Hello Utkarsh, this is Abhishek from Communiqué, and I’d like to ask you a few questions for Communiqué’s initiative, CQ ConsulTalks.
Hey Abhishek, sure.
What was the general interview process for the companies you interviewed? Please mention the number of rounds, the nature of the interview process, and your experience.
I can tell you a bit about Mckinsey. Wouldn’t focus on the rest of the firms as other folks can answer about them better. Basically there are three rounds: A CV shortlist round, an Engagement Manager (EM) round, and a final Partner round. The number of applicants keeps getting funneled in all 3 rounds. In our case, 13 got through CV shortlist into the EM round and 4 went into the final Partner round. Notably, after the CV shortlist round, there is a period of around 2 weeks/10 days where you are allotted buddies. These buddies are people at the firm — associates or senior associates who have completed around 2 to 3 years in the firm. These guys help you out in the process. They talk about what kind of questions you can expect and how to prepare for them and what the partners are looking for in later rounds. For me, the buddy experience was really good. Both my buddies were super helpful. I think that Mckinsey is really good at this part because the buddies step out of their way to help you out. One of my buddies talked about very practical kinds of things, what to do and what not to do in an interview. He had also shared some of his case questions with me, which turned out to be very helpful. I also find it crucial to point out that the Buddy sessions are entirely non-evaluative at McKinsey and they’re an opportunity for you to know more about the firm. Now after the CV shortlisting and buddy rounds you move into actual interviews: EM round and if you make it through, then into the Partner round. Both EM and Partner rounds have 2 or 3 interviews. You’ll have a 3rd interview depending on whether the firm is able to build conviction about you from the first 2 interviews or not. I’ll explain both EM & Partner rounds: The Engagement Manager (EM) level folks are one level up from the associates. They have spent around 4–5 years in the firm, and they have a very good understanding of how Mckinsey operates. I had 2 interviews. I suspect that Mckinsey has some protocol in which one interviewer is a KGP alum, and the other interviewer is from some other college. I think that they do it to build greater conviction on you from both an internal and an external perspective. My first interviewer was from KGP and had gone to IIM, and specialized in the Financial Services vertical. The other interviewer was from BITS and IIM. I remember that the first interview question was about Retail Lending, the client’s loan book had increased but profits were down. The second interview question was about the stagnant revenues of a client’s hotel in an otherwise burgeoning Hotel Industry. I think I did fairly well on both of them. Then I moved to the Partner round with 3 more applicants. Partners have a minimum of 7–8 years of experience at the firm, they lead case teams and bring in new clients. Partner rounds are more conversational. They just gauge whether you can have a lively chat for about 20–25 minutes without getting them bored. Again, a similar type of mixture in the interviewers, my first interviewer was an IIT Delhi/IIMA alumnus and the second was an IIT KGP/IIMA alumnus. The first interviewer had been in consulting for the last 25 years and was extremely experienced. He was from IIT Delhi, then IIM Ahmedabad, and had been consulting for years more than my age. He first asked me about my prior internship experience. I had talked about ITC, where I spent my previous summers, and explained how I had generated buy-in for my proposals by co-creating a solution with the senior management. I remember that he said that this was something they generally do at McKinsey. The case question was around electric vehicles and clean energy that finally ended up in a free-flow discussion about an article that the Partner had written. He even emailed me the link to his article after the interview. After that, I had my final round with Aditya Sharma, a partner from IIT KGP/IIMA. He’s one of the youngest partners at McKinsey and a Forbes 30u30. My initial conversation was around what I have done on campus. We talked about Alumni Cell and he mentioned that he was on the Founding team of Alumni Cell years back. We also talked about IIT Tech Ambit, a publication I’ve founded in KGP. After that, he asked about an instance where I had resolved a conflict and I gave an instance from my time as the Inter IIT Cultural Captain. My case was also around that. He asked me how I would prepare Indian players for the next Olympics tournament If I became Head Coach of the Indian Olympics Team. This was a seemingly unusual case but we worked through it together. Next, he asked me to guesstimate how many hotel beds in India which was very straight forward. That was it. Next, I was notified on phone by the HR that I was in. :)
What are some of the FAQs in most companies that you faced and think students must definitely prepare for? More specifically, in the context of HR rounds.
I think any McKinsey interview has two components, first is Behavioural-questions, and the second is case-based. I’ve heard that, unlike other firms, McKinsey gives an equal weightage to both parts of the interview. Behavioral questions are more or less HR questions. Questions like “What was your greatest accomplishment in your internship ?”, “What did you learn the most?”, “Have you worked in small teams of four or five peoples?”, “What are the major things that you learned from it?”, “An instance of leadership?”, “One instance where you resolved a conflict?”, “Strengths, weaknesses?”, etc. I am only talking about Mckinsey’s perspective and the kind of HR questions that I encountered in my interviews. It makes sense for them to identify these kinds of skills because they want to see them in a Business Analyst as you will be working in small teams mostly and would need to resolve conflicts at various stages. It went quite well for me. I had prepared well on the behavioral part and had thought through my experiences in four years of college. It’s important to remember stories from your past experiences and structure them well when these questions are asked. For instance, when asked about the resolution of conflicts I had mentally prepared to talk about an instance from my time as the Inter IIT Contingent Captain. On the second part of the interview, which is case-based questions, I think Mckinsey is different from the rest of the firms because the rest of the firms have a lot of focus on conventional case solving, and they want you to be very good at that, but in Mckinsey, it’s much more conversational, and you need to be very structured in your thoughts. They generally won’t even ask conventional case problems, especially in the Partner rounds. Key point is to go MECE all the way in everything that you say in your interview. There are a couple of books that people generally refer to like “Day 1.0” and “Case interviews cracked.” These two books have a lot of Cases inside them, the majority are conventional cases but there are some great unconventional ones too. It’s good to go through them and practice with a partner. I think it is more important to be structured & MECE in the way you are presenting, and you should able to have a good conversation with the person itself.
What are the things students sitting for placements next year can do from now until December to maximize their chances of getting through a company in this sector?
I don’t know with the COVID pandemic out there if placements will go as usual or not, so I can’t comment about the timeline that people should follow. But when it comes down to dedicated case prep, I think one month is enough for it because it keeps your thoughts fresh. You are in practice — no need to begin the case prep 3–4 months before the placement season. I think one month is sufficient for the prep for case interviews.
How did your preparation for technical rounds evolve once you were shortlisted?
I talked about a couple of books. Those books are good enough, and I think we should form a case group of 3–4 people. I had a case group of 4 people, and we used to do cases between us. It was a great experience as my team members were awesome at solving cases and I have learned a lot from them. It makes sense to form groups where all members have good chemistry but bring different perspectives and styles on the table.
As the consulting shortlisting process is extremely competitive, as a 1–2rd year, how do you build your profile for consulting?
That’s a good question. The first thing you should keep in mind to get placed in good consulting firms is that your profile/CV should have spikes. Your profile basically has four broad sections — Academics, Internships, Leadership/PORs, and Extra Curriculars. Mckinsey looks for spikes in your CV — either you should have a huge spike in one section or have moderate spikes in most sections. Academic spikes could be a DR1/2 and/or papers published in top conferences. Moderate spikes may be an 8.5+ GPA. In internships, day 1 interns and FTs could help you well. To my belief, prior internships in either financial services/good banks or in more operational kinds of roles at ITC/HUL/P&G can be great. Software internships may also count. For leadership/PORs, I think working in a good Cell or probably being a GSec will add a big spike to your resume. McKinsey also gives a lot of weightage to entrepreneurial endeavors that you may have undertaken. In Extra-curriculars, If you have won a cup or medal in Inter IIT, or even Inter Halls, then it will add a spike to your profile. That’s it. All the best! :) Feel free to drop me a mail at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss in more detail.
Thank you Utkarsh for giving your valuable time, and I am sure that this interview will surely help people interested in Consult to prepare and learn better ! Thanks a lot!