Every entrepreneur we have interviewed both at Firmsconsulting and when we were partners at BCG and McKinsey always emphasize the following:

• The successes they achieved.

• The growth they achieved.

• The manner in which they built their team.

Entrepreneurs almost always fail to answer the most basic question: If you were so successful, why are you leaving behind all that success to apply for a ~$150K/annum package at McKinsey as an associate?

Moreover, if they fail to answer that obvious question, what does it say about their pragmatism?

Surely that does not make much sense to anyone. In fact, it is a bright red question mark should they choose play up their successes and ignore the obvious question.

Too many entrepreneurs confuse success in the business with success in maturing as a leader. There is no point creating an unrealistic background when it is clear the start-up did not succeed. This comes down to the way entrepreneurs’ view failure of their business.

Failure of a business is not personal failure. 99% of start-ups will fail and recruiters understand this. Moreover, the mere fact you are applying usually means your business has failed: why else would you leave a ~$10MM revenue business to take a ~$150K salary?

In this podcast, we discuss the manner in which entrepreneurs should discuss their failures as a  McKinsey personal-experience-interview leadership lesson. The reality is that a well presented entrepreneurship story always trumps a simple academic story. The story merely needs to emphasis the points listed in this podcast, and be upfront about the challenges. In other words, entrepreneurs should, all other things being equal, have a greater resume profile than someone without entrepreneurship experience.

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8 responses to Why entrepreneurs always provide poor PEI answers

  1. You are most welcome Lucas.

  2. I really loved this podcast. Thanks Michael.

  3. Jojo,

    That is correct. Yet, that emphasis must be made in the verbal fit interview.

    In your resume, you need to state accomplishments you achieved within the overall failure of the start-up.


  4. Thanks. I absolutely understand the context thing but I thought you were suggesting in the podcast to emphasise the lessons entreprenuers learnt and not how “life changing” the experience was. You pointed out (quite rightly) that if someone was making so much money being an entreprenuer, why would they want a 150K job.

  5. Jojo,

    Thanks. There is a lot of context missing here so I cannot give you helpful answers. I would need to know more about each opportunity to compare them. Generally, we have bullets dedicated to achievements only and not descriptions. That is just wasting space to have descriptions. No lessons, just achievements.


  6. Hi Michael,
    Great podcast. I had actually never thought about explicitly highlighting my experience that way. I have previously used a “knowledge gap” approach, as in “I want to do X because while I learnt Y in a start-up, I don’t have enough knowledge/experience in Z and doing X will fill that knowledge gap.”

    So while I did reference what I learnt, the focal point was still the knowledge gap. This was in an interview situation though, not in the resume. My resume had (still has, I’m now working on changing it), the exact things you mentioned not to do (increased revenue by x% etc).

    Couple of questions if I may;

    – Is this still valid if I worked for a start-up and not started one on my own?
    – The first bullet (in a three bullet description) for me is a description of what the start-up does. I thought it would be valuable in terms of providing context. Should I remove that and make all three bullets lessons?
    – Finally, which one of these three would you suggest as an ideal structure for a three bullet experience;
    o A description bullet followed by two lessons bullets
    o A description bullet, an achievement bullet (increased rev etc) and a lessons bullet
    o All three lessons bullets


  7. You are welcome Patrick. Unfortunately most universities and mentors train aspiring consultants to assume failure is a bad thing when it is not at all.

  8. This is a very useful podcast. I have likely been guilty of both exaggeration and describing my learnings in the application process.

    Likely saved by a more honest and thoughtful cover letter and essay, the resume submitted currently emphasizes the accomplishments and will be read by interviewers.

    What I’ve gathered is that I should focus primarily on the learnings from challenges and failures.

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