Today we have Pankaj Mishra with us who has been placed at Mckinsey. So first heartiest Congratulations on that. Pankaj please tell us about the general interview process for the companies you interviewed? Please mention the number of rounds and the nature of the interview process.
Thanks a lot. For Mckinsey, the shortlisting process was different from the general CDC process because you don’t apply through CDC. Instead, you get an email from Mckinsey asking you to apply directly on their website. So all you need to do is submit your CV and fill out the questionnaire on the website. Once you’ve applied, in a week or so you’ll get an email revealing whether you’ve been shortlisted for the interviews or not. This time some 20 folks were shortlisted. The shortlisted candidates are allotted two buddies from the company. These buddies are employees working for Mckinsey. In my case, one of them was an analyst and the other was an associate. After you’ve been shortlisted, there are around 14 days before your interviews start. During this period, you are supposed to talk to your buddies, try and understand how Mckinsey works and whether you will be a right fit for the company or not. You can talk to your buddies about pretty much anything that you want to know or are curious about because it’s non-evaluative. This includes things like the career growth for an analyst, the exit opportunities and the compensation. You should also try and understand the company culture and what is expected from an analyst. That‘s what most of my buddy conversations revolved around. Sometimes in this phase, you also have to go through a digital assessment, which is a proprietary gamified assessment Mckinsey has developed that judges your problem-solving skills. The assessment is a necessary part of the process, but as far as I understood, the assessment score would only play a role if you are on the edge. So long as you clear the interviews by a sufficient margin, the scores shouldn’t matter. The evaluation process begins with 2 interviews for each candidate. These are taken either by associates or engagement managers which is one level above the associates. If someone makes it past the 2 interviews, they proceed to the partner round. So to get an offer from the firm, you need to clear a total of 4 interviews.
Could you please list down the questions you were asked in the different rounds? Cases, HR Discussions, or puzzles in general that you think will prove to be helpful for students.
The first two interviews were fairly standard case interviews. However, compared to the typical case interviews (from what I found on YouTube), at McKinsey, they were a lot more conversational, not just in terms of asking for clarification on data or questions but the whole process, in general, felt a lot more like a discussion than an interview. Throughout the interview, it felt like they put a lot more emphasis on establishing a rapport with you and tackling the problem as a team, which was in contrast to the interviews for software roles where the interview is almost single-handedly driven by the candidate with very little input from the interviewer after sharing the initial question.
My first interview was about an IT giant that was trying to digitize the infrastructure of a client which was a healthcare company working across the country. This meant transforming all the company data to digital format for easier access and analysis. The main objective was to determine the right processes to make this transformation as secure as possible from malicious actors that might attempt to steal or gain unauthorized access to the data lakes. The interviewer asked me to list down all the possible things that could go wrong in such a scenario, elaborate on each one of them and that was it. This was followed by a puzzle about calculating the number of matches that need to be conducted in a knock-out tournament until you find a winner. That was it for my first interview. I was told that it would last 40–45min, but mine got over in about 30 mins.
The second interview was quite similar. It was about a baby food company trying to expand its presence in the country, gain market share and increase its revenue in the process. Again the interviewer wasn’t focused on or expected a specific answer that he already had in mind. Instead, he picked up the recommendations I gave and drilled further into each of them. He wasn’t trying to push me in any particular direction and was quite excited to see all the different directions I took to tackle the problem at hand. With that, the second interview was also over.
Within a few hours of the second interview, I received an email informing me that I’d been shortlisted for the second round of interviews with the partners. The partner round was undeniably a lot more relaxed and chilled out. In both the interviews I felt absolutely no pressure as the interviewers did a great job at making you feel comfortable in their presence. The problems in this round were even more open-ended and I would be hard-pressed to even call them a real case interview.
My first interviewer in this round was a partner with expertise in IT services and digitization. So naturally, he asked me a question about an IT services giant that was trying to expand its business in the country. The goal was not to come up with a very low-level, technical solution. The interviewer was more interested in the breadth rather than the depth of my solution. So recommendations like providing after-market customer care, providing deployment solutions were better received than purely technical recommendations such as adopting new frameworks and technologies. This was followed by an easy numerical problem on calculating the time required to hit some predetermined revenue target given the individual revenue each client brings in.
A few hours later on the same day, I had my second interview. It was taken by Aditya Sharma who I believe takes most of the final interviews for KGP. This interview was extremely informal and very pleasant. It started with brief introductions from both of us and why I wanted to work for Mckinsey. He asked a couple of questions on why consulting as well as a few other fairly standard HR questions like “the most challenging thing you’ve done in life”. So even though the questions were quite generic, the focus was not just on the content of your answers but also on you as an individual. From what I was told later, the objective of these interviews is also to gauge the type of person you are, and whether you’d be a good fit for the team. The work hours for consultants are extremely brutal and they put a lot of emphasis on bringing in only those people who they feel would mesh well with the team.
Once this part of the interview was over, we started with a case that again wasn’t structured in any specific manner. It was about the Indian Government attempting to boost tourism and reach and eventually surpass, pre-pandemic levels as soon as possible. In short, what would you do to attract more tourists from all over the world? Here the conversation quickly took a candid turn and we started discussing what our country could do to improve its image on a global level and attract people from different parts of the world. He analysed the depth of my argument for each recommendation I pitched with a lot of cross-questioning. Finally, the most exciting part of the interview was a guesstimate to find the number of credit card users in India. It was the most fun part of the entire process because it had the right balance of logic and intuition. That was the end of the fourth interview and the entire interview process for McKinsey.
What are some of the FAQs in most companies that you faced and think students must prepare for? More specifically, in the context of HR rounds.
One common question they asked in three interviews out of the four was to introduce myself. I’d say consulting isn’t so much about problem-solving as it is about being able to express your ideas clearly and in a lucid manner. Of course, they do require you to be adept at problem-solving too, but I’d say most KGPians would already be good enough to clear their bar without any extra preparation. However, when they ask you to introduce yourself, they are not expecting you to introduce yourself as you would in KGP’s orientation programs. They genuinely want to know you as a person. So tell them something that’s not immediately obvious or written on your resume, share your interests and what makes you. What they are looking for is someone they would want to have on their team. In my case, I didn’t talk about my resume at all as they’d have already gone through that before the interview. I told them about my interests in biology and cultural history; something that they wouldn’t expect from a typical engineering candidate. One of my interviewers was also really interested in biology and computer science, and these shared interests quickly helped me establish a rapport with them. So be authentic and tell them about your real motivations and interests. They also want to know if you are genuinely excited about joining McKinsey or is it just another company you are appearing for as part of the placements. So it’s a good idea to spend some time and list down what aspects of consulting genuinely excite you. There’s no reason to pretend as the interviewers are experts at identifying bullshit answers. As long as you are being genuine, the HR questions are relatively straightforward to tackle.
Sometimes people think that their ‘genuine’ answers aren’t good enough for the interview, but that’s not true. Even if the motive is just to get a well-paying job, you can always look around on the internet and see what the job entails. Being genuine does not mean you have to be an ardent enthusiast or extremely passionate about consulting as a career. You can always identify what parts of the job excite and resonate with you *after* applying for the job.
What are things students sitting for placements next year can do from now until December to maximize their chances of getting through a company in consulting?
I am not sure if this is going to be a good answer because from what I have heard, McKinsey is the only consulting company that has this casual-ish case interview structure where the focus is on evaluating your personality as much as the answers you come up with. Most of the other companies usually tend to focus on the case itself and don’t concern themselves much with other things.
If we talk only about McKinsey, then one of the biggest things one can do to clear these interviews would be to improve your communication skills. I’d say that is the most important skill they are looking for, maybe even more than your problem-solving skills.
Many people I’ve interacted with share this sentiment, with numerous instances where folks who were never really targeting consulting roles crack these interviews not because they’d been practising cases for a long time, but because they polished their communication skills over the years. Being able to structure your thoughts and make it easy for others to comprehend them is a seriously underrated skill. So practice communication more than anything else, that’d be my one piece of advice.
How did your preparation for Case rounds evolve once you were shortlisted, please let us know about the resources you used as well?
I hadn’t prepared for case interviews per se because consulting was never my primary goal. But after I was shortlisted, I had 2 mock case interviews with my buddies, and I felt that was sufficient. I’d say as long as you’ve done a couple of cases, you should be good to go because it’s not the problem-solving skills that we’re lacking, but the ability to structure and lay down our thoughts and ideas in a proper manner. I struggled a lot in my very first mock interview because even though the problem itself wasn’t very challenging, I didn’t know how to sequence my suggestions and tailor them so that they’d follow the next seamlessly. What we need to work on is how to think about ideas and structure them so that they are not all over the place, and a few mock cases are more than enough to help with that.
Coming to the resources, I used this book called Case in Point: Complete Case Interview Preparation Book by Marc Cosentino which was a recommendation from my buddy. I feel all the things I talked about just now like structuring your thoughts and improving the clarity are beautifully explained there.
Anything else that you’d want to share with the students?
Somehow people have this notion that consulting is this top-tier job that is elusive to most folks. But I don’t think that is the case. Like I said earlier, consulting is all about being able to express your thoughts in a structured form which makes it easy to understand for the masses. So if you want to grab a consulting job, it would be better to focus on these skills that matter during the interview.
Coming to the shortlisting process, I am not an authority on what sort of a resume will be shortlisted and what others would be rejected. But I do feel that the general pattern that these firms follow is shortlisting candidates that have demonstrated excellence in any one particular aspect of their life. I had zero PORs, and neither was I part of any societies or clubs. But I still managed to get shortlisted and I think that is because my resume was loaded with technical experience and achievements. Multiple internship experiences, along with open-source contributions through programs like GSoC helped my resume stand out from the crowd. On the other hand, there were just as many, if not more shortlisted candidates who didn’t have any technical experience but had a lot of leadership experience through societies, clubs and PORs. So as long as you’re doing exceptionally well in any one particular field, you should be good to go. This should also come as a respite for people who didn’t really join any societies early on but still want to get into consulting: PORs are not the end of the line.
Another thing I’d want to stress on is the difference between good communication skills and fluency, something I see being conflated a lot on campus. People assume that having good communication skills is the same as being an expert in English, but that’s not true. While being fluent in English can be an advantage, it’s not a prerequisite for developing decent communication skills. The idea of communication is to be able to express your thoughts and ideas in a manner such that they are easily understood by the other person, that’s it. Even if you take small gaps or take some time to come up with your words, it’s perfectly okay. Just because someone speaks a lot faster than another person, does not always mean they’re conveying a proportionately greater amount of information through their words.
That’s all from my side. Feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn or through the mail for any more questions. I’d be happy to help. All the best for placements!
Thank you so much Pankaj for joining us and for telling us about your experience. It’ll surely be very helpful for all of the KGP junta. Thanks a lot for giving us your precious time for this interview to Communiqué IIT Kharagpur and wish you all the very best for all your future endeavours.