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McKinsey Test

#1 McKinsey Test
20/11/2004 00:20


McKinsey has a big recruiting campaign for Oxbridge students and special talks for PhDs (I'm researching a doctorate). At the presentations, they introduce their recruitment process saying that interviews are preceded by a numerical test, and that the results of the numerical test are only considered as part of the whole recruiting process. As a PhD who took some time off between my undergraduate and graduate days, and I have not sat for any exams for ages. I had practised some GMAT tests and found that I scored highly and finished on time. I was invited to take the Initial Problem Solving test recently in London (which is nothing like the GMAT by the way), and on the day of the test, the nerves got the better of me, quite unexpectedly, and I wouldn't be able to explain how I finished the test. I subsequently received an e-mail from McK stating that they regretted that I had not passed the test and that my application would not be considered further.

I don't want to sound like I am full of myself, but it is a little off-putting that I did not have a chance to at least have a first interview/case study where the interviewers could have a more thorough examination of my capabilities. Plus what the McK team said about the test results being considered as part of the recruiting process seems to be a big lie: the test is used as a screening factor! I would like to know what everyone thinks of this, and if anyone has had similar experiences (if at all, to make me feel that I did not waste the past couple of months practising case studies and reading about all the work McK had done over the past year, while not spending much time on other companies!). I have got excellent academic grades, work experience, and all the usual student society stuff which show work under pressure/leadership/teamwork etc... Am I wrong to think that this system is a little unfair?

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#2 Re: McKinsey Test
20/11/2004 02:24


I agree with you about what you said about McK only caring about your math abilities and not your other capabilities. I attended a recruiting event at Harvard for MD/PhD. Their first round interview in Boston also consisted of VERY hard math problems, which were nothing like the GREs or GMATs problems!

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#3 Re: McKinsey Test
20/11/2004 03:55

Wouldn't hire McKinsey

You have just highlighted why I have always maintained McKinsey's brand is the result of good PR rather than substance. Precisely because they hire mathematicians exclusively, I would not hire McKinsey. I have had quite a lot of dealings with a number of consulting groups, but really had a good chance to compare the people at Bain and at McKinsey a couple of years back. Bluntly, I was far more impressed by the Bain folks, who are selected on the ability to come up with imaginative solutions to real cases, not do theoretical sums in a test.

If you are going to produce innovative strategies for your clients, you actually need some 'right brain' creative thought processes - a few people in your team who like to wear odd clothes and dye their hair green or whatever and will think of a totally new way to run rings around your competitors. McKinsey's math test selection concept (the only firm using this to my knowledge) screens out creative types and inuitive business people.

Ask yourself, would McKinsey have hired Bill Gates, Warren Buffet or Michael Dell?

The McK folks I met have tended to be (unsurpisingly) bright mathematicians, but bloody arrogant and unimaginative.

I also recall I used to have a client that had an ex-McK guy on the board of directors - an MD with a Wharton MBA - always wanted numbers for everything and never made a decision on anything. Eventually, his indecisiveness got him sidelined by his board - he had a paper resume that looked superb, but delivered no value in the real world - the shareholders finally dumped him.

In summary, I have never applied to McKinsey and would not hire them because I believe their selection process is now outdated, fundamentally flawed and that today they are being outcompeted by other groups like Bain, BCG and some smaller groups who are specialising in particular industries.

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#4 BCG at Harvard?
20/11/2004 22:21


Hi D, Thanks for the response. I was wondering if you had also applied to BCG: they also have a written test, and the recruiting people said that it was like the GMAT. Is it really? Thanks.

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#5 Re: McKinsey Test
25/11/2004 15:03


It sounds to me like you have had a VERY lucky escape and no doubt you will be cheering when you find a great job with a consultancy who do not require mathematical automatons!

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#6 consulting tests
26/11/2004 18:41


The maths test at Mck is relatively easy compared to those at Investment Banks. It only asks questions concerning data interpretation. if you cant do basic percentages and ratios - then they should reject you instantly. stop moaning and get practising!

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#7 Re: McKinsey Test
01/03/2005 13:27

same boat?

Hello, I'm a writing up PhD student in engineering and so i guess our situation is pretty similar. i was also sorely disappointed when the same thing happened to me. I felt i never got the chance to apply or show them my strengths/skills/ experience. You're right about the fact that not sitting for exams for 2-3 years makes a difference. Don't feel too bad about it, it doesn't mean you aren't smart or top-class, just means that you haven't practiced with numbers and graphs for a while. I deal mainly with algebraic equations and complex matrices etc., so not much contact with simple tables or plots. The best thing would've been to have had a little more practice (and info) on the type of test it really was. I also thought it was PART of the interview process and that i will get a chance at a case study before they made a decision. I hope you have also gotten over this and moved on to more applications and interviews. have you been for any other interviews? I am quite happy to get in contact if you're also on the lookout for MC jobs around.

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#8 RE: McKinsey Test
15/08/2006 13:45

Me to same boat? (#7)

I just sat the test, it was multiple-choice, and to be honest I thought it was culturally biased.

My US mates are whizzes at multiple choice because they've been doing it since five years old, or whatever, but me, well....

Funny, because the US students at my university say the degree programmes over here are much more taxing precisely because they do require creativity etc, so yeah, this initial screening test does seem a little unfair.

But i'll just see how well i did.

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#9 RE: McKinsey Test
15/08/2006 18:08

not a phd to Me (#8)

What is wrong with you lot? Is the screening test different for PhDs than it is for graduates? Honestly, I'm no maths genius, have always done OK at school but don't really like numbers and absolutely hate mental arithmetic (I'm bad at it). I passed the test (having applied to the BA program as a final year graduate), the pre-interview screening test is really not that hard, the graphs and tables you are asked to interpret aren't any more advanced than what you'd find in the Financial Times or The Economist. I didn't do well on the case studies though, mainly because of my slow and sometimes incorrect calculations. I know business judgement and creative thinking are important in the case studies, however you won't stand a chance if you can't even pass the written maths test. At the first round interviews, you'll go through one (oral) case study which requires some basic calculations, and then another one (with 20 min preparation time) that is much more quantitative. In both cases you'll be expected to do some calculations on the spot to justify the conclusions you have drawn. This is where I failed.

If you need practice, try applying to some investment banks first, they normally make you do a 30-minute online multiple choice question test before interviews, the questions are similar (but easier) to McK. You can always withdraw your application afterwards. You may also need to learn to "guesstimate" better, i.e. not actually calculating anything, but simply eliminating the answers that are obviously wrong, based on simple ratios and percentages you can memorise easily (e.g. 12.5% = 1/8, £79m/£9.8k ~ 80k/10 = 8,000), . This way of testing might seem a bit unfair, but if you really are as smart as you think you are (and surely must be, to get a PhD!), you should be able to think how best to approach this whole process.

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#10 RE: McKinsey Test
16/08/2006 08:56

D to not a phd (#9)

I agree with 'not a PhD'.

I recently sat the test and thought it was pretty straightforward. It was basic data interpretation, some fairly simple back of the envelope calculations, and also a test of how observant you are. For instance, in some the graphical data interpretation questions they had changed the axes on the second graph so the obvious answer was clearly wrong.

If you rush through it without reading all the data you won't pass it. And if you don't read the questions and can't do basic maths then you don't deserve to pass it.

You do not need to be a mathematician. Everyone sits the same test which requires no preparation. Those that do the best get through to the second round. What is unfair about that??

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#11 RE: McKinsey Test
16/08/2006 09:09

Prof to D (#10)


Give us an example, then. Now.

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#12 RE: McKinsey Test
16/08/2006 13:35

juniordoc to not a phd (#9)

Hi 'not a phD', I, like the PhD's above, failed the McK first round test. I sat it without much preparation and having not done basic maths for some time, obviously found a bit tricky. Since then I've looked at GRE, GMAT and IB qs, but am still wondering if there are any other resources which might help me prepare better?

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#13 RE: McKinsey Test
16/08/2006 16:26

D to Prof (#11)

Prof, example of what?

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#14 RE: McKinsey Test
16/08/2006 17:12

Tony to D (#13)

Going off the subject of Mc kinsey I was invited to sit an IBM test which was also maths based I too am no wizz at maths and I failed before I could show them what I was really made of. I feel this type of testing is unfair to be a consultant. If I wanted to be a maths teacher then yea fine..... I am more adapt to solving business problems not maths ones!!!!! These company's are getting alot of maths nerds not real consultants who would actually take their business forward

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#15 RE: McKinsey Test
16/08/2006 17:58

not a phd to Tony (#14)

Going to an interview or test unprepared is really asking for trouble. I think McK make it clear that it is a MATHS test, so not having any practice beforehand is really not an excuse. With all due respect, you should have been able to work this one out by yourself! This is similar to going to a client meeting unprepared, which is just not acceptable in this business, particularly with McK's charge-out rates. And before anyone starts to have a go at me for being anti-PhD, let me just tell you that I actually wanted to do one myself, but failed to get the necessary sponsorship as my maths grades weren't good enough (I did physics at uni), and see myself as more of an academic type than business & marketing type. Yet I work in a leading global consultancy (not McK, obviously).

The test isn't really about maths skills per se, more about how you can apply them to real-world business problems, as there are very few "business problems" that do not require at least some rudimentary understanding of the numbers. Even qualitative data will often be turned into some quantitative form to make it more objective (e.g. use surveys rather than just quotes from interviews with client staff). As an analyst/consultant, you will be involved in A LOT of data analysis work using Excel, and you will be expected to be able to understand what the numbers/ratios/trends are telling you (and to visualise them so you can communicate this to a non-technical audience). Also, misinterpreting graphs and charts will certainly not do you any favours, and the added time pressure of the test is just another factor you'll need to deal with in this job. At least you get to do the test on your own, not distracted by pushy, arrogant idiots you sometimes have to work with in the real world! To be honest, the group case studies at PA are more reflective of the work environment in consulting. You get very limited time, limited resources, a lot to get through, a demanding client, and the quality of the team you happen to find yourself in is all down to luck.

The only other resource I can think of would be your university careers office, they normally have some maths/IQ/aptitude tests that they can give you, or even do a timed/supervised session with you. Also, visualising some numerical data you are familiar with (weather reports, stock market data, etc.) in Excel will help you think visually. Try plotting different things using different types of charts (line, radar, pie, bubble). This skill will come in handy, e.g. if you can summarise the key findings in a quantitative case study in one neat chart on the flipchart, this will definitely set you apart from the rest of the candidates.

As said, maths isn't all there is to consulting, but getting the basics right (and being able to demonstrate this in a test situation) is certainly an important part of it. And if you're mathematically not that gifted, there certainly is still hope for you. I am proof of that.

Best of luck to you all.

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#16 RE: McKinsey Test
18/08/2006 07:40

morientes to not a phd (#15)

the tests are about your ability to put a logical structure or model around a problem and go from there. the maths involved is mainly GCSE level - simultaneous eqautions, linear processing, interpretations of graphs, statistics etc. the structuring / modelling skills required to do the tests are pretty much core consulting skills.

the tests are not hard, you just need to practice but there is a hell of a lot to get through in the alloted time.

i think the verbal case studies much more challenging. they are about structuring and analysing business problems and have both qualititative and quantitative aspects and include client issues.

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#17 RE: McKinsey Test
18/08/2006 11:04

Tony to morientes (#16)

I would agree that the verbal case studies are more productive in assessing your ability as a consultant. They actually have some bearing on the real world too which is a change.

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#18 RE: McKinsey Test
19/08/2006 19:02

Please Please to Tony (#17)

Hi Comrades! (job-hunting feels like such a struggle sometimes, doesn't it?)

I am attending the first round of case interviews with McK in around two weeks. The briefing email said no business experience is required - is that true? If not, what kind of basics are they looking for? Of course i'm more than happy to go chuck myself into a book now if that will help.

Also, i'm not afraid of numbers, but mental arithmetic in front of interviewers is really scaring me just to think about it. How quant is it all? Are the conversations structured and interactive? Or do they want you to just talk out lous a stream of consciousness?! How slow is slow in terms of working out the numbers? I'm hoping to be Quick Draw McGraw on the day, but put in the situation, i know how things can change! Can you do working out on paper or will that make me look dim?

In other words any advice anyone could give me would be helpful. What does the preparation for the second interview look like? Any behavioural tips? What do interviewers hate? Should I emphasise team work or independence more?

I'm feeling nervous already, isn't that ridiculous? I'm 25 years old and sat so many exams, and yet, i am nervous two weeks before an interview. Oh my........ Maybe I should just start my own business because then i'll never have to be interviewed again!

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#19 RE: McKinsey Test
23/08/2006 13:09

not a phd to Please Please (#18)

You don't need business experience or be a Rainman-like maths genius, however you should know how the case study format works (you ask structured and relevant questions, they give some data, you calculate some numbers, test some hypothesis, ask more questions, answer a few questions, summarise your logic & conclusions, etc.) You can (and should!) use paper to work out your numbers, and keep track of them. I was slow because I didn't trust my calculations (for a good reason, they often did go a bit wrong...), so had to do some of the calculations twice. Try rough estimations first, if the interviewer wants an exact answer you can always work it out then.

Sounds like you're the shy type (I know I am), getting nervous already so far beforehand. This is why it's useful to have some first round interviews with some tier 2 firms first, to build your confidence and case study skills. Wearing your best suit and shoes on the day works for some people.

In a team case study, it's best not to dominate the discussion or be the wallflower, unless you know with 100% certainty how to go about solving the case (highly unlikely) or don't have a clue what's going on (fairly unlikely). If a person is dominating the discussion and taking the team for a wild goose hunt or wasting time by defending a losing position just for the sake of it, it's best to speak up and show some leadership and common sense. The interviewers will appreciate it, as will your team mates.

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#20 RE: McKinsey Test
23/08/2006 20:13

anon to not a phd (#19)

Where do PhDs fit in consultancies? What positions are you guys going for and what does the future look like for Phds in consultancy?

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#21 RE: McKinsey Test
24/08/2006 18:42

Recruiter who uses maths tests... to Wouldn't hire McKinsey (#3)

We use a maths test as a filter too. The logic is very simple and clear. Interviews require 1-1 senior staff time. The more interviews the more time lost from other work.

So you use a maths/reasoning test to filter out people you would either ding later or regret hiring and you do it first because it is cheap and scalable.

I can't speak for McK but we use it as triage - a high score convinces use the candidate can do numbers; a low score we know they won't make it; a marginal score and we take to the next round but probe for more evidence.

We, and I imagine McK don't do things like this because we are mean, evil or stupid. When we introduced it we did an experiment to see if it correctly (and cheaply) identified the people we later (expensively) dinged. It worked very well.

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#22 Recruiter who uses maths tests
25/08/2006 09:35

D to Recruiter who uses maths tests... (#21)

Well said.

That system sounds completely fair to me.

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#23 RE: McKinsey Test
25/08/2006 11:18

not a phd to anon (#20)

Depends on the company. Some firms hire PhDs at the same level as other graduates, i.e. Business Analyst or equivalent, some bring them in at the same level as MBAs (Consultant, Associate, etc.) However, most will hire PhDs in at a level between these two, i.e. between a graduate joiner and an MBA recruit. This could be Senior Business Analyst, Consultant Analyst, Fellow, or whatever else they decide to call it.

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#24 RE: McKinsey Test
30/09/2006 23:35

Sum1 to not a phd (#23)

I went to Oxbridge, and quite a few of us applied to strategy consultancies. Where Bain, BCG, Monitor, Marakon, Mercer etc said no, McKinsey were the only ones who at least invited a lot of us in to sit the test.

In this way I think it is a good thing. It is an initial screen, but it's one that more people get a chance to sit.

I like that because it's not so focussed on the CV. Focussing on the cv is ok, but what's there to choose between cvs? Some people do stand out, of course, because they have set up a democracy from scratch by 19 years old or something (!) but mostly - with new grads / those with a lack of relevant work experience looking for entry level roles - the cvs are very similar. I'm not a recruitment specialist, and it's very possible that I am overlooking something important here, but when we all sit down and compare our cvs it's really hard to see why one gets an interview and the other doesn't. I can't help but think that at times it's some spurious thing.

So, yeah, the test is a good idea in that it gives more people at least a first shot.

Now, the fact that the top strat firms rarely venture out of the Oxford, Cambridge, LSE trio is another question. There were some very very bright students at uni, but diamonds in the rough rarely make it in (those that do stick out like sore thumbs).

I really like the sound of the work that strategy consultants do, and would love to work at McKinsey et al for that reason. But, the culture (which is an extension of Oxbridge as far as I can tell) puts me off, and I think I'd just stick out again. I'm not hoping for sympathy, or even presuming i'd get in, i'm just writing things that have been on my mind recently.

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#25 RE: McKinsey Test
02/10/2006 14:24

Dave to Please Please (#18)

It is very natural to get nervous!!

I have just had my first round interviews at McKinsey, which I feel went quite well. I did have bit of a brain fart in the first numerical problem - annoying since this side of things is my strong side and especially as both interviews were A LOT LESS mathematical than I expected. Given the amount of maths in the online tests I was really surprised on the day - one chart and GCSE type maths... (but hey as I proved even that can cause problems when you are a little nervous!) However the rest of the interview went well. (Perhaps the big maths comes in the second round?). My tip would be to really understand how to convert from between average costs back to total, and the differences between profit, revenue, costs, margins etc and what info you need to work them all out.

However don't just get bogged down on the case interview bit. The first 30 mins are talking about relevant experience - questions like: Example of a new idea in a short time, when you have had to deal with conflicting members in a team, etc. Now I have had lots of interesting experience in my life and so can come up with many examples... however with hindsight they perhaps weren't that relevant to demonstrating future work with McKinsey. Eg Having to take a team member to one side and give him a right bollocking is not really going to happen in the McKinsey world (?!) so really have a good think about this side too.

Best of luck!


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#26 RE: McKinsey Test
11/11/2006 13:48

jobhunter to Dave (#25)

Hi everyone,

Was wondering, can someone give examples of the math questions that you get ? And where can I practice if practice is so important ?


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