Making the most of your McKinsey interview

Jo joined McKinsey as an associate in the Houston office in January 2020. She came through our recruitment process in the fall of 2019 while pursuing her PhD in applied physics from Rice University. We wanted to know what it was like for this former research scientist, model, actress, avid traveler and active volunteer.

Jo on dock with ducks in Japan
Jo on dock with ducks in Japan

What led you to apply to McKinsey?

I first learned about the work McKinsey is doing in digital and analytics through a connection of mine who works out of the Houston office. I’m very interested in that type of work as well as sustainability and energy, which are also growing areas of focus for McKinsey. The nature of the work I could do at the firm and the level of impact I could achieve in these areas really drew me to apply.

How did you prepare?

I was so excited to receive the invitation to interview – this was my chance! Then my nerves started to fire. I didn’t know much about the process or style of interviews. I’m a researcher at heart, so naturally I started exploring the McKinsey Careers website for information, resources, and guidance. It’s super informative and contains great video overviews of what to expect, practice cases, etc. My recruiters, Allison and Jackie, did an amazing job of explaining what to expect. They communicated with me often, which I really appreciated.

Jo on street touching statue
Jo on street touching statue

All McKinsey interviews contain at least two parts – a conversation about your personal experience and a case study. I took the personal experience portion as a great opportunity to reflect on my studies, career experience, most memorable achievements, and biggest challenges. I practiced sharing my stories with a couple of friends who were not very familiar with them, which helped me learn how to communicate my experiences, convey my excitement, and share my thought process about these moments with another person.

For the case portion, I did a few of the samples on the McKinsey careers website and went through a couple of practice sessions with my McKinsey Mentor and a friend from school. It really isn’t about memorizing answers or frameworks and I didn’t want to start sounding overly rehearsed in my answers, so I didn’t do too many. Instead, I focused on learning how to break down the problems and show my work and thinking.

During the time of application and interviews, I made sure to take breaks and stay active, workout regularly, and go for hikes. It was very helpful when dealing with the stress from graduation, writing my dissertation and preparing for interviews at the same time.

How did you feel going in to your interviews?

Of course, I felt nervous, but also very excited to learn more about the McKinsey and the Houston office and to meet interesting and inspiring people along the way. I felt more comfortable going into final rounds because I was more familiar with the process and I received very helpful, specific, and actionable feedback after round one, which I practiced incorporating into my responses.

Did anything surprise you about McKinsey’s interviews?

Yes, a few things did. First, I thought there would be multiple interview type questions, and I was pleasantly surprised when my discussions felt very conversational. I was thrilled to discuss not only on my professional experience, but also my aspirations and goals.

Second, the feedback I received from practice sessions and round one interviews was very encouraging. One of my assessors called me after round one to tell me I was advancing to the next round. He started with very positive feedback and emphasized all the things I should keep doing in my next round of conversations.

Finally, I want to reassure everyone who is getting ready for interviews or considering applying that it is a standardized process and there aren’t tricky questions or curve balls. All the aspects the interview are listed clearly and comprehensively on the interview website. Interviewers are trained well and are empathetic and not critical. Multiple interviewers sympathized that it’s a long day  , it’s natural to be tired by the end, it’s ok to take breaks, etc.

Did you feel supported along the way?

I received a lot of support from my recruiters and built connections with many McKinsey people during the process. I had an interview coach from the Dallas office named Hannah who helped me think through the feedback I received. She shared her McKinsey interview experience and encouraged me to, “try not to be stressed out about having the perfect interview. I made a couple of mistakes during mine. It’s really not the end of the world.” This advice significantly lowered my stress level. And lastly, I received an incredible amount of support from Southern office Women’s network. The members of this group regularly reached out to me to help address my questions and share their personal experiences. I was so impressed by the McKinsey Mentor program, I became a Mentor after I joined. Now, I am super excited to coach candidates through interviews.

Picture strip of Jo jumping on sand
Picture strip of Jo jumping on sand

Ultimately, what made your decision to join McKinsey?

The people and the connections I built during the interview process. I really appreciated how efficient and supportive everyone was. I could see myself as part of the big McKinsey team  . I was still very excited about the client opportunities  , and knowing I’d work with interesting people made it all even more appealing. McKinsey’s values played a part in my decision as I felt they aligned well with my personal mores.

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More about Jo

Jo started her career as a research scientist at Baker Hughes Oil Services. She has also been a medical products research fellow, model, and actress. When she is not working, Jo enjoys traveling, music and sports, especially hiking, playing the cello, swimming and weightlifting. She’s a PADI certified scuba diver. She spends a lot of time volunteering, especially in education by teaching for the Junior Achievement Program and mentoring through Girls in Science.

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