Applying to McKinsey & Company: CVs, cover letters and interviews
Your CV and the optional covering letter you must submit when applying to McKinsey form the recruiters’ first evidence of your communication skills, so it is vital that you do yourself justice.
The firm is looking for evidence of impact, leadership, entrepreneurship, problem solving and an overall orientation towards achievement.
What McKinsey wants to see in your CV
McKinsey & Company requires an excellent academic record and evidence of leadership, which may be from workplace roles or extracurricular activities. Successful applicants will demonstrate an aptitude for analytics, an interest in business, and an enjoyment of teamwork and problem-solving. McKinsey suggests that you include all meaningful work experience, such as full-time jobs, internships and military service, even if they are not in a related field.
CVs for McKinsey should communicate more about your work experience than just the day-to-day responsibilities you performed: McKinsey is interested in the ‘impact’ you had and the changes you brought about. The firm is looking for evidence of impact, leadership, entrepreneurship, problem solving and an overall orientation towards achievement. Draw attention to positions of responsibility, especially where they reveal initiative, entrepreneurship or extraordinary commitment, significant extracurricular involvement and participation in sports and societies, but do not simply describe them: make your achievements, and how they demonstrate your strengths, clear.
Always use language that is clear to any reader; for example, if you are describing your final year engineering project or your university air squadron activities then try to limit any specialist descriptions and technical jargon.
Optional but recommended: your cover letter for McKinsey and how to pitch it
Unlike the CV, you are not required to submit a cover letter; however, you may find it a way to strengthen your application.
The essential point to remember is to write a unique cover letter for every employer you apply to. McKinsey expects to receive a cover letter that has been constructed with them, and no other firm, in mind – recruiters will be able to tell. Starting from fresh ensures that you will not copy and paste in any other firm’s name, and that everything you include will be relevant, considered and carefully targeted towards McKinsey & Company.
McKinsey states that the cover letter is a good place to draw attention to
- distinctive elements of your application – such as a role as president of a student society: were you elected in favour of other candidates? Has this given you experience of leadership? Of teamwork? Of delivering presentations? Of handling financial spreadsheets? Have you organised events, and on what scale?
- details regarding a reapplication – such as why you are now a stronger candidate
- an unusual situation – such as dates you will be unavailable for interview
You can use your cover letter to demonstrate an understanding of the role of the business analyst at McKinsey & Company, which will involve interviewing clients, delivering presentations, conducting desk research, analysing data and building financial models.
It’s a good idea to spend a paragraph detailing exactly why you want to work for McKinsey & Company in particular. You might like to focus on what differentiates it as an employer by mentioning, for instance, its mobility team who assist with a range of opportunities for moving abroad; this suggests McKinsey is committed to global opportunities – does this suit your ambitions? The firm also emphasises that it encourages entrepreneurial spirit in its employers: if relevant, you could pick up on this in your covering letter. It is important not to focus on the benefits the company offers and talk instead about the firm’s values and work.
The best cover letters explain not only why you want to work for that firm, but also why they want you to work for them. Link what you say about McKinsey and its business analyst role back to your own values, achievements, strengths and experiences. Recruiters read hundreds of cover letters: make it easy for them to see why you are different.
The first round comprises two hour-long interviews; both include a case study and personal experience question. See below for more detail on case and experience interview questions. Applicants successful at this stage are invited to a second and final round of interviews, which is a half-day assessment that features a case interview and may include an advanced Problem Solving Test - practice tests an be found on McKinsey's careers website. This is in addition to two hour-long case and experience interviews similar to the first round.
McKinsey experience interview
This is a discussion of the candidate's CV, particularly extracurricular activities or work experience that showcase soft skills required of a consultant. Ultimately the interviewer is looking for someone who is client-safe. It's a good idea to watch the video on the firm's website which talks through what candidates can expect from each type of interview, and gives advice on the the best way to approach the questions. It is important to remember that a lot of the interview should form a two-way conversation. The interviewers want to connect with you so it is important to engage with them, allowing them to get to know you. McKinsey relies on behavioural questions to assess candidate-fit. Previous McKinsey experience interview questions are reported to include:
- Name a time you resolved a conflict.
- Describe a situation when you had to deal with a difficult team member.
- How would you fix the European economy?
McKinsey case interview
This discussion of a typical McKinsey business case doesn't require client knowledge. Instead it demands the application of logic, estimation and quantitative skills to identify and process relevant data and use it to solve a commercial problem – the sort of work a McKinsey business analyst does every day. You can try a few examples on the firm's website, which also provides examples of the best reponses for each question, and read our advice on case study interviews. Previous McKinsey case questions are reported to include:
- What is the future value of an investment in building a hospital with 'x' capital and 'y' internal rate of return?
- Should company 'x' grow the business or cut costs?