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McKinsey Using Recruiting as an Advertisement

“There is an opinion that McKinsey’s recruiting approach is very different from BCG’s and Bain’s in the following respect: for the same number of final offers McKinsey interviews much more people than the last two companies. This means that it is easier to get interview invitation from McKinsey than from BCG or Bain, but the odds of getting a final offer after you go through interview process are lower. There is an opinion that McKinsey intentionally invites too many people to interviews as a sort of marketing itself to potential future clients. Do you think it is true?

I ask this question because I have been invited by McKinsey to the second round after a remarkably weak performance during the first round. I simply cannot understand why I was invited. The only explanation I can come up with is that they have a target number of people whom they want to interview in the second round, and they are going to interview this number regardless of the quality of people.

D”

***

D,

I will answer each question and point you have raised.

“There is an opinion that McKinsey’s interviewing approach is very different from BCG’s and Bain’s in the following respect: for the same number of final offers McKinsey interviews much more people than the last two companies.”

The McKinsey approach, expectations and process are different from Bain and BCG. For people who say Bain, BCG and McKinsey are the same, or they cannot see the difference, there are very material differences between the firms, their methods of operation, culture, values etc. As you rise to the top of the firms, they become more apparent, and at the partner level they are like night and day.

It’s like someone who spends just 3 hours in Cambodia and Laos trying to explain the differences. It’s tough to do it, I admit, but if you spend enough time there you eventually would be surprised that you did not notice them initially.

The numbers McKinsey are targeting, which are indeed larger than BCG or Bain, is driven by their intent, expectations, profile etc. and I will these discuss below. That said, Bain and BCG have a very different intent, expectations etc. as well. So, McKinsey should not be singled out for this.

This is completely true. McKinsey does interview more people. A larger firm would interview more people during the recruiting process. That is normal. McKinsey is much larger than Bain and larger than BCG. They always hire more people. 10% growth at McKinsey requires more absolute consultants than 10% growth at BCG or Bain.

I disagree on the statement about the same number of final offers part as described below. And that is a key part, since if that assumption is incorrect then clearly McKinsey does not merely interview more people to advertise.

“This means that it is easier to get interview invitation from McKinsey than from BCG or Bain, but the odds of getting a final offer after you go through interview process are lower.”

This is completely true. McKinsey does interview more people. A larger firm would interview more people. That is normal. McKinsey is much larger than Bain and larger than BCG. They always hire more people. 10% growth at McKinsey requires more absolute consultants than 10% growth at BCG or Bain.

McKinsey could have started with 100 people to hire 20, but through the process only found 10, so they hired 10. You do not know that and that is very, very common. Bain, may have intended hiring 10, but started with 30.

So you will always see more people interviewing at McKinsey. And for the explanation in the paragraph below, it does not mean they do it just for marketing – though more on this later – they likely wanted more people as well.

But the part I do not understand is when you say “for the same number of final offers”.

You are saying this because at the end of the process McKinsey may only make 10 offers and Bain likely made 10 as well. However, what you do not know is home many offers McKinsey intended to make. McKinsey could have started with 100 people to hire 20, but through the process only found 10, so they hired 10. You do not know that and that is very, very common. Bain, may have intended hiring 10, but started with 30.

And if you follow that line of reasoning, interviewing more, unwilling merely to fill slots, thereby leading to the same number of hires as Bain but from a larger pool, than the conclusion is that they have higher standards. Not, lower standards. I am not saying that they do, but from the data presented, it is one very logical conclusion.

In terms of McKinsey expectations, I find McKinsey has the broadest definition of what they are looking for in a candidate. This is a key point. We find it far easier to secure interviews for our candidates at McKinsey versus Bain or BCG. This is not because BCG or Bain have higher standards, it’s definitely not that, but because they have narrower standards. Like a sieve with smaller holes, fewer people make the cut. So McKinsey has more people fitting the criteria to get interviews since the definition is broader. That will lead to more people being invited for an interview.

However, both Bain and BCG do advertise more in Fortune/media and liberally participating in employee surveys and promoting the results. So, in some ways McKinsey would take recruiting seriously since it is the core outlet to build its brand.

“There is an opinion that McKinsey intentionally invites too many people to interviews as a sort of marketing itself to potential future clients. Do you think it is true?”

I do not think this is truer than for Bain and BCG. All three firms primarily market themselves through recruiting, alumni, HBR and their intellectual property. So they all do it and I would not see McKinsey doing more of this than BCG or Bain.

However, both Bain and BCG do advertise more in Fortune/media and liberally participating in employee surveys and promoting the results. So, in some ways McKinsey would take recruiting seriously since it is the core outlet to build its brand.

You could argue Monitor intentionally did this before they went bankrupt. Lots of offices conducted interviews but no offers were made.

In the real world a partner would never waste their time interviewing people who should not be there. I can see this happening once, inadvertently, but the screws would tighten rather quickly thereafter.

That said, a better way to state this is to say “McKinsey is more likely to reject someone even though they did well in the interview, since the standard deviation between averages and good is so narrow.”

Knowing this, I believe they broaden the pool to bring in more people, knowing many will be declined. It is a way to find people, not just to market to them. So, you have the same effect but different from the reasons you state.

As well, finding the right person is not an exact science. Consulting firms need to be a little broader in whom they let in.

In other words, there is a very different causal relationship for the same correlation.

In your case, there could be many reasons. For all you know the person interviewing you was not paying attention and gave you the benefit of the doubt for the next round.

Dealing with candidates all over the world, we consistently hear Bain is the friendliest, but McKinsey is the most organized and thorough in the interview process.

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