What is the policy for reapplying to McKinsey after two years?

Would a candidate be at a disadvantage if they previously applied, and didn’t make it past the Problem Solving Test?

Would that reflect badly on my new application?

I applied two and a half years ago, and received an invitation for the PST.

Unfortunately, it was all very sudden, and I really had no idea about what consulting is, or the concept of a case.

Since that time, I completed a Masters’ degree and have about one year of work experience as a project manager at a small company.

I really regret not preparing, and would like to give it a second go (being prepared this time).

What are your thoughts?


My Reply:

Given your question, not passing the McKinsey Problem Solving Test (PST) is a negative. But given it has been 2+ years since then, it’s hard to say whether or not they would be able to match you up with your last test result.

I do not know how they track this stuff, but you might want to do some stupid little things on your application to confuse any automated algorithms.

1) Instead of applying with your first and last name…. use first, middle, last name… or apply with a nickname for your first name.

2) Apply with a different mailing address.

3) Apply with a different phone number and email address.

It might not work, since your academic information is the same, but hey, it’s worth a shot on the off chance any automated system is not able to link up your old PST scores to your current application.

Keep in mind this is a total guess and may not work at all.

Also, I would encourage you to think more broadly about your application — beyond just the PST.

The general rule of thumb for a re-applicant after two years is that enough time has passed that it is possible the person’s skills have improved in some significant way.

McKinsey is reluctant to re-interview within two years under the rationale of “How much could your skills have changed in such a short period of time?”

So the prior lack of success isn’t necessarily a problem (this is my best guess). But, what is going to be an issue is how strong your application is today vs. other applicants.

The informal standard used to evaluate your application two years ago is not the same as the implied standard today.  You have had two and a half years’ more work experience, the key question will be: “What did you do in that time, and was it an impressive use of your two years?”

The “bar” or standard of qualifications is a moving target based on time in your career.

Another way to think about this is calculating the following application ratio:

Consulting Resume Impressiveness / # Years Working

Many candidates taper off in their career. This is considered unattractive.

So personally, I would worry less about whether or not your PST (McKinsey Problem Solving Test) score from two and a half years ago is going to keep you from getting another chance, and think more holistically about the issue of if your total application is competitive.

For example, after I left McKinsey, I started a company that ultimately failed.  So not exactly an impressive use of 1 – 2 years’ time. Then I joined another company as one of their top five executives and helped to take it public.

That’s not a bad use of one year’s time. After that, I ran a $20 million division of a medium-sized company — arguably a reasonable progression of responsibility, given another year of work experience.

Also keep in mind, with good networking, an awful lot can be forgiven in terms of the impressiveness of one’s resume.

Stated more directly, if you network your way into McKinsey, the resume standard is lower. This is not a formal policy, just my personal observation. Of course, the weight given to case performance will probably be higher.

So if you get an interview via networking and your resume isn’t exceptional, if you do anything less than an excellent case, you won’t pass.

For this kind of candidate, good case performance isn’t good enough — it must be exceptional case performance to offset any lack of impressiveness on the resume.

Keep in mind that in the networking process itself, you might get a surprise case from someone you are networking with.

When I was at McKinsey, there was absolutely no way I would ever recommend someone to recruiting unless I was very sure they were good.

My very strong reputation internally was way too important to risk endorsing someone unless I knew they were very good.

I’m very certain I was not the only person who felt this way.

So to make a long story short, if you network your way into an interview, someone from within McKinsey endorses you strongly, I think the old McKinsey PST will be a non-issue (of course you will have to pass it the second time around and of course do extremely well on the cases too).

This is the one quirk about networking to get a case interview vs. other types of interviews. Normally, you would network to get the real interview.
In consulting, during the process of networking, you may end up getting a case interview to see if you’re good enough to get a real case interview.

I know you plan to be prepared for the interview this time around.

I point out these subtleties because it would impact the timing of when you prepare. It’s just something to keep in mind.

In terms of preparing, the usual resources are certainly all very appropriate in your situation: 1) the Case Interview Secrets free video workshop series; 2) the “Look” Over My Shoulder Program; and 3) practicing live cases with friends.

This is a lot of work, and most people won’t put in the time (which is also why most people don’t pass case interviews).  So if you’re really going to go for it this time around, it is difficult to start preparing too early.