How detailed does the McKinsey Personal Experience Interview really get?

And it is true that interviewers sometimes ask about the precise words you were using in a specific situation of your PEI example?

After having the first PEI coaching session with me, basically all candidates are really surprised by how detailed the McKinsey PEI gets. Most candidates finish preparing their examples by themselves on a level where it just starts to get interesting for the interviewer.

As surprising as the depth of the PEI is for candidates, as problematic and as big of a mistake is not going deep enough in your examples for your interview success. In order to get this right in your Personal Experience Interview, let’s first look at why McKinsey goes into such a high level of detail. Once you understand this, it will be much easier for you to prepare your examples accordingly.

Just in case you are wondering if McKinsey has developed the PEI just for fun and to make candidates’ life more difficult – no, of course not. McKinsey has chosen those 3 dimensions very deliberately, because they think that those 3 dimensions are a strong predictor of success in top management consulting. Therefore they naturally want to assess those dimensions as closely as possible, and this is feasible best by looking at your very specific behaviour in very concrete situations.

At the same time, it is easy to completely fake (in the worst case) a full example if you just need to present it on a high-level. As the general direction of the PEI is quite clear and as it’s therefore possible to prepare your examples very well in advance, looking at very specific situations and your behaviour in great detail also serves as protection against pre-fabricated examples which did not happen this way in reality.

When looking at an example in general, it is just the context in which your specific behavior and action takes place. You will spend by far the largest part of the Personal Experience Interview going through a few very specific situations within your overall example, explaining every small action and the according decision-making rationale in great detail.

Therefore, the level of detail required at the McKinsey PEI is extremely high. You need to make sure in your prep that you can explain every single step in a specific situation, and even more importantly, your decision-making rationale why you chose to behave exactly this way in the respective situation.

Especially considering the Leadership and Personal Impact dimension, in critical situations it is often the small details which matter and which make a huge difference on the outcome. As a consequence, it is possible that your interviewer will also ask you about the specific words you were using at a certain point in time, as this might have been really important given the situation. You shouldn’t expect that your McKinsey interviewer will ask about specific words often during the PEI, but it can and usually will happen at very critical stages of your example, when the specific words chosen really could have had a big impact on the situation and thus the result which you achieved.

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