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McKinsey Recruiting

In this article, we will discuss McKinsey recruiting. To make a critical point you need to indulge me in a little survey.

I promise you it is linked to McKinsey recruiting and it as an important observation.

McKinsey Recruiting Paradox

Let’s assume your daughter is very ill, God forbid. It is a life-threatening situation and you need to take action quickly and you have limited options. You have read up on the disease but you are no expert. You have to trust the doctors. For this survey to work please be realistic and do not assume there is some hypothetical situation where you would know more than the doctors.

There are three hospitals willing to treat your daughter and each is led by a senior surgeon. All your research indicates they appear to be similar. Online reviews, for what they worth and not much, are about the same and they all have roughly the same profiles, at least as far as you can determine since you are not a medical professional.

You just do not know enough and can never know more than an informed consumer.

If these were the three doctors’ profiles which would you pick?

Dr. X: Harvard BS, Harvard Medical School, Doctorate in Immunology from Harvard Medical School. Advisory Dean of the Harvard Medical School.

Dr. Y: Johns Hopkins BSc in Biochemistry, Johns Hopkins Medical School, Doctorate in Surgery from Johns Hopkins Medical School, Chief of Surgery.

Dr. Z: University of Arizona BS Chemistry, University of West Virginia Medical School, Doctorate in Surgery from the University of Nevada, Chief Surgeon of Henderson Hospital in Nevada.

Be realistic.

Be honest.

You could pretend to have given this serious thought but if your daughter’s life was on the line you would go with the Harvard surgeon. You want what you think is best for your daughter. Even if the Nevada surgeon is objectively better, you would not know that and go with the Harvard credentials.

Although, that is NOT the critical point I want to make about McKinsey recruiting. It is just the starting point.

McKinsey Recruiting System You Perpetuate

The client who wrote in basically told me he believed it was unfair that he could not get a McKinsey interview with his state school resume, despite being a strong candidate. He had a 3.8/4.0 GPA and a relatively good experience.

So I gave him the McKinsey medical test above. The test must be administered whereby the person does not know what is being tested. If they think it is a test, they will always adjust their answer to not seem biased. In his case, his daughter had been ill recently so we could naturally have this discussion. With other clients who raise this same interview concern, I have to find an innovating way to weave the test in.

Which surgeon did the client select?

He picked the Harvard Surgeon without any hesitation. In his words, “the answer was obvious.”

So here is the problem and how the client perpetuates the system he rails against.

The client is consciously willing to entrench a system that he acknowledges is unfair, by supporting the Harvard Surgeon based solely on the surgeon’s education, when the client or his family benefits.

Think about that for a second. His behavior strengthens the cycle of Ivy-league graduates getting ahead based on their degrees alone. Yet, when that system that he is perpetuating is applied against him, the client believes it is unfair.

So here are the questions that matter the most?

A – Is he truly outraged with the system of Ivy-League graduates gaining alleged unfair advantages?


B – Is he only outraged that he is not getting ahead in this system and he does not really care if the system remains the same provided he alone is treated like an Ivy-league graduate?

Everyone who has ever raised this concern, with me personally at least, is really focused on B. And that is why the system continues.

In fact, this client only wants to be at McKinsey because of its Ivy-league sheen. The day McKinsey stops seeking out the most prized school brands this client will question McKinsey’s standing.

To be blunt, this client wants everyone else from non-Ivy schools to not get into McKinsey, but he wants the pride of being the one that bucked the trend to stand alone amongst. And that is why it is hard to offer any sympathy here.

McKinsey Recruiting System is Everywhere

And this McKinsey recruiting approach is everywhere. How does this client choose his?


Financial advisor



Schools for children

Children’s friends

I doubt his spouse, financial advisor, children’s teachers etc., all went to Harvard but if he could have it that way, he would have it that way.

The McKinsey recruiting system was not designed by McKinsey. The client and all readers live in a world where they knowingly and proudly reward certain degrees and designations and harshly punish those without them. McKinsey simply observed what is happening and concluded that if the world and business respected some schools and degrees more than others then they should logically hire from those schools for those degrees.

It is a system we created and it is a system we reinforced every single day through countless actions from choosing to read articles of Ivy-league graduates, to choosing to forward the articles of Ivy-league graduates, to choosing to pay more for the advice of Ivy-league graduates.

You would have to go back a generation to find a US president who did not attend an elite school. We reward certain degrees.

We try to work for Harvard graduates to buy homes near good schools to send our children to expensive prep courses, extracurricular activities, on-going tutoring, internships etc., all with the goal of producing roughly 3 to 4 A4 pages that will take them to Harvard: a resume, cover letter, and essay.

And it can get nasty pretty fast.

Society is the sum of the choices we voluntarily make. Our children inherit the society we make.

Give your children an inheritance worth having. The confidence to know that they will be successful no matter where they study, provided they actually learn, and their life does not need to only begin when they gain the external validation of getting into Harvard and McKinsey.

If you spent their entire life prepping them for Harvard, don’t become bitter if society does not give your children a great life, and opportunities should they not get into Harvard. After all, it was you who trained them, and society, to not value anything other than an Ivy-league credential.

You are welcome to post any comments and questions below. As you can imagine we receive many requests for help and as much as we would like to respond to them all, we just do not have the time. To ensure our responses reach as many readers/listeners as possible, questions will only be answered in our iTunes podcasts. This allows us to offer both thoughtful and meaningful answers that help improve your career. If you ask a question please offer as many details as possible. It is difficult to offer customized and valuable feedback if the details are vague or missing. It helps to provide more facts and leave out your interpretation of what happened. It is better to write “Duke MBA, graduated 2 years ago and working in Wells Fargo Technology Support,” than “a Top-10 MBA, recent graduate working for a large bank’s internal technology team.” The advice we offer would be very different for each and we would select the first type of question to answer.

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