Case Interview Success Rates by Round

by Victor Cheng

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Question:

I understand that McKinsey has an “offer rate” (% of applicants that are offered positions) of somewhat under 1%. In addition, I understand that the application process has three hurdles: getting the first interview, getting the second, and getting an offer.

Can you give us a feel for the average applicant success rate at each step? I’m particularly interested in that for experienced professionals with a Ph.D., since that’s the category I’m in.

My Response:

This is a very good question and unfortunately the answer varies quite a bit.

The 1% success rate is probably numerically accurate, but practically misleading.

By far the biggest “cut” is the consulting resume / CV screen. Its important to remember that McKinsey gets an awful lot of resumes out of the blue — but historically has done the majority of its recruiting out of the schools (under grad, MBA, JD, MD, PhD).

The cut at this level varies a lot. I can’t speak to the PhD CV screen as I never screened those myself. When I was there, the preference was to have alumni of a particular institution screen resumes and CV’s from those institutions.

So Harvard MBA alumni would screen Harvard MBA resumes, PhD alumni would screen PhD CV’s, etc… the idea was you wanted someone familiar with what’s impressive on the resume and what’s not.

The biggest factor on the resume / CV is the name of the school.

If a resume has Harvard MBA or Stanford MBA, when I was there, it was like an automatic pass. McKinsey would interview anyone graduating from those programs for no other reason than they got admitted into those programs.

But if someone had an MBA from any other school, the screening would be a lot more strict.

As I mentioned earlier I can’t speak too much to the PhD Cv screen as 1) I did not do it myself, and 2) my understanding was it was different than the resume screening process for Undergrad, MBA, JD which tended to be more similar.

For non PhD candidates, the second most scrutinized item on the resume was usually some kind of numercial score – SAT, GRE, GMAT, LSAT, MCAT. Basically we were looking for people who were exceptionally smart especially in math and sciences.

Its not so much that consultant is that math driven (all the math I did while I was there was really adding, subtracting, multiple, and dividing… okay and a bunch of percentages), but the very structured, systematic, hyper logical, scientific method type thinking process that people with strong math scores tend to have, tend to handle that part of the job rather well.

Round 1 “pass rates” are the next most likely to vary. By the time you get to round 2 and 3, the numbers converge and are more consistent across recruiting sources.  And Round 1 was usually done by alumni or people most familiar with the likely background of the candidate, the latter rounds would sometimes have more flexibility.

If I recall correctly, Round 1 pass rate was all over the place. You could interview 20 – 30 people who looked really good on paper, interview them in round 1, and take 2 people to round 2 (that would be on the low end).

I’ll qualify my estimate as follows. I never managed the recruiting process across rounds. I only interviewed candidates in a specific round in a process managed by someone else. I never followed candidates through multiple stages. And my experiences were fragmented – resume screens for Stanford grads, but case interviews for PhD’s.

If I had to give you a ball park and oversimplified estimate (and keep in mind this is a very, very, very rough ballpark), the “pass rate” might be 10% – 20% at Round 1, 10% – 30% for Round 2, and 20% – 50% for Round 3. That’s my best guess.

In general Round 1 pass rate is the lowest because either a candidate 1) totally lacks social skills (a deal killer) and we find out really quickly, 2) lacks practicality (a big problem for PhD applicants who aren’t comfortable with the lack of mathematical precision…. e.g., in consulting we deal with are profits shrinking a little or a lot… someone with a PhD sometimes wants to know that profits are shrinking by 50.2341%), or 3) can’t do a case

Round 2 is generally more cases of different types to make sure the candidate didn’t just get lucky on the case in Round 1, and indeed does have a repeatable and consistent ability to do cases.

Round 3 is a lot more of the same with a lot more data points (e.g, more interviewers) and is an opportunity for the firm to sell the candidate too.

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