I was recently passed onto the final round of interviews for McKinsey, and I was hoping that you would have some advice specifically for preparing for the final round.

How is the final round different from the previous one (both seem to have a similar format), and with this difference in mind, what can I work on to prepare? (I knew exactly what to do to prepare for the previous round, which is to do a lot of case study practices, but I’m a little lost here.)

I am confident that I will perform strongly on the cases, but so will everybody else. How can I stand out amongst a group of exceptional individuals? Having made it this far, the other candidates must all be quite strong, so what is the difference between those who make the final cut vs. those who don’t?

As someone who has been an interviewer, could you share some insights on what you look for (and perhaps blunders that would cost you the offer)?

Finally, out of curiosity, do you know what fraction of candidates will be hired?

My Reply:

For McKinsey, when I was there, the final round was pretty close to identical to prior rounds. The only differences are 1) more interviews in a single day than in previous rounds, and 2) more interviews with partners (who sometimes aren’t involved in prior rounds, but definitely are involved in the final round).

You prepare the same way you prepared for the prior rounds. One thing to focus on is synthesis of your conclusions. After you “crack the case”, the partners will sometimes pay a little more attention to how you communicate your conclusions than more junior consultants.

I think the big difference between those who pass the final round vs. those who don’t is consistency. Basically, they want to test to see if you just got lucky on prior cases or if your really able to consistently do a variety of cases – time in, time out, every single time.

Incidentally, it’s not necessary to nail every case to get an offer. When I did my first final round in McKinsey Los Angeles (before I asked for a transfer and had to re-do the final round for McKinsey New York), I had 5 case interviews – I totally nailed 4 of the 5 cases, and I think I had a B- performance on the 5th case.

The 5th case was extremely confusing to me as it was on health care. There was a ton of terminology I wasn’t familiar with and found very confusing. There are payors, payees, providers, hmo’s, ppo’s, etc.. I spent most of the time just asking for definitions and never even got a chance to crack the case.

In hindsight, it wasn’t a good case for the interviewer to give as it really did require a lot of prior industry knowledge to even begin to crack the case. I suspect everyone else bombed the case too, so my performance relative to others wasn’t worse – even though in an absolute sense I didn’t crack it.

So if you struggle with one case, no need to freak out. Just keep going.

In terms of % of people make it past the final round, it can vary quite dramatically. It could be as low as 0% or as high as maybe 50%. (These are very rough estimates).

The interviewers are not there to identify the best candidates in the group. They are there to identify the candidates who meet the absolute standard of what the firm is looking for.

In terms of getting the offer, even if only for a McKinsey internship — keep in mind it is a team decision.

The things that go into the final decision include (in no particular order):

1) case performance
2) consistency of case performance (are you hit or miss, or consistently pretty good.. the consistency is very important)
3) client skills (can the partner put you in front of a client and not be embarrassed by something you say or do?)
4) team skills (do I really want to work with you until 1am on some nights, or are you going to drive me crazy?)
5) communication skills (can you synthesize the key findings, extracting the big important message the client CEO needs to know out of a mountain of data – much of which is extraneous and not important?)

I would say factors 2 – 5 are more important in the final round than in prior ones. In prior ones, it’s more about assessing your raw analytical horsepower and problem solving skills. The final round is verifying those skills and then checking to see if you have the “total package” to be a good consultant.