What McKinsey Seeks In MBA Hires

Consultants at company event

What do you look for in a resume and background that many candidates might not consider?

I’ll share something Dominic Barton, McKinsey’s global managing director, told summer associates this past July at our North America Summer’s Conference in Miami. During a Q&A session, someone asked him what he’d suggest people focus on for a successful career. His answer was deceptively simple – “be interesting.”  He went on to tell a few stories of how much he enjoys getting to know colleagues and clients as he travels around the world and those who have more than work to talk about stand out – as colleagues and client leaders.  They have interests, hobbies, skills, and passions.  They are excellent business people who relate well to others, have empathy and know who they are themselves. That’s what makes them distinctive and interesting and successful.

If an MBA was weighing an offer from McKinsey and another firm, what would give you the edge?

I would talk to the person about a couple things. First of all, scale matters so make sure you know how the firms you’re considering compare. McKinsey is in more than 60 countries with more than 100 offices, which translates into enormous depth, breadth and opportunity. Our people have the opportunity to work anywhere in the world – near home or on the other side of the world – and they can tap into a truly global network of experts and expertise, of research, of colleagues who work to serve clients and find the best answers to the most complex questions.

I often say to candidates that if you know what you want to do, come to McKinsey because we likely do it. I also say that if you don’t know what you want to do, you should also come to McKinsey because it’s an excellent place to test out different industries and functions and find out where your passion is.

Beyond the impact of scale on client service, scale helps your career trajectory and a McKinsey network can be the best career tool a person can have. There is someone at McKinsey – or among our 28,000 alumni – who knows a lot about almost any topic you can imagine. Our culture is such that an email or phone call is all you need to connect with that person. And that goes for questions about client work or for when it’s time to take your next step within or beyond McKinsey.

Secondly, I would talk to the person about how McKinsey is evolving and reinventing the consulting industry.  Professor Clay Christianson at Harvard wrote about the disruption of the management consulting industry and specifically cited McKinsey as a best practice. This is important from both a client service and career standpoint… a candidate should join an organization that is vibrant and strategically positioned.

Recruiting can be a two-way street. What has McKinsey done to make itself more appealing to MBA candidates?

Not surprisingly, we do a lot of analysis of what our people and recruits value in their careers. We are always looking at what we can offer our people to help them grow and get the most out of their career and life. One theme is flexibility: A single program doesn’t fit everyone so we encourage people to ask for what they need and we promote an environment of flexibility and respect.

A couple initiatives I will mention are Take Time and Pace.

Take TIme

Our Take Time program allows consultants to take extra time off (typically 5-10 weeks per year beyond vacation time) between engagements for their personal interests and passions. It could be to spend time with family, study, pursue a hobby or go on a dream trip. This model takes advantage of the project-based nature of consulting and helps consultants take additional time away so they can focus on other areas of their lives. The initiative has been around for a few years and has been wildly popular.  he stories I’ve heard of what people do – play in a concert series, write a novel, finish a degree, travel and volunteer abroad – are cool and inspiring.

[Editor’s Note: To read some of these inspiring stories, click here.]

Another great initiative is the Pace program, which recognizes that not everyone wants to advance their career at the same speed and gives consultants more control over their career trajectory.  While professional services traditionally used the ‘up or out’ model where people had to advance at a standard rate, McKinsey doesn’t adhere to that strict model and, again, recognizes that flexibility is key.

Pace provides the option for consultants to stay in their current role longer, while continuing to develop and be challenged professionally. The program gives participants greater control over their career progression by reducing the pressure to fulfill requirements for the next role. The feedback so far has been overwhelmingly positive and we find our consultants appreciate the flexibility and alternative ways to manage their careers.

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  • Xthinker

    You said that McKinsey makes almost as much than Bain and BCG but according to Wikipedia, McKinsey has 9,000 consultants; BCG has 4,500 and Bain has 4,000 consultants -> McKinsey might not be doing so well after all…

  • Marchin’ Lootin’ King

    The article is like Karl Marx telling us how successful and happy the Soviet Union is. No one can be bothered.

  • MckinseyAssociate-14

    Unfortunately, I have to agree.

  • sad

    lol, you need to walk around an english classroom

  • RedRiser

    Poetsandquants already did that for us:

    MBB at #2, Bain at #4, BCG at #6

  • ivyelite30

    why do u dont walk around the ivies or in the valley or nyc and see if anyone’s jaw drops that you got an MBB offer

  • RedRiser

    Sounds like someone’s a little bitter…

  • JohnnyGorgeous

    Yes. Recruiters do a quick phone screen and then schedule a interview for you with the company.

  • MBBplease

    What do you mean by “job invites”? Like opportunities to interview?

  • JohnnyGorgeous

    Actually ivyelite30, MBB is good for all of those things. I was at Bain this last summer, and my team ran 100% of the product launch for a Fortune 50 pharma firm. I was the one making the phone calls to low level vendors. I was in the room helping negotiate deals. I know friends at McKinsey operations who completely redid supply chains. Because of the breadth and depth of the projects offered, you DO get to do all of those things.

    Three other major things come to mind.

    a) Filter – MBB is a pedigree, just like a Harvard or MIT. And recruiters use it. Comparing what my Linkedin activity was like PRE-Bain and POST-Bain, it’s like night and day. I get 3-4 job invites a week now (Amazon, Mastercard, Whirlpool, Redbox, small consulting boutiques this month alone) whereas before I’d be lucky to get 3-4 job invites in like 6 months.
    a) An accelerator for your career. Using Kellogg as a example, if you look at alumni, people who went to MBB then into industry are almost always at a higher level than people who just started in industry.
    c) White Shoe Finance – Like top investment banks, MBB is a stepping stone for private equity, hedge fund, and VC. It’d be much much harder to get in from other ways. VC is the exception through top level jobs in startups and bigtech.

  • ivyelite30

    actually MBB is not some super star route
    Do you learn to run a biz at MBB? No
    Do you launch a prouct at MBB? No
    Do you have P&L responsibilty? No
    Do you manage a team of normal people – egineers/designers/avg joe’s ? No
    MBB was great in the 1980’s/90’s before the tech revolution
    Noone at any ivy school or in the valley/nyc is awed with a MBB job these days, lets be honest! Its a good job, dont get me wrong, but not the prestige it once had

  • Yup

    MBB is a good place to go if you’re still undecided on what to do with your career as there’s a ton of option value. But I will agree that the amount of value they’re actually creating is pretty limited given the amount of resources they utilize. It’s similar to why so many exiting consultants need to go into strategy roles vs. actual operating roles – giving advice is completely different from actually running a company.

  • ivyelite30

    who cares of MBB prestige ! Most founders of silicon valley start ups are not MBB. This is not 1985!
    Can you code and run a company? Thats all the matters today
    most MBB have never run a business! only presentation decks

  • Anon

    Great article! Very thorough but also insightful because it goes beyond just facts and figures.

  • MBBplease

    Good company, obviously, but I haven’t loved a lot of the people I’ve met who work there or who recruit on my campus. Some were cool, but others just seemed arrogant and annoyed to be doing recruiting stuff. Also seems like they really work you hard. All consulting is hard and long hours, but just got the sense the Bain and BCG care more about their people in terms of making sure you’re having a good experience, trying not to burn you out, etc. The global staffing thing is tough too. People I’ve met from McKinsey are flying all over the country or world for projects. While that sounds cool, I think it would get old fast. If I had an offer from McKinsey, Bain, and BCG, I’m just not sure the extra bit of “prestige” would outweigh some of the culture benefits of Bain and BCG. But, maybe others disagree.

  • HSWpleaseletmein

    Great article. I can see why management consulting firms attract so much talent from other fields. I’ve heard of everything from brain surgeons to rocket scientists going into consulting after otherwise successful careers.

  • Flareups

    Shocked at how little interest this article has generated. Is McKinsey just boring now?

  • Qiuyidio

    Lots of smart people here.

  • Mr. Wannabe Entrepreneur

    Thanks Jeff and Brian! Great article and great insights into McKinsey! I know sometimes people say that MBA recruiting is a black box but this is great explanation about the process and what McKinsey is looking for. You can see why McKinsey has been able to maintain its prestige while expanding so globally. I only hope that I have the opportunity to join one day!