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Psychological barriers


Let’s talk about one of psychological barriers that keep many of FC members back. I will call it “potential debt.” Many of our clients are preparing for case interviews and I wanted to discuss one of the common psychological barriers many face.

Preparing for case interviews, going through a case interview process and ultimately joining McKinsey, BCG, Bain etc. is usually the culmination of a long and tiring road. We have clients whose families have made tremendous sacrifices to send them to US high schools, and brand name undergraduate and/or graduate programs.

We have a client working in Montreal to help his mom undergoing cancer treatment in China. He mentioned he is too afraid to ask her about the progress of her treatment. Clients from India and China, especially, but from many other countries, have spent their whole lives trying to have a better life and case interview and an offer that can result from a successful case interview recruitment process can be a door to that life.

It is no coincidence that the most prominent type of advert during the current Cricket World Cup are money transfer adverts to send funds home. The ads are not about consumption. They are about sending money back home. And I understand this sacrifice and psychological barriers it creates because I had to make it as well. I have seen my family for 1 day in over 10 years. I never saw my sister grow up, my best friend. I have yet to meet my nephew. And I am his godmother. This is what it took to pursue fulfilling my potential and creating more opportunities for my family. And I still feel I have a long way to achieve my full potential.

When we start this journey of finding a better life, we do it because we know we have tremendous potential. And we do have this potential. We all do. Michael likes to say that he could train an 8-year old to do cases and I believe that. If we just had the right opportunities, exposure and mentorship, our lives would be better.

Yet, life is hard. At each stage of our life, we are sorted, ranked and a small group of people decides our fate. The school we attend is often decided by the zip code of our home. High school is determined by the admissions committee. University, graduate and undergraduate, and McKinsey are determined by just a few people.

Every time we face rejection we usually strengthen our psychological barriers, including raising some potential debt we owe, that exists in our minds. This is the belief that we now owe ourselves and our families some great success in the future to compensate for the tremendous sacrifices made and the lack of results so far. And it keeps growing with each setback.

By the time you are about to interview, you worry a decline from McKinsey will mean the debt can never be repaid. Failure here means that nothing is ever going to come your way to make up for everything you have sacrificed.

Potential debt is crippling. It is truly a burden. It tires you. You shy away from speaking about yourself or attending family functions because you believe your lack of success will be the topic of discussion. It is one of the most common psychological barriers our members battling with.

Your debt becomes the conversation theme, or so you think, and you do not want that. As I write this I know what you are going through. I made the sacrifices you made to transition to the West. I attended an MBA program where English was not my first language. I did everything to graduate with a distinction. I shared this potential burden.

And you feel it no matter what you achieve because potential debt is a mindset, you will never ever think it is repaid.

So don’t carry it with you.

If you go into your interviews with this burden, that is what will derail you. It overwhelms you because it turns the interview into a referendum on your entire life’s choices. The interview is not a referendum on you. Breaking down or at least weakening psychological barriers before your interviews will help tremendously and should not be ignored.

The first thing to do is to remember that the people who you care about want you to succeed and be happy. Yes, they made sacrifices, but the sacrifices were to give you a better life. Your mom, dad, sister or brother would almost certainly be devastated if they knew the kind of stress you were under. They would be more distraught if they felt they were the cause of it.

The potential debt you have accumulated has no creditors. Nobody wants to be paid back. It is all in your mind. If you just sit down with them, talk about your plans for the future, you will realize most people will be happy if you joined McKinsey, but most would never have heard of McKinsey. They may very well be just as happy if you joined almost any other company.

Start by talking to them and you may realize that you have already made their life better. Seeing you move to the US with no money, no friends, obtain an MBA, find a job, manage your $100,000 student loans and send them money back each month is something they never expected. Seeing you grow as a person may be their greatest joy. Forwarding the McKinsey acceptance letter may not be the gift they want. It is the gift you think they want.

So work on your psychological barriers as part of your interview preparation. Go into the interviews with the right mindset. You have about 3 to 4 months to prepare. Go into the interview because you want to be someone better and because you have much to offer.

If you do not succeed now, you can try again later. I know of many McKinsey partners who did not join on their first attempt.

Yet, don’t create these artificial burdens, these psychological barriers that are like invisible walls that hold you back. Don’t make this solemn. Laugh about it. Have fun the week of the interview. Become a better person as a result of the interviews. If you truly learned everything you need to learn to pass the interview, you are going to be successful no matter where you go. Take the skills with you.

This is why I always recommend clients to start with TCO 4: EMBA / Experienced Hire Program. It is a superior program because it ties everything together from years of teaching cases.

It also covers points fairly rapidly and everything is laid out in the order you need to follow it. It also is designed to help you overcome psychological barriers because who has more potential psychological barriers than relatively older members trying to join top management consulting firms? Not many.

Don’t let the title mislead you. Every single client who writes to us is told to start with this program and follow it twice. I have never seen an undergraduate, PhD, MBA, lawyer etc., with a profile so unique that they did not need to follow this program. And I can say that when someone tells me they did not start with this program, or completely skipped it, I am almost certain their odds of passing the case interview is going to be much lower.

And Michael & Tom have great chemistry. They have known each other for years, with Tom being an early coaching client who helped create this special program for his school, The Darden Business School.

They make it fun and enjoyable. They make you want to listen to each episode. Cases should not be rigid, stiff and lacking emotion and humor. We never learn when things are somber. And that’s why everyone should start here.

The teaching style of conversational and enjoyable. The easiest way to melt away the potential burden is to lighten the mood. It is not all doom and gloom. You can do this, and if you don’t make it this time, maybe you will be like many the McKinsey partners I know who got there anyway.

If you had to trek all the way to the US, UK, Australia, Canada, etc., by yourself, from some foreign land, integrate into a new language and culture, get into good schools, graduate well and successfully work in a Western company while paying down student debt and helping your family, you are already a rock star. How could a McKinsey interview with polite consultants in an airconditioned office possibly be harder than what you have already accomplished? So don’t let psychological barriers be invisible walls that hold you back.

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