How to Prepare for an Internship Interview with McKinsey


Tips from Pekka, management consultant at McKinsey and KY-Finance alumnus

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 of all, we want to make our interviews as pleasant as a job interview can be, and we will try to help you be at your best. Our interviews are challenging because our work is challenging.  That’s precisely why we seek to support and inspire each other 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 others. 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.

Alright, so that is the essence of our interview philosophy. Now: how can you prepare in practice?

Practical tips for the preparation period

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 more here). Don’t just focus on the problem-solving when you prepare. Spend time thinking about the “personal experiences” you want to talk about in your interview. That’s my first practical tip, because it’s the most important tip.

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, actually.

Practice doing basic mathematics (with pen and paper). The McKinsey interview is not a numerical test. However, it is essential to be fast and accurate with the basics: percentages, divisions and multiplications.

Practice the art of synthesis. This is much more difficult that 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?

Tips for the interview

Apply your own logic. Do your own thinking. I do not recommend that you spend time struggling to fit the case into a framework you have learned from a textbook. In my work, I have not (yet) met a client who will be impressed by a general framework. Equally, your McKinsey interviewer will not be impressed by a textbook framework.

Collect your thoughts, prioritize and structure them. Don’t randomly list ideas. Or if you do, then take a moment to structure that list.

Remember that all McKinsey interview cases are inspired by real life situations and client work we have done. Think about yourself as a counselor and a problem-solving partner. Take on a “What would I say to the CEO” kind of mindset.

Relax! If you are sitting in the interview, you are talented and you have a CV full of wonderful accomplishments to show for it. The outcome of the interview doesn’t change that. We 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 meeting you!

Pekka To?lli Blog

Pekka Tölli, Associate, McKinsey & Company