I hope you are doing well. I have a quick question for you. I can’t seem to get through my interviews with the Top 3 consulting firms.

I have gone through a number of case interviews now, and have successfully gotten a few second tier consulting firm offers, and offers from boutique firms, ATK, Accenture, etc. However I can’t seem to break through the Top 3.

I am a former [top 5] MBA, and have failed my interviews with McKinsey and BCG a couple of times for Associate level roles.

I have now managed to get an interview with McKinsey again — as I am a sucker for punishment — and I am wondering what I need to do to make that jump into the top tier.

I have been watching your videos and have been practicing a lot with colleagues and on my own, but feel I am still not quite at the top-level, knowing what the process is like.

My Reply:

Based on what you’ve written, here’s my interpretation.

If you are doing well with the 2nd tiers/boutique, your case performance historically is good but not great. (Okay. that’s kind of obvious.)

There are two possible reasons for this:

1) Reason 1: You have reached the maximum of your talent. This would be true if you have thoroughly prepared, taken your raw talent and honed it to the best possible skill, and no matter how much you practice, you can’t get your performance beyond the good level to the great level.

In the very, very first version of the Case Interview Secrets program (currently in the form of the free video series on the members-only site), I gave that workshop to three of my friends who were a year behind me in school.

Of the three people who I taught how to do cases, one went to work for Bain, one went to work for Booz, and one went to a boutique. All had great careers. All really enjoyed their time in consulting.

So, my message here is if you really have done the best you possibly can, given your raw talent level, and you really like consulting a lot, and you are not working in consulting currently, then take one of the offers and don’t look back.

I know it seems like a big deal now, but in a few months, it makes absolutely no difference in everyday life.

Okay, so that’s probably not the answer you wanted to hear, but it is my candid opinion.

Let’s move on to the second possible reason:

2) Reason 2: Your case interview preparation has not been sufficient or effective enough to deliver the performance level your inherent skills are capable of.  This happens if you did not spend enough time in preparation, or the time you did spend in preparation was not effective enough.

It is impossible for me to tell which of the two reasons apply to you.  But, let me make some inferences based on how you described your situation.

You did not mention whether or not you a) have the Look Over My Shoulder® program, and b) if you did have it, you didn’t mention how much you used it to prepare — current best practice is to go through the program five times (that’s 50 hours of preparation).

When you mentioned that you have not performed well in case interviews in the Top 3, you did not specify why you did not do well.

This suggests that you might not know what you specifically did not do well in these interviews.

The reason this is significant is because in Look Over My Shoulder®, there are multiple examples of candidates performing at different levels of performance for the same case.

So for the same case, you will hear a poor performance, a good performance, and an excellent performance sounds like, back-to-back-to-back.  In other words, you will be able to see from the interviewer’s point of view what the difference between good vs. great performance sounds like.

In addition, in LOMS I explain point-by-point, phrase-by-phrase, the difference between merely good performance vs. excellent performance.

LOMS does not perform miracles. It certainly is no guarantee of an offer.

But, what it does very well is give you hyper-awareness of the most common mistakes people make in cases, and shows you what a candidate should have done instead.

I would be absolutely shocked if the mistakes you made in your case interviews with the Top 3 was not made by one of the candidates in the Look Over My Shoulder® program.  I interviewed nearly 20 people for the program and edited the program down to be a concise collection of the most common mistakes.

I mean there are only so many ways to mess up a case, and my goal in LOMS was to capture the mistakes that result in 80% of the rejections in case interviews.

When someone who goes through LOMS as many times as recommended does not get an offer from a Top 3 firm but did from other firms, they always know why they did not do well on the interviews with the Top 3.

It is never a mystery. They know exactly what they messed up — because they’ve already heard someone else on LOMS make the exact same mistake and heard my commentary dissecting the specific mistake and what the candidate should have done instead…

Usually, the comments will be, “I forgot to state my hypothesis early enough in the case.” Or, “I forgot to segment on Branch 1 of the issue tree when I know I should have.” Or, “My synthesis was all over the place.” Or, “Geez, my structuring on the interviews before LOMS was in hindsight just shockingly poor.” Or, “I missed a key point in my issue tree setup.”

The emails I get from those who have used LOMS and have not done well in a few interviews (but the person has more interviews coming up), will always read something like this: “I barely passed my XYZ interview and the reason why is my ABC skill wasn’t good enough. How do I specifically improve ABC skill?”

Note their reply mentions a very specific step or skill in the case interview process that is holding them back. This is a very common inquiry from LOMS members.

And ABC is often:

  • doing math with large numbers
  • synthesis
  • initial problem structuring
  • deciding between two branches of a case that seem equally promising
  • deciding when to switch a framework or issue tree

Again, these are all specific reasons. What they do not say is, “I didn’t do well, but have no idea why…”

So given that your description lacked specific reasons as to why you did not do well in case interviews with the Top 3 suggests that you may not have yet mastered the case interview process.

In other words, it suggests you still have room to improve in your case interview performance and have not yet hit the ceiling on your raw talent.

If you are unclear as to why your performance on cases with the Top 3 was not good enough to pass, and you haven’t either obtained the Look Over My Shoulder® program or you have the program but have not gone through in the recommended five times, I would strongly encourage you to do so.

Then, I would encourage you to do live practice with friends using the LOMS best practice performances as a role model for specific habits and skills to practice in your live practice interviews.

If you just do live practice interviews without identifying which specific steps in the case process you are not doing well (or not doing well enough), it seems unlikely that your skills would improve by a substantial amount with this specific understanding of what you’re doing wrong.

For example, when I learned to drive a car for the very first time, I had a terrible habit of letting the car drift across the yellow line into the traffic lane of cars coming towards me.

Yes, I had a tendency toward head-on collisions.

Obviously, I knew killing myself in a car crash was a bad outcome (sort of your equivalent of not passing your interviews with the Top 3).  But, I could not for the life of me figure out why I kept doing this when none of the other drivers I knew did this.

The more hours I drove, the more near collisions I had. So more practice did not help at all. All I got was more “failures.”

But, I was finally able to fix this problem in about 10 seconds when I had a driving instructor tell me, “Victor, stop staring at the yellow line!! Look at where you want to go, not where you don’t want to go!”

I was so worried about hitting oncoming cars and crossing over the yellow line by mistake, that I kept staring at it… and as anyone who has been driving for some time realizes, the car goes where your eyes look.

Of course, having never driven and being unfamiliar with the steps in the safe driving process I did not know this.

Once my instructor pointed this out, I just kept my eyes directly ahead of me in the middle of my lane… and within 10 seconds, the problem was fixed, and I have never had that problem ever again.

It was a surprisingly simple way to improve my driving skills once I knew what I was doing wrong.

In your case, if you are unclear as to why you did not pass your cases with the Top 3, then I strongly recommend figuring out the specific mistake you’re making before your next interview and working on improving that specific step.

If you already know which step you are having difficulty with, let me know and I can provide a more targeted suggestion on how to prepare.