Thank you for providing so much quality online content!  I have a much better understanding of the case interview process now.

I want to learn more about life as a consultant, and the common up-or-out policy at Big 3 firms.

Can you tell us some more about the up-or-out policy at MBB?

From previous posts, I understand that at McKinsey:

1) 25% of folks are fired every two years.

2) Promotion is based primarily on our people skills.

What else should we keep in mind about the policy as we consider consulting for a future career?

Are performance reviews sufficiently frequent, that if you are in the “out” group, you see it coming and can plan accordingly?

And if you are in the “out” group, can you still benefit from the large alumni networks to find a new job?


My Reply:

I am not familiar with the policies at BCG or Bain… only McKinsey. And my knowledge of McKinsey is dated. With that in mind, one out of four are asked to leave every two years.

Success in the Associate role is based on your analytical skills. Whether you are promoted is in part based on your people skills.

If you are great with people but not analytical, you do not get promoted.  If you are analytical, but lousy with people, you don’t get promoted. You must be good at both.

Generally, most Associates have an easier time with the analytical than the people — it is apparently easier to be brilliant than to be brilliant and have clients like you.

Formal performance reviews are at the end of every project — sometimes in the middle if it’s a long project.

If you are smart or if you have good managers, you will ask for or they will give you feedback — daily.

When I was promoted to Associate, on my first project I actually served as a “Junior” Engagement Manager  — this is the role that Associates aspired to be promoted to after two years.

So about 26 months into my tenure with the firm, starting as a business analyst I had the title of Associate, but was doing Engagement Manager work on certain projects.

I gave my analysts feedback daily – and they got much better, much faster because of it. The managers I had that I liked working with the most gave me feedback probably twice a week — that was one of the keys to my success.

I got someone to tell me what I was doing right and what I was doing wrong. It was immensely helpful. I was not that good when I started at McKinsey. I got better because of the feedback.

(If you’re not being given feedback at least once or twice a week, then ask for it.)

At McKinsey, if you are in the “out” group, you usually get about a three to four month heads up — so it is not an abrupt transition.

If you are in the “out” group, it is perfectly acceptable to get people internally to help you find a role outside the firm.

I don’t how it officially works, but my perception was not that you got fired, but rather you know you did not get promoted when you were supposed to, and it’s understood that you need to quit within a few months.

You get full access to the alumni network.

It is not seen as a negative to be in the “out” group — as many in the “out” group go on to run billion dollar divisions of Fortune 500 companies — hardly a failure.

The “in group” is considered the A group, the “out group” is considered the A- group.

By the way, the secret is that many in the “out” group eventually become clients of the firm.