80/20 Rule to Get an Offer

This success story comes from a McKinsey new hire from a non-target school who gives tips on getting an interview, and explains how to use the 80/20 rule in case interview preparation.

Success Story:

First, thank you for your materials, they helped a lot in the beginning. After more than 300 hours of preparation and about 200 practice cases with partners, I was able to secure an offer at McKinsey & Company in a major U.S. city. I was able to earn the offer for two reasons: tenacity and application of 80/20 rule.

Coming from a school which McKinsey did not recruit at, I had to reach out to many people to seek referral. I am from a second tier school in [U.S. city], and I’ve become the first student from our school to join McKinsey straight out of undergrad.

There are essentially two stages to obtaining an offer: securing an interview and passing the interview. I realized that no matter how hard I prepare for the interview, it is completely meaningless if I do not get an interview in the first place. I cold called and emailed about 1,000 people who are working at or used to work at MBB.

Of those that I contacted, approximately 50 people (5%) responded. Out of the 50 people, every single person from McKinsey told me that McKinsey just does not recruit from my school, and then told me to think about post-MBA trial.

Fortunately, I was able to secure an interview with Bain & Company through a referral. With this referral, I reached out to people who work at BCG to secure an interview. I sometimes had to ask them for a time to do a practice case interview to demonstrate my potential capability to pass the interviews. Finally, I got an interview with BCG as well.

I went back to all of the McKinsey people who initially said no to me, and explained to them how I got interviews from Bain and BCG. I carefully explained that I am a presentable candidate, and I have done a tremendous amount of work to prepare for the interview. As a result, I was able to receive several referrals, which led to an interview with McKinsey.

Now, I want to emphasize my utilization of the 80/20 rule. After practicing 30 or 40 cases with just random partners, I realized that my learning started to plateau. I also realized that I was doing so many cases every day, without reflecting upon my mistakes and performance, that marginal improvement was diminishing as well.

Instead of spending all my time simply practicing with my peers, I realized that I needed to spend time with people who are better than me. I also needed to spend more time thinking about what mistakes I have made and which areas could use improvement. I started to practice fewer cases per day, yet experienced incredible improvements in my performance. I recommend that candidates always think about how to allocate their time efficiently to maximize their learning and expedite improvements.

I would like to thank one more person other than you, Victor. I would like to thank Pete [www.CaseInterviewCoach.com]. I’ve worked with about 20 coaches, and Pete is one of the two people who were most helpful in preparing me for the case interview. Pete is a wonderful coach and mentor. I am glad that I met Pete through caseinterview.com and hope to hang out with him often during my tenure at McKinsey. We are located in the same city. If people are curious about, which office I’m talking about, book a session with Pete!

Victor, don’t be disappointed with my email, I found your videos very helpful, bought your book on case interviewing, and bought your book on growing revenues for start ups. I hope your business thrives and know you will help many aspiring consultants achieve their dreams!

My Reply:

Congratulations on the offer! 500 hours of work, I think that might be a new record for time devoted to getting the interview and preparing for it.

I love it when someone as determined as yourself achieves your goal -- it seems very fair in my mind. I'm sure your school is thrilled to have you breaking new ground.

For others in non-target schools, this serves as a good example that it IS possible to break into MBB from a non-target school. I should also point out that it is NOT easy -- and that's largely by design.

The philosophy at MBB is as follows. They choose target schools because the % of applicants that are likely to be qualified is much higher than at non-target schools. A McKinsey might take 10 - 15 students from a Harvard, whereas from a non-target school, they might take 1 person every 4th year.

From a practical standpoint, it's more efficient to schedule a series of campus recruiting efforts to get 10 - 15 new hires than to do the exact same work just to get 1/4 of one.

This is not to say the top firms don't want talent from the other schools. They make it difficult (or rather they don't go out of their way to make it easy) for candidates from non-target schools to apply. The de facto reasoning seems to be if the person is from a non-target school and is exceptional, they will find a way to get in front of us.

Practically speaking, it means they will need to establish and leverage relationships with other people to get the interview. The process ITSELF becomes a filter because to pull that off requires a certain set of interpersonal skills. The thinking is anyone who can navigate all those relationships probably has pretty good interpersonal skills. If they have all that and their resume is pretty strong, the top firms are interested.

Now in practice, very few people choose to be this determined… which is just fine with MBB. From the non-target schools, they want to cherry-pick the #1 recruit out of a school. They want THE top person. And forcing them to jump through all these hoops just to get the interview is one way they do this.

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7 comments… add one
  • Abhi Jan 3, 2015, 10:19 pm

    Where is the application of the 80:20 rule in this post??

  • Anh Tran May 14, 2014, 10:09 pm

    Hi JJ,
    Such an inspirational story! I also came from a small private school in a small state. I had 3 internships experiences in small companies. I was discouraged with my school’s reputation and my small network. As I read through your article, I felt so motivated and inspired by your determination!
    Thank you so much!

  • JJ Mar 27, 2013, 10:07 pm

    Hello friends,

    A lot of people are asking me, how I found all of these contacts. First, not all 1,000 people were working at MBB. 1,000 included people who were ex-MBB consultants.

    To address Hassan’s question, my GPA was actually pretty good.
    The only two things that were probably holding me down were, my school and lack of work experience with a prestigious corporation.

    If you want to demonstrate that you are analytical, you can put some rigorous course work or SAT or GMAT score on your resume.

    • TK Jan 10, 2017, 12:44 pm

      Hi JJ,

      Thanks for the response, I was still wondering myself though HOW you found these 1000 ex and current MBB employees? Through LinkedIN? Through Facebook? Were they friends of friends?

      Any tips or advice on contacting and reaching out for someone who may not know anyone at all in the field?

      Thanks for the time! :)

  • Hassan Feb 27, 2013, 4:50 pm

    Great post! However, If I may ask how was your academic record? I am in a similar position to what you were in. I come from a non-target school and don’t really have the academic backing either.

    I have been lurking around this site for a few days now and have noticed a number of people who are in a similar boat. I am trying to adopt the successes of those who have made it. What I have noticed so far is the following:

    1) Putting in copious hours into case studies, estimation questions and even math.

    2) Acquiring extra skills to make up for lacking Degree or GPA

    This includes but is not mutually exclusive
    a)Analytical reasoning
    b)Leadership skills
    c)Interpersonal skills – Basically something to show you are good with clients and can be IMPACTFULL.

    For example learning advanced calculus and Statistics to
    apply to either commodities or stocks. – Shows analytical
    skills. Something creative to put on your C.V maybe?

    3) Need to make links with current MBB employee’s I’m guessing this could be done through Linkedin Facebook? However, you would want to make contact ideally after you have put in extensive preparation to show them exactly what you have done and how you are fit for the firm.

    And just to throw in my own cents, We (the underdogs of underdogs) need to Work and prepare with the intention of trying to secure a job with MBB. Strive for excellence, be intellectually engaged and simply do our best.

    It may be a long shot but hopefully the striving and hard work will forge us into candidates with real, practical Management consulting skills. If we don’t get in with MBB, I guess a boutique or lower tier firm will end up picking up an exceptional addition for their firm.

    Either way, we WIN.

  • TJ Jan 30, 2013, 3:47 pm

    I agree with Bill on the post, great post indeed. I also had the same question, how did you manage to contact 1000 MBBs?

  • Bill Jan 5, 2013, 11:41 am

    That’s a great post. Thanks for sharing your experiences. The one point I found astonishing was that you emailed 1000 MBB’s. How did you find their contact info?

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