Monday, November 2, 2009

The Personal Experience Interview

I have come to learn a lot about the McKinsey personal experience interview and how it might be a little different than what you are used to. I'm sure that you have all been told to develop "stories" that describe a leadership experience, a time you made an impact, or a time you had a conflict. I had been told that before too and I have stories to answer all of those questions. However, with during your PE interview, there is a right and a wrong way to deliver those stories.

We are all used to telling a story as a narrative...setting up the situation, giving a problem, giving a solution and then trying to tell about how we fit into that story. This is not the way to go about telling a story in your interview.

The interviewer at McKinsey is looking for very specific details regarding your situation. Actually, they may not even be interested in your particular situation at all. What they ARE interested in is what YOU DID in that situation. They don't care if a conflict happened at work, in the lab, or at home. What they want to know is what you thought and said in that situation and how you influenced change. To get to these answers, they will interrupt you and ask very specific questions. If you are giving a long narrative, you will likely be interrupted before you even get to what you did in a situation.

The best way to make sure you get the key points of your story in the interviewer's head is to take your narrative and give it a title...a lot like a newspaper headline. Then take your narrative and try to make it three strong sentences that describe the situation, what you did, and how it made a difference. The interviewer will then probe deeper into one aspect of what you mentioned and you can give them as much detail as they ask for at that point.

This technique ensures that you get the highlights across and also shows some structured thinking.

During everything make sure to emphasize YOUR role, YOUR thought process, and the results that YOU brought about. After all, they are going to hire YOU, not your team, your lab, or your family... And always always answer the specific question that you are asked!

Hope this helps. I'm working overtime trying to get my long and drawn out stories into a manageable 3-4 sentence highlight reel before tomorrow afternoon!


  1. Great post! Thank you very much for sharing this. Good luck to your interview tomorrow (right?)!

    I am scheduled to round 2 interview on Nov. 12. Do you know if they will ask other common (and stupid) interview question? Something like what is your five weaknesses...

  2. All the best!

    I just finished my application to McKinsey...

  3. No, I've been through the process and this post is quite accurate. I've been asked to give a "newspaper" title to my story. Then, elaborate in a few points the situation and the things i've done in this situation. They will then start digging and asking questions.

  4. My career center counselor described interview story-telling by the "STAR" method:


    She said I (and most people) focus on the setup and don't develop the action and result enough. Sounded like it was more than just a McKinsey interview that the method was developed for, but it definitely applies.

  5. Can anyone give me an insight as to how their personal experience interview went at a consulting firm e.g. McKinsey?