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McKinsey’s Personal Experience Interview: How to Prepare for it

The Personal Experience Interview (PEI) element of the recruitment process at McKinsey is a little different than the ‘fit’ interview questions you may come across at BCG or Bain.

Typically, you won’t be asked generic opening questions such as ‘Tell me about yourself’ or ‘Why do you want to join McKinsey?’. Instead, this part of the interview, which usually takes around 15-20 minutes of the full 45-50 minute interview, will involve you talking about one specific experience in detail.

This makes PEI a very different ‘kettle of fish’ from other typical interviews, so you need to prepare for them a little differently.

Here are our top tips to help you prepare.

Key Takeaways:

  • In the Personal Experience Interview (PEI), interviewers focus on one particular experience to understand your Inclusive Leadership, Personal Impact, Entrepreneurial Drive, and Courageous Change.
  • Prepare 8 achievement stories that you’d like to use in your interviews. These stories should include one solid answer to each of the 4 PEI dimensions and a backup.
  • Focus on your personal contribution to the scenario and not what the team did or the resulting outcome.
  • Avoid sounding over-rehearsed, do not script the story word for word, instead aim to tell a story of your personal achievement to the interviewer.

Get familiar with the exercise

First, make sure you understand what dimensions McKinsey are testing for in the PEI. These are typically Inclusive Leadership, Personal Impact, Entrepreneurial Drive, and Courageous Change. In other words, you’re being asked to demonstrate your ‘soft skills’ before moving on to the ‘hard’ skills required to solve a case question.

An inclusive leader does not need to have held formal titles of leadership in their schools, places of employment, or society. Rather, they have a track record at the forefront of bringing out the best in people in endeavors undertaken with a diverse team. Your personal impact can be demonstrated clearly with solid examples of convincing others in different settings. Communicating your diligence and grit displayed in past tasks would help to exhibit your entrepreneurial drive.

If you want to understand these dimensions in more detail and see what a McKinsey PEI looks like in real life, check out our Interview Prep Course. It includes an example of a top-mark PEI interview with a candidate who went on to join McKinsey.

Looking for the best preparation to ace your case interviews?
CaseCoach’s Interview Prep Course includes all the video lectures, sample interviews, case material, and practice tools you need.

Prepare your achievement stories

With the dimensions in mind, identify your top 8 achievement stories that you’d like to use in your interviews. These stories should include one solid answer to each of the 4 PEI dimensions and a backup answer.

McKinsey actually shares what kind of story they would fit each of the 4 main PEI dimensions.

  • For Inclusive leadership, candidates should be prepared to share an example of a time they effectively worked with people with different backgrounds.
  • For Personal impact, candidates should be prepared to explain a challenging situation they encountered when working with someone with an opposing opinion to their own.
  • For Entrepreneurial Drive, candidates should be prepared to talk about a time they worked to achieve something outside their comfort zone.
  • For Courageous change, candidates should be prepared to revisit a time they experienced significant change or encountered an ambiguous situation and share the actions they took to adapt to the new circumstances.

We recommend not repeating the same story within the same interview round because when the interviewers triangulate scores at the end of the day, you want to have shown a variety of achievements rather than risk looking like a ‘one trick pony.’

The difficulty of the PEI resides in telling these stories concisely while saying enough to impress and to get into the details of your actions. For this, we recommend a simple framework with proven success: share the situation, explain the main challenges, describe your actions, and conclude with the results.

Again, it is important to emphasize that the focus is on you. The interviewer wants to know YOUR actions, your problem-solving process and reasoning behind each action taken, any follow-ups resulting from your actions, and your learnings from the experience.

Not doing this will lead to making a common mistake here by candidates, i.e., spending significant time talking about context or about actions taken by “the team” or other people rather than focusing on your actions and motivations.

Don’t rehearse too much

We recommend you practice telling your stories in case retelling them prompts any more details you’d like to share, but we do not recommend scripting your stories word-for-word or rehearsing more than a couple of times.

An over-rehearsed achievement story runs the risk of making you come across as over-prepared. Instead, you want to make the PEI feel like a conversation between you and your interviewer.

It’s also worth noting that the interviewer may interject at any point to ask a specific question or to encourage you to tell them more about a specific situation. Don’t be put off by this. The interviewer is simply looking for more content to assess you on and is likely trying to find a reason to mark you favorably on the key dimensions being tested—they just need to hear the evidence first!

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