Sasha recently received an offer from McKinsey Paris for the Operations Practice. The three podcasts are recordings of the only two training sessions conducted with Sasha and the debrief call after he received his offer.
Sasha’s case is interesting because of the highly compressed time, about a week. It is also interesting because of his background: 38 year old native of Russia, who moved to France as an adult, he had a basic working knowledge of French and was an older candidate who had a deep operating knowledge of the metals industry.
- Podcast 1: Preparing for the “Final Round” with McKinsey Paris
- Podcast 2 Preparing for the new Final Round after McKinsey asked for an additional interview
- Podcast 3: Debrief with Sasha on his experiences and lessons learned
About 4 days before his final round interview, Sasha engaged us to prepare him for his interviews at McKinsey Paris to join the operations practice.
Given the short time available, we could only conduct 2 calls with Sasha and had to be extremely careful in judiciously using the time to only provide guidance which he could use. It is easy to end up providing redundant or generic advice which would not help Sasha much. Providing the appropriate advice is far more difficult than it appears to be. With just 120 minutes between both calls, and no time to schedule more training, we needed to diagnose his skills, select the areas to focus upon and train him in these areas. There was very little room for error.
We accepted coaching Sasha over that condensed period because we understood the McKinsey Paris partners had only one question in their mind, a question we could help him understand:
Could Sasha sufficiently understand the French business culture to make partner in an accelerated manner given his age?
As ex-partners, we felt we had a strong enough understanding to help Sasha understand how partners would view his profile and what he could do to mitigate their concerns.
In essence, we had to position Sasha such that he could demonstrate to the McKinsey partners not only that he understood operations consulting at its essence, but that he could also behave like someone who was at least a peer to an associate principal. The reason this was important is that a 38 year old has far less time to reach partnership and must therefore already have some of these attributes in their profile. This is really the main lessons from these podcasts – how do you actually achieve that goal of demonstrating you have some of these attributes.
There are certain things you can do to demonstrate you are a peer to a McKinsey partner.
First, you need to demonstrate a mature understanding of operations and strategy. It is impossible to have a mature understanding of either as an MBA graduate. This only comes with senior experience and we needed to teach Sasha how to speak as if he had the experience.
Second, you need to weave your past experience as anecdotes into the case. This is crucial. Senior practitioners should be able to isolate and use kernels of relevant past experience without delaying the case or even sounding verbose. Concision is an art.
Third, and by far the most important, Sasha had to adapt his image, body-language and communication to demonstrate he was partner material. We focused extensively on how Sasha could do this without coming across as arrogant.
Did you enjoy the program? If yes, how?
Absolutely! There [are] many parts of this program that made it stand out for me. I found that the coach’s took time to understand who I was and how they could adapt the program. I found my coach to be available, humorous and pleasant to engage.
One of the things that stood out for me was the time my coach spent with me. I could always write to him late at night and he would respond very quickly. Many times we would be chatting over Skype for a good hour discussing various questions I had. These little things about the program were excellent for someone who had little knowledge about management consulting.
I also appreciated dealing directly with partners who could easily confirm or dismiss rumours and speculation that exist on the internet.
Did the program meet your expectations? If yes, how?
I did not have very high expectations of the program. I was referred by a colleague whom FC hired into McKinsey Paris. She spoke highly of Michael and the FC team and I joined the program on her referral. So, I was expecting some advice, but nothing unusual.
But, FC did exceed all my expectations. Not only did FC get me into all two firms I wanted to join, I think they fundamentally changed my ambitions and perspectives on life. I was taught all the technical case solving skills and that was very good. Not having to learn frameworks was something I never knew could be done in a case. The main way this program changed my views is that it taught me the importance of values and ethics in management consulting, as a profession.
I was told:
“It is more important that you become an outstanding management consultant who does what is right, than whether or not you just join McKinsey.”
That really stayed in my mind. FC wanted me to be successful in the long term as well.
What was the most important learning’s from the program?
Besides learning about Lionel Messi! My coach used this example so many times that I eventually watched a game. I did not see the analogy – probably because I did not understand football.
The lesson was that to be really good at solving cases you need to know the fundamentals really well. I was very surprised when we spent about 4 hours just learning estimation cases and brainstorming. I could not see the benefit of this at first. My friends [thought] I was mad for doing this. Yet, everything was pulled together in the full case section and I could see how all the pieces fitted together.
The other important lesson was communication. This was one area I took for granted. For every single answer I provided, I was shown a better way to say it and solve it. My dressing improved after the program and I now think carefully about the deficit/credit my body language is generating.
It was amusing to see male partners have such exacting suggestions for female clothing, handbags, nail polish and so on. Yet, all the advice worked and in hindsight it seems silly not to have known these things.
Do you feel the program provided an advantage for you versus your own/other preparation? If so, in what way?
Yes, definitely. There are two main parts.
The major one is the techniques to solve full cases, logic questions, develop hypotheses and brainstorm. I especially liked the tricks to develop hypotheses. I could not find these in any books and I was shown a very useful way to build hypotheses using issue trees. That was very clever and made a lot of sense to me.
FC seems to place a huge focus on finding talented people, nurturing them and grooming them. It was interesting to see how the nature of my relationship with my coach changed over the course of the training. At first he really pushed me to learn the basics and I think this helped. My coach politely stopped one lesson after 10 minutes when he felt I was not prepared. He was really polite about it, but said that we need to shift things back. As I progressed and did better, I noticed there was less pushing and more nurturing.
When I asked about this, I was told something very interesting:
“We push you to reach your potential. One we see that you realize your potential, we stopped pushing and start feeding you the right skills to succeed.”
I thought that was really deep. I am not sure I would have done as well if FC had not driven things at the start. There was a chance I would have just struggled and quit or settled for a weaker firm.
Can you recall any memorable moments?
Yes, there were so many of them, but I do recall one which stood out for me.
In my 3rd case training session I was struggling with brainstorming. I could not start any of the cases presented and just felt like dying on the spot.
My coach politely said lets cancel today’s session and provide a big-picture view of how the tools are used in a real McKinsey engagement. He felt that would help me understand them.
For the next 50 minutes we discussed how he led a team to help an ailing company find ways to restore growth. He explained how the team had to develop a way to solve the problem even though they had no idea what was happening in the sector. My coach then carefully showed me how they used brainstorming to develop a set of issues and develop hypotheses around these. We discussed the arrangement of the analyses, structuring of studies and so on. I had this moment of clarity when everything work in my mind – eventually!
I am not sure anyone else would have had that level of experience and ability to explain such a complex problem in such an easy way.
What would you like changed in the program?
I think FC is an amazing life experience for anyone. I think three things should change to improve the program:
It is very difficult to find out anything about the program and I was surprised at this. I think more people should know about this program. I know this is the best program to train people but I feel more people need exposure to it. Sometimes I meet people at McKinsey and they use terms and methods that only FC teaches and I think “Ah, you must be a graduate of FC” as well. I think the selective nature of the program is very good, but that does not mean it should be hidden.
I know my friend received more than 12 hours of coaching. While I know this is something FC controls, it would be nice to know the criteria for allocating more time to a candidate.
The description on the website does not even come close to describing the depth of the program. I am not sure why it is written that way, but I found this to be weak at describing the program. It should be updated.
Do you believe your coach was effective?
I worked with Michael and 1 other McKinsey partner: Kevin Coyne. All were exceptional.
The benefit of working with partners, and Michael who is very tough, is that the final round interviews with the McKinsey partners felt so easy.
Do you personally believe the sessions were tailored for your own development?
Not at first. I think we follow a set pattern in the first 4 sessions or so and adjust them later.
I felt sessions 5 to 12 were definitely tailored for me. I know we spent far more time on quantitative questions and data analyses since this was common to Paris. I would not have known this so I think FC has pretty good intelligence on each office.
I was also given very good intelligence on the two partners interviewing me in the final round. I think these insights helped me differentiate myself more than my colleagues who had been practicing for a much longer time than I.
What are your thoughts on using former McKinsey/BCG worldwide practice leaders to coach clients?
I had the opportunity to work with Kevin and it was amazing. I went into my final interview knowing that the McKinsey global strategy leader believed I was destined for McKinsey. True or not, it helped my confidence levels.
I recall two areas where this mentoring with senior partners helped me. I felt that Kevin and Michael were in constant contact so that each session picked up the development areas and built on this. This was very useful and made me believe they took my development seriously. I think listening to someone like Kevin discusses how McKinsey recruits beats any online forum. After practicing cases with him, I realized I could handle a full-partner-led case.
I noticed that the FC partners always pinpointed my development areas. They did not give me a long list of areas to improve, but just listed the top three or four areas. I think this was very useful to help me set direction and focus my efforts. I also liked the idea of the partners recording their feedback for me and loading it as a podcast.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
FC is an amazing institution. Michael and the team drives home the ideas of values, ethics and fundamental problem solving. I still speak to Michael often and I continue to reach out for assistance.
I hope they continue growing and I hope they will make the senior partners/mentors available to their consulting clients as well.
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