A friend recently asked me what advice could I give her nephew who wanted to work for McKinsey. Did I still know people on the inside who could fast-track his application? It is not the first time I get approached like this. Even at business school, classmates who had not been invited for the famous McKinsey test or the interview would approach me and try to get me to lobby some influential partner to interview them.
I know many organisations work this way, and I don’t want to say it never happens, but I think those interested in McKinsey careers need to understand the ethos and values of the organisation better. McKinsey considers itself a highly meritocratic organisation and McKinsey consultants are encouraged to make decisions based on data and hard facts. This approach encompasses all decisions made and work conducted at the firm, including recruiting.
Hence, in order to get an invite for the test, the most promising route is:
- attend a highly selective, prestigious university, like an Ivy League institution in the US, Oxbridge in the UK, Grandes Ecoles in France of a top 20 global business school (INSEAD, HBS etc.)
- attain a very high score on any sort of standardised test (SAT, GMAT)
- list any prizes and scholarship attained, the more prestigious the better (Mathematics Olympiad, Rhodes Scholarship, Fulbright Scholarship etc.)
- Graduate with distinction
- Add any additional extra-curricular achievements of note, leadership positions, special skills (you’ll find plenty of Marathon runners, triathletes and the like at McKinsey)
So this is the most promising path for getting an interview. If you graduate from a mediocre institution with an above average degree, no amount of network is going to get you into the Firm, unfortunately. Now that you have covered the basics (gulp!), you will be invited for the test. Again, it is very simple, when you take the test, you need to get a high score. If you don’t score well, they will not interview you further, no matter how stellar your CV is. I don’t know how it is possible but I have met computer scientists with excellent grades who didn’t score highly enough on the test to pass. It is more of a problem-solving test, potentially if you are purely technical but can’t handle unexpected problems, the test can throw you off guard, so don’t think just because you studied Maths or Engineering you will ace it. Expect a challenge and then you won’t get nervous during the test.
Only following these hurdles, a candidate would be interviewed, and that’s when serious case interview practice comes in handy. I am not saying networking is completely irrelevant, of course it is possible to get someone to look at your CV a bit more closely, but in my experience, if the objective track record is not there, all attempts at networking are futile.