Now that I had established consulting as my clear recruiting direction, I decided to work diligently on three fronts related to the interview process: case interviews, behavioral interviews, and mental preparedness.
To begin, I attended Duke MBA Consulting Club sessions where they taught students casing and behaviorals, and sought guidance from my case parent—a second-year MBA who supports first years throughout the consulting recruiting process—to get a grasp of the casing structure.
Once I understood the structure, I started scheduling 45-minute long sessions with my first-year classmates and the second-years to practice casing. After each case, I would run a 10-minute review of the case and the feedback to internalize all the feedback points. Believe me, these 10-minute debriefs were a game-changer.
As for the behaviorals, I had a wealth of stories to share, but I knew I needed to convey their essence in a succinct and impactful manner. My major drawback was that I would branch out into too much detail and bore the listener. I remember it was late December, and winter break for students but Fuqua’s Career Management Center (CMC) was still available to support us as we prepared for early January interviews. Mary Beck, the head of consulting recruiting in the CMC, was key in helping prepare me further with my behaviorals, and I will never forget that.
My third focus was mental preparedness. I was ambitious, but a little terrified. I had never been a job interviewee in my life. To build my confidence, during the whole winter break when everyone was out of town, I would go to the gym every morning before heading to Fuqua where I would practice casing and refine my behavioral stories. During my 15-minute breaks, I would daydream about what my future office would look like. I remember imagining that it was going to have large windows and ample natural light, plenty of plants and flower pots around, and colleagues dressed in business casual attire walking around contentedly, having small talk by the coffee machine. During my breaks, I also chatted often with a handful of classmates who would come to Fuqua to prepare for their interviews. We would share insights and concerns and analyze scenarios.
I kept up with my routine and worked from morning till night, with only a brief week-long break to celebrate the New Year with friends and family in Los Angeles. This break proved beneficial because stepping back from the process for a short time offered me fresh insights into areas where I needed to improve, and it allowed me to recharge my batteries without sacrificing momentum.
My Internship Interview
The interview day finally arrived—January 12, 2022—and I had three back-to-back interviews with three different McKinsey & Co. partners. I was at the top of my game, but I was also a little nervous because I am a strong believer that regardless of your technical preparedness, the actual conversation and the impression you leave is the final decision maker. At the end of the interview are you categorized as “I like him overall as a human” or “He needs more work” in their subconscious?
My communication style was straightforward during the interviews. “Simplify it to a human level” is what I call it. At the end of the day, the interviewers are humans. They have concerns, likes, dislikes, and ambitions, and they also want to be heard. I had noticed early on during coffee chats that they do not look for employees, but rather, they look for leaders. They wanted to be able to envision me doing in the future what they are doing now.
The implication for me was that I should consider and represent myself as a person equal to them. I should walk through a problem-solving case as if we have equal capabilities and they want to benefit from my insights during this professional and friendly discussion. Would they enjoy a conversational and structured past story about me? Yes, if I had a funny point or two to share with them—everyone enjoys a flowing conversation. It would also mean that if I am solving the case, they would benefit from understanding my thought process in each step and how I structurally make conclusions that lead to an optimal solution. It would also mean that I should look professional and dress as professionally as they do, and if they respect me by spending time trying to get to know me, I should be just as respectful and try to get to know them.
I would put myself in their shoes and think “If I were a McKinsey partner, what angles of this person would I want to know more about?” I would want to know how they stay logical under pressure, how they are aware of their assumptions and biases, how they can effectively and respectfully communicate with a client, how they think on their feet, and in general, is it a pleasant feeling to have this person on my team or not? That thought process helped me have genuine conversations during the interview with the interviewers. I would also think “If I am a partner in McKinsey, Now what? What is my next career aspiration? How do I evaluate whether I am happy enough with where I am?” I would ask the partners those questions after they were done asking me theirs. I boiled down everything to three keywords on a yellow sticky note that I had on my laptop during the interviews: “Structured, Confident, Friendly.” That’s who I want to be, and apparently, they saw that in me.
Fast forward to May 16, 2022, and I was on an evening run in the streets of Washington, D.C. Running up 19th Street NW, I made a quick stop in front of an 11-story office building. On the glass door were the embossed steel letters, spelling “McKinsey & Company.” It was where I had the privilege to intern that summer and later join full-time as my career in consulting truly began. I took a picture of the logo, felt the inner thrill, and continued my run.
And guess what, the office looks pretty similar to what I was imagining!