Consulting jobs are consistently among the most desired positions for young people.
The Harvard Crimson reports that over a third of Harvard graduates go on to work for consulting firms. This means that at a company like McKinsey & Company, one of the top-ranked consulting firms in the world, candidates are competing with thousands and thousands of other bright young people.
The job title "Consultant" is familiar to many, but its responsibilities aren't always clear. Essentially, management consulting firms are hired by organizations to assess and address problems, such as downsizing, acquisition or restructuring. The two assets that consulting firms have to offer are simple — smart people and a patented problem-solving approach. So if you want to get a job at McKinsey, expect to systematically prove your smarts.
"We take great pride in our hiring process," Kerry Casey, Director of Americas Recruiting for McKinsey, tells CNBC Make It. "The assessment team goes to great lengths to oversee and implement our interview process and continually keep an eye on it and maintain consistency."
This consistency is central not only to McKinsey's hiring practices but also to its culture and its business model.
"We cross all different types of business scenarios where we have been brought in to help clients solve their toughest problems and we use a very structured approach in terms of trying to help them resolve it," says Casey. "It crosses every industry, it crosses every sector, it's rather broad."
Jobs at McKinsey can range from highly specific tech roles, where workers specialize their skills to a management consulting position in which workers must gracefully transition from client to client and across industries on a regular basis.
Just like everything else at the company, the hiring process at McKinsey follows a specific series of protocols. Here's how to land a job at McKinsey:
McKinsey is known for being the first major management consulting firm to recruit employees straight out of college. Today, this program remains a key source of talent for the firm.
"We accept applications from anybody, any program, any student, but there are schools where we know there is a hotbed of talent," says Caitlin Storhaug, who leads global recruiting communications for McKinsey. "So we recruit from the programs that everyone has heard about like Wharton, Stanford and MIT, but we also recruit from a lot of other schools around the world that might have a really excellent program in something we are looking for, like a great engineering program or a really great agriculture program or a really great digital program."
While firms like McKinsey consider a wide range of applicants with a wide range of academic backgrounds, there are specific majors that the company is looking for these days.
"Traditionally we have hired a lot of either undergrad business students or MBA students," says Storhaug. And increasingly, the company is hiring people with masters degrees, she adds.
Once a candidate has earned an interview at McKinsey, they follow the firm's meticulously crafted hiring process. The first stage includes a phone interview with a recruiter and a mini case study conducted over the phone, which is used to assess a baseline of skills and problem-solving abilities. This process is meant to make the candidate more comfortable with McKinsey's interview process, says Casey.
"We are not trying to get people out of the process, we are trying to get them into the firm," she says. "So we spend a lot of time trying to get to know them and getting them comfortable with us."
Analyze and speak up
Next is a more formal in-person application process which can be broken into two parts — a case exercise and personal interview. Through both of these parts, candidates should focus on demonstrating their ability to analyze problems. "We look for analytical people who want to create positive results for clients," explains Casey.
The often dreaded case exercise is not meant to scare workers but rather to give hiring managers the opportunity to watch a candidate assess and solve a problem first-hand. "It enables the candidate to learn more about the work that we're doing and it gives us a first-hand view of how this individual thinks," says Casey. Depending on the role, this case exercise could be a business scenario, a coding test or a design challenge.
While applicants often fret about this first portion of the in-person interview process, Casey says that candidates should spend more time practicing for the personal interview. "It's used with all candidates so I would recommend a very strong focus," she says. "It's a true differentiator."
In order to prepare for this portion and make yourself stand out from the competition, Casey stresses that candidates should practice personal interview questions out loud. "I would recommend this for McKinsey or any firm," she says. "Practice in your head and out loud. I did this in the car by myself when I was interviewing and it makes a very big difference."
In order to put your best foot forward, candidates need to use the case study and the personal interview to show off what McKinsey is looking for in an employee.
McKinsey, like nearly every modern company, is hungry for tech skills. "We are seeing tech and digital skills become more prevalent as we grow and expand into new areas, so there's definitely a focus there," says Casey. This includes technologists, engineers and user experience experts. Even if you are not applying for a role that is technical in nature, it is incredibly valuable to demonstrate that you are digitally literate and are comfortable learning new technologies.
Finally, Casey emphasizes that McKinsey hires are natural leaders with an entrepreneurial spirit.
"We look for demonstrated leadership skills and experience to help those clients actually solve the problem that they brought us in for," she says. "They have taken risks and have an entrepreneurial bent."
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