mckinsey partners

This new article series will share advise our clients receive from consulting partners during the networking phase of the case interview process, as well as our feedback on how to make networking more effective.

In this first article we introduce Martin’s networking. Martin is an ex-McKinsey associate trying to rejoin the firm. The names and some details have been modified for confidentiality reasons. In the articles to follow in this series, we will follow all of Martin’s networking efforts to get back into management consulting.

Below you will find a unique opportunity to see the actual emails, communication, advice and information McKinsey partners shared with Martin, an ex-McKinsey associate who wants to return to the firm.

As you will probably realize, on average, McKinsey alumni will get additional help and more open advice from McKinsey partners versus candidates who are not McKinsey alums. You will also see that it is actually quite hard to rejoin the firm. The longer you are out, the harder it is to get in.

Enjoy an account of Martin’s two networking calls with McKinsey partners, along with our feedback and advice.

Networking calls with McKinsey partner part 1: Scott Boland


I had my call with Scott. We were interrupted for a half hour when a client called him, but, in large part due to his personality, we covered a lot of ground and he was very informative.

Scott discussed the differences in the firm since I left (more building of client capabilities, different billing arrangements/at risk, more sector orientation, less geographic orientation, etc.). He stressed that all the “real things” about the firm are still the same though. He encouraged me to speak with McKinsey partners in the mid-atlantic since “the South office really has the best culture in the firm and those offices are a bit different.”

Scott told me the firm is very open to former members returning after their time in industry (a change since I left). He ran through a list of names of people I knew that left the firm and recently returned.

He asked what other firms I was speaking with. I ran through the names and he told me I was “nuts to go to any of those places over returning to the Firm”.

We finished up by talking about functional versus industry expertise. He suggested that my background matches up with the Consumer Packaged Goods industry sector probably a bit better than the Operations functional practice. He told me to reach out to Darrell McDonald (Director who I knew) and Richard Young (Director in New York who I worked with in UK). He told me to keep him in the loop as I go through the process and to give him a call before the interviews start.



Michael’s Feedback:

Excellent call. Notice how Martin is only networking with partners. That is a Firmsconsulting rule. We strongly discourage our clients from networking with anyone but partners. Recruiters tend to go through checklists and if your profile is unique, recruiters will not be able to assess you, and they will probably decline you. More importantly, only partners make the final hiring decision and it is best to get comfortable speaking to them earlier in the process.

The thing that stands out here is the referral to speak to other partners. In a manner of speaking, that is an endorsement. Scott is basically saying, “I like you Martin and think you are a good fit, so I am going to ask you to speak to some of my colleagues, and feel free to mention I sent you.”

mckinsey partners ex-mckinsey

Too many candidates worry about getting a quick referral for their resume. That is a very weak accomplishment. Martin is now building a coalition of partners who will guide him and help him through the process. Getting the interview is the easy part. Getting the help to go through it is the harder part.

The key thing here is the willingness to share the differences about McKinsey. This would rarely happen if a non-McKinsey person wanted the call. So this information is unique and sincere. The firm has changed. It is great it is being discussed so openly.

Networking calls with McKinsey partners part 2: Paul Williams


I spoke with Paul Williams this afternoon. He joined the Firm as a lateral hire from Booz at the time of the acquisition by PwC. He focuses on total supply chain within CPG (a new approach he calls “integrated operations”). It was a longer call (a bit more than 45 minutes). He was open, informative and referred me to a couple of other McKinsey partners and a professional development director within McKinsey for additional dialogue.

Highlights of the call include:

Paul left Booz because PwC performed audits for his major clients and he was going to have to “start-over”.

He discussed his preconceptions about McKinsey (arrogant, superior, over-priced, not as good as they think they are, etc.), but thinks none of that is true now.

He discussed the McKinsey value system of putting clients first above all else, real sense of partnership, etc. Said it was “massively different from Booz, but much closer to the old Booz before the problems began”.

Paul said coming in new to the Firm was very difficult – he cultivated 2 key mentors that are fairly senior in the firm who have helped champion him.

He discussed the importance of being humble – he took a step back from Sr. Partner at Booz to Principal at McKinsey (junior partner).

Paul said the first project was the single most important thing in building his reputation in the Firm.

From a work perspective, Paul noticed a void in partners doing end-to-end supply chain work – the Operations practice was fairly “silo’d.” He teamed up with several other partners to create a new offering.

Paul walked me through how he is helping food and beverage clients deal with their complete supply chain, and leveraging the “big data,” BTO and MI teams in his work. We had a nice 10 minute conversation about the work he is doing, the issues he is running into with clients, and other industries that this broad-based approach would fit.

He asked for my current thinking on where I thought I fit into McKinsey, since from our call he thought I sounded a bit like a generalist, a bit like an expert and a bit like MI. He encouraged me to really look at what the day-to-day work is for each role to determine what I would enjoy the most.

Paul volunteered to help me more, but wasn’t sure what he could do since he is fairly new. He suggested I reach out to Nora McMurray (and say he referred me to her) who does professional development in the Operations practice – he thought she could help me think about the right role for me back at the Firm and steer me to additional people to speak with.

Paul also said I should call Darrell McDonald. He thought Darrell would be a good resource (I have emailed him previously).

Paul also suggested reaching out to Natalie Chen, a McKinsey partner in the New York office doing Operations work in CPG.

He asked what other firms I was considering, I ran through the list, he told me he thought McKinsey was the best of the bunch and told me that S& was a mess right now and only going to be more revenue driven as it integrated into PwC – he thought I’d be much happier at McKinsey.

At the end of the call he asked me to stay in touch, wished me good luck and said he hopes to work with me in the future.

As a next step, I plan to reach out to the people he listed. I e-mailed Darrell a little over a week ago, but haven’t heard back. Both Scott and now Paul have suggested I “call” Darrell. Should I consider picking up the phone and call him in the office?

Finally, I plan to send the following email back to Paul, please comment as you feel necessary:


I really appreciate the time you spent discussing McKinsey with me this afternoon. I enjoyed hearing about your new offering and the success you are having in helping clients look at end-to-end supply chain solutions. I appreciate your advice and recommendations of additional people within the Firm for me to contact.

I will follow-up with you soon as I continue through the process. Thanks again for a very enjoyable conversation.



Michael’s Feedback:

This is good. I would continue down this path for now while we learn more. There is a lot of great insights here. Again, we see the candor of the partner. And it is not simply because Martin is ex-McKinsey. It is because Martin is sincere and he has the presence of a senior person, so partners are more willing to trust him.

An ex-McKinsey analyst, associate or manager would never really get this type of information from a partner. Again, Paul is willing to refer Martin and this a big win.

Martin’s follow-up email to Paul is great. He writes as if Paul is his peer. The gratitude for the call is not profuse. Martin does not ask for much and simply says he will keep Paul updated. He does not ask for Paul to review his resume etc., because to do so would imply that Martin is really junior and think his resume is the main stumbling block.

To come in at a senior level, it is about much more than your resume. It is about the ability to have a discussion with a partner as a peer. Martin is doing that in every possible way.

Thank you Martin for sharing this information and advice with Firmsconsulting community. In future articles we will continue to follow Martin’s networking journey into the partnership.

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QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: Why do you think so many candidates prefer to network with recruiters, versus partners, when partners have all the power in the hiring process? Please share in the comments.

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Image from Javi Sánchez de la viña under cc, cropped, added text.

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15 responses to McKinsey Partners Advise Ex-McKinsey Consultant

  1. Hello Andreas.

    You are too kind!


  2. Hi again Michael,

    Thanks for your insightful answers and thoughts. I think our thoughts/views on irrational or rash response to disruptive behavior are fairly similar. I suppose that the difference in our way of describing the matter is that you are much better at framing your answers and thoughts more concisely by utilizing very concrete scenarios/contexts. This is something I will be more conscious of for future discussions/questions here or elsewhere. You demonstrate the power of framing the context to really clarify your viewpoint or insight to avoid unnecessary misinterpretation. This is probably one of the main reasons almost all your published material or answers is understandable or relatable for so many people. I failed to do the same and to frame, exemplify, or be more context specific. It is a vital skill I will focus on actively practice and implement in my teaching duties.

    Regarding the rash/irrational behavior I was thinking it is a little curious why people decide to act faster than necessary instead of initially starting to examine their situation carefully from a logical perspective and make a plan. After all, business professionals or current/previously consultants are trained to think and apply logical reasoning for decisions. Yet, when it comes to decisions in their personal life (or crisis), they do not necessarily apply the same principles which could maximize the outcome or benefit of their situation or position. I agree with your reasoning of “following the flock”, so to speak.

    The people currently currently employed should be able to leverage and use that as an advantage. Assuming if they are aware of something is likely to happen, find themselves in a dead end et cetera. Those seeking new employment while currently employed are (at least seemingly) often acting from a relative position of strength compared to someone unemployed. It is definitively preferrable to the opposite considering how the aspects of moral, confidence and so on can affect actions and impressions. If nothing else, it could not hurt to occasionally analyze the current situation and likely career trajectory to actively or proactively attempt to do necessary changes or in preparation start building new relations/network.

    Your summary of the few things to create better circumstances for yourself really hits the nail on the head. I would say your advice could generally be applied in most kinds of industries or circumstances. With that said, I am really happy to hear that it is an integrated part of you program, and and is yet another example of how well developed and carefully designed they are.

    Your answers definately helped, and gave me food for thought. I truly appreciate you taking the time to answer, and want to especially thank you for sharing your thoughts and insights so freely with me, and everyone else. There are very few people in the world that act so unselfishly and genuinely want to spread knowledge like you and your colleagues. Be very proud of all your hard work and accomplishments!

    Sincerely yours,


  3. Hello Andreas,

    Thank for your great and thoughtful post and for being such a longtime follower of FC. I will answer each question you raised below.

    Do you think that it is the disruptive effect of some event or fear of change that generally cause most people to act too fast, rashly, and possibly also incorrectly in relation to their current professional level of seniority?

    I do not believe anything sudden or random causes people to behave this way. In fact, it is likely the opposite. Humans look for validation. They like to do what others do since the mere fact that many are doing it validates the option. So, they look around, see what there friends do, see what the internet says and they just follow it. Most people rarely think about the logic of that what they do. They operate on the law of large numbers: if everyone does it, it must work?

    They never ask: can something else produce a better result?

    You see this all the time in supermarkets. Despite any rational logic, most people will join the longer line to pay if it is closer to the point where they leave the aisles and start looking for a point to pay. They just assume that if so many people are in a line to pay, there must be a reason that line is longer. They will ignore the payment point with the shorter line.

    I see this weekly.

    Considering the world of consulting is a difficult place to navigate and avoid all possible pitfalls or shortcomings, is this kind of preparation something that is part of your training programs?

    Yes, the entire Executive Program is all about learning the soft and hard skills to become a partner or lead major studies. That implies knowing how to navigate all the ups and downs. We also specifically take in consultants at all levels and train them to become partners.

    The Executive Program is the largest part of Firmsconsulting. And the fastest growing.

    Are there specific things that would be wise to do during your career to make create better circumstances to rejoin should those choices be made?

    There are just a few things:

    If you want to rejoin as someone senior, you need to act, talk and think like someone senior.

    Show progression. No one will rehire someone who could not make it.

    Understand your sector and be able to articulate the issues in a crisp and simple way.

    Have demonstrated competency. Be able to prove, in a conversation, you have the skills.

    I hope that helps Andreas.


  4. Hi S Chhabra,

    All your points are true and, therefore, applicants miss a great opportunity to interact with partners.


  5. That makes a lot of sense. Thanks Michael.

  6. S

    Great piece – Michael. Thanks

    In response to the question of the day:
    1. Applicants think accessing recruiters, associates and junior consultants is easy.
    2. Many times, they are in the similar age group.
    3. Some might think that recruiters have more control in rolling out an interview. They may think partners involvement come only in the final stage.

  7. Hi Michael,

    This is just a theory and some thoughts for basis for a discussion. After reading this excellent piece on how to network into McKinsey at a senior level I started pondering about a few things, as is always the case with your articles. Often there is something outside of persons control that triggers a persons behavior and actions. It is perhaps unreasonable to assume that everyone have a clear and specific roadmap laid out for their career, although some probably do. But as time passes, or in the case of a disruptive event (acquisition, managed out, et cetera), their plans might no longer be viable anyhow. And a sound backup plan for their career might not be the first thing a confident professional might consider.

    In cases such as these when something in their personal or professional life has changed or is about to change radically they might have trouble being capable of being completely rational about their actions and reactions. It is a known fact that people in general dislike change, and this could, and likely has, a negative effect on their mindset, confidence and actions.

    In a scenario where someone suddenly wish, or has, to change jobs or professional direction the knee-jerk reaction would be to start reaching out to recruiters at companies’ they wish to work for or apply for jobs they see available. That is what people generally do when they instinctively rely their earlier experiences after graduating et cetera, and simply a common way to find a new job. Earlier experiences shape how people in general react to both familiar and unfamiliar situations, for good and bad . A more senior professional might possibly also start reaching out to people they know in their network, and possibly do this too early or desperately and do more harm than good with valuable relations. This persons state of mind is unlikely to be in an ideal condition to initially handle the situation ideally and act rational, think logically, set new realistic/proper goals, and make a new plan of how to reach their new professional goal or career.

    Do you think that it is the disruptive effect of some event or fear of change that generally cause most people to act too fast, rashly, and possibly also incorrectly in relation to their current professional level of seniority? In essence, they could unwittingly undermine what could be some of their best choices, or even eliminate the chances entirely.

    Considering the world of consulting is a difficult place to navigate and avoid all possible pitfalls or shortcomings, is this kind of preparation something that is part of your training programs? Whether mentally or practically, or even both. Preparing for what could be a likely outcome with the elite firms up or out policies? Statistically speaking the chances of not making it all the way to the top and along the way be managed out is around 70% among the elite firms, unless I remember incorrectly or unless this has changed.

    The same question also applies to people who volunteer to leave the elite firms. At some point they might decide to leave for some reason, and then later find themselves in a time and place in their life where they wish to return, such as in the case in this article. Are there specific things that would be wise to do during your career to make create better circumstances to rejoin should those choices be made?

    If this is a part of you training or coaching, or if you have given this any particular thought, then perhaps you could be so kind as to give us some of your insights or thoughts as to how to mentally and practically prepare such scenarios. Most people either lose their jobs or reconsider their choices and options at some point in their career. Such insights or thoughts on active or passive preparation could be relevant for both the consulting industry and other industries/professions in general.

    Thank you for all your excellent articles, podcasts and content. I have been part of your journey from the time it was a blog and podcasts. It is incredible how much effort you and your team must put into creating all this amazing content and what Firmsconsulting has grown to become. It is an honor and pleasure to take part of your insights and your journey, even though it is from the sideline. I never ended up attemping to join the world of consulting. I once had ambitions to do so and almost applied for your program, but ended up staying in academia with research and teaching instead. Even so, I can honestly say that I have learned an incredible amount from you, and much of what you have taught me has been invaluable even though I am a researcher and teacher. Your pedagogic, didactic and communication skills are unparalleled. Learning from you and emulating some of your approaches and methodologies have been a great boon for me as a teacher, while many of your analytical methods, approaches, frameworks etc are valuable as a researcher. Perhaps if I one day decide to reconsider my professional path or a disruptive event occurs, I might reconsider applying!

    Wish all the best to you and your team, and hope you have a great summer!

    P.S. Sorry for the long post. I did not intend for it to get so long and detailed, but alas, such is the curse of the academic…

  8. You raise a great point Corwin.

    Recruitment is such a critical part of our role as partners, that we actually want to speak to great applicants. We want to find them and bring them into the firm.

    So, remember that to a partner, speaking to applicants is not an annoyance. It is what we do.


  9. In Repsonse to Question of The Day:

    Ryan hit it right on the head. In my experience, fear is the only thing holding me back from speaking to a partner vs. a recruiter.One of the primary concerns of a strategy consulting partner is quality of work. In strategy consulting; people are the primary drivers of that product. Getting the right people on the team drives that product. Makes perfect sense why partners would be highly invested in getting the right people on the team.


  10. Hello Jojo,

    Nice to hear from you again.

    The right amount of gratitude is just to say thank you for your time. Nothing more is needed.

    You show you are not taking someone’s time for granted, not via the email, but by the way you act: is your email short and too the point? Are you prepared for the call? Are you respectful?

    Being profusely thankful while meandering around in a 15 line email without getting to the point is annoying. That action – too much information that is superfluous – with a long thank you with an exclamation mark at the end is quite common for applicants. I still get these emails:-)

    The person thanks the partner for his/her time, then explains how he knows the partner’s time is very short and then drowns the email in lots and lots of text. The action is juxtaposed to the supposed sincerity.

    So, what I am trying to say is do not just say you are thankful in flowery verse. Show it. In fact, showing it is more important than saying you are thankful. And the best way to do that is value the partner’s time with concision and thoughtful preparation.

    I think it is always respectful to be the peer to the person with whom you are communicating, at any level.


  11. Thanks for this great set of experiences Anna.

    I like the part about the partner overriding the recruiter. That is one key reason to network with partners. Junior consultants cannot change a recruiting decision.


  12. “The gratitude for the call is not profuse”

    This is the part I’ve struggled to get right at times. While Martin’s is a great example, is there a general thumb rule for the “right” amount of gratitude? You don’t want to appear like you’re taking someone’s, especially a partner’s, time for granted. At the same time, like you mentioned, talking to partners like a peer is critical.

    Additionally, would the degree of email gratitude change based the level you’re targeting? For example, would someone looking at a partnership need to/should appear more of a peer than say someone targeting a more junior position?

  13. Michael,

    I personally just did not know it was considered to be appropriate to reach out to partners directly. I agree with Ryan’s comment, I felt like I would be imposing given how busy partners are.

    When I first learned this strategy from you, it was surprising and eye opening. And it worked like a charm. I used the exact strategies you recommended and got a referral by a partner from the firm I ultimately joined, which made the case interview process dramatically easier.

    During the first two rounds, the interviewers knew I was referred by a partner. Hence I think there was a halo effect in play (one positive characteristic of a candidate nudged them to see my entire profile in a better light).

    When I got to the partner round, mentioning that I was referred by another partner also helped – I could see it in the face of the partner that was interviewing me during the final round as soon as I made a passing remark that I was referred.

    Networking with partners also made it easier to get interviews. At one firm, I was declined by a recruiter and then a partner that I spoke with earlier pushed for interviewing me.

    I think this is a great example of the power of great advice. Some strategies are not obvious but highly effective and only true experts on the subject know them. Thank you for making this information available to us.

  14. Hello Ryan,

    Thank you for commenting. I think you hit it on the head. It is a misunderstanding of the process, confidence issues and this urge for quick results.

    I would say that if you have a very average/common profile then by all means contact recruiters since they are trained for this. Yet, if you have something unusual in your profile, you need to speak to partners.

    Martin is a good example of how a little thing can make him very different. He was a McKinsey-alum from a long-time back. You would think his path would be easiest and he could just speak to a recruiter and rejoin. Yet, a recruiter has no way of knowing if he could be a partner. So, if he went through a recruiter he could have rejoined McKinsey, but he probably would have come in at the wrong level – a lower level.

    That would have been a loss to him and the firm.


  15. In response to the question of the day:

    The reason I believe candidates prefer to network with recruiters is a confidence issue and misunderstanding of how the hiring process works. To speak with a partner at a peer level requires substantial confidence, which I don’t think many candidates have. Furthermore, recruiters are a part of any company, which makes them more accessible and less intimidating to speak to. A candidate might feel like they are imposing when taking time out of a partners day to discuss their profile and the firm. While partners make the final decisions, for applicants focused on just getting the interview/offer a recruiter may seem like a more direct path. People are impatient and not willing to put in the time and effort to develop meaningful relationships with partners that will ultimately help them get the offer.

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