McKinsey Case Interview via Video Conference

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Question:
I have a McKinsey case interview via video conference next week. Do you have any advice as to how one should handle these?

What are the major differences between a face-to-face interview and Video Conference case interview that someone who has never done a Video Conference should be aware of?

By the way, I just bought your Look Over My Shoulder® Program, and it's fantastic. Good work and keep the stellar advice coming!

My Reply:
Regarding your question about a McKinsey case interviews via video conference...

There are some subtle things about the case interview process itself that you will want to do different because of the video conference medium.

In your question, you didn't specify whether the video conference was via a consumer service like Skype that you are accustomed to using, or in a corporate video conference center of some sort.

If you are in a corporate center, the room typically looks like a regular conference room with a big flat screen TV at one end of the table. There is a camera that is pointed at you that is adjustable via remote control. Sometimes the remote control is on your end, so you or more likely someone on your end has to aim the camera at you.

Other times the interviewer's remote control can actually move the camera on your end. If you don't know this is possible, you may suddenly notice in the middle of an issue tree setup that the camera is moving by itself and get distracted.

Corporate video conference centers generally have good internet connections with something network people call "low packet loss" (the term is not important). This basically means the picture and sound will be clear and in sync.  As in you move your lips to say, "I'd like XYZ data" and at the same time, the sound says, "I'd like XYZ data."

I have done some live national television interviews for Fox in a remote TV studio, and in that environment, there is a seven-second delay between what you hear and what you see. You hear the interviewer say something, then you see the interviewer say it on screen seven seconds later. It is very disorienting.

The trick in this environment is to totally ignore the video of the other person, and just pretend you are on a phone call. It is very unlikely you will be in this kind of environment, but if you happen to be, you know what to do-- pretend it is a phone call and ignore the video.

Now if you are on a consumer video conferencing system like Skype, then the chances of a bad internet connection goes up quite somewhat. Consumer networks are prone to both packet loss and latency... losing bits and pieces of the data in the video conference (which is when you get jittery images) and delays.

If either happens, it's very disorienting. If you get image or audio signal loss, then you can not be 100% sure the interviewer understood what you said. Two ways to handle it -- First: slow down your pace of speech so more of the content and context of what you say gets across.

Second: repeat yourself by saying things like, "As I mentioned earlier, my hypothesis is X, and to test that hypothesis, I need three pieces of data..." So in this case, you might have mentioned your hypothesis a minute or two ago, but if you noticed some jitter, you might want to repeat that point just to make sure the interviewer got it.

If your network connection experiences latency or delay, it means you will be able to hear and see clearly, but there will be a longer than usual time lag.  Latency happens when you have a good internet connection (no signal loss) but a very long distance to travel (say half way around the world).

In that scenario, you need to deliberately pause more often at times when you anticipate the interviewer will be saying something. Also, you want to be extra sure the interviewer has finished saying something before you begin talking.

Okay, technical problems aside, let's assume all the technology works smoothly. And my best guess is McKinsey will have found a way to make this worth smoothly (the non-consulting staff at McKinsey, also known as support staff, is really quite good at making sure things run smoothly).

Here are the nuances to be aware of.  The interviewer can see your face, but may not be able to see what you write. If this is the case, you need to use words to describe what you are writing on paper.

So you say things like, "My hypothesis is XYZ. So I'm going to draw a box at the top of my issue tree called 'XYZ.'  Next, I think there are three things I need to examine to determine if XYZ is true. So in the first branch of my issue tree, I'm going to label that data A, in the second branch I'm going to call that data source B," etc...

So you need to be very conscious of "drawing" pictures using the spoken word.

Now some of the newer video conferencing technology will allow the interviewer to see what you write. They might have a digital white board, in which case you would need to be prepared to forget your pad of paper and draw on the board instead.

In this case, the problem is you now have less space to work with. So you have to be conscious about what gets written on the board. In that case, I would write your issue trees on the digital white board, but still use your pad of paper for taking notes or writing computations.

Also consider if you prefer to write downwards from top to bottom, or mainly from left to right. Both can work with either a vertical issue tree or a horizontal one. This depends a little on how tall you are (can you reach the top of the board?) and the dimensions of the digital white board.

Most are oriented to be wider than they are tall -- so it suggests using a left to right orientation on your issue tree.

The other scenario is that they will have a camera mounted system to take a video feed of your notepad.  This is basically a flat piece of wood, with lights on the left and right side to light the work space, and a video camera above it. It looks a bit like a microscope in its shape.

And in that situation, you put your pad of paper in the middle of the board and draw whatever you wish.  In this case, it is harder to make eye contact with the interviewer.

In this kind of situation, if you can't make natural eye contact with the interviewer because the setup gets in the way, then make sure when you are saying, "Hi," and before the case starts, you make really good eye contact.

By the way, how you make eye contact in a video conference is totally unnatural.  You need to smile and look at the camera lens, and not the picture of the interviewer that you see. Usually the screen and camera are pretty close to each other, but they are not in the exact some position.

So if you focus on making eye contact with the person's eyes on the screen, since most cameras are above the screen, from the interviewer's perspective it looks like you are looking at the interviewer's feet.

Now all of this is sometimes hard to remember in addition to remembering all of your case stuff.  So here is what I suggest in practice. Before the interview starts, make lots of simulated eye contact -- looking at the lens, not the person's image on the screen.  Smile, make eye contact, do all that good stuff.

Once the case starts, forget all that eye contact stuff and just ace the case.

Then once the case ends, do the eye contact thing again. The reason is: the eye contact up front is just to set initial impressions. If they know you made eye contact early on, then they know you are not shifty-eyed or dishonest (the usual interpretation of someone who does not make eye contact).

Then if you don't make eye contact during the case, the interviewer won't subconsciously wonder if you are trying to hide something... because they will at some level recall that you connected eye-to-eye with them earlier.

Then do the eye contact thing at the end, because studies show in a social interview (no case), interviewers remember the first two minutes and last two minutes the most.

In the middle, forget the eye contact stuff since it may just distract you.. and just focus on getting the case right.  That's by far the most important thing.

Thanks for the feedback on Look Over My Shoulder®. Collectively it took well over 100 hours to put the thing together. So I'm glad you are finding it useful.

It was the kind of real world immersion type experience I wish I had prior to my first "real" case interview because I was really intimidated before my first real interview.

It turns out the interview wasn't so bad, but I didn't figure that out until after the first few interviews, and then I was able to settle down a bit and started to actually "think" in the interviews, rather than just worry.

For more on what to expect in a case interview, watch my free video series on Case Interview Secrets .

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