McKinsey PEI: Personal Impact

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In a McKinsey interview, the Personal Impact dimension is one of the four dimensions of the McKinsey Personal Experience Interview (PEI). The Personal Impact dimension is concerned with the interviewee’s ability to create change and impact through their soft skills, and their ability to persuade others, and influence change.

In this article, we will delve deeper into the Personal Impact dimension of the McKinsey PEI and explore the key things that candidates need to keep in mind when preparing for this interview.

  • What is the definition of Personal Impact in the PEI?
  • What should you highlight in this dimension?
  • How can you prepare your story with examples?
  • What is the most common mistake candidates make?

Understanding the purpose of the Personal Impact dimension

The primary objective of the Personal Impact dimension of the McKinsey PEI is to assess a candidate’s soft skills. The interviewer wants to know how effectively the candidate can communicate their ideas, persuade others, and influence change. In other words, the interviewer is looking for evidence that the candidate can lead and drive change in a professional context.

The importance of Personal Impact in consulting

Personal impact is a crucial dimension in consulting. In fact, it is often cited as one of the most important skills for a consultant to possess. The reason for this is simple: consultants are not hired to simply provide solutions to problems, but to drive change within an organization. This means that a consultant needs to be able to effectively communicate their ideas and influence others to adopt their recommendations.

In many cases, the success of a consulting project is not determined by the quality of the analysis or the brilliance of the solution, but by the ability of the consultant to effectively engage and persuade stakeholders. In other words, personal impact is often the key differentiator between a successful and unsuccessful consulting project.

The importance of personal impact extends beyond the consulting industry. In any industry or profession, the ability to effectively communicate and influence others is a highly valued skill. Whether you are a salesperson trying to close a deal, a manager trying to motivate your team, or an entrepreneur trying to convince investors to back your business, your ability to make a personal impact is critical to your success.

This is what McKinsey wants to evaluate based on your story.

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The most important things to highlight in the Personal Impact interview

To prepare for the Personal Impact dimension of the McKinsey PEI, candidates should focus on a story that highlights their influencing and persuasion skills. The context of the story might be from taking on leadership roles, engaging in extracurricular activities, seeking out opportunities to influence change in their workplace or community, or influencing someone at their university.

Candidates should also practice storytelling, as this is a critical aspect of the Personal Impact dimension. When telling their stories, candidates should focus on highlighting their soft skills rather than their technical expertise or problem-solving prowess. They should briefly describe the challenges they faced, and then the strategies they used to overcome them in great detail. I have developed the SCORE framework to prepare and communicate personal fit answers in the most effective manner.

When preparing for the Personal Impact dimension of the McKinsey PEI, there are several key things that candidates should keep in mind. For this dimension, you will be asked to tell a story in which you influenced or persuaded an individual. This can either be about them adopting a certain idea or plan of yours, helping you with achieving your own goals and driving something together, etc. Focus on stories that showcase how you

  • worked with challenging individuals, ideally more senior than your own role
  • needed to understand their concerns and reservations first by listening and understanding the person and their viewpoint
  • were able to convince them by using a mix of the right set of arguments and effective communication tailored to their personality, arguments, and the situation as a whole
  • created a sustainable way of working together or even a solution to a difficult problem.

When selecting the story, make sure to look for challenging interactions with a couple of difficulties and roadblocks. Such stories allow you to showcase how you are resilient and confident to push through personal resistance. While the circumstances were difficult, h

To effectively understand your counterparty, you need to highlight how you were able to understand them and their motivation and viewpoints, e.g., by asking targeted questions, observing their behavior, and listening to them. Expect a lot of “Why” questions from your interviewers to drill deeper into your understanding and evaluation of the person you were convincing.

To effectively influence and convince someone, you need to discuss what approach and strategies you used. The right strategies are different for different people as some might be more driven by data and facts, while others are more emotional (e.g., some might be convinced purely by a potential win-win situation and by a reward that is in it for them, while others want to feel valued and respected before acknowledging your point). What is important for the interviewer is to understand that your strategy was suitable and effective for the given situation.

The biggest mistake in a Personal Impact story

It is worth noting that the interviewer is not interested in the problem-solving aspect or technical details of the problem. Rather, the interviewer is more interested in the candidate’s approach to influencing someone to implement a solution and how they went about it. The interviewer wants to know about the candidate’s interactions and relationships with people, the interpersonal challenges they faced, and the strategies they used to overcome them.

If you only talk about the problem-solving aspect of a situation (e.g., “I was able to create a complex Excel analysis that convinced the manager. Here is how I set up my analysis:…”), you will not pass your interview.

Examples of Personal Impact stories

Below I have compiled two sample stories on a higher level. You could use them to take some building blocks for the foundation of your own personal and authentic stories. These are just starting ideas as during the live interviews, interviewers will dig a lot deeper to discuss the situation over 10-15, sometimes even 20 minutes. Interviewers will dive deep and try to understand mainly three things:

  • Do you understand why the person was acting in a certain way/ held their beliefs and how did you get to that understanding?
  • How did your understanding help you come up with a tailored persuasion approach and what did you do exactly to change their mind?
  • How did you perceive the situation and kept your cool?

First, a Personal Impact story in a business context:

I was working as a consultant for a business advisory firm, and my team had been engaged by a client to help them tackle some of their most challenging issues. The project required the involvement and support of many individuals from both the client and our team. I quickly realized that interacting effectively with people was key to creating positive, enduring change. One of the key stakeholders on the client side was John, who had very different opinions from our team about how to approach the project. John was an experienced executive with a strong personality, and he was convinced that our team’s recommendations would not work for his organization. At first, I found it difficult to work with John because of his strong opinions. I struggled to find common ground with him and to build a productive working relationship. But I knew that it was essential to find a way to collaborate with him, as his support was crucial to the success of the project. I began by actively listening to John’s concerns and asking him questions to better understand his perspective. I acknowledged his concerns and made an effort to show him that I valued his input. I also made sure to communicate our team’s recommendations clearly and to explain why we thought they would work for the client. My goal was to demonstrate how this would be a win-win situation for everyone involved. Over time, I was able to build a rapport with John and to establish a more productive working relationship. We still had our differences, but we were able to find common ground and to work together to implement the changes that the client needed. Looking back on that experience, I learned that working with people with opposing opinions can be challenging, but it is essential to building strong relationships and achieving positive outcomes. It requires patience, active listening, and a willingness to understand and appreciate different perspectives.

Personal Impact story in a professional context

Second, a Personal Impact story from a university context:

As a graduate student in the social work program at the university, I had the opportunity to work with a team on a challenging project. Our assignment was to create a comprehensive plan to address a specific social issue affecting a vulnerable population in our community. Working with clients on challenging issues requires the involvement and support of many individuals. Interacting effectively with people is key to creating positive, enduring change. Our team consisted of four individuals, each with unique backgrounds and perspectives. One member of our team, Jane, had a very different opinion on how we should approach the problem. She believed that we should focus on providing immediate assistance to those in need, while the rest of us felt that a long-term solution was necessary to create lasting change. Jane was very vocal about her opinion and it quickly became clear that we had opposing views. The situation became more challenging when we started working on the project together. Jane continued to push her viewpoint and it created a lot of tension within the team. At first, I was frustrated with her and found it difficult to communicate effectively. However, I realized that interacting effectively with people is key to creating positive, enduring change. I decided to take a different approach and started to actively listen to Jane’s perspective. I asked her to explain her reasoning and tried to understand where she was coming from. As we continued to discuss the issue, we found some common ground and were able to start building a plan that incorporated both immediate assistance and long-term solutions. I was able to demonstrate to her that if we agree on a compromise, both perspectives would benefit. So, she exchanged some of her reservations about the long-term goals and the rest of the team about the short-term focus. Although it was a challenging situation, I learned a lot from working with Jane. I realized that even when people have opposing opinions, it’s important to communicate effectively and work towards a common goal. By listening to her perspective, I was able to come up with a more comprehensive plan that addressed both immediate and long-term needs of the vulnerable population in our community.

Personal Impact story in a university context

Summing up

The Personal Impact dimension is a critical part of the McKinsey PEI interview. While many candidates focus on showcasing their problem-solving skills, which are evaluated in the McKinsey Problem Solving Interview (Case Interview), the Personal Impact interview is designed to assess a candidate’s ability to drive change and influence others. By focusing on skills such as active listening and understanding your counterparty, tailoring your approach of influence, and staying calm and collected, candidates can improve their performance in the Personal Impact interview and become more effective consultants.

Furthermore, influencing and persuasion are critical skills in any industry or profession. By developing your personal impact skills, you can become a more effective communicator and influencer, which can lead to greater success in your career.

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