How to Prepare for an Internship Interview with McKinsey


Tips from Pekka, management consultant and coach at McKinsey, currently on educational leave.

I wanted to write this blog text to help and support all those of you who are preparing towards an Internship interview with McKinsey & Company. So, what is it that you should be prepared for?

First, we want to make our interviews as pleasant and not scary as a job interview can be, and we honestly try to help you be at your best. Our interviews are challenging because our work is challenging. That’s precisely why we strive to support and inspire each other to grow at McKinsey, and we want to give you a sense of that when you meet us during interviews.

Secondly, remember that when you come to our interviews, you are not competing against any other candidate. We do not wait until the end of the application and interview season, compare interviewees between each other and then give out a limited number of offers. Instead, we have an absolute bar for excellence, and all those who pass the bar are extended an offer to join us.

Then, how can you prepare for the coming interviews?

Practical tips for the preparation

In our interviews, we want to get a sense of your problem-solving ability as well as three other qualities: your entrepreneurial drive, personal impact, and leadership. (Read carefully the following descriptions -> Don’t just focus on the problem-solving when you prepare, it is only half of the success. Invest time thinking about the “personal experiences” to tell to exemplify your potential in the above-mentioned areas. That’s the first and most important practical advice.

If you can, practice cases not just by yourself but also with friends. Have your friends play the interviewer role. The dynamic changes when you are exchanging ideas with someone, instead of thinking on your own. And in the interview, you’ll be in a discussion, exchanging ideas with someone. Someone like myself.

Practice doing basic mathematics (with pen and paper). The McKinsey interview is not a numerical test. Still, it is essential in the interview and at work to be fast and accurate with the basics operations and grasp quickly the right ballpark or magnitude.

Practice also the art of synthesis. This is much more difficult than it sounds, especially when you have very little time, lots of new information, and many unknowns. Remember: a synthesis is not a summary of what you just did or discovered in the case. The synthesis is the summary plus the “so-what.” So what does everything you just learned mean in practice?

Tips for the interview

Apply your own logic. Do your own thinking instead of copying it blindly from casebooks or courses. I do not recommend fitting the case into a generic pre-learnt framework. In my work, I have not met a client who will be impressed by a generic framework.

Take time to collect your thoughts, prioritize and structure them. Don’t just randomly blurb ideas.

Remember that all McKinsey interview cases are inspired by real-life situations and client work we have done. Consider what would you really think and do in that situation. Take on a “What would I say to the CEO” kind of mindset.

Breathe and relax! If you are sitting in the interview, be sure you are highly talented, and you have a CV full of wonderful accomplishments to show for it. The outcome of the interview doesn’t change that fact. And remember, we truly want the interview to be a good experience for you no matter what.

I wish you the best of luck in the interview. My colleagues at McKinsey Helsinki and I are looking forward to meeting you!

Pekka Tölli, Consultant and coach, McKinsey & Company (on educational leave)