How McKinsey Changed Consulting Forever

McKinseyites at San Francisco GLAM Private event.

How McKinsey Changed Consulting Forever

McKinsey is one of the most sought-after consulting firms for MBAs to work for.

And the firm is highly selective of who they let in. In 2018, McKinsey hired just 8,000 people out of 800,000 applicants. In an article for Business Insider, reporter Weng Cheong explores the hiring policy at McKinsey and how it’s revolutionized the industry as a whole.


Cheong says McKinsey’s hiring strategy deliberately selects youth over experience, something that the firm focused on starting in the late 1950s.

“In 1953, McKinsey hired its first two top HBS graduates, despite skepticism from more experienced consultants and legendary managing director Marvin Bower,” Cheong writes. “It quickly became a core strategy.”

Duff McDonald, author of “The Firm,” explores the history of McKinsey’s hiring strategy from past to present.

In his book, McDonald finds that between 1950 and 1959, consultants grew to nearly 80% of the firm while the median age of consultants declined by almost 10 years.

McDonald says the strategy of hiring younger consultants was tied to the belief that “It’s easier to mold a young mind than to change an older one.”

And experts say the ideal McKinsey candidate is one who often is seen as an “insecure overachiever.”

“The people at these schools are driven by the desire for status and fear of failure. … When you graduate, you reach that terrifying point in your life when the next thing you do is not obvious, when there are a lot more choices than before. McKinsey makes it very easy for people whose primary goal is to keep their options open,” James Kwak, a former consultant, reveals in McDonald’s book.


McKinsey’s hiring strategy of hiring young professionals, experts say, helped to create value in its consultants.

Much of that value, Cheong writes, comes from the notoriously rigorous hiring process which vets candidates to only keep the best of the best.

In turn, the firm molds and develops its young talent with the financial backing of clients.

“McKinsey had perfected personnel development. It hired the young and inexperienced for a pittance, then made its clients pay for their further education,” McDonald writes.

McKinsey’s strategy, in many ways, helped to legitimize and bring value to the industry.

“Through its extensive alumni network, job-placement expertise, and hiring practices, McKinsey has helped create the management and MBA elite that is so influential today,” Cheong writes. “By demonstrating that relatively cheaper youth can outperform expensive experience, they helped build a hiring culture that’s become a business standard. It’s yet another example of the massive influence of the firm.”

Sources: Business Insider, Duff McDonald

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