Lesson from McKinsey: setup for success
Despite the sleepless nights, 48-hour workdays and endless travel, I’m glad to have had my time at McKinsey & Company. There are a lot of reasons, but let’s focus on their pre-interview process.
As for the interviews themselves, they can be tough.
I walk into 555 California in San Francisco, go to the reception desk to get my visitor badge, and head up to the 47th floor.
In the elevator, I look down at my polished Kenneth Cole shoes, straighten my $250 tie (which I couldn’t have afforded, but was donated by a supporter), and I pat down my recently laundered suit to get off any rebellious lint.
Meanwhile, frameworks, calculations, and the populations of many of the world’s countries (Indonesia = 220m, Japan = 125m, UK = 60m…) are racing through my brain.
I get to the 47th floor, walk to the receptionist and introduce myself. She instructs me to sit, and I wait as calming music plays out of an old school boom box in the corner.
The partner comes out, introduces himself and we step into his corner office overlooking the San Francisco Bay. After getting over the view, I sit in a chair across the desk from him and he decides to calm my nerves by saying “So, Terrence, I hear you’re smart. Let’s see if it’s true.”
McKinsey Partner: Apple comes out with the iPod. It’s a success. Microsoft decides to do something similar.
He pauses and about 10 seconds pass….
McKinsey Partner: That’s it. Walk me through it.
I ask him a clarifying question and he responds with “I’m giving you nothing,” so I guess was on my own.
Within it about 5 minutes I’d sketched up what Microsoft should be thinking about, what types of facilities they might likely need and where they should be located (making it all up, of course). Then I was doing Net Present Value calculations in my head.
All stuff I’m pretty sure I couldn’t do today.
As I think back, I wonder how I got to that point. Before I started the interview process, I couldn’t have done most of this, and as I just said, I likely couldn’t do it now.
Truth is, my brain functioned this way during the process because McKinsey set it up that way. McKinsey doesn’t use the interview as a mechanism to trick or confuse (though it happens). Rather, they want to know how far your brain can stretch, and whether you’re effectively able to structure problem sets.
Before your first interview, they make sure that you have everything that you’d need to go through the entire process and get the offer.
Every candidate is given a “buddy” who explains the interview process and provides case coaching. You meet with your buddy 2 or 3 times before your first interview, and in-between rounds. Even on their website, McKinsey provides sample cases and interview tips.
Their goal is to ensure that the only reason that you don’t make it through is because you shouldn’t make it through. You have coaching, you have tips, you have insights, you have the freedom to ask all the right questions. Now it’s up to you.
This is a rare approach, but one we should all keep in mind.
- When an initiative is launched, is it set up for success, or destined failure?
- When an employee is promoted, do they have all the tools and resources to succeed?
- When criticizing management, have you provided them with enough information to make effective decisions?
Outside of business, I see friends enter relationships where they’re not giving their boy/girlfriend any remote chance of success (baggage!).
For something to succeed, it has to be given more than just a chance. Take this lesson from McKinsey: we can all learn from it.