MBA Internships + McKinsey Interview

The smell of mild anxiety is pervading the MBA air at the moment. It’s internship search season. Those of us who are not sponsored by a particular company are scrabbling around, trying to secure a summer placement and avoid having to come back to school for another term of classes.

In truth it’s probably too early to panic. While the banks, top consultancies and a few other sectors run organised MBA internships, most people (70% historically) tend to spend their summer doing more ad hoc projects for local or national companies. These projects don’t tend to be advertised until March / April at the earliest so those who don’t pick up anything from the blue chips still have plenty of time to get themselves sorted.

MBA McDonalds

My summer internship?

In my case, I’m perfectly happy to work on a local project so am not desperate to gain a formal internship. As such, rather than blanketing all companies who have an MBS programme, I have limited my applications to places that would stand out on my CV and also add valuable skills to my repertoire. For me this means the big three strategy consultancies – McKinsey, BCG & Bain – plus Google.

MBS isn’t a target school for BCG & Bain so I’m not holding out too much hope of a response from them. I was, however, lucky enough to be one of the four MBS students invited for a first round internship interview at McKinsey last week.

I headed apprehensively to London ready to don my flak jacket in the face of a fierce grilling, but I have to say that the people at McKinsey couldn’t have been nicer and I left their offices with a warm glow in my tummy (short lived as I started beating up on myself for a couple of mistakes).

For those that are interested, the McKinsey first round consists of two separate interviews, both segmented into two parts:

The first segment is based on your previous experience. However, it’s not like your standard experience interview where they run through your CV point by point. McKinsey’s MO is to focus purely on one situation that you have shown leadership and personal impact. In fact it is actually more like one specific part of said situation (e.g. just down to one meeting or phone call). They then drill down to what you did and said at that moment, why you did it and what the result was. Twenty minutes scrutinising just one event is pretty intense so it is imperative you’ve prepared well and don’t just turn up expecting to wing it. I knew most of this was coming so had boned up on a number of events that I could talk about. I was still thrown, however, when I wasn’t allowed to give any background detail and had to dive right in to the critical incident.

The second phase is a case interview. This consists of a simplified simulation of actual consulting work. The idea is to ask appropriate questions in order to secure the right data needed to solve the problem. You then need to analyse the data and make final recommendations to the “client”. You are judged on the way you structure an analysis and work through the problem rather than whether you end up with the “right” answer.

In terms of my performance, this was the first interview I’ve had that walked out with no clue as to how well I did. Were the interviewers so nice because I’d breezed it or because they had road kill in front of them that they wanted to put out of its misery without undue pain?

The first interview started late and, as such, the interviewer seemed to want to fire through it quickly, even prodding me down the right path in the case interview a couple of times. I get the impression he made his mind up about me early on so wasn’t bothered with mechanically running through the process. Whether that decision was positive or negative was impossible to tell. The second interview was a bit more rigorous but, again, because the interviewer was so supportive it was hard to tell whether the couple of  stutters and minor logical errors I made will count me out or not. Either way, all the preparation I’ve done has certainly sharpened my consultancy and interview skills back up to match fitness so it will still have been worth it.

Results are in tomorrow – I’ll be sure to let you know if the Emperor has his thumb pointed skywards or towards the gutters.

6 thoughts on “MBA Internships + McKinsey Interview

  1. Ceasar has spoken. I’m through to the next round! It’s this Friday with two interviews that are similar to the first round plus one roleplay.
    Wish me luck!

  2. Thanks for the best wishes Hugo. I’ve just returned from my day down in London and unfortunately the news isn’t good. I haven’t been offered the position of Summer Associate. The bitter pill was broken to me via phone when I was in the vestibule area of a London-Manchester Virgin train with the smells of effluvia wafting through from the adjacent toilet which made the experience all the more pleasant! Gutted….

    The feedback I received was that, although my problem structuring was strong, I was a little inconsistent on the numbers, should have given “bigger” experience stories that really showcased my leadership skills and also that I should have been more proactive in idea generation (i.e. offering innovative solutions to the case).

    If I were a sportsman I would now be talking about “taking the positives from this and moving on”. However, I’m not a sportsman so I’ll just take the negatives and try my damndest to make sure they don’t happen again.

    To this end, what are the lessons that can be learnt (and hopefully benefit future McKinsey final round interviewees)?

    1. Keep your eye on the ball of the ultimate client goal in the case interview. i.e. what is the objective (increase revenue / profits / etc). Do not be afraid to suggest possible solutions once you have a hypothesis as to how to solve the case.
    2. Make sure that your experience stories are bigger and better than the ones in the first interview. If you don’t have anything bigger then it might be better to use them again rather than have something that looks a little too “kitchen sink”.
    3. Practice, practice then practice some more. I certainly rehearsed a lot in the run up to my interviews but looking back, I should have focused more on talking like a consultant – numbering my lists, building toward solutions, etc.

  3. Having cogitated overnight on this I would also add the following:

    4. Take charge. The McKinsey case format is interviewer led so when you have practiced a lot of these types of cases you can end up just reacting solely to the individual questions asked and not digging deeper into issues or referring back to what you have already learned. I think I may have fallen into this trap and that is what led me to make some of the mistakes above. Had I previously completed more candidate led interviews I may have been more comfortable leading the case and suggesting possible solutions.

  4. Pingback: Business Planning on the Manchester MBA | MBA Manchester

  5. Thanks for the very usefull information you are giving to us. I’m a MBA candidate starting this year and with this experience you told us, I’m already preparing myself technically and psychologically.

    Best wishes in what come next for you!


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