All you need to know in order to ace the personal experience interview (PEI) at McKinsey.
Typical structure of a McKinsey interview
If you’re attending a McKinsey assessment day, you will typically have around 4 interviews during the day, each one of those with a consultant. Such an assessment-day can last from 9am until 7/8pm with interview duration of 60mins each on average.
Usually, you will start off with 2 cases in the morning and then at mid-day after lunch a decision will be taken whether you’ll be able to continue with another 2 interviews.
Remember that the interviews will most of the time consist of the following parts:
1) Motivation: Why consulting? Why our company?
2) Case interview
3) Personal Experience/ behavioural interview
How important is the Personal Experience interview?
Each of those areas will be very likely touched upon in EACH of those 4 or so interviews. McKinsey tends to stick to this structure quite heavily.
However, in my own experience if you perform well on the 2-3 cases from the get go, the latter interviews (i.e. the 3rd and 4th) might put even more emphasis on Personal Experience. The seniority level of the interviewers also tends to increase as you progress through the day with Associate Partners and Partners most likely to conduct your final interview(s).
At the same time more senior people in The Firm might be less keen on running through another case study if they’ve already been informed that you did very well on the first 2-3 cases. Thus the likelihood increases that instead they will fill more time of the interview with the Personal Experience part, which means that you might have to recount 2-3 different situations in a single interview.
What will be covered in the PEI
Questions that will be asked in the PEI typically fall into the following categories:
Personal impact questions
Lets now dive into each of the specific categories and look at experiences/achievements that you can leverage to tell Great PEI stories.
An example of a good “Personal Impact” story might be:
You motivated a team to go ahead and achieve great things
You found a creative solution to a problem
You had a great impact on an individual that went on to do great things (e.g. mentoring somebody)
You might want to think about situations that showcase your determination, sacrifice and your ability to succeed. Such as a time where you set yourself an ambitious target and achieved it (ideally overachieved) by overcoming one or more obstacles. Ideally you want to be able to quantify your success. Good examples could be:
Being ranked in the top 10% of your associate peer group and being promoted early
You set up an venture capital association at your university that went on to organize talks with local entrepreneurs and which became the most popular events with cumulative attendees of more than 1,000 students
Good “Leadership” stories tend to involve teamwork. Great examples would be:
You kept a team “together” at business school by resolving an internal conflict. Your team ended up getting the top grade in the course
You leveraged your abilities to enable a team member to perform at its best which lead to great outcome for the team
The key to winning in those experiences is to focus on the hurdles you faced and you how you managed to overcome those. From our own experience, especially in interviews #3 and #4 the interviewers will ask a lot of probing questions.
How many “experiences” should you prepare?
It makes sense not to underestimate the Personal Experience interview. Take the time to prepare well for this part. While this section might only account for 15-20mins of each interview it might be the area where you can set yourself apart from the competition. At the very least you want to prepare one story each that touches on each for the following areas: Personal Impact, Drive and Leadership. This is the very minimum we recommend you prepare 3 stories, but 4 stories would be ideal and give more wiggle room if the interviewer decides that he wants to talk about another story/ situation.
Each of those areas might be not be mutually exclusive as often you might be able to emphasize different aspects of your experiences that might make it more of a drive or personal impact story.
Structure Your Story with the STAR-method
How you tell your story is very important. McKinsey interviewers typically want to see you tell your story using the 'STAR'-method because it forces candidates to be very specific about their experiences and accomplishments. Also it allows the interviewer to follow up with detailed questions on how you handled situations such as resistance and in general hurdles that you had to overcome.
S - Situation: What situation did you face?
T - Task: What was demanded from you?
A - Action: What exactly did you do?
R - Result: What were the result of your actions?
Let's look into an example in order to provide some context how you might want to apply the framework.
Let's say you where an account manager at a start-up and managed to win 2 new large customers for your company's new beacon-based app. Would could break down the story as follows:
Situation/ Task: You were the key account manager for the area of drug and cosmetics stores in a start-up that was creating a new rewards program based on beacon technology. The start-up was struggling winning new clients and would likely have difficulties getting new funding if we didn't win at least 1 new customer over the next 2-3 months.
Action: You knew of 2 large corporates that you had not been able to convert as clients yet. In order to win them, you would need to offer them a deal with very limited downside but that would lock them in for the future. You calculated the potential customer life time value of those clients and convinced your CEO to offer them a free trial for 3 months. After some intense discussions and negotiation with you bonding with their heads of marketing you won 2 new clients within 2 months that would contribute up to $2mn of incremental revenues over the coming year.
Result: The new agreement allowed your company to post stellar growth rates which helped to secure another funding round. Within 6 months later you were promoted to take over account management role for retail clients.
It is important to keep the description succinct at the beginning. In any case you will receive follow-up questions such as: how did you convince your CEO to offer a free tial?, How did you manage to bond with the heads of marketing?, What would you have done if you had not won over those 2 clients?, etc. Be prepare for those questions.
In any case don't try to fake accomplishments. As you can see the follow-up questions will quickly reveal exaggerations on your part.