About a year ago I got approached by a London-based recruiter asking if I would be interested in interviewing at McKinsey Digital.
I was aware that McKinsey is one of the most prestigious and recognisable brands in the field of management consulting. What I did not know, is that McKinsey Digital is their attempt to increase their footprint in the digital consulting space. With multiple offices around the world already, they were looking to hire experienced software specialists.
I have been a software developer my whole career but have always been quite interested in the consulting aspect of my work.
I decided to give it a shot. The role I applied for was advertised as Full Stack Engineer and was for the McKinsey’s London office.
When trying to prepare for my interviews, I could find lots of resources on interviewing at McKinsey and other consulting firms (there seems to exist a strangely big market around that). What I couldn’t easily find though was information on what to expect in the McKinsey Digital interview process specifically.
Having completed the interview process now, I want to share my experience taking part in this recruitment — in an article I wish I read before my interviews.
If you are considering applying to McKinsey Digital, or digital departments of other consulting firms, I hope this will be helpful. I will not share any specific questions I got asked, but I will try to give you a sense of what you can expect — and how to prepare.
The process overview
The recruitment process was kicked off with me sending my CV, and then I got contacted by a recruiter at McKinsey Digital for an initial chat.
The recruiter shared what the whole process would look like. There would be two “rounds” of interviews:
- The first one: two technical interviews focused on problem solving and pair programming, followed by a mini-case study + personal experience interview,
- The second one: involving a “lightning talk interview”, and two case study + personal experience interviews.
The first round was supposed to be conducted remotely, whereas the second one would be on-site, ideally with all interviews scheduled on the same day.
The process did not go perfectly according to plan — all my interviews were conducted remotely — because of logistics and scheduling problems. Here are the interviews I ended up having:
- General technical interview
- Pair programming interview
- Personal Experience + Case Study interview
- Personal Experience interview
- Lightning Talk interview
- Personal Experience Interview
Most of the conversations shared the same general format (30–60 minutes, 1 on 1, over Zoom, with video). They all included some pleasantries and talking broadly about each other’s experience, and had some time reserved for my questions.
The actual questions however differed quite a lot. Let’s break the interviews down a bit so you know what to expect.
General technical interview
The first technical interview in the process was conducted by a Digital Specialist. It was a one hour long general chat about my experience, discussing the projects I have been involved in from multiple angles: team structure, solutions implemented, challenges met, as well as my thoughts on various other aspects.
We also spent some time discussing our approaches to starting software projects, choosing technologies, working with teammates, and so on.
Overall, it was a really pleasant discussion without any “hard” technical questions. I suppose there are good answers and bad answers to all questions though :).
When it comes to preparing for this interview, I would suggest going through the list of projects that you have worked on, and thinking/making notes on the aspects I mentioned above. Coming up with some examples and stories beforehand makes the discussion much more interesting, and helps you highlight experiences because they were meaningful, and not because they were the ones that came to mind first.
Pair programming interview
The second interview was scheduled even before the first one took place. It was an hour long conversation with a Digital Expert Associate Partner.
This interview was much more technical than the first one. At first we spent some time introducing ourselves and chatting about my experience, and then we moved to the technical task.
It involved a typical interview-style coding puzzle, with an easy solution for the basic case, and some edge cases and complications thrown in later on. It wasn’t trivial, but not as difficult as I’ve seen at Palantir or Toptal. As far as I remember, we used one of the popular online IDEs, with the interviewer seeng my code in real time. After some more discussion on computational complexity and different approaches to solving the problem, we moved to more free-form questions.
Similarly to the first interview, we spent some time talking about my approach to choosing technologies, kicking off projects, etc. — this time based on more concrete examples. Some system design knowledge and intuition came in handy as well.
Personal Experience + Case Study Interviews
The “case studies” and “personal experience interview” seem to be one of the most common phrases you encounter when reading about interview processes at consulting companies. These types of interviews for the “generalist” (management) consulting positions at companies like McKinsey, BCG, or Bain supposedly require a lot of preparation and they are the ones that candidates fear most.
These interviews are also conducted for positions at McKinsey Digital, albeit they seem a bit less difficult (and important?). Before I got a chance to go through them, I was invited to join a webinar that would explain these types of interviews in more detail. Here’s what I learned:
Personal Experience Interview (PEI)
In this part of the interview, the interviewer wants to assess your team-centric and client-centric skills. Typically there would be a question along the lines of: “what was an example of a situation where you best represented X”, where X might be one of the following:
- Entrepreneurial drive,
- Personal impact and influence,
- Ability to set and achieve ambitious goals,
- Ability to face disagreements, resolve conflicts, etc.
It is good to have stories prepared that would address some of these areas, and then the interviewer would typically dive deeper into the situation, discuss actions, thoughts, effects, etc. The stories you have prepared would typically be about challenging situations, but they don’t have to be from your professional work. This part of the interview takes around 15 minutes.
Case Study Interview
The case study (part of an) interview is your chance to showcase how you approach solving challenging problems. It typically involves an interviewer sharing a story about an imagined problem/situation in one of their projects (they call them “studies”), and asking you to perform a qualitative and quantitive analysis of the situation. It is in a form of: “Client A wants to do B. Given data C, limitations D, and context E, what would you advise the client does?”.
Your task is to think through the data and situation with the interviewer, trying to show them how you:
- structure the problem,
- decide which issues are most important,
- deal with facts, data, and numbers,
- formulate recommendations,
- think in real time.
While there are often no “good” answers here, it is important that you approach this open-minded and in a structured way, and that you think through multiple aspects and come up with a recommendation based on data.
One approach that might help you structure your approach is what some call the “McKinsey mantra”: the MECE principle.
My PEI + Case Study interview
The webinar I joined was held for applicants to all positions at McKinsey. I was told that my Case Study interviews would be less demanding, and would be likely on solutions in the digital space.
My first interview of that type was an hour long conversation with a Partner at McKinsey Digital. Similarly to the previous conversations, we spent some time on questions from me, etc., but majority of it was following the structure outlined above — 15 minutes on personal experience questions, and then 30 minutes on the case study. It was, in fact, related to digital solutions, and was a really pleasant chat in general.
After finishing the interview, I was invited to join the second “round” of the recruitment process.
Personal experience interview
The second part of the process started with one more Personal Experience interview. This time, there were no case studies to solve.
I met with a Partner at McKinsey Digital, and it was very much in line with the Personal Experience Interview format I already knew. The question and area of focus were different, and the whole interview lasted 30 minutes — but in terms of preparation, it was the same thing as the Personal Experience part of my previous interview.
Lightning Talk Interview
The next interview was in a format that I have never seen before. I was asked to prepare a presentation about a piece of work or a recent project that I had been a part of. The goal was to summarise a technical project that I had found interesting or challenging.
The presentation was supposed to take about ten minutes. I prepared a few slides and some notes, and jumped on a video call with another Partner.
During the interview, we first went through my presentation, and then I was asked some questions diving deeper into the project I showcased. Neither the presentation nor the questions were very technical, but we discussed the solution space, challenges, etc. As usual, we spent some time on questions that I had for the interviewer.
Even before this interview, my next one — and one that turned out to be the last — was already scheduled.
As a last step in the recruitment process, I met for a Personal Experience type of interview with yet another Partner at the McKinsey Digital London office.
There were deeper questions related to my motivation for joining McKinsey, ambitions, etc., and we spent more time on my questions than on previous interviews. Still, most of the conversation was about my work experience and how it positioned me for a position at McKinsey.
There was nothing new in this interview format, other than me sharing some different aspects of my experience, and having the opportunity to meet one more person who I might have ended up working with.
After the interview
Just a few days after my final interview I received a call from the recruiter with good news — I was being offered a position at the McKinsey Digital London office.
After some conversations and deliberation, I decided not to accept the offer. I was also contacted by the McKinsey’s Warsaw office with an offer, but in the end that option did not work out either. Nevertheless, I was very satisfied with my performance in the recruitment process in general.
I don’t claim to have a perfect formula on how to prepare for McKinsey Digital interviews, but here are some thoughts that might be helpful:
- Technical parts of my interviews were quite challenging, but rather standard. If you are an experienced developer with good system design knowledge, communication skills, and still remember how to solve some algorithmic puzzles, you should be fine. If you want to prepare, I am sure any “how to prepare for Google/Facebook/Palantir/… interviews” guide will be more than satisfactory for McK Digital.
- The “consulting” and “soft skills” parts of interviews were less obvious. You can find tons of guides on preparing for Case Study interviews and Personal Experience Interviews, but don’t be intimidated — from what I know, they tend to be less challenging in case of Digital positions.
- Remembering and writing down some stories from past experience, where you displayed impact/leadership skills/ambition/drive, will definitely help a lot. With that prepared, I was able to structure my thoughts better, and was more clear on the details during conversations.
- Since most of the interviews started with a simple “tell me about yourself” question, I found it helpful to think about it beforehand and come up with a succinct and compelling story.
- Similarly, all the interviews had some time reserved for my questions. It was very productive to think these through before my interviews, and I recommend you do the same. It makes for a more interesting conversation (assuming you actually care about these questions), and asking good questions can earn you a few extra points as a side effect.
Even though I have decided not to join McKinsey Digital at this time, I am glad to have gone through the whole process. All the conversations I had were very interesting, professional, and insightful. They definitely helped me understand the consulting world a little bit better, and challenged me in new ways.
The only annoyance was related to scheduling — the whole process took quite some time (over two months). It was understandable though; partners’ calendars tend to be quite busy, and I definitely appreciated getting a chance to talk to a few senior employees with diverse experiences.
If you are an IT specialist who is considering a career in the consulting world (and are aware of its challenges), I would definitely recommend applying to McKinsey Digital. Based on my interview process, I think you could end up working with some great people. If you have any questions related to the interview process itself, do not hesitate reaching out to me.