How to Prepare for an Interview with McKinsey


Pekka Tölli | McKinsey


I wanted to write this blog text to help and support all those of you who may think about applying for McKinsey & Company, but have questions about the interview process. So how does it go, and what should you be prepared for?

First of all, our interviews consist of two elements (Read more here).

  1. Experience interview, where we want to hear about your experiences to discover skills that enable you to thrive at McKinsey. Come prepared to discuss some important experiences in a detailed way, focusing on your specific role and describing the key actions that were critical to success.
  2. Problem solving interview, where we discuss a real client scenario with you. This helps us understand how you structure tough, ambiguous business challenges, identify important issues, deal with all the implications of facts and data, formulate conclusions and recommendations, and articulate your thoughts in a fast-moving discussion. Our sample interview cases will help you get familiar with the format and test your problem-solving skills.

Secondly, we want to make our interviews as pleasant as a job interview can be, and we will try to help you be at your best. Our interviews are challenging because our work is challenging.  That’s precisely why we seek to support and inspire each other at McKinsey, and we want to give you a sense of that when you meet us during interviews.

Lastly, remember that when you come to our interviews, you are not competing against others. We do not wait until the end of the application and interview season, compare interviewees between each other and then give out a limited number of offers. Instead, we have an absolute bar for excellence, and all those who pass the bar are extended an offer to join us.

Alright, so that is the essence of our interview philosophy. Now: how can you prepare in practice?

Practical tips for the preparation period

Don’t just focus on the problem-solving when you prepare. Spend time thinking about the “personal experiences” you want to talk about in your interview. That’s my first practical tip, because it’s the most important tip.

If you can, practice cases not just by yourself but also with friends. Have your friends play the interviewer role. The dynamic changes when you are exchanging ideas with someone, instead of thinking on your own. And in the interview, you’ll be in a discussion, exchanging ideas with someone. Someone like myself, actually.

Practice doing basic mathematics (with pen and paper). The McKinsey interview is not a numerical test. However, it is essential to be fast and accurate with the basics: percentages, divisions and multiplications.

Practice the art of synthesis. This is much more difficult that it sounds, especially when you have very little time, lots of new information, and many unknowns. Remember: a synthesis is not a summary of what you just did or discovered in the case. The synthesis is the summary plus the “so-what.” So what does everything you just learned mean?

Tips for the interview

Remember that all McKinsey interview cases are inspired by real life situations and client work we have done. Think about yourself as a counselor and a problem-solving partner. Take on a “What would I say to the CEO” kind of mindset – collect your thoughts, prioritize and structure them.

Relax! If you are sitting in the interview, you are talented and you have a CV full of wonderful accomplishments to show for it. The outcome of the interview doesn’t change that. We want the interview to be a good experience for you no matter what.

I wish you the best of luck in the interview. My colleagues at McKinsey Helsinki and I are looking forward meeting you!