In the photo: terrace of the McKinsey London office over Piccadilly Circus Square. © Victor Rogulenko
At the request of our readers, I’ll describe my step by step preparation strategy for McKinsey, Bain, BCG and Oliver Wyman. In the attachments below you’ll find my resumes and motivational letters.
What was the result? I didn’t pass the BCG screening, and refused to pass the selection at Bain and Oliver Wyman after the first rounds, as I received an offer from McKinsey, my number 1 choice.
I’ve never participated in case-championships and case clubs while studying at university. Therefore, my experience preparing in 9 weeks will be useful to those preparing from scratch. Do note, I prepared for 9 weeks almost full time. If you are working or studying, it might take you longer. It also might take you longer (or faster), depending on your background in math and English. Many things might seem trivial to experienced candidates, but repetition is the mother of learning.
Disclaimer:I do not select employees for McKinsey, do not conduct interviews and do not have any confidential knowledge of these issues. All that I will be describing below is a set of my own actions that worked. They may or may not work for you. Use your brain, otherwise it won’t work.
The selection to any consulting company consists of four stages.
- CV and cover letter screening
- Business test (McKinsey Problem Solving Test (PST), BCG Potential Test) or written case (Bain)
- First round of interviews with managers: 2-3 cases and discussion of motivational stories
- Second round of interviews – with partners. Similar to the first round, but with a focus on motivation
The purpose of the selection process is to identify candidates according to a number of criteria. In terms of criteria, the differences between companies are minimal. See each company’s website and my article for more details.
- The ability to make a positive contribution to a common cause (personal impact)
- Entrepreneurial drive
- Analytical thinking (problem-solving skills)
- Orientation around achievement and
The task of the candidate is to demonstrate the possession of each of these skills and demonstrate exceptional skills in at least one of them (spike). For example, my spike was in problem solving. How I demonstrated it: I graduated with honors from the Italian master’s program with a quantitative bias and finished the first year in American postgraduate studies in economics. Read more about a consultants profile here.
My steps to getting a McKinsey offer
(1) Resume writing– 2 weeks
A resume is a one-page review of the key professional achievements of a candidate. I tried to make it interesting for the reader and to make him want to talk to me personally.
I kept to the following rules:
- Strictly not longer than 1 page. 2 or more pages is a huge minus to the profile;
- Clear structure: education, professional experience, extra-curricular activities, skills;
- Demonstrate achievements according to all selection criteria;
- Maximum quantifiable achievements: ranked top 5% of the class, completed 10 reports, organized 2 competitions, saved RUR 400K for the student club, etc.;
- Maximum active verbs: advised, built, coached, completed, created, delivered, led, managed, organized, persuaded;
- If possible, eliminate the passive verbs: assisted, helped, participated, supported;
- Neat format without grammatical errors and unformatted lines;
- Discuss the resume with experienced friends;
By the way, this is the resume template for Stanford graduates. Worth a look.
(2) Cover letter writing – in parallel with the resume
The main points are as follows:
- Strictly not longer than 1 page. 2 or more pages is a huge minus to the profile
- Clear structure:
- Do not limit yourself to general words and tell short stories about your interest towards the company (e.g. how you participated in the company’s events)
- Neat format without grammatical errors and unformatted lines
- Discuss the resume with experienced friends
- Here is what I wrote for McKinsey.
(3) Solved 10 PST tests – 2 weeks
The PST test shouldn’t be underestimated. Many experienced and talented friends of mine failed it. I was lucky: the debate club held in English and life in the United States, along with mathematical preparation in school and graduate school helped. However, even such experience could not replace systematic preparation.
How I prepared for PST
- Downloaded and solved 1 test from the McKinsey website without time constraint.Understood the format and recognized analyzed my mistakes;
- Explored materials of Victor Cheng;
- Examined the theoretical base of the test (I’ve made a series of webinars on the topic);
- Revised the tasks from mathematical parts of GMAT and GRE. There are lots of them on the Internet;
- Downloaded 7 free tests similar to PST. Solved them counting time (60 minutes). Reached a stable result of 20 and more correct answers out of 26;
- Solved the remaining 2 tests from the McKinsey website;
- A lot of PST trial tests can be bought online. If after 10 solved tests you still have problems, buy them. If you need more serious and systematic training, if you cherish your time and want to invest your time in achieving a result, I recommend you our PST preparation course;
- Or one of the wider courses on math to train your mental and business math or a course in English (based on GMAT and GRE tests) which will boost your language proficiency for the purpose of the test;
- Preparation for the written case was much easier. I just solved as many cases as possible. Before the Bain interview, I solved about 25 cases, and there were no problems in the selection process.
(4) Read Victor Cheng’s “Case Interview Secrets” – 1 week
Only 130 pages and all are relevant. Reading other books (“Case In Point” and others) from my point of view is a waste of time, which is always precious. I never read them and will not recommend them to you either.
Benefits of the book: theoretical preparation for hypothesis testing and creation of issue trees, two universal structures (Revenue/Cost and Customer-Product-Competition-Company) and understanding of how to create my own structures.
(5) Listened to Victor Cheng’s audio course “Look Over My Shoulder” – in parallel with the book
9 representative cases with weak, medium and strong candidates. I paid special attention to the strong ones. I set a goal to reach their level. I periodically listened to the best records when solving cases with partners.
What I learned from the audio course:
- After the interviewer introduces the case, you should repeat the information you heard and the main question of the case. Make notes;
- At all stages of case solving you should have a hypothesis and update it with each new piece of information;
- Take a pause and structure the approach based on your initial hypothesis;
- If possible, make a MECE structure (mutually exclusive, collectively exhausted);
- Explain each element of the structure and how information on it will affect the hypothesis;
- When analyzing, move sequentially through the structure and do intermediate synthesis, returning to the hypothesis;
- Once you discover the problem on which to concentrate, quickly close other branches of the analysis;
- Make a short and high-quality synthesis and give a recommendation.
(6) Solved 52 business cases and provided the same amount as a coach – 4 weeks
I quickly moved from theory to practice. The most effective was training with other candidates. I would give a case to my partner and then vice versa. In this case it was possible to look at the process both through the eyes of the candidate and the eyes of the interviewer. A feedback from your mate is also very useful. Although it turned out that giving feedback was even more useful, because you see other people’s mistakes and learn to avoid them yourself.
I had 8 partners. I found them here:
- On LinkedIn;
- University case clubs;
I recommend you focus on foreign partners. They are often stronger than Russian candidates and provide with opportunity to practice English. For example, I had 3 Russian-speaking partners and 5 English-speaking partners from Germany, USA, China and Australia. All cases were solved by Skype, didn’t want to spend time on logistics.
Is it important to do case studies with someone from the Big Three consultants? In my opinion, no. I prepared only with other candidates.
Where did I find cases? In case collections of business schools, business clubs and on the Internet. There are a few more books on the McKinsey website.
There is also a more serious and systematic training option – Business Case Structuring course that we offer at Fless.
What I learned from practicing case interviews:
- Ability to solve case studies;
- Strong synthesis skill. I think it was the skill that ensured my success in interviews;
- Self-confidence. Before the first round, I solved only 15 cases and felt significant anxiety. By the second round, I had already solved 52 cases and knew that I was prepared well enough not to be afraid.
(7) Prepared stories from my personal experience – in parallel with case solving
An important part of the selection process often forgotten by many candidates. Fortunately, I was fully armed. I wrote a story on each of the following topics:
- Personal Impact,
- Entrepreneurial Drive
Here is what I managed to write.
An example of my personal story demonstrating Personal Impact.
- This article was written in September 2015, several months before I quit to start an online education business. Read about my 3 years of experience working at McKinsey here.
- Consulting: my McKinsey story. Introduction.
- Consulting: my McKinsey story. Interviews and week zero.
- First engagement
- Making your own McKinsey
(8) Prepared answers to questions – in parallel with case solving
Similar to stories from personal experience, I wrote down ideas on each of the topics
- Why consulting?
- Why McKinsey?
- Where do you see yourself in 5/10/15 years and how will McKinsey help you achieve your goals?
- Why are you better than other candidates?
What I gained from this experience:
- A deeper understanding why I need consulting;
- Ability to discuss my goals with the interviewer which demonstrated my maturity;
(9) Got enough sleep before the test and each round
For me it’s an important factor of success. Several friends of mine slept 2-3 hours the night before the test/interview and failed the selection. I know that I look bad and my brain refuses to work correctly if I don’t have enough sleep. That’s why before every stage of the selection process I went to sleep at 10 p.m., got up at 6 a.m., had good breakfast and went to the office well in advance. It would have been silly to fail because of nonsense after all the efforts. I did everything to prevent this.
That’s how I managed to prepare for consulting selection in 9 weeks and successfully pass it. I would be glad if my notes were useful to you. See my motivational letters in BCG and Oliver Wyman in the attachment.
Thanks for reading
Cover Letter for BCG BCG (unsuccessful)
December 4, 2011
BCG CORPORATE FINANCE UNLIMITED WORKSHOP
Dear Recruitment Manager,
I am currently enrolled in the first year of Master of Science in Economic and Social Sciences at the Bocconi University, Milan, and would like to be considered for participation in BCG Corporate Finance Unlimited Workshop, which will take place on February 11 and 12 in Paris.
I believe the Workshop is a unique opportunity to gain valuable practical experience, extend my social network and learn more about a career in BCG’s corporate finance advisory. Indeed, to me it would mean practical application for my theoretical company assessment skills, which I gained while writing my bachelor’s thesis on evaluating particular opportunities for M&A in Russian FMCG retail. Moreover, it would provide a deep insight into the deal’s strategic implications for the client, issue which I briefly got acquainted with at MGIMO-University business debates on acquisition of Gillette by P&G, and which could be most efficiently tackled by BCG consultants – world leaders in business strategy advisory. Finally, presenting recommendations to the board of directors would be a great exercise for both rhetorical skills and coupling thought with action, which is essential for a successful career in any field but is lacking in academic environment.
The Workshop is also a unique networking event, since it will gather top university students from all over Europe, young men and women with diverse backgrounds and experiences but one passion I share, too: strategic consulting. I’m sure to meet them often in my career, that’s why building relations with them at first opportunity is my high priority. Moreover, the Workshop would allow me to plunge into the BCG environment and, constantly collaborating with its consultants and discussing various professional issues, shape my view of a career in the Firm’s corporate finance advisory and of what I should do to take this path.
I would be happy to bring to the Workshop my willingness and ability to communicate within a multicultural environment, which I acquired through my international academic career and work as interpreter. Moreover, multitasking and time management skills I improved during internships at Storewars and Citibank in spring and summer 2010 would ensure my thorough analysis of the case under the time limits, whereas analytical and rhetorical skills I developed at MGIMO Debate Club would help me to present its results efficiently. Finally, my quantitative skills acquired in programming competitions at high school and later through advanced quantitative courses at Bocconi would also find excellent application at the Workshop.
Thank you very much for considering my application.
Covel Letter for Oliver Wyman (successful)
OLIVER WYMAN FINANCIAL SERVICES
Dear Recruitment Manager,
I am currently enrolled in the second year of Master of Science in Economic and Social Sciences at the Bocconi University, Milan, and would like to be considered for an Entry Level Consultant position with the Moscow office starting in July 2013.
It is an exciting time to become a financial consultant. In the past decades, the financial sector has gained enormous power over economies, with the financial crisis of 2008 and the current debt crisis of the euro area being notorious illustrations to this new status quo. Once too often banks, regulators, insurers, and other participants in the financial services industry appear incapable of running it efficiently on their own. And this is when financial consultants come into play. Backed with tremendous experience early in their careers due to the exposure to various projects, and equipped with cutting-edge quantitative tools enabling them to conduct rigorous analysis as opposed to general management consulting twaddle, financial consultants are now instrumental to the successful economic development of any country in the world. I want to be one of those people.
Undoubtedly, the best place to be a financial consultant is OWFS. Throughout the years of excellent performance, the Firm has secured its reputation of the thought leader in the industry. Consequently, it works on the most fascinating and influential projects, like the recent Stress Testing Exercise for the Spanish banking sector. The Firm’s main driver (especially in the Moscow office) is Finance and Risk, which places quantitative models on the top of a consultant’s toolbox and is especially appealing to a math-oriented person like myself. Moreover, OWFS employs many advanced economics masters graduates (e.g. from New Economic School), meaning that my background would fit the Firm perfectly.
Besides my strong motivation, there are several reasons to believe I would be a fit for OWFS. I have developed strong problem-solving skills and deep expertise in economics through my Master of Science program at Bocconi University and the exchange year at the Economics PhD program of the University of Minnesota. The latter experience also taught me how to deal with considerable workload and tight deadlines, inevitable companions of any high-caliber PhD. Internship at Citibank, where my colleagues and I together developed database procedures and supported other units on software-related issues, has taught me the importance and benefits of teamwork. I have shown leadership skills through organizing events at MGIMO Debate Club, including two international tournaments, and coaching less experienced debaters. Interpreting for businessmen and politicians, I have improved my communication skills, learned to deal with pressured situations and mitigate conflicts. Finally, speaking 4 languages and having lived in 3 countries, I believe I would both fit in and be able to contribute to Oliver Wyman’s cosmopolitan environment.
I thank you for considering my application and hope very much to be invited for an interview.