McKinsey PST Cutoff Score

McKinsey PST cutoff?

A lot of the McKinsey application process is shrouded in mystery, including most of the information surround the McKinsey Problem Solving Test or PST. Many applicants (both those who succeeded in getting to the first round of case interviews, and those who did not) wonder where the cutoff score for the McKinsey lies. Though there’s no official word from McKinsey on how many correct answers you need to pass the McKinsey PST, we do have information from our own experience and the candidates we’ve helped through the years.

How many pass the McKinsey PST?

It is estimated that roughly 66% of all applicants who take the McKinsey PST fail. With the average level of intelligence and ambition that applicants exhibit, the bar is set pretty high. Many applicants underestimate how difficult it is to ace the PST and do not prepare sufficiently. Don’t forget: with only 60 minutes to answer 26 questions (and read through 4 cases), you have just slightly more than 2 minutes to answer each question.

What is the McKinsey PST cutoff score?

When talking to applicants who both aced the McKinsey PST and those failed, we estimate that the cutoff score is 19 or 20 correct answers. This also matches our own experience with taking the test. There’s no penalty for wrong answers, so of all the answers you give, there need to be 20 correct ones. This also means that you should answer all questions, especially if you run out of time.

There is no difference in cutoff scores in different McKinsey offices: everywhere the cutoff score for the McKinsey PST is the same. The cutoff score is also independent from the position you’re applying to: from summer intern to Business Analyst, you get the same PST and the same cutoff.

Practice the McKinsey PST

Luckily, you can increase your chances of making the cutoff score by practicing the PST. You can do this by brushing up on your math skills, but also by taking practice McKinsey PST tests provided by

  • The Key to the PST: a fully-fledged practice PST with 26 questions and an extensive answer guide. In addition, it also features tips on how to ace the McKinsey PST both when preparing and during the actual Problem Solving Test.
  • The Second Key to the PST: an additional practice PST with a fresh set of cases and the same extensive answer guide.
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McKinsey PST Practice

McKinsey PST practice

Have your been invited to a nearby McKinsey office for your go at the McKinsey Problem Solving Test and are you looking for practice cases to make sure you ace it? Or are you considering a career in (strategy) consulting and want to make sure you know what is coming in advance? In either case: you’ve come to the right place for McKinsey PST practice.

How to practice the McKinsey PST?

The McKinsey PST is basically a written case interview: a series of questions on a company or non-profit firm to test your analytical skills. The questions are multiple choice, so you don’t have to write out your answers and can sometimes get away with educated guesses instead of exact calculations. There are lots of ways to practice the PST: both by brushing up the skills required during the Problem Solving Test itself as well as doing real practice PSTs (including the one you can download from the McKinsey website).

McKinsey PST practice: underlying skills

The McKinsey Problem Solving Test is meant to test your analytical and problem solving skills on paper. Since you cannot bring a calculator, it helps to train your mathematical skills as well. Though some practice is PST-specific, many of the skills necessary to ace the PST are also needed during the case interviews in later rounds.

  • Analytical skills: during the McKinsey PST you will be buried by facts and numbers, some of which are not relevant to answer the questions. You need to determine what is important and what not and analyse the important data. GRE and GMAT questions cover part of the skills required, as does practising real life case interviews with a partner.
  • Business Reading skills: you have to consume a lot of (financial) data on each case and it helps if you have a business “sense” that helps you discard the unimportant pieces of information and focus on what is truly important. Reading Business Insider, The Economist and similar magazines gives you the right mindset and increases your understanding of how business operate.
  • Mathematical skills: since you cannot bring a calculator, all computations have to be done by hand. The fastest is way to do these is by calculating in your head instead of on paper, but this required practice. For some great resources on how to improve your quantitative skills, click here.

McKinsey PST practice: practice PST’s

Another way to practice the McKinsey PST if by doing real practice Problem Solving Tests. Since 66% of candidates fail the McKinsey PST, it makes sense to prepare by doing real practice PSTs:

  • The Key to the PST: a fully-fledged practice PST with 26 questions and an extensive answer guide. In addition, it also features tips on how to ace the McKinsey PST both when preparing and during the actual Problem Solving Test.
  • The Second Key to the PST: an additional practice PST with a fresh set of cases and the same extensive answer guide.



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McKinsey Problem Solving Test (PST)

McKinsey Problem Solving Test PSTThe McKinsey Problem Solving Test or McKinsey PST is the second hurdle applicants to McKinsey have to face when interviewing for this top-tier strategy consulting firm.

Interviewing at McKinsey: consulting resume and cover letter

When you apply at McKinsey, you are asked to send along your resume and cover letter. Both of these documents will “travel with you” during the interview process: every interviewer will have a copy of them at his disposal, and every live interview will have questions based on information you provide in these documents. These questions might be to break the ice (“I’ve also ran the NY marathon, in 2013! What was your most memorable moment?”) or to zoom in on strengths or weaknesses you have in your curriculum (“You have a PhD in Physics, but could you give me an example where you exhibited exceptional leadership?”). Roughly two-thirds of candidates are rejected based on their resume and cover letter, so you want to make sure you have the best consulting resume and that your cover letter stands out. Only one third of all applicants are invited for the McKinsey PST.

The McKinsey PST

The McKinsey Problem Solving Test or PST is a written case interview, where your analytical and business skills are put to the test under a challenging time limit. While not everyone is invited to take the McKinsey PST (proven analytical skills such as a Math or Physics PhD, or prior consulting experience at a top-tier firm might exempt you), most candidates are asked to do the test. It features 4 business cases and 26 multiple choice questions that need to be answered in 60 minutes. Of the 60.000 candidates that take the test worldwide, 66% fail the McKinsey Problem Solving Test. How can you make sure you are invited to the first rounds of case interviews?

McKinsey Problem Solving Test Practice

Many candidates underestimate the difficulty of the PST and focus their preparations purely on the case interviews. Though the skills required to ace the McKinsey PST and subsequent case interviews largely overlap, the setting completely differs. Many candidates are surprised by the how little time they actually have and finish only part of the Test. Others misjudge the amount of calculations you have to make and forget to brush up their math skills.

Time limit

With only 60 minutes to answer 26 questions, you have roughly 2 minutes per question. This seems like plenty of time, but you get a lot of data to parse: both text and financial data. One way to make sure you’re not surprised by the 60 minute time limit is by practicing the McKinsey PST. Either using the practice PST from the or by using one of the practice PST’s we’ve made available.

Math skills

The McKinsey PST requires you to do a lot of calculations in a short amount of time. To make sure you calculate quickly and correctly you should practice your quantitative skills. There are plenty of sites and apps to test your mathematical prowess, and we’ve listed some in our article on case interview math. Don’t be put off by your initial performance: your skill will improve rapidly with daily practice.

McKinsey PST cutoff score

Many applicants wonder what the “passing grade” for the McKinsey PST is and we’ve talked with many candidates who both passed the test and those who did not. Based on our experience with the PST itself and our interviews of candidates, we believe the McKinsey PST cutoff is roughly 20 questions. This means that you need to get roughly 75% of all questions correct. This has implications for how you fill in the McKinsey PST: it’s better to guess answers if you’re running out of time (there’s no penalty for wrong answers) than to leave them open. Even better is to practice with practice PST’s, so you know what to expect.

Practice the McKinsey PST

Luckily, you can increase your chances of making the cutoff score by practicing the PST. You can do this by brushing up on your math skills, but also by taking practice McKinsey PST tests provided by

  • The Key to the PST: a fully-fledged practice PST with 26 questions and an extensive answer guide. In addition, it also features tips on how to ace the McKinsey PST both when preparing and during the actual Problem Solving Test.
  • The Second Key to the PST: an additional practice PST with a fresh set of cases and the same extensive answer guide.
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McKinsey PST: How many pass?

how many pass the McKinsey PST

When you are preparing to take the McKinsey PST you might wonder a lot about what your changes are: do you actually stand a change of gaining access to a case interview? And how can you maximize your chances? Have you already been invited, or do you still need to submit your resume and cover letter? Dominic Barton, the global managing director or head of “The Firm”, has recently said in an interview that McKinsey received 201.000 applications in 2012. Of those, only 2.100 (roughly 1%) received an offer.

The good news

The good news is that whether you pass the McKinsey PST or not is in your own hands: you can prepare for the mathematical and problem-solving aspects of the PST by using the free guides found on this site and the internet or by doing the practice tests from the ‘Key to the PST‘. Since you cannot bring a calculator, it helps to improve your math skills as well: practice makes perfect.

If you’ve already received your invitation to the McKinsey Problem Solving Test, there’s even more good news: it means you already got through the resume & cover letter scan. It’s estimated that only one third of the candidates get through this step and are invited to do the McKinsey PST. If you still have to submit your application, take a look at our articles on crafting the best consulting resume and cover letter to increase your changes of being invited.

The bad news

There is some bad news though: it’s estimated that roughly 66% of all candidates that are invited for the McKinsey PST fail the test. This is not surprising, as it is meant as a screening tool for potential candidates and McKinsey sets the bar in the consulting industry. This means only 1 out of every 10 applicants (21.000 globally in 2012) even gets to the first round case interview. Of these candidates, only 10% get an offer after the first and second rounds of interviews.

Practice the McKinsey PST

Luckily, you can increase your chances of getting to the first round of case interviews by practice. You can do this by brushing up on your math skills, but also by taking practice McKinsey PST tests provided by

  • The Key to the PST: a fully-fledged practice PST with 26 questions and an extensive answer guide. In addition, it also features tips on how to ace the McKinsey PST both when preparing and during the actual Problem Solving Test.
  • The Second Key to the PST: an additional practice PST with a fresh set of cases and the same extensive answer guide.


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PST practice with a new McKinsey PST practice book!


At we’ve been hard at work to give you the best of the best: an additional McKinsey PST practice book! We are proud to present this handbook, with a fresh practice PST consisting of 26 questions in 4 new cases. And just like before: there’s an extended “answers” section where you are given a full answer to every case question to learn from your mistakes.


What is the PST?

If you’re applying to a consulting job at one of the most prestigious strategy consultants of the world, McKinsey, you will face multiple rounds of case interviews. If you do not have a technical background, they might not grant you a “real” case interview directly, but first ask you to complete the McKinsey Problem Solving Test, or PST. It’s a written case interview, with multiple cases and 26 questions that need to be answered within 60 minutes.

If you prove your worth with the PST, you’ll get the interview. Otherwise: you’re out.


Where can I buy The Second Key to the PST?

All you have to do to buy our new book (it’s available as a direct download e-book, BTW) is to click this link. If you complete the purchase, we’ll send a download link to you right away. After downloading the book, you can read it on any device you like or print it out and make the test in paper, to make it as life-like as possible. But wait!


Special offer: The Prep Pack

With “The Prep Pack” you’ll not only get newly released “The Second Key to the PST”, but also the original “The Key to the PST” and “Cracking the Case“: our book for cracking case interviews. Instead of paying the full price of $ 61, you will only pay $ 37! A 40% discount, only available on


Click here to buy The Prep Pack


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The McKinsey Problem Solving Test (PST): How to ace it.

In this post we will delve deeper into McKinsey and it’s recruitment process. Today we will discuss the McKinsey Problem Solving Test or PST. We already explored the history of McKinsey and later this week we will dive into the specifics of their case interviewing methods. But today it’s all about the McKinsey Problem Solving Test: a multiple choice test that is really a pen-and-paper case interview in sixty minutes (70 minutes for non-native speakers as the test is in English only).

Originally developed to help streamline the application process and reduce the burden on actual consultants (read: billable hours) giving case interviews to hopeless candidates. Since there are thousands of McKinsey applicants worldwide in any given year, the PST has evolved as a thoroughly tested selection tool with high predictive capabilities. If a candidate passes the McKinsey Problem Solving Test, his or her chances to ace the case interview are also considerably higher. On the other hand, if you fail the PST you will have a hard time convincing McKinsey that you should be allowed to pass to the next round: the McKinsey Problem Solving Test features a true cut-off score: if you don’t make it, you’re out.


The McKinsey PST

So, what is the PST all about? It consists of about 25 questions based on five or six cases. Every case starts with a short description of the company, some data on revenues or number of employees. Maybe a chart on how profit has evolved through the years. At the end, there’s often a quote of the CEO or manager that has hired you with the question they want you to solve. Then there are about 5 questions about the case, either based on the info in the introduction or some new piece of data (a table, a chart) followed by a question. When I took the McKinsey Problem Solving Test for example, there was a case about a fish restaurant who served three kinds of fresh fish. The first question was about some piece of information hidden in the introduction. After the fourth question, a new problem was introduced, as the chef wanted to buy an automatic shrimp peeler and wondered whether it was worth the investment. The final two questions were on that new problem.

What do you need to do to pass the McKinsey Problem Solving Test? First of all, you need to read both quickly and carefully. Secondly, you need to polish up your math: the PST will always feature some quantitative questions. And finally: practice, practice, practice!



Skim the introduction and underline important data or observations. Read the question very carefully. For example, the first question in the fish restaurant case was (along the lines of):

“What is the objective of the restaurant owner?”

You then go back to the introduction, in which the owner is quoted (a piece of info you should have underlined), saying: “I want to reduce the amount of fresh fish per plate so I can reduce prices and attract more customers”. Now pick the best answer:

  1. The owner’s goal is to reduce prices.
  2. The owner’s goal is to reduce cost.
  3. The owner’s goal is to increase profit.
  4. The owner’s goal is to increase the amount of sales.

All of the above are right, or a logical result of the actions of the owner. The best answer however, is D: as the goal of the owner is to increase the amount of customers. Maybe the answer surprises you, but take this piece of advice: during your interviewing process and while taking the PST you’ll have to think as a consultant. Often the client requests a certain analysis or asks for a certain problem to be solved that is not really the problem. Many times you’ll have to rephrase the client’s question and drive down to the real problem they face. Consulting firms look for this skill in candidates, and it’s no surprise these questions also turn up in the PST. Another thing you could do is to read the questions first so you know what is important, before you read the ‘real’ info. Since you only have a limited amount of time, you don’t want to waste time while trying to figure out the exact meaning of a graph or table.



While you are not allowed to bring a calculator, the McKinsey Problem Solving Test features some quantitative questions as well. It’s designed to give candidates with all backgrounds (non-business ones as well) an even chance, so don’t expect NPV calculations or the like. But the calculations are both tough and time-consuming: remember that you have only 60 or 70 minutes to finish the test. It does help to brush up your math, so check this post on case interview math. Being able to calculate out of your head quickly and accurately is beneficial both during your McKinsey Problem Solving Test and your real case interviews and is one of those things you can get really good at with daily practice. It’s like training a muscle: it needs patience and practice, so get started as soon as possible.



McKinsey PST Problem Solving Test practice bookPractice makes perfect, but there is very little material online that compares to the real McKinsey Problem Solving Test. You can use the previous McKinsey PST from their website, use PST-like tests from firms started by McKinsey alumni or practice by making the storyline questions in GRE-books.

All of them are either not very much like the ‘real’ PST or give you very little insight into the tactics you can employ to maximize your score on the PST. Every bit of practice helps, which is why you can download these practice materials for free below. But if you want to learn how to ace the Problem Solving Test with confidence, with a full practice PST to put your skills to the test, I suggest taking a look at  “The Key to the PST”, which includes inside info on how to prepare and a full Practice PST with a detailed answer guide to learn from your mistakes.

I wrote the book because a friend of mine who had to take the PST really liked the section on PST-preparation in my other book, “Cracking the Case“. He asked me to write a full sample test and I walked him through the test and his answers. After he successfully took his PST, he urged me to put the sample test I wrote online so others could practice with it as well. I decided to add the full PST-preparation section from “Cracking the Case” to the sample test, as well as a detailed answer guide (I can’t walk you through your answers personally, unfortunately). Since putting it online in June 2012, hundreds have downloaded “The Key to the PST” to help prepare for their test.

Not sure why you would need to practice? One of the readers of my book experienced first hand why practice helps:

I recently used your book to prepare for the cases. It was really helpful. I have just gotten news that I passed the test and the wonderful thing is I managed to finish with some 10 minutes to spare and revise the bits I was unsure of. Your guide really helped. Thanks again.

You can get it now for just $17, just click to buy it now or click here for more info. Don’t want to spend any money yet? You can also use the material I gathered below: it’s free. Everything I’ve gathered over the years is free to download and to use as you like:

- McKinsey Problem Solving Test 2011 Practice 

- McKinsey Problem Solving Test 2011 Coaching Guide

- McKinsey Problem Solving Test Practice: 2001 Problem Solving Test

- McKinsey Problem Solving Test Practice: Monitor Test

- McKinsey Problem Solving Test Practice: 2020 Test  

But if you want inside information on how to ace the PST, including a complete practice PST with detailed answer guide, I advise you to take a look at my book on the subject. “The Key to the PST” is available now for just $17! Click for more info.

Good luck with your PST!

– Steve


Update: A reader  pointed me to some other great resources:

Another good way to practice is using GRE training materials, especially the story-line questions. Below are links to three GRE books:

Kaplan GRE Exam Math Workbook (Kaplan GRE Math Workbook)

GRE Math Prep Course (Nova’s GRE Prep Course)

CliffsNotes Math Review for Standardized Tests (CliffsTestPrep)

And also some free practice online:

Sample GRE questions from

Sparknotes on Data Interpretation

Five (easy) Data Interpretation tests on IndiaBix


Good luck!

– Steve

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The McKinsey Case Interview

The final post in our McKinsey Week series: the McKinsey Case Interview. In this special week, we’ve focused on the most well-known strategic consultant we all love (and hate): McKinsey & Company. We’ve explored the long history of McKinsey, both the company’s roots and more recent developments. This weekend, we featured a post on the McKinsey PST: the first ‘hurdle’ every aspiring McKinsey consultant or intern will face.

Today we will focus on the steps that come after the resume selection and the Problem Solving Test. For if you were lucky, smart or prepared enough to make it to the interviews, you’d better get ready for the case interview. The case interview is the selection method of choice in the strategic consulting industry and has recently found its way to the other (more general) management consulting firms as well.

In this article you can find information on the specific way McKinsey handles the case interview, but the basics are similar across firms. You will face a (senior) consultant or engagement leader in the first rounds and a principals and partners in the final rounds in a one-on-one conversation. They might start with some general questions on your background and resume, but quickly move on to the case. The business cases you’ll be asked to solve will be as varied as consulting life itself, as they are often taken from the personal experience of the interviewer. Click if you would like to learn how to confidently solve a case interview.

McKinsey case interviews require the same approach as any case interview, but they differ on some specific parts. The first difference is not even in the way the case is handled, but during what is often called the ‘experience interview’ or ‘airport test’ part of the interview: the first minutes in which the interviewer will ask questions about your background. McKinsey is a leading company looking for future leaders. A question you’re sure to be asked, especially during the first rounds, is:

Tell me about a time you exhibited real leadership”

Be prepared for these kind of questions! It’s something I also elaborate on in my book: consulting firms such as McKinsey are not just looking for the smartest people, they want the smartest guys and gals with people skills. You can expect this question during interviews at any other firm as well, but McKinsey focuses more on leadership than other firms, so be prepared.

Another difference is that the McKinsey case interview is more often interviewer-led than other firms. What does this mean? An interviewer-led case interview will be structured by the interviewer, who will ask you to solve a specific part of the case (on a qualitative or quantitative way) and after you present a solution, he or she will walk you to the next specific issue. For example:

What would influence the demand of replacement car tires in the USA?”

[you think of the four to six most important factors and answer the question]

Very well, given those factors, what would be the yearly market for replacement car tires in the state of New York?

[you structure the question using the factors you mentioned and calculate the market size]

Ok, so the CEO of a national car maintenance chain has asked you to investigate whether it’ll be a good idea to acquire a local car tire manufacturer, what would be the advantages and disadvantages, you think?”

And so on, and so on. The interviewee-led case interview will put your problem structuring skills more to the test, as you’ll have to structure the whole case on your own, making sure your structure is completely MECE. You will be the one forming hypotheses and then gathering data to prove or disprove them, with help of assumptions or information from the interviewer. These structures should follow the Minto Pyramid Principle, if possible. We will delve deeper into how to solve case interview questions in my book.

Don’t forget that regional differences also influence the kind of questions you will get, since cases are often based on real consultant work. So you can expect more financial cases when applying to the New York office, more oil/energy when applying to the Houston office and more tech/IT oriented questions when applying to the Chennai (India) office of McKinsey.

Standing out above the rest of the candidates is all about preparation. All applicants are smart. All applicants come from top schools. All applicants have good grades. But not all candidates are as prepared as you can be. So know everything there is to know, read up on news in the sectors you can expect questions from. And above all: practice cases with a friend, read all the info available on the web and this website, read my book.

If you have comments, questions or stories to share: comment below and I’ll share my thoughts or improve this article. Trouble practicing for the McKinsey PST? Also applying to other firms? Check out our Company Profiles page! If not, good luck with your McKinsey Case Interviews!

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The Consulting Cover Letter

Before you even get to the case interviews to which this blog is dedicated, you’ll have to apply to the firm you’d like to work for. When applying for a consulting firm such as McKinsey or BCG, you’ll probably be asked to send them three things:

  1. A cover letter
  2. Your resume
  3. Your grades from high school and university

Aside from falsification, there is little you can do about nr.3 on this list, so we will focus on the cover letter and resume. Since so much can (and does) go wrong with these basic elements of your application I’ll cover both on this blog, starting with the cover letter.


The first step

Let’s first debunk a myth here: sending your application to the firm’s recruitment manager is not the first step in the interviewing process. At least, it should not be, even though it is the case for 90% of applicants. Your application process should start with networking: visiting recruitment events, having coffee with consultants and searching through the alumni network of your university for (ex-)consultants. All with the goal of having your application recommended by one of these people. Even if they aren’t able to recommend you, you can still refer to these meetings in your cover letter, easily differentiating you from 90% of the applicants who did not take this opportunity.


The 30-second rule

Referring to a previous event or a (former) employee shows you did your research and directly sets you apart from the rest of the applicants, who send typical letters in which they link personal characteristic X to firm benefit Y. Since these companies get hundreds and sometimes thousands of applications each month, not every cover letter is read: they are scanned. So don’t expect them to read a four-page document in which you elaborate on why you are the perfect consultant. You just proved them otherwise. The limited timeframe is why (positive!) differentiation is so important: you only get 30 seconds to prove you need to be invited for the interview.


Step into their shoes

So, every application gets about 30 seconds worth of attention. Those 30 seconds will determine whether your application ends up on the ‘reject’ or the ‘invite’ pile. You’ll want to make that decision as easy as possible for the person scanning your cover letter. Think about the poor guy sifting through those endless piles of boring letters, trying to decide whether every candidate is a consultant or not in a minute or less (or do you want to spend the evening reading these letters as well?). How would you feel? What would the perfect cover letter look like?


The perfect cover letter is one in which the decision is made easy, where you can be sure that rejecting candidate X with the 7 page cover letter saves both the firm and the candidate precious time and where candidate Y has to be invited to the interview because we risk losing his or her talent to a competitor. So you need to do two things in your cover letter:

  • Stand out
  • Communicate effectively

There are multiple ways of standing out from the crowd and differentiate from the bulk of applicants (in both negative and positive ways). In my book I discuss five proven methods in great detail and help you secure that interview invitation. In our next post, we’ll focus on that other important document that you send with each application: your resume.

Good luck!

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BCG Case Interview

In our last post, we looked at the history of BCG. And following CaseInterviewHQ tradition, we will now continue with the specifics of the Boston Consulting Group (Case) Interview process, as we did with the McKinsey Case Interview. The basic structure of the case interview is the same, so I really recommend reading the McKinsey post (again).

About 75% of the interviewing process overlaps between firms, and within firms there is about 90% overlap. That means there are differences between firms but there are also subtle differences between offices. The latter is caused by specialization: New York offices focus more on finance, Detroit offices focus more on manufacturing. So what makes the Boston Consulting Group different from the rest?


The Interview Process

Normally, the process would be six case interviews with consultants in ascending seniority. So while you might meet a senior consultant in your first rounds, your final rounds will almost always be with partners. There could also be five case interviews, with the first interview being a telephone interview with recruitment, or an ‘experience interview’ (focused on your resume and motivation) at the office, also with recruitment. We’ll come back to the case interview later, first a closer look at some recent developments in the BCG recruitment process: the computer test and the written case interview.


Computer Test

A pretty recent development, currently only employed in Western Europe, is the computer test. While I have no personal experience with it, I have been told that it is comparable to the McKinsey PST, but focuses more on the quantitative part. To me, it looks like an intelligence test adapted specifically to the consulting practice. It’s a first round selection tool and probably features a cut-off score: if you beat it, you can expect an invitation to the case interviews, otherwise it’s over.


The Written Case

At BCG, you can expect two kinds of case interviews. Aside from the normal ‘conversational style’ interview where you ask questions to the interviewer and solve a case together, some BCG offices feature a written case. In a written case interview, you’re asked to solve a specific question for a hypothetical client and you’ll be handed a pack of paper with analyses. You’re then given one hour to analyse the data and present your findings after one hour. Since there is too much data to read and investigate everything (just as in real consultant life), you need to structure your analysis and focus on what’s important. Start with a hypothesis (“Company X can improve profit by reducing costs”) and set out to (dis)prove this hypothesis using the data you’ve been given: basically the same method as used during real case interviews.

There are good and bad ways to structure your analysis and we discussed the consultant’s method of choice a few weeks ago: the Minto Pyramid Principle. Using the above example (“Company X can improve profit by reducing costs”), you will want to split the analysis in MECE categories. In this case, Revenue and Cost would be interesting area’s of investigation and MECE (Mutually Exclusive and Collectively Exhaustive): there are no other factors influencing profit. Since your hypothesis is that reducing cost will improve profits, you then break down costs into MECE-categories, for example Fixed and Variable, but you could also segment cost per product line or country. If there are indeed huge potential cost savings, you have proven your hypothesis and can start working on recommendations. If not, you change your hypothesis and start looking at the other branch of your analysis: Profit. You then continue to dig down until you’ve found the problem and it’s solution. But always let a hypothesis guide your analysis, an important thing to keep in mind even during normal case interviews. A great way to practice written cases is the Interactive Case on the BCG website.


Where BCG differs

Apart from the regional differences and the ‘new’ case interview methods discussed above, the Boston Consulting Company is a pretty selective bunch. They’ll be looking for candidates that ace their case interviews (so don’t screw up your math) and are passionate and enthusiastic about consulting at the same time. Try not to underestimate that ‘soft’ part of the interview, as it really does influence your chances a great deal.

BCG is also more qualitative in their cases then competitors, McKinsey in particular (another reason to polish up your math). BCG case interviews are also far more often ‘interviewee-led’, so don’t expect much from the consultant on the other end of the table, again different from the McKinsey case interview which is more often led by the interviewer.

Other than that, I can only say that practice does help, giving you the self-confidence necessary to appear relaxed and pleasant. More info on the consulting interview process (from cover letter to case interview), can be found in my book and on the Company Profiles page. Good Luck!

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BCG: From 1 Phone Line to 4,400 Consultants in 50 Years

This time, we’ll look at the biggest competitor for McKinsey: The Boston Consulting Group (BCG). Next week, we’ll take an in-depth look at the recruiting and BCG case interviewing process, which differs from region to region. For example, some use an analytical test as the McKinsey PST, other offices focus only on case interviews and some add a one-hour ‘experience interview’ in the first rounds to make sure you fit with office culture.

But today as a general introduction and guidance for the one or two resume questions you get at the beginning of each case: the history of the Boston Consulting Group.


A New Perspective

Founded in 1963 by Bruce Henderson (ex-Arthur D. Little) as part of the Boston Safe Deposit and Trust Company, with Henderson as sole consultant, the management consulting firm that would later be known as the Boston Consulting Group directly started challenging business literature status quo. These regular essays called ‘Perspectives’ would form the platform from which BCG would launch its famous business concepts.


The Experience Curve

The first of these concepts developed by Henderson was inspired by work in the semiconductor industry in an attempt to understand the quick price drops. Experience producing a product allows a firm to lower production costs as cumulative volume (‘experience’) increases. It affirmed the importance of increasing market share and production scale, as it allows you to reap cost benefits.

Dogs, Question Marks, Stars and Cash Cows

Only two years later another famous concept would find its way into the ‘Perspectives': the Growth-Share Matrix, or just the BCG-matrix. Allowing firms to categorize their product portfolio into categories and rationalize their cash flows: invest money from cash cows into stars and question marks, divest dogs. It resurfaced during the 80’s when it was used to categorize firms in investment portfolios to identify opportunities and divest divisions or companies with negative cash flows.

From Bill Bain Until Now

In 1973, Bill Bain leaves BCG to start up his own Boston consulting firm: Bain & Company. Meanwhile, BCG continues to grow and expand internationally. The Boston Consulting Group maintains its reputation as a research-driven and status-quo challenging company, being the first to identify the network-structure and the resource based view of the firm. Now 4,400 consultants strong, it’s the second largest firm (McKinsey still has about twice as much consultants at 9,000) in the strategic consulting industry and still growing.

During the interview

When interviewing with BCG, know that they have always been innovators and still love to challenge the status quo in economic theory and business practice. If you can show that you’ve been innovative in your PhD-research or other area’s of your life, do so! Also, know their five pillars and try to match your ambitions with one or more of these: show that you’re prepared and passionate about working for BCG. Acing the cases and knowing your math is only part of the interview, the soft part is equally important!

Want to know how to communicate passion and enthusiasm without looking like  a clown? Buy my book! Also applying at other firms? Check out the Company Profiles. And as always, good luck with your interviews!


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