How to get a McKinsey internship

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Getting an internship at McKinsey is the goal of many students and MBA candidates around the globe. In fact, getting into McKinsey entails one of the most competitive application processes with less than 1% of applicants receiving an offer.

Now, getting an internship with the firm is not necessarily easier than getting hired for a full-time position. However, trying early allows for a second chance should you fail at the screening or interviewing stage since you should be able to re-apply after graduation.

We want to help you breaking into McKinsey early. Hence, in this article we discuss:

  • the types of internships with McKinsey
  • the compensation of McKinsey interns
  • duration and application deadlines of McKinsey internship programs
  • resume items needed to pass the screening stage
  • tasks and lifestyle of McKinsey interns
  • the application process for an internship with McKinsey
  • ways to prepare and secure the offer with McKinsey

Two types of McKinsey internships

McKinsey offers different types of internships across regions and offices. If we were to group them, there are generally two types, the student internship and the MBA internship.

The student internship

Who is it for?

The student internship is open for all students in undergraduate and graduate programs before the end of their studies. As soon as you have finished your degree, you would no longer be eligible to apply but rather have to go for a full-time application.

The same screening criteria apply as for a full-time position. Candidates need

  • excellent academic performance and pedigree
  • work experience through previous internships in reputable companies and roles similar to consulting
  • potentially time spent abroad (differs across offices)
  • engagement in extracurricular activities

What are the application deadlines?

There is no clear rule that applies globally. Some offices have specific application windows (e.g., the United States in Mid-October for next year’s summer), whereas others (e.g., Germany) have rolling applications and starting dates throughout the year. Check with your local office and recruiter early to not miss any deadlines.

What is the salary and how long is the internship?

The salary is the pro-rated equivalent to a business analyst / fellow full-time position. For instance, in the US, it would be around USD 20k for a 10-week internship.

The MBA internship

Who is it for?

The MBA internship is open for all MBA students before the end of their MBA. As soon as you have finished your degree, you would no longer be eligible to apply but rather have to go for a full-time application.

The same screening criteria apply as for a full-time position. Candidates need

  • excellent academic performance and pedigree
  • work experience through previous internships in reputable companies and roles similar to consulting
  • potentially time spent abroad
  • engagement in extracurricular activities

What are the application deadlines?

There is no clear rule that applies globally. Some offices have specific application windows (e.g., the United States in early December for next year’s summer), whereas others (e.g., Germany) have rolling applications and starting dates throughout the year.

What is the salary and how long is the internship?

The salary is the pro-rated equivalent to an associate full-time position. In the US, it would be around USD 36k for a 10-week internship.

The tasks of a McKinsey intern

Generally, your tasks will be the same as for a newly hired full-time business analyst or associate, as will be the weekly travel and long work hours. You are expected to be a full member of the team regarding your performance and contributions from early on.

Most of your time will be spent on the following 4 tasks.

Gathering data

Much of your time will be spent on gathering data. This could be data you elicit from client interviews, field research, employee interviews, surveys, client databases, experts from your firm, or some external data providers. Dealing with external data can often be outsourced by leveraging firm support resources to collect specific data for you. Other times, you need to interview external experts that you usually identify via external expert networks. This can be a tedious and long process that often involves slow clients, insufficient or flawed data leading to many data pull iterations to get it right. Another important component is data cleaning needed to prepare data for further analyses.

Analyzing data

Next, you need to analyze the collected data to test hypotheses the team/ client has come up with to solve a particular problem of the client. Basic quantitative data is mostly modeled and analyzed in Excel or Alteryx, while more complex datasets are usually analyzed by dedicated firm support departments that work with statistics and programming or other advanced analytical means. Qualitative data is usually screened for commonalities and aggregated upwards. As an analyst, you will be running the show. Larger analytical pieces are usually split and distributed across team members. In your analysis, you will usually work with assumptions that are discussed and aligned with the team, client, and sometimes other experts. Data analysis is often interrupted by problem-solving sessions where intermediate results and further analyses are discussed. Typical outcomes are financial forecasts, market predictions, business cases, operational improvement potentials, pricing improvements, etc.

Visualizing results

Thirdly, you need to visualize your analysis. This is mostly done in Microsoft PowerPoint. While at the beginning of your tenure, your project manager will draft a sketch of the output document for you, as you progress, you will produce full slide decks from start to finish, building a coherent storyline. You will quickly learn what chart and word choice are best to deliver a particular message and make the key insights stand out. Additionally, McKinsey has global slide specialists that help you draft or improve / polish slide production and final deliverables overnight. Working on the storyline and visualization is a highly iterative process. Since the slide deck is often the key deliverable of the project as well as the key means of communication and basis for discussion with the CEO, you will see many iterations at this stage. It is not uncommon to have a document for a CEO meeting with version number 60.

Presenting results

Lastly, you participate in client meetings to present and discuss results as well as align on the next steps. Depending on the character of the meeting and your tenure, you will have the chance to present your work to senior client leaders. Meetings with middle managers are often run fully by relatively junior business analysts and associates. In general, meetings are a useful opportunity to shine and demonstrate your work, but also to gauge any political constraints as well as get senior clients’ opinions.

In general, you are not expected to lead your own workstream as an intern but rather own components of another consultant’s workstream on the team, in addition to helping the team out with ad-hoc requests. Depending on your performance, your responsibilities might be increased quickly to test your eligibility for a full-time offer.

How to secure an internship with McKinsey

Getting an internship at McKinsey follows a 5-step process and requires some planning way before you send your application. The steps are the same as for a full-time graduate application.

  1. Build up your skills and resume
  2. Network and score a referral
  3. Prepare for the McKinsey Imbellus Game
  4. Prepare for the McKinsey Case interviews
  5. Prepare your McKinsey PEI stories

1. Build up your skills and resume

Way before you think about applying at McKinsey, you need to work on your resume to build up the desired experiences that are relevant for McKinsey recruiters. This entails

  • strong academic performance (top 5-10% of class, relevant courses, other achievements) from prestigious schools and target universities
  • work experience, either in reputable companies or in positions that require a similar skillset as consulting
  • extracurricular activities such as leadership experiences in an NGO, captain of a sports team, driver of an initiative, etc.
  • experience abroad through work or studies

Only if you have considerable experience to highlight 3 out of those 4 dimensions should you think about applying with the firm. As described earlier, you can only apply for an internship position if you would still return to university after the internship is over. As soon as you have graduated, McKinsey only offers full-time positions.

Below, we discuss the perfect McKinsey resume and McKinsey cover letter:

How to write a resume for McKinsey

How to write a cover letter for McKinsey

Get the help you need to transform your consulting application into success.

2. Network and score a referral

In order to pass the screening stage, it always helps to get a referral from one or more consultants with McKinsey to support your application. You can find referrals through

  • leveraging your network
  • attending company sponsored events
  • reaching out via LinkedIn

In general, the more senior and the more personal the referral, the better. We discuss in detail on how to network with McKinsey and score a referral in this article below:

How to get a referral for McKinsey

3. Prepare for the McKinsey Imbellus Game

The McKinsey Problem Solving Game (aka McKinsey Digital Assessment or McKinsey Imbellus Test) is a 60 to 81-minute computer game, consisting of several scenarios that assess your ability to solve complex problems:

  • In the first half of the test, you would need to build a sustainable ecosystem (e.g. coral reef or a mountain ecosystem) based on a large variety of data given (data about different types of habitats, different animals, weather conditions, etc.). While you move through the game, you are evaluated based on cognitive processes by capturing telemetry data.
  • In the second part of the test, you would need to play a tower-defense-like game that assesses your ability to sift through large amounts of information and think systematically.
  • McKinsey is constantly adjusting the games. Some candidates we coached recently reported that instead of the tower defense game, they had to identify a disease that is haunting an animal population based on a large data set. In that regard, the game was similar to the ecosystem creation.

Depending on the office, candidates can do it from home or from the office and it is usually the first active hurdle candidates need to pass.

Check out our McKinsey Imbellus Problem Solving Game Guide for more details, the best preparation approach as well as the most effective test-taking strategies (including videos, Excel Solvers, and practice tests), which have been used by thousands of our coachees.

Ace the McKinsey Solve Game with ease.

4. Prepare for the McKinsey Case Interviews / Problem Solving Interviews

The McKinsey Problem Solving Interview is a typical case interview as it is employed by most consulting firms to test the analytical capabilities and communication skills of applicants. However, it comes with a twist. The interview simulates a client situation, where you are tasked to solve a specific business problem that they are facing. You will have to answer a succession of several questions rather than driving the case yourself as would be the case in other consulting firms. Within the interview, which is a dialogue between you and the interviewer, you need to structure problems, propose concrete ideas, gather information, spot insights in data and charts, solve quantitative problems, and communicate in a professional and calm manner.

In the McKinsey interview you will have to answer three different questions types – broadly speaking:

  • Structuring
  • Exhibit Interpretation
  • Math

A case interview structure is used to break the problem you are trying to solve for the client down into smaller problems or components. It is the roadmap you establish at the beginning of the interview that will guide your problem-solving approach throughout the case. Read more about case interview structure and frameworks here.

For chart or data interpretation, you are tasked to find the key insights of 1-2 Powerpoint slides and relate them back to the case question and the client situation at hand. Read more about exhibit interpretation here.

Case math questions have you analyze a problem mathematically before qualitatively investigating the particular reason for the numerical result or deriving specific recommendations from the outcome. Read more on how to ace case math here.

The case is the hardest part for most candidates since it involves a number of different skills that need to be demonstrated consistently across all questions and across multiple cases in succession. Depending on the office, applicants need to go through four to six case interviews before receiving an offer. They need to convince the interviewers in all cases to start their McKinsey careers. Interns usually go through only three case interviews during their application.

We have compiled an in-depth look into McKinsey case interviews in the following article:

How to prepare and ace the McKinsey Problem Solving Interviews

To improve your skills in all areas of the interview, check out some of our targeted offers below.

5. Prepare your McKinsey PEI stories

The McKinsey Personal Experience Interview is a modification of the classic behavioral interview. It uses a highly standardized interview format that revolves around three specific character traits and the associated stories.

Every PEI starts with one question related to the three desired traits. For instance, the interviewer might ask a very specific prompt such as “Tell me about a time where you demonstrated specific drive and achieved something…”

With this standardized format, interviewers want to understand how you behaved in past events to make assumptions on how you would handle daily situations as a consultant in the future. The format helps to evaluate and compare candidates on a few objective metrics.

To succeed, your role is to tell stories that convey how you displayed this specific trait.

You need to prepare stories for the following traits:

  1. Entrepreneurial Drive / Courageous Change
  2. Inclusive Leadership
  3. Personal Impact

We used our expert interviewer insights to compile the following article that demonstrates

  • what stories to tell (content)
  • how to tell the stories (communication)

How to prepare and ace the McKinsey Personal Experience Interview

Interns usually go through 3 PEI interviews in their McKinsey application.

How can you convert your McKinsey internship into a full-time position

Once you have scored your internship, your natural goal would be to receive a full-time offer at the end of it. There are nine important things you need to do (or don’t do) to make it past the finish line.

1. Don’t stress

It is completely okay that you have no idea what you are doing. The first weeks and the whole internship really is a trial period for you. The team, the partners, and your project manager know this. They don’t expect a lot (in fact, everything you do, your teammates can do a lot faster and better probably) and will not let you catch a falling knife. Be aware of your own limitations and communicate with the team in an open manner.

2. Seek guidance

Your team and especially the project manager is there for you. Ask for help if you don’t know something or need input. Discuss analysis and slides before you start working on them as chances are high that the team will have valuable input. Discuss learning goals with your team and block frequent feedback sessions with the project manager, senior leadership, and other analysts on the team. The latter can often give you very valuable feedback that others can’t. Discuss with your big brother or sister (a more experienced McKinsey consultant that is there to answer your questions throughout the internship) and your mentor/ DGL (a McKinsey partner that is there to help and support you).

3. Work smartly

Make sure to learn how to leverage the resources of your firm right from the start. This will save you a lot of time and improve the end-product. Top firms usually take away a large amount of work from the consultants at the client site and outsource it to numerous support functions within the firm. This includes people doing or improving the slides, researchers, expert networks, or even quantitative analysts. For IT matters, IT helpdesks usually can work wonders.

4. Pick up the basic consulting skills

Learn the tools of the trade from your peers. This includes the ability to communicate both verbally and visually in a clear and concise fashion, grasping problems, breaking them down and analyzing to arrive at an actionable conclusion, basic Excel and advanced Powerpoint skills as well as good 80/20 (focus on the 20% that make 80% of the impact = efficiency), strong logic and people skills.

5. Get used to quick iterations and feedback cycles

Consulting work is very iterative in nature. Usually, you define a problem, come up with a hypothetical answer, and then test the answer with number crunching or expert opinions. Quite often, there are several iterations in analysis and slide production needed before they reach a client-ready state. Get used to this way of working and share your planned analysis and intermediate results with the team for feedback early before you move on. This way, you ensure that everyone is aligned, you are working in the right direction and not for the bin. This is the bread and butter of the typical McKinsey work.

6. Pick your battles and learn to say no

Work can be very tough at times. In this environment, it is important to establish personal boundaries early in the process. If you don’t look after yourself, no one else will. In order to do this, pick your battles and learn to say no. Even though there are certain elements that come with the job such as long hours, travel, and pressure, the team leadership, and project manager are usually happy to compromise on some to keep the team happy. This could be the need to be on the client site 4 days a week, late-night work, personal commitments and you name it.

7. Leverage the training and resources

McKinsey puts you through extensive training once you start your consulting career, even as an intern. A lot of training will be formal and mandatory. In addition to mandatory training, you can select a lot of voluntary training to develop certain hard and soft skills. Make use of this as much as possible. The offered training is usually of very high quality and pretty unique for professionals with limited working experience. Other organizations usually only put senior managers through similar training. Also, make sure to pick up and internalize the typical consultants working mode from your daily life in the team room.

8. Build a network and find your mentors

You can never start early enough to build your network in the firm. Your network includes your peer group, the people you started, and can share common learnings with, leadership and project managers, the people that will guide and pull you along on your successful trajectory through the firm. So make sure to socialize with your teams and to visit training and social events of functional or industry practices. Lastly, make the effort to get to know people from your office since you will spend 90% of your time somewhere else.

9. Triple-check your analysis and slides

Lastly, even though you are in a probation period, make sure the products you deliver such as analysis and slides are triple checked and correct. It is completely fine if it takes longer for you to solve a question, however, it is less fine to deliver work flawed with mistakes. Always work with an end-product (usually slides) in mind that is readily client-sharable.

As time progresses other skills such as developing personal spikes, knowledge development, etc. will become more important, however, this is for another day and not so much relevant for interns

Follow these 9 steps to increase your chances to receive an offer at the end of the 10-week internship.

How we can help you on this journey

We are consistently ranked as the best McKinsey coaches on PrepLounge.

As former McKinsey consultants and interview experts, we have specialized in getting our candidates an offer at McKinsey. We can help you by

Reach out to us if you have any questions! We are happy to help and offer a tailored program to help you break into McKinsey.

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