How to prepare for the McKinsey digital assessment

How to prepare for the McKinsey digital assessment

McKinsey now wants you to save the world BY building a reef or saving a species before getting an offer with the Firm. We reported recently on the new McKinsey digital assessment gamification tool here.

Now we want to go deeper and tell you a bit more about the novel recruitment tool and how to prepare for this new type of assessment in combination with the case interview.

Why is McKinsey changing its recruiting strategy?

The Firm is employing this tool to take into account the changes in its client base and its own evolution through organic growth and acquisitions. New problems of clients require a new type of consulting workforce. Hence, McKinsey is investing heavily in the recruitment of new types of talent, including data scientists, implementation practitioners, IT experts, product and digital designers, as well as software developers.

Currently, the Firm is testing a new gamification tool, set to assess a greater amount of people with more precise metrics before rolling the tool out globally. Candidates are immersed in a digital, scenario-based assessment designed to understand and measure how they approach and solve problems, basically putting them in situations that McKinsey consultants face every day.

McKinsey describes one scenario of the digital assessment in the following way:

“Imagine yourself in a beautiful, serene forest populated by many kinds of wildlife. As you take in the flora and fauna, you learn about an urgent matter demanding your attention: the animals are quickly succumbing to an unknown illness. It’s up to you to figure out what to do—and then act quickly to protect what you can.”

So how can you prepare for the McKinsey digital assessment?

First things first. Currently, the tool is in the testing stages, being rolled out across offices and fine-tuned along the way. Hence, it will not be used to make or break a screening decision before the case interview at this point.

Once the Firm launches this tool as an official part of the assessment it will likely replace the McKinsey Problem Solving Test. The PST is a 60-minute pen and paper multiple choice test in which the candidate has to circle the correct answer. While the PST is useful to gather information about a candidate’s problem-solving skills, it introduces a bias towards candidates that are familiar with business problems. Since it favors business major backgrounds it is not in line with McKinsey looking to expand its hiring base. Also, the PST does not allow for understanding how the candidate arrived at a particular solution. By changing this part of the recruiting process to a digital assessment, McKinsey hopes to gauge applicants’ cognitive abilities in a bias-free environment.

What do you need to do during the McKinsey digital assessment?

The McKinsey digital assessment lasts 60 minutes and includes a tutorial and three individual scenarios revolving around environmental protection. You can spend as much time in one scenario as you want, knowing that the residual time will be subtracted from the other two.

In general, you will encounter three distinct worlds which are visually depicted, each with a different environmental disaster you need to avoid.

  1. Save animals from an environmental disaster: It is unclear to you in the beginning what environmental disaster has happened. It is your task to find out on the basis of several data points (changes in rain, temperature, atmospheric pressure etc.) what disaster is happening exactly (think tsunami, volcanic eruption). Then you need to relocate several animal species to locations where they are most likely to survive based on their species’ characteristics and features of the location such as predators, forest density, and rain.
  2. Save animals from an unknown disease: Here you need to figure out quickly what disease is threatening a particular animal species based on a given set of symptoms, then develop a course of treatment optimizing for species survival. Factors you need to take into account are the type and progression of the disease, the animal species, and the different treatment options.
  3. Create a new reef ecosystem: Make sure to build a new coral reef system from scratch focusing on the stability of the food chain. In this process, you need to seta location of the reef based on its characteristics (e.g., depth, temperature, salinity) and the species that will inhabit the reef. The main difficulty is the information overload in the form of a significant number of species to chose from, broken down into different categories (e.g., coral, aquatic animals, algae), with several characteristics (e.g., required environment, place in the food chain, how many calories they need to survive, how many they provide when consumed).

So you can you win the game now?

To win the game, you must understand the multitude of factors that affect the outcome you are pursuing. In the case of the disease that is haunting animals, you would need to figure out how the disease is spreading, which disease it is, which animals are affected, and how the herd dynamics feed into this equation. Based on that you have to come up with a solution, iteratively test and adapt it based on a number of feedback rounds.

This gamified process tests five key skills

  1. Critical thinking: the ability to form a rational judgement from a set of facts
  2. Decision making: the ability to select the best course of action among several options
  3. Meta-cognition: the ability to use strategies to make learning information and solving problems easier (e.g., testing hypothesis, taking notes)
  4. Situational awareness: the ability to determine the relationships between different factors and to project the outcome of a scenario
  5. Systems thinking: the ability to understand cause & effect relationships involving several factors and feedback loops (e.g., anticipating several orders of consequence)

All of a candidates actions – even the movement of the mouse – are tracked by the game and then assessed using data science score the five abilities. The digital assessment gives many more insights into candidates’ skills since McKinsey is able to collect the test results of thousands of applicants over time. The firm then applies people analytics on this fast-growing data set to evaluate a candidates creativity, and the ability to gather information and generate ideas. Additionally, the test looks into problem-solving skills, focusing mainly on the ability to work with multifactorial data as well as the candidates’ problem-solving approach dividing methodology vs. intuition. Consequently, it is as important to show how you solve the problem vs. to arrive at a feasible solution.

How to prepare for the McKinsey digital assessment?

Since there are no online materials available – unlike for the PST – your best guess at the moment is to focus on several things during the preparation and the actual test-taking

  1. Do not try to replicate results or solutions since every test taker will face a uniquely generated scenario. Focus on the process instead!
  2. Manage your time! It is easy to get lost in the details and the sheer complexity of information overload the test presents. However, make sure to go swiftly through the tutorial, keep track of the time and roughly stick to the 20 minutes for each scenario. The progress bar shows the remaining time, however, there is no clock or explicit mention of the time left.
  3. Look into the key skills that are being assessed. Playing logic games and answering GMAT questions can be beneficial to train these areas specifically. Figure out what your weaknesses are and tailor your preparation with specific problems to solve. Additionally, this preparation will benefit you during the actual case interview.
  4. Get ready to make 80/20 decisions based on incomplete information. Likely you won’t reach the best answer within 60 minutes, however, you should reach a good answer, demonstrating a clever problem-solving strategy along the way. Be careful not to get bogged down by the details and losing yourself in the several subcategories the game provides. Similarly, test your ideas and write down the different outcomes.
  5. Just as in the actual case interview, make proper note taking a habit. Write down your observations on the mechanics of each scenario. It will help you structure your thoughts and reach a solution quicker.
  6. Get comforatble with pen and paper math. That way you will be able to calculate and compare the expected outcomes of several options.
  7. Enjoy the game. Try to enjoy the game just like any other computer game you would play. It is actually quite engaging and entertaining.

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