Recently I received the following email from a reader who was rejected by McKinsey in the second round. What follows is our exchange and my advice on how to prepare for second chance interviews after a rejection.

Readers Email:

I have a question pertaining to second chance interviews and case interview preparation. I interviewed with McKinsey for the second round and did not make it past that. I’m a Ph.D. and I did not have enough time to practice cases, and that showed the day of the interview. I did learn a lot from your website and videos, so thanks a lot for posting those.

I was just not ready to crack live cases it seems.

I was wondering– they say there is a two-year limit within which you cannot apply to the same firm.

How fixed is that time frame, because the interviewer that called me on the phone said I could do more case interview practice and come back and interview with the firm if I was really interested, even earlier than two years.

Do you have any thoughts? And this time I’m totally going to get your Look Over My Shoulder® program, which I missed out on because I didn’t have the time.

My Response:

A few thoughts on this situation.

First, those who have the time and are able to devote it to case intervew practice have a significant advantage. The fact that you made it past the first round indicates you most likely do have natural talent and skills to get an offer.

The fact that you did not make it past the second round indicates you are not consistent enough in those skills.

Fortunately, the latter can be fixed with studying my free handouts, practicing, and using simulated practice programs like my Look Over My Shoulder® Program.

Here’s the harsh reality about how case interviews are scheduled — it all happens very, very quickly.

You often do not get any notice.

And this is even more true if you are interviewing with multiple firms simultaneously.

If you pass the first round, they may call you that night to come in for a second round in two days.

One or two days is not enough time to go from not knowing anything about cases to being good.  I’ve gotten some emails from people who had four or five days or maybe a week to prepare, and they barely succeeded — but they dropped everything in their life and did nothing but practice for three to five days straight.

Personally, I am not that smart. It took me way longer to master case interviews.

Here’s the decision you need to make. If you’re really determined about getting an offer, start practicing now. If you wait until you’re sure you got an interview or a second chance interview, you quite often don’t have a lot of time.

And if you are fortunate to get interviews from multiple firms, they all get scheduled very quickly.

I remember one week where I had a McKinsey interview (first round) on Monday morning. Then a Bain first round that afternoon. The next day I had a Monitor interview (also a first round), got home and got a phone call about a McKinsey second round that Wednesday.  I had my Mercer first round on Tuesday, and then the McKinsey on Wednesday.

Mercer (now known as Oliver Wyman) called back for a second round the following Monday, and Monitor did too.

When did I have time to practice between interviews? When did I have a chance to think about what I could have done better after each interview? I didn’t. There’s no time!

At that stage of the game, all you worry about is just showing up on time.

Then final rounds come up and you’re flying around the country to go to them. It is very hectic and very sudden.

The time to practice case interviews is early.

Now to your question about not re-applying for two years. I do not know how firm this rule is (since the rule did not exist when I was there) and I do not know how tightly they keep track of this.

This is what I do know as a rule of thumb.

Any McKinsey consultant in good standing at the firm can get you a first-round interview, this was true when I was there.

Here’s how it works (and you’ll be surprised at how basic it is).  The consultant walks down the hall to the recruiter coordinator’s office. She says to the recruiter, “Hey there Amy. How’s it going?  You know I met someone who I think is sharp. I gave her a quick case, and I think she’s good. I think we should interview her.”

Amy then says, either 1) “Okay, let me see if I can work her into some first rounds we have going on next week,” or, 2) “We’re all done for this year, but we’ll be doing some first rounds next quarter, I can work her into the schedule then. What’s her phone number, I’ll give her a call.”

That’s it.

Now it’s very important that the person making the recommendation is very well respected internally. When you have respect within the firm, you can make a lot of things happen.

What should you do if you want a second chance interview?

Find a way to network your way to meeting existing McKinsey consultants. Invite them out to lunch for an “information interview” where you ask them how they like their job.  Do not be surprised if someone gives you an impromptu case over lunch unexpectedly (I did warn you to be prepared, didn’t I?).

And if that person 1) likes you, and 2) you do well enough on the impromptu case to not embarrass her and her reputation by recommending you, she’ll then go back to the office to talk to recruiting coordinator.

Now the thing is not everyone you have lunch with is going to do this. But if you have lunch with 10 to 20 McKinsey consultants, the odds are at least one or two will give you the chance to prove yourself.

Is this a lot of work?  Yes, it totally is.

Does it work? Yes, it totally does.

I had colleagues at McKinsey who got into the firm this way. By the way, this is also an approach that works for people graduating from schools where McKinsey does not recruit or for experienced hires.

Is this the most convenient way to recruit? Definitely not, it’s far easier to go in fully prepared and get through the interview process successfully the first time.But, if you need the second chance and are willing to work a lot to get that second chance, it definitely is possible.  Just make sure this time you are prepared!