Only 1% of McKinsey applicants receive an offer. The Personal Experience Interview plays an important role in separating people that receive an offer from the rest. In this regard, the PEI is almost as important as the case interview. Yet, it is much easier to prepare for.
Don’t neglect this part of the interview. We often see candidates investing 99% of their time into case interview preparation, completely neglecting to prepare proper answers for the McKinsey PEI.
This is the part of the interview process where you don’t want to think and make up stories on the spot, but merely remind yourself of your prepared answers. This way you will make sure that your answers are structured, to the point, and exactly hit the dimensions that the questions try to assess.
The McKinsey Personal Experience Interview
The McKinsey Personal Experience Interview is a twist to the classic behavioral interview. It uses a highly standardized interview format that revolves around 3 specific character traits.
The interviewers ask specific prompts such as “Tell me about a time where you demonstrated specific drive and achieved something…” The stories you need to tell should convey how you displayed this specific trait.
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 Personal Experience Interview focuses on one specific desired trait at a time
- In total, you will have to talk about three different traits, more specifically drive & achievement, leadership, and personal impact (one per interview)
- You don’t need to be superhuman. Illustrate how you acted in a specific situation, set in a professional environment (e.g. a previous work engagement or internship), a university experience or extracurricular activity.
- The closer they are to the typical consultant’s challenges, the better
- You are expected to tell stories from the more recent past
Learn about the desired traits below and prepare your stories accordingly. We highlight what elements the story should contain to be considered strong. Tailor it to your own experiences!
Leadership. Show that you can handle a group that accepts you as their leader, with each member looking up to you. Tailor your leadership style for different groups. Demonstrate that you can structure, divide and delegate tasks. Motivate your team and improve the team spirit and the working environment. Coach team members in their areas of weakness. Mediate conflicts between team-mates and goals; meet goals. Be a trustworthy authority that people can learn from. Summing up, let your presence have a positive impact on the team and lead to a strong outcome of a particular project or task.
Drive and achievement. Show ambition and dedication by pursuing several goals at the same time. Ideally, you are intrinsically motivated and not pushed by external factors. To achieve your desired outcome you overcome some obstacles or face headwinds. Follow the goals with energy and passion under time pressure, surpassing even your own expectations in the end.
Personal impact. Persuade a group or individual to adopt a certain idea or plan of yours (this does not imply that they necessarily have to like you). The idea can be unpopular but lead to a necessary decision or recommendation. Get people on your side or on the same page to enable a constructive working environment. By getting everyone on board, you create a sustainable way of working or even a definite solution to a difficult problem.
Draft your stories in a way that they can be told from different perspectives so you can convey different personality traits with one story if needed. The different dimensions are all interrelated and hardly ever are displayed individually (e.g. as a strong leader you had impact, when you initiate something you work with ambition, etc.).
Even if you don’t need to be superhuman you still need to show peaks in certain traits. In order to do so, think about situations set in really challenging environments. You might have encountered several obstacles or problems, which you decided to overcome with persistence and hard work. Ideally, you have encountered some resistance. The odds were definitely not in your favor but you came out as a winner in the end.
Also, keep in mind to talk about experiences from different contexts. For instance, do not develop all stories from your university exchange semester.
Lastly, have at least two stories per character trait at hand, as sometimes you have to talk about a particular trait in several interviews in a row. Duplicates are not allowed. In some cases, you even have to tell two stories about the same trait in one interview (this is usually the case when the interviewer was not particularly satisfied with your first story).
How to answer McKinsey Personal Experience Questions
The PEI assesses two things. First, how you perform in certain situations as we described above and second, how well you can tell a story.
Management consultants use an effective tool to bring their messages across: Storys. Storytelling is one of the key skills that every strategy consultant at McKinsey, BCG, and Bain needs to master to increase the effectiveness of their work. They use stories to pack their analyses and recommendations into a powerful message and drive change.
That is why the ability to tell good stories is assessed during the case interviews. At StrategyCase.com we have developed the SCORE framework based on our on-the-job experience as well as discussions and coaching with 100s of applicants.
The SCORE framework enables you to best prepare and present compelling top-down stories to your audience.
Setup the story
Whenever you tell a story, start by summarizing it in three key sentences. Every sentence should add value. Refrain from empty words or sentences.
Give each story a poignant headline to create a memorable anchor. Then convey the key message in three sentences:
- Situation – what was the situation like?
- Complication – what issues did you face?
- Resolution – how did you overcome them?
This short introduction provides background and sets the tone and stage for deeper discussions. You work both for yourself and the listener or interviewer. You break down the story into individual parts and the listener can ask targeted questions. Depending on the questions, you can highlight certain parts of the story or of your heroic acts 😉
Dive into your story using the SCORE framework
If the interviewer is fine with your short summary and wants to hear more, use the SCORE framework to tell your story.
The SCORE framework is especially useful when you want to prepare and think deeply about all aspects of a situation. It provides an anchor for a natural flow of explanation and thought during an interview.
Let’s look at an example:
Julia is asked by her interviewer to talk about a specific situation where she demonstrated leadership skills.
She answers: At my previous employer we had to present a strategy document in front of the board (SITUATION). My boss got sick the day before and was not able to direct and structure the work for us, which could have resulted in a bad situation for my department (COMPLICATION). I took over from her, guided the team and we prepared a stellar presentation for the board on the next day (RESOLUTION).
The interviewer will be intrigued by this short prompt and ask for details. Now Julia can go into the SCORE framework. The focus should be on her role and what she did to solve the situation, the remedial action!
She says: We had an important bi-annual board meeting scheduled, which my boss was driving. I had one work stream to prepare, as did all 5 other product managers on the team (SITUATION).
The crucial day before the meeting, my boss got sick, which initially put our work to a grinding halt. She structured and coordinated our work, helped with problem-solving and integrated all our workstreams into a final presentation (COMPLICATION).
If we would have stopped at this stage, we would have presented a non-aligned 80% version, leaving out crucial details of our progress and success. This would have reflected negatively on our team and each of us individually. The result would have been budget cuts in our department for next year (OUTCOME EXPECTED).
So I had to step in and fill the role of my boss. First, I had to calm down the team, one person specifically who freaked out. I held a short pep talk to improve everyone’s mood and motivate the team. Then I took 30 minutes in private to devise a strategy. I met the team to redelegate tasks with me basically taking over the role of my boss, whereas I distributed the final tasks of my workstream to two other colleagues. Lastly, I scheduled two problem-solving sessions to align during the day and next morning. They were happy that someone took the lead and stepped up. One colleague was kind of confrontational, so I had to pull him in a 1-on-1 to discuss his concerns and mediate a conflict with another team mate. I integrated all aspects of the presentation throughout the day as I was receiving each individual’s input and wrote speaker notes for each of them. At the end of the day, I had to coach one colleague on my model so she could get the right output (REMEDIAL ACTION).
On the next day, the team had a stellar presentation in front of the board and was able to answer all questions and challenges we received. The budget for next year was actually increased. We were all super happy and I took the team out for drinks in the evening (END RESULT).
The interviewer will tell you quite soon in which direction your story should go and what parts you should focus on. The SCORE framework is extremely useful in this case. Be aware that McKinsey interviewers will go very deep into each situation and ask very specific questions such as “What did this person say?”, “How did this make you feel?”, etc. Be prepared to talk about all aspects of a specific situation.
If you have prepared just a few sentences or bullet points per item, you are well prepared for even the most daunting and specific personal interview questions. You will know what you are going to say at the right time without sounding rehearsed.
A good tool to prepare your individual stories in an organized manner would be the following matrix. Draft it in Excel to collect and prepare your stories.
Finally, rehearse your answers with friends and peers. Let them play an active role and ask for tricky questions to simulate a real-life interview situation.
If you are interested in understanding how to ace the behavioral interview or the McKinsey Personal Experience Interview in detail and having your interview skills assessed and adjusted, try our 1-on-1 personal fit/ experience interview or a full consulting interview coaching (includes a case interview and a PEI interview practice) with McK interviewers. Click below for more information.
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