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Part Seven: Applying to McKinsey

Max is an aspiring consultant who is looking to secure an analyst role with one of the top consulting firms for the upcoming recruitment cycle. His interest in management consulting was sparked by a failed McKinsey interview last year. In this series of blogs, he will be sharing his background, case preparation process, useful resources, and any breakthroughs or setbacks that he experiences.


I recently started putting together applications to the top firms, and wanted to share some of my findings with you. If you are thinking about applying to McKinsey or similar companies in the upcoming recruitment cycle, I would encourage you to do the following:

1) Start working on your cover letter and resume now.

2) Always be on the lookout for opportunities to gain “Leadership Stories”.

3) Look for unique and interesting opportunities to differentiate yourself.

Start working on your cover letter and resume now

Let’s start off by going deeper into the first point. If there is one thing I’ve learned through the process of putting together an application for BBM, it is that you can never have too much time to refine your cover letter and resume. Before I got started, I was estimating that it will take me about four days to polish up my application documents. While it is very reasonable to put something together within four days, you can dramatically improve your documents if you work on it for two to three weeks – where you really start to hit the point of diminishing returns.

The way I like to go about improving my cover letter and resume is to enter all of the relevant information, then slowly edit it. Every time I go through my CV/Resume I can usually find a couple of points of improvement. After your first three or four passes through the documents you probably won’t find any more grammatical and spelling mistakes. However, you will usually come up with a more elegant way of saying something. For me, this is the real value in spending over two weeks on the application documents. It allows your brain lots of time to think about what you’re putting down, and really distill the essence of the message you want to get across.

I would estimate that after four days my resume and cover letter was probably 80% of what it was at the end of two weeks – but to get it to a point where you feel really good about it will probably take more time than you initially anticipate. In addition, it is extremely helpful to network and get actual consultants to provide feedback. It is good to get this feedback early in the process so that you have sufficient time to let everything sink in.

Always be on the lookout for opportunities to gain “Leadership Stories”

With regards to the second point, you probably need about five to eight good leadership/teamwork/conflict stories at your disposal if you want to make it all the way through – and I’ll explain my reasoning. I recently submitted an application to BBM, and one of the “Optional” documents was an essay response that asked to describe a challenge one encountered in a team environment, and how one dealt with it. I would recommend that you complete the optional essay as it really gives you a chance to let the recruiting team get a better feel for who you are. If you are lucky enough to get an interview, most firms will do at least two rounds with two interviews per round.

Each interviewer will probably expect a good “leadership” story from you, and you are not allowed to repeat the same story. If you add it all up, you will need at least five good stories to write/tell! These stories need to be real, and you need to go into lots of detail if the interviewer questions you. This means that you will not be able to make something up, or try to get some experience at the very last minute. For those reasons, I feel that you should try to write down some bullet points for the stories you have, and actively seek out opportunities to get more experience if possible.

 Look for unique and interesting opportunities to differentiate yourself

Lastly, I would like to talk about some ways to differentiate yourself. One of the comments I got from a consultant who reviewed my resume was “don’t put down travelling as one of your interests…everyone does that”. From this I concluded that people with some unique interests/experience are able to add an additional “wow” factor to their resume that may put them over the top against other highly qualified candidates. Now you may be wondering how you can go about doing this, and I want to tell you that it is not very hard at all.

To give you an example, I’ll share the story of what some of my friends did last Christmas. They had some time off for winter break, and everyone was noticing that there seemed to be a lot more homeless people downtown compared to previous years. They weren’t really sure what the cause was, but everyone assumed that it was due to the adverse economic conditions we’ve all been enjoying.

I’m really sad that I couldn’t be a part of their efforts since I was going to school in a different province, but I have tremendous respect for what they did. Two days before Christmas, a bunch of them got together and made several hundred sandwiches in their kitchens. They then proceeded downtown, and spent the better part of a day handing them out to those in need.

Of course, the motivation for doing something like this should not be just so that you have something cool to put in your resume, but it goes to show how helping your community can also help you. My point is that you do not need to go around trying to apply for leadership positions. You can often start something yourself (like organizing a food drive), and gain some great experience while helping out your community. I won’t list out my unique interests just because it might give away my true identity, but many of my more interesting differentiators come from similar sources.

I hope that you find some of the points mentioned to be useful, and please wish me luck with my applications!

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Image from Trey Ratcliff under cc.

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