Getting an offer from McKinsey now involves building a reef and saving a plant
Updated: Jun 8
Jobs at Top Tier strategy consulting firms (McKinsey, BCG, and Bain) are notoriously competitive.
McKinsey alone receives over 200,000 CVs a year, for approximately 2,000 open positions in the strategy consulting team worldwide. If McKinsey recruiters spent even a minute on each CV that would translate to about 18 man-years. Obviously, they don’t.
You have a 1% chance of getting a job at McKinsey. The firm interviews approximately 10% of candidates and extends offers to 10% of these.
You need to make your CV stand out. The best way to do so is to leverage brand names. Did you go to a top 20 university and achieve a 4.0 GPA (in the US) / First (in the UK)? Did you work for a known brand name? Did you make a spectacular achievement in Sports, Arts, or Not-for-profit? Make sure these are noticeable.
McKinsey needs an objective way to assess as many candidates as possible. It has used the PST (Problem Solving Test) to do so, and now (arguably, about time!) the firm is leveraging a digital, low-cost platform developed by Imbellus.
In this article, we will focus on the third point. From 2018, McKinsey started asking candidates to take the McKinsey Digital Assessment alongside the PST (Problem Solving Test). After a year of testing and as it was proven to highly correlate with the PST pass rates (scientifically!), the firm is now rolling it out globally as the sole assessment tool for candidates before inviting them to first-round interviews.
What is it?
McKinsey Digital Assessment is based on a game developed by an American start-up Imbellus that uses Artificial Intelligence to place candidates in a range of lifelike scenarios and assess their decision-making skills and cognitive processes. Thus far it has been only deployed at McKinsey, but rest assured that other top tier consultancies will be quick to follow with a digital game-based assessment of their own.
Imbellus’ psychologists designed the game to evaluate candidates across five cognitive abilities:
Critical thinking: forming a judgment based on a set of data
Decision making: selecting the best course of action under time constraints
Meta-cognition: planning and monitoring own learning and performance
Situational awareness: forecasting outcomes based on the relationship between multiple variables
Systems thinking: understanding cause and effect relationships
McKinsey says that the game tracks every move of the mouse, hesitation, and time spent on every action. It then uses data science to score the candidate across the five abilities.
How does it work?
The assessment consists of two scenarios, each taking approximately 30 minutes, with the second scenario broken into three parts. While the time limits are recommended, it has been reported that candidates who spend more time in the first scenario, have less time for the second one.
1. Ecosystem Management: candidates are expected to create a sustainable ecosystem either on a mountain ridge or a coral reef. The first step is to select the best location based on a range of attributes, such as wind speed, pH of the soil, and temperature; next choose 8 species of animals and plants from a selection of 40 based on a range of characteristics, such as number of calories needed to survive and ideal environment.
The most complex part is matching the animals to each other by calculating the number of calories they need to consume vs the number of calories they offer when consumed. Working down the food chain, starting from the predators can simplify the task.
2. Protect the Plant: candidates need to protect a plant species from invading predators through six rounds of play, using the provided means, such as other predators and terrain barriers, to stop or slow them down.
One of the challenges is deploying the majority of tools before knowing where the invasion will start or what the effect of the measures will be on the invaders. The key is to experiment, carefully record the results, and leverage the learnings in subsequent rounds.
How to succeed?
No-one really knows how to “win” in the game just yet, but one thing not to do, is to try and replicate the actions of someone who has taken the assessment before. The game has enough variability to prevent any attempt of cheating. Every user sees a unique version of the scenarios.
It is especially important to read the instructions carefully and take the time in the tutorials. There are a lot of details that can feel overwhelming. Think 80/20 and get comfortable with making decisions in conditions of ambiguity, and partial information, while always rooting the decisions in the facts.
How to prepare?
One of the reasons for switching to Imbellus is that candidates can prepare for the PST. Multiple previous and mock tests available online can get you in order for the old 1 hour, 26 questions test. McKinsey found a strong bias towards applicants with the time and resources to purchase mock tests and practice for the PST.
The Digital Assessment is meant to be a novel scenario for applicants, which is still evolving and changing between recruitment cycles. In theory, the game should prevent candidates with exact sciences background from having an advantage. Instead, it tests logic, decision-making, and clarity of thought.
If you are into video games, you are in luck! If not, it might be a time to start. Candidates report that the Imbellus assessment reminds them of the popular category of “tower defence” games, in particular, Kingdom Rush, Plants vs Zombies and Planet Zoo. Worst case, this is another, potentially useful way to spend time during the quarantine.
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