The rejection letter starts with the sentence “Thank you for submitting your resume … ” It takes 36 more words — many of which are positive, like “interest,” “impressed” and “accomplishments” — before McKinsey & Company finally cuts you loose: “we regret that we will not be able to invite you to interview with us.”
But you — unlike me, last year — didn’t suffer this horrendous fate. You’re an accomplished junior: president of two organizations, one you founded personally to fill a gaping niche in our community; owner of a stellar GPA (3.8; anything higher and the suits will know you have no life); intern at a Shanghai start-up summer after freshman year and researcher for a renown Yale professor the summer after that; and community service contributor extraordinaire. Your resume is two pages with half-inch margins, overflowing with accomplishments in all areas accomplishable, from 2nd place in the 4th grade Math Olympiad to honorable mention in the Illinois blueberry pie eating contest. If McKinsey required a cover letter, you would have mentioned that it’s the only company you’ve ever wanted to work for. Since they don’t, you put that line in your Bain and Boston Consulting Group cover letters instead.
A week later, an acceptance email appears on the top line of your Gmail inbox. It’s almost saccharine with enthusiasm: “We are delighted to invite you to interview with McKinsey & Company.” You smirk. This means you’ve been selected from a group of over 300+ of your peers. You’ve just beaten out 25 percent of junior class all-stars, just like you beat 93 percent of the rest of the country when you were accepted at Yale.
Now, interview prep. Here are some tips from a guy who’s been there. Of course, you’ve already bought the 10th Anniversary edition of Case in Point. It’s written by a Harvard guy, Cosentino, but no worries — after all, last year McKinsey hired four from Harvard and just one from Yale in the New York office for the internship, so he might have a (case in) point. Open the 228-page self-help guide and read it over once just for fun. The second time through, highlight key sections you plan to memorize. Start to test yourself on the 12 different frameworks that categorize every business scenario — starting a new business, mergers and acquisitions, devising a turnaround, etc. — before realizing that Case in Point isn’t actually MECE (mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive). Now it’s time to act like a good future consultant: agglomerate the 12 frameworks into a beastly flow chart so you can create your own framework for tackling the frameworks. The result is one beautiful pyramid diagram that you can apply to any question, ever.
The next step is practice (Allen Iverson joke here). Find a bunch of friends. If you don’t have any who care about consulting, find acquaintances. Bring pencil and a yellow legal pad; rendezvous at a cozy campus location (Berkeley’s Mendenhall room and the Calhoun Cabaret are both excellent spaces). Ask each other business related scenarios: “Let’s say you start a turducken stand on Pier 39 in San Francisco. What are revenues in your first year?” “Help me estimate the market size for reusable soy tote bags in Canada.” “If I gave you an archipelago off the coast of Manila, what would you do with it?”
Once you’ve tackled twenty cases (at least), you’ll develop your own personal cadence. After your interviewer outlines the case, say, “May I have a minute to jot down some notes?” When you explain how you want to tackle the issue, say “I’ve identified three areas of concern … what do you think?” When you’re recapping your findings, remember to end your one-minute elevator pitch with, “if this were a real case, and if I had more time, I would want to find out more about … ” Remember: structure, structure, structure. And on top of it all, don’t forget to think outside the box. Drop humorous one-liners, occasionally zoom out to the bigger picture, recalibrate your tone based on your interviewer’s body language, maintain steady eye contact and avoid saying “f-ck.”
Don’t hole yourself up; parallel process by going to networking sessions. You’re a humble, genuine, ruthless wunderkind: go forth and make a name for yourself. When you enter a company-sponsored event, walk in with a big smile, scan the room languidly, find the decision-makers, think of a great question, and attack an opening in a conversation. Walk up to the section asshole you knew from class last semester — he was such a prick back then, but hey, he’s wearing one of those fancy nametags now — he must be kind of cool. As you talk to him, his advice is sounding pretty erudite. Who knew you could be so wrong about people?
Enough prep. It all comes down to this, right now: five minutes before your actual interview, you are on the third floor of 55 Whitney Ave., sitting in a patterned, comatose floral chair watching as your fellow Econ buddies are plucked out of their seats and into the shaded interview rooms down the hall. You’re holding a $54.98 leather Yale portfolio; inside is a yellow legal pad, two black Bic pens, a copy of your resume, and an introduction sheet informing you that your interviewer today works at McKinsey but is also a professional mommy blogger in NYC. You’re the last candidate for the afternoon, which is good; you found a psychology study on Google Scholar showing how applicants at the end of the day have slightly higher success rates. The back of your palms are starting to sweat. You wipe it on the crease line of your charcoal suit, and mentally review the steps for launching a new product one more time.
Success! The email for a second-round interview comes in: “Congratulations!” You do a little fist-pump, wiggle your left foot, and smile wryly at the person on your left in Intermediate Macroeconomics. The professor is talking but you don’t hear him: at this moment, your life is, well, complete. You’ve summited Everest. You’re at peace with the world. You’ve won. Your future career streams in front of your teary, ecstatic eyes: a two-year stint in consulting, two years at Harvard Business School, three more in private equity, six months off for an extended honeymoon in Sicily, and then up to the top floor of a multinational company as a C-level executive. You can see your future cash flow, and it’s beautiful. Onward, ho!
Peter Lu is a senior in Berkeley College, working at Bain & Company.