visual way of deconstructing a problem into its component parts) included in the Look Over My Shoulder® program.]
Try to prepare as much as possible, not in memorizing cases but in creating a framework for solving problems. Every case is different, and you want to be able to adapt to different scenarios.
Try to think about all the possibilities before speaking and don’t say something if you’re not sure, because they will ask you either to clarify or to expand on it.
[VC: Yes, yes, yes! You must now speak like a diplomat. You cannot open your mouth and say whatever comes to mind…
You have to carefully choose your words as to avoid implying meaning where there is none, implying a conclusion when you only have a hypothesis, and to back up any conclusion you make with facts, and any hypothesis with qualitative indicators that the hypothesis might be right.]
Finally, I was nervous the days prior to the interview until I thought about the following: I asked myself, “Do you think you are qualified for the job?”
I told myself, “If your answer is ‘no,’ then even if you don’t get hired, don’t be upset because you aren’t qualified anyway (and if you do get hired, then you are the luckiest SOB in the planet).
“But if your answer is ‘yes,’ then you know you are qualified, and all you have to do is simply show them (not convince them) that you’re qualified — as simple as that.” Knowing that all I had to do to get the job was be myself gave me great confidence.
[VC: Wonderful attitude to take to get yourself to relax.. which paradoxically is when you are able to perform your best.]