Innovating recruiting through online gaming

McKinsey Problem Solving Game screenshot
McKinsey Problem Solving Game screenshot

Prior to Solve, McKinsey’s assessment game, we administered an in-person pen-and-paper multiple-choice test. We, however, wanted to improve the candidate experience and allow candidates to better showcase their skills and strengths.


In 2016, McKinsey began collaborating with the start-up Imbellus,a company that brought together psychometricians, data scientists, and engineers aspiring to replace traditional education standardized tests. Together with McKinsey’s Recruiting and People Analytics teams, we created an innovative digital experience that set tasks, rather than posing traditional questions for candidates to answer. Observing how people approach these tasks gives a picture of how people approach problems more broadly. We hoped to find great problem solvers and to attract talented people who typically might not be interested, seek us out or start our recruiting process.

Development phase

In building the game we wanted to create a test that would be interesting to people of all backgrounds. This meant stepping beyond our traditional business cases and designing something different. We landed on a natural environment for the game, centered on wildlife and habitats, not board rooms, offices or manufacturing facilities. In addition, we wanted the game to need no prep, nothing to review in advance, no guides to buy, no studying beforehand. Currently, applicants are offered one to three tasks from our library of tasks set under water, on mountain tops and in prairies.

Students piloting McKinsey Problem Solving Game in London
Students piloting McKinsey Problem Solving Game in London

Initial trials

In November 2017, we piloted the game with 500 users in London to get feedback to continue building and calibrating the scoring engine. The feedback was highly positive and taught us valuable lessons, including which task gave us minimal insight into candidates’ abilities and which could be redesigned to be more interesting and useful.

By end of 2018, following more testing, we were ready to offer the game to applicants in several offices as part of the assessment process. It was exciting to have our candidates come into the office, learn about the game, play it and hear their feedback.

Unleashing online

One piece of the puzzle was still missing and that was scale. To make it easy for people to play the game and offer it to more people in our recruiting process, it needed to be online. Building on developments in both assesments and gaming, Imbellus devised a solution that generates thousands of permutations of the same game, so no two applicants have the same experience. Determining the comparability of these tests required extensive testing and kept our psychometricians on their toes, but the final product was ready for deployment in Fall 2019.

On the horizon

More than 15k people in 30 countries have now played the game, including people who might not have otherwise considered applying to McKinsey. Test takers have described it as “cool” and “engaging.” It can be played in English, Spanish, Portuguese or Japanese with more languages on the way. We are exploring ways to make the experience more accessible in places with weaker internet connectivity and for candidates with lower spec laptops. We continue to build new tasks and new variations to ensure singular experiences.

If you’re interviewing with us, don’t be surprised to receive an invitation to play this game during your assessment process. Learn more about our interview process and Solve, the McKinsey Game.

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