McKinsey PEI: Personal Impact Explained

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Last Updated on January 31, 2024

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.

Personal Impact is one of the four key dimensions assessed in the McKinsey PEI, alongside Inclusive Leadership, Courageous Change, and Entrepreneurial Drive, the latter of which is mostly discontinued.

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.

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?

Personal Impact in a Business Context

First, a Personal Impact story in a business context:

In my role as a consultant at a business advisory firm, I was part of a team tasked with assisting a client in addressing some of their most complex issues. The project’s success hinged on garnering support and cooperation from various stakeholders, both from our team and the client’s side. Early into the project, I realized the critical importance of effective interpersonal interactions as a cornerstone for facilitating lasting, positive change.

Among the stakeholders was John, a key executive from the client’s side, known for his extensive experience and strong, assertive personality. John held views starkly contrasting with our team’s recommendations, firmly believing that our strategies were unsuited for his organization. Initially, this difference in viewpoints posed a significant challenge. I found it tough to align with John, and our interactions often felt more like stalemates than productive exchanges.

Recognizing the pivotal role John played in the project’s trajectory, I committed myself to bridge this divide. My approach started with active listening – giving John the space to voice his concerns and opinions without immediate counterarguments. This process was about more than just hearing his words; it involved a deep understanding of his perspective, motivations, and apprehensions. By asking targeted questions and genuinely valuing his input, I gradually started to build a foundation of trust and mutual respect.

Clear and empathetic communication was key. I ensured that our team’s recommendations were articulated in a way that not only highlighted their effectiveness but also how they aligned with John’s goals for the organization. It was crucial to frame our strategies as collaborative solutions that offered benefits for all parties involved. This was not a one-off conversation but an ongoing dialogue, where I continually sought to find and expand common ground.

As our rapport strengthened, so did our ability to work together effectively. We began to view our differences not as roadblocks but as opportunities to explore new, combined approaches. This shift didn’t erase our disagreements, but it allowed us to approach them constructively, working in tandem to implement necessary changes for the client.

Reflecting on this experience, I recognized that working successfully with individuals who hold differing views requires more than just patience and active listening. It demands a sincere appreciation for diverse perspectives and a commitment to finding synergy in those differences. It’s about creating a space where conflicting opinions can coexist and contribute to a richer, more holistic understanding of complex challenges. This experience was instrumental in shaping my approach to consulting, underlining the significance of personal impact in driving successful outcomes and building robust professional relationships.

Personal Impact story in a professional context

Personal Impact in a University Context

Second, a Personal Impact story from a university context:

As a graduate student in the social work program, I was part of a diverse team tasked with developing a comprehensive plan to tackle a pressing social issue affecting a vulnerable segment of our community. This project presented a unique blend of challenges and opportunities, particularly in terms of collaboration and consensus-building among team members with varied viewpoints.

One of the pivotal moments in this project was working with Jane, our team’s boss who passionately advocated for immediate, direct assistance to those in need. Her perspective sharply contrasted with the rest of the team’s inclination towards developing a sustainable, long-term solution. Jane’s strong stance and vocal expression of her views initially led to friction and discord within the team.

Recognizing the critical need for harmony and effective teamwork, I shifted my approach to better accommodate and integrate Jane’s viewpoint. Instead of engaging in debates, I chose to actively listen to her, seeking to genuinely understand the rationale behind her stance. This meant engaging in deeper, empathic conversations where Jane’s concerns and ideas were not only heard but thoroughly considered.

Through these discussions, it became evident that while our approaches differed, our end goals were aligned. We both aimed to make a meaningful impact on the community we were trying to help. This realization was the turning point – it allowed us to explore a middle ground where immediate relief efforts could be integrated with long-term strategic planning. I facilitated team sessions where we collectively brainstormed how to blend these two approaches, leading to a more balanced and comprehensive plan.

In working closely with Jane, I learned the importance of balancing assertiveness with empathy. It was crucial to respect and validate her perspective while also guiding the conversation towards a collaborative solution. This experience honed my skills in negotiation, conflict resolution, and persuasive communication, all of which are integral to making a personal impact.

Ultimately, the project was a success not only in terms of the plan we developed but also in how we, as a team, evolved in our ability to work through differences. The experience underscored the essence of personal impact in a professional setting – it’s about understanding others, adapting your communication style, and guiding diverse teams towards a unified goal. This project was a practical lesson in the power of inclusive leadership and effective communication, shaping my approach to future team collaborations.

Personal Impact story in a university context

Preparing for the Personal Impact Dimension in the McKinsey PEI

To excel in the Personal Impact dimension of the McKinsey Personal Experience Interview (PEI), it’s crucial to prepare thoroughly by reflecting on past experiences that demonstrate your influencing and persuasion skills. Here is a structured approach to prepare effectively for this dimension:

  1. Identify Two Key Situations: Begin by selecting two scenarios from your past experiences where you effectively demonstrated the qualities of Personal Impact. These situations can be from your professional life, academic experiences at university, or extracurricular activities. Look for instances where you had to influence others, lead a change, or drive a decision, especially in challenging circumstances.
  2. Contextualize Your Experiences: Ensure that your chosen stories are rich in context and relevant to the qualities McKinsey looks for in the Personal Impact dimension. It could be about navigating a complex group project, leading a team in a professional setting, or driving a significant change in a club or organization. The context should clearly showcase your persuasion skills and ability to influence others.
  3. Structure Stories with the SCORE Framework: Utilize the SCORE (Situation, Complication, Outcome Expectation, Remedial Actions, End Result) framework to structure your stories effectively. Focus particularly on the ‘Remedial Actions’ you took – these are the actions and strategies you employed to influence others and drive change. This part of your story should detail how you understood the perspectives of others, tailored your communication, and overcame obstacles to achieve your objectives.
  4. Discuss Your Stories for Feedback: Talk through your stories with friends, peers, or professional case coaches who have a deep understanding of the McKinsey PEI format and the Personal Impact dimension. They can provide insightful feedback on the relevance, impact, and clarity of your stories, and help you refine them to effectively showcase your skills.
  5. Anticipate and Prepare for Follow-up Questions: McKinsey interviewers often probe deeper into your stories with follow-up questions. Prepare for questions like, “How did you feel in this situation?” or “Why did you choose a particular approach to influence others?”. Be ready to delve into the nuances of your actions, explaining your thought process, emotional intelligence, and strategic approach in each scenario.

Following this structured approach, you will be able to craft compelling and relevant stories that demonstrate your abilities in the Personal Impact dimension.

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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