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McKinsey Case Interview

By Kim Tran December 10, 2016Case InterviewNo Comments
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McKinsey Case Interview

By Kim Tran | Case Interview | No Comments

How different are McKinsey & other cases?

Anywhere on this website or on our Youtube channel, we talk about Case Interview as a whole. We try to give you, our dear audience, the broad and universal rules, concepts, techniques, mindset, tools, habits, etc. that if you possess, you can walk into any consulting case interviews and absolutely feel comfortable. While I still think that is the ultimately correct approach, it doesn’t hurt to dig a little into the specific differences between interviews of various firms. We begin now with McKinsey, one of, if not the most sought after destination for aspiring consultants. Let’s see what the differences are between McKinsey Case Interview and others!


Like I said multiple times on our Youtube Channel, there’s no clear distinguishing line between McKinsey, Bain, or BCG interviews. It’s totally possible that you walk into a McKinsey case interview and feel like it’s a “BCG” interview. So the insights in this article are just the generalizations of what’s common in McKinsey case interviews. To prepare for your up-coming case interviews in any consulting firms, you may want to see: Consulting Interview Prep – How to prepare for Consulting CaseHow to avoid getting stuck in cases?

1/ McKinsey case interview lean more toward the Interviewer-led format

If you don’t yet know what an Interviewer-led case is, you may watch our Case Interview 101 video – the very first lesson for every newbie and the Candidate-led video to hopefully get a sense of case interview types. We will certainly dedicate a video to Interviewer-led case soon, so stay-tuned.

Let’s come back to the topic, yes, the majority of McKinsey cases are in the interview-led format. It is in which the interviewers usually don’t prepare a case that’s too structured and will typically ask you to work on various mini problems. Many times, those mini problems don’t even link together. So definitely check out some common question types in case interview and how to answer them if you are going to have a McKinsey interview soon.

2/ Despite the seemingly unstructured format, McKinsey case interviews need a lot of “structure”

If there are three words you would hear the most on any McKinsey project, one of them is definitely “structure”. If you ask a partner or principle on how a candidate performs, you will always hear responses like “very structured”, “not structured enough”, etc. It sometimes even feels like the only thing on the interviewer’s evaluation sheet is “structure”. McKinsey worships structure! So it’s vital to show your structural  mindset anywhere possible.

mckinsey case interview

McKinsey Case Interview

3/ McKinsey people are “hypothesis-driven” folks

I just talked about “structure” being one of the top three most-spoken words at McKinsey, “hypothesis” is another word that’s also in the mix for sure. McKinsey is made up of highly hypothesis-driven folks. While in Bain or BCG cases, it may be ok to implicitly use hypotheses, you need to explicitly and clearly use hypotheses in McKinsey case interview.

For those who are not yet familiar with Hypothesis in Case Interview, we already made an awesowe video about it!

To practice for McKinsey Case Interview, you can try to do some Case Interview Questions. 

* * *

If you’re ready to go deeper, our website has plenty of resources for you to explore, and you can also subscribe to our YouTube channel  or our emailing list!



Source: mconsultingprep.com

Tags: Case Interviews,  Case Interview Question

Candidate-led Case Interview

By Kim Tran October 17, 2016Case Interview2 Comments
Male hand pointing at business document while explaining it

Candidate-led Case Interview

By Kim Tran | Case Interview | 2 Comments

Candidate-led cases are interesting but also very difficult, especially for beginners. I personally really like these cases because they represent very well how an actual consulting project works and the role of the engagement team in it.

So rather than talking specifically about how a candidate-led case works, let me introduce you to the LOGIC behind problem solving in management consulting. It’s ironic that many experienced candidates, having practiced 20 to 30 cases, actually don’t grasp this very well. That’s why even with that much practice, they can still struggle in certain cases and still feel like they need even more practice.

Well, practice is good, but only when you have mastered the basics. We talked a little bit about this in the Case Interview 101 video  but here is the much more in-depth explanation. To make this as easy to follow as possible, I divided the whole concept into bite-sized elements with numbers.

So here we go: the core logical foundation of how management consultants solve problems.

  • No.1: The problem has to be defined
  • No.2: To solve a big problem, we, management consultants, don’t look for solutions right away. Instead, we try to find the ROOT CAUSE. This ensures us that we have completely eradicated the problem and have a long-lasting impact.
  • No.3: There can be millions of possible root causes. To effectively and efficiently find the right one, we use a top-down and MECE approach. This is called an “issue tree”. See our MECE and Framework video for more details.
  • No.4: In order for each branch to exist in the issue tree, there HAS to be a chance that the Root-cause is in it. In other words, for every branch, there must be at least one hypothesis associated with it.
  • No.5: Now assume we have a structured, MECE, and hypothesis-based issue tree. Pick the best hypothesis,or,  in other words, choose a big branch to begin with. Then test if the root-cause is in there.
  • No.6: Depending on each case, different methods are used to test the hypotheses. But benchmarks are a powerful tool, too. Two main types of benchmarks used are the historical and competitors’ data.
  • No.7: If data suggests that the root cause is indeed IN the testing branch, go down one level deeper and repeat the same process: breaking down the branches into sub branches in an MECE, hypothesis-driven way and test each sub-branch using data. See case interview examples and answers
  • No.8: At any point where the data suggests that the root-cause is NOT in the testing branch or sub-branch, move to a parallel branch or sub-branch on the same level.
  • No.9:  Keep doing this until the whole issue tree has been covered or until the interviewer would like you to switch gears.
  • No.10: Lastly, once you have identified one or many root-causes, think of solutions to resolve them!

In theory, the above approach always works. But the following two conditions must be met.

  • Condition No.1: each and every single part of the issue tree must be perfectly MECE.
  • Condition No.2: the issue tree, or in other words, the breakdown must somewhat properly isolate the root-cause.

A few tips to meet these conditions:

Condition No.1: each and every single part of the issue tree must be perfectly MECE. Let’s look at an example of a movie theater. Suppose that after a movie show, there’s an anonymous feedback that the sounding was bad from his or her spot. As the theater’s consultant, you divide all SEATS in the theater into three areas: left, middle, and right. No matter how much investigation and testing you do, you still can’t find the root-cause.

It turns out that the anonymous customer was in the disability area. The original breakdown was not MECE.. or more specifically: not exhaustive.

Sometimes it can be hard to be perfectly MECE for the whole process.

Condition No.2: the issue tree, or in other words, the breakdown must somewhat properly isolate the root-cause. For example, in the theater example above, if unfortunately seats with audio problems were in fact the seats in the back, then breaking down the theater into left, middle, and right areas will give any candidate a hard time tracking down the problematic seats. Testing each branch of the issue tree would only yield weird results. You will find the partial problems in each branch and cannot isolate the problem unless you adjust the issue tree or use another framework.

Well, here are a few tips to meet those conditions:

1. Make sure you understand the concept of MECE really well. Please refer to our MECE video for more details.
2. Try to improve your business intuition in order to be able to pick good frameworks or correctly draw spot-on issue trees. We devoted a whole eBook in our End-to-end program for this.
3. Most importantly, develop the habit of aligning yourself with the interviewer. No matter how good you are in relation to the above tips, there will always be cases that are hard to be MECE inside out and hard to draw frameworks that are spot on. The interviewer is actually a great resource you can use.

If you would like to see more great materials, check out our Youtube Channel or subscribe to our emailing list.


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Breaking into unconsciousness of case interviewers

By Kim Tran July 16, 2015Case InterviewNo Comments
Image of eyeglasses, touchpads and pen at workplace with group of businesspeople on the background

Breaking into unconsciousness of case interviewers

By Kim Tran | Case Interview | No Comments

What do interviewers think when interviewing me? …

What questions are they asking themselves about me? …

Are they really going through a “checklist” that eventually determines whether I am going to hell or heaven? If yes, what does that checklist looks like? …

How do I understand what’s truly behind the words when he / she says or ask that question?….

It must be really nice to break into the interviewer’s mind? … We would always be saying the right thing and be a step ahead of the game.

Well, today I am giving you something even better than that. Not only will we find out about what those thoughts are, we will even break into the unconsciousness of interviewers. We will know exactly how interviewers feel, what they want, and what their impression of you is even before those thoughts are formed!

Management Consulting Prep


Tags: Case Interview, Case Interviews

What are some of the most common questions asked in consulting Case Interview?

By Kim Tran July 13, 2015Case InterviewNo Comments
Above view of business team sitting around table and working

What are some of the most common questions asked in consulting Case Interview?

By Kim Tran | Case Interview | No Comments

First let’s define what “questions” means …

… In solving any cases, we as candidate go through “questions” of various level

… from big “case questions” like: “how to increase profit”

… to granular / detail questions like: “how many % have sales went down since last year?

So for simplicity reason, we talk about each in turn!

Case interview questions

Visit our “Case Interview Questions & Answers” for deep-dive into each of these question types!


Management Consulting Prep


Two different tracks between McKinsey, Bain & Company and BCG

By Kim Tran July 9, 2015Case InterviewNo Comments
Young businessman making presentation of his ideas upon project

Two different tracks between McKinsey, Bain & Company and BCG

By Kim Tran | Case Interview | No Comments

Hi there,

Last week I got quite a unique email, quite long, but very interesting. Despite the flood of emails I’ve  gotten these days, this is the one I thought to myself that I HAVE TO REPLY!

If you can spend some time reading through the whole thing, that would be great!

The original email (names sanitized)

Dear Kim,

Thank you for building such a helpful platform. (Btw, I found it via your answer in Quora.)

Being a management consultant in MBB is my career plan in recent 5-10 years. Unfortunately, I do not think I am on the right track. I would greatly appreciate it if you can spare a few minutes to see my case and share your opinion and advice as an insider. I will be very interested if your company also provides career coaching service.

I got my bachelor in Transportation from a non-target university in China and a master in Transportation System and Management from National University of Singapore (NUS). Then I worked as a research consultant in Operation Research in a local consulting firm in Singapore for one year and later joined Arup (a top engineering consulting firm) as a transport planner. After 3 years in Arup, I went to Nanyang Technological University (NTU) to pursue a Ph.D in Maritime Study (concentrated in Supply Chain Management). Now is the end of the first year in my Ph.D program. That’s the brief instruction of my education and career background, I have attached my CV if you would like to know any details.

Last year, I found McKinsey’s Operation Academy (OA) program (https://mckinsey.secure.force.com/EP/job_details?jid=a0xA000000BSHDyIAP) online. I thought that I was a suitable candidate and so did Laura who referred me to Wings Zhang in Shanghai Office. Long story in short, my CV eventually reached Jenny Jin, the recruiter of Asia Operations Practice. Her reply is attached below.

Hi Eric,

Happy New Year. Hope you had a great holiday!

Thanks for the referral, but Eric’ experience is too specific for us and he just started his Ph.D, so it won’t work out. However, thank you again for the referral! 🙂



I replied her regarding the two points she listed, unfortunately I did not get any further replies from her afterward.

I tried to figure out possible obstacles based on my limited understanding of the recruitment philosophy of McKinsey and listed the top three as follows:

  1. My education background: my undergraduate uni ranked around 350-400 globally, although NUS is ranked 25th and NTU ranked 61st by Times, they are not targeting schools. I am afraid that I cannot pass the CV screening.
  2. My major is not closely related to business: although I tried to shift my direction from transportation to supply chain management (SCM), the HR still thinks that my experience is too specific even for the OA program.
  3. My age: I would be 29-30 when I get my Ph.D degree (I was born in Dec 1988). I think it may be a little old to apply for an entry-level position.

There are two possible solutions I can think of for now:

  1. Apply for the SCM program in MIT (http://scm.mit.edu) and do it in parallel with my Ph.D since on average 2-3 out of every batch of their graduates join McKinsey.
  2. Join a good MBA program upon graduation.

I do not want to go for the second one unless it is really necessary.

If you are still reading, I would like to express my sincere gratitude. As an ex-consultant in McKinsey and current professional in management consulting preparation, what advice would you give based on my circumstance please? How should I prepare myself in the following 3-4 years if I want to successfully join MBB upon graduation?

Many thanks in advance!

Warm regards,


My reply:

Hi Eric,

Thank you very much for such an enthusiastic email. Also, thank you for your patience. I  try to reply to every email from my audience as fast as I  can but it’s very hard due to my busy schedule.  …

So anyway, first of all, I do see some consulting traits in your email. That’s  very good news. You are highly determined. You think like a consultant. You approach your own “case” through a consultant’s mindset. You also have a structured communication style: there are 3 things … No.1 is … No.2 is … and No.3 is … Very impressive and very consulting-like!

Now straight to the question you asked. Here’s my summary of your email:

  • You have a burning desire to be an MBB consultant.
  • You have educational background in NUS and NTU (major and the degree doesn’t matter much though).
  • You applied for the McKinsey OA program (which I will explain what it is in more detail (by my own words) below) but didn’t succeed.
  • You listed out some possible root causes.
  • You proposed some

If you took it upon yourselves a consulting-like methodology, I would add my feedback just like this is a real case interview or problem-solving session.

I agree with all of your analyses and insights. But I still have to bomb your case. And the reason is:

You’ve solved the wrong problem!

(Read more about the methodology of consulting problem-solving here)

It states right in the beginning of your email that your objective is clearly to become a consultant! A consultant, not an industry / practice expert!

I can see going into the OA practice is a fine option, but definitely not the ultimate goal for you.

Since you’ve solved the wrong problem, the bad news is: the whole analysis and proposed solutions are irrelevant. All three possible root-causes you listed are NOT going to prevent you in consulting recruitment process. And there’s no need to waste time and effort putting the two proposed solutions to action.

So why have you solved the WRONG PROBLEM?

Partially this is because of McKinsey’s complicated system and vague language.  Having been in the firm for quite a long-time, I still find the OA description on the website so cliché and misleading. So let me try to explain this from an outsider’s (but with deep knowledge of the inside) standpoint.

McKinsey‘s (and BCG & Bain) Org structure can be complicated but to simplify, the whole firm can be broken down into 2 parts or “tracks”: the Consulting track and the Support track.

McKinsey Organization Structure

The consulting track consists of consultants and is mostly considered as the more prestigious track. Normally, when people say something general  like “I want to join MBB”, they refer to this track! This is the face and the core of any consulting firm.

The support track, like its name suggests, is anything that helps the consultants do their work. This ranges from Administration, Translation Team, Visual Graphic Center, etc.

If it stops here, everything is nice and clear. But the complicated thing is that in recent years, McKinsey (and other firms) have been vastly expanding their support arms in terms of both depth and magnitude. There are more and more “support” teams being formed, and these teams are getting more and more involved in the “content” part. For examples: Excel Support, Writing Specialists, Market Research, and even industry and functional experts.

This  aims to make the work of consultants specialized more than ever. Consultants can now focus their energy and brain power more into the actual structuring and solving problems, regardless of industry or function’s knowledge.

The OA program you refer to is a part of the “Operation Practice”. And the “operation practice” is one “support” arm, which specialized in Operation, no more or less. Its purpose is to help consulting teams with whatever expertise needed with regard to “Operation”. It doesn’t matter if I am working on a cement project in Hanoi, a Banking project in London, or a public sector project in Sydney. Should I have any question on “Operation”, I can call experts in the “Operation Practice” for support.

Back to your question, if I understand your desire of becoming a consultant correctly, my short response is to ignore almost everything you mentioned. All of them are irrelevant in the consulting recruiting process. The only thing that matters is how well you perform on Case Interviews (assuming that you can pass the CV and PST round). That’s it!

Good luck with your career and let me know if you have any further questions!

Management Consulting Prep

*  *  *

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Casual Cases

By Kim Tran June 24, 2015Case InterviewNo Comments
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Casual Cases

By Kim Tran | Case Interview | No Comments

Hi there,

A week ago, I got a very interesting message from an anonymous customer through our Live chat system. It goes like this:

“Hello, I absolutely love your site. The case interview videos are especially helpful, although I found them to be particularly focused on external, supply chain problems. I understand these are the most important, but I was wondering how one would approach a case study about internal, long term, social consulting. For example, internship programs are a key way that companies attract top talent and shape their culture. How would you approach an interview question that asked you to build a framework for let’s say, a big tech company trying to attract the best developers through an internship program?”


Put simply, what you were trying to ask is: “How in the world do I deal with weird-topic cases?”

* * *

There are so many ways a topic can be weird. Like you said, one way is for it to be about internal & social topics. But there are others. Some of them are hilarious actually. A few of my favorites:

  • How does my company beat the competitor … in the soccer tournament?
  • How do our young executives get girlfriends?
  • How can BCG take McKinsey’s No.1 spot?
  • How can I eat more & not gain weight?

You may laugh at these, but there is a real chance of you getting a casual case like this in real interviews.

So, what’s the strategy for acing them?

1/ Don’t panic, these cases in fact are easier.

Why do I say this? Reason #1 is that the interviewer is probably in a good mood, which makes the whole process much more bearable. Reason #2 is that the interviewer probably doesn’t know more about the topic than you. Reason #3 is that these cases really take away the difficulty of business knowledge and solely focus on mythology and creativity.

2/ Approach them with a serious and professional manner as if this were a real business problem.

This somewhat feels like a game of pretend … but you are expected to play it. The purpose of casual cases is to wash away the difficulty of business content to focus on your problem solving and other soft skills. One of those soft skills is professionalism, make sure you show it.

3/ Regarding content …

This is important.

The thing I really love about case interviews and consulting problem solving mythology is that it can be applied REGARDLESS of CONTEXT, CONTENT, & PROBLEMS.

If I struggle with weird cases, it’s not because something’s wrong with this format. It’s probably something about my case interview mythology.

Here’s an interesting example of how consulting mythology can still be perfectly applied to a casual case:

To make this point even stronger, let me try tackling your example of a fairly unconventional case.

* * *

Problem: “a big tech company trying to attract the best developers through an internship program”

Part 1: Define the problem / clarify objective:

  • How do we define “best developers”? The smartest and most skilled ones or simply the most appropriate for the job?
  • Is money an important factor? Can we overspend to make the most awesome program possible or do we have a rather tight budget?

Part 2: Set up a structure:

There is more than one way to be right, but to me, this is a good way to do it.

A perfect internship program must have certain characteristics depending on two 2 parties:

  • Branch (a): Does the internship program offer value those “best” (a.k.a: appropriate) developers’ desires?
  • Branch (b): Is the internship program something feasible that the client can implement in a sustainable fashion?

* * *

When I tackle this example, my mind process doesn’t change at all. If we can get to the point where any context, any case, any problem doesn’t bother us regardless of what they are, … we are really in good shape!

I hope this article is helpful to you. Comment below should you have any question or suggestion, ok?


Tags: Case Interview, Case Interviews