BY Sydney LakeJuly 21, 2022, 3:00 PM

A sign of U.S.-based McKinsey & Company management consulting firm in Geneva, as seen in April 2022. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI—AFP/Getty Images)

Consulting is one of the most popular careers for recent MBA graduates. In fact, top business school programs in 2021 sent between 16% and 36% of their graduating MBA classes to work in the consulting industry, according to data from ClearAdmit, a website that provides resources for aspiring and current business school students, including admissions advice and information about MBA programs.

Not only is consulting one of the most sought after career paths—it’s also one of the most lucrative for MBA graduates. Top consulting firms, including McKinsey & Co., Bain & Co., and Boston Consulting Group shell out $175,000 starting base salaries for MBA grads, according to Management Consulted, a company that offers prep and training for professionals entering the industry. Plus, these MBA alums are raking in major signing and performance bonuses that can total approximately $75,000.

While attending a top-ranked MBA program can certainly give candidates a leg up, there’s no guarantee of landing a job at one of the elite consulting firms. Fortune sat down with Adriana Crespo, McKinsey’s manager of recruiting operations, to find out more about the company’s recruiting process for MBA hires—and what it takes to make the cut.

The following interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

McKinsey likes to hire MBA students for internships first

Fortune: How does the recruitment process work for MBA students?

Crespo: Typically, first-year recruiting for summer internships starts at the tail end of September or the beginning of October for most schools. At that time, we go into presentations, panels, coffee chats, all the wonderful things that help the students get to know us—the day in the life, what it’s actually like to be a consultant, all those things.

They get to meet the recruiters. They get to meet people from the offices. Then we start to move into the assessment phase where we start to talk about how interviews work and how casing works. The schools usually have consulting clubs that help prep them and tell them what it’s like to interview. You do have to prep for our interviews because there is a business case that is presented during the interviews.

Once you go through the interview for the internship, then they get a certain amount of weeks to decide whether they would like to join us for the summer. Within that phase, they come to the office again. We’ll tell them about professional development. We’ll set up lunches for them and dinners and have a little fun—and show them more about what our culture is really like live and in-person.

And then they accept their offer—hopefully, fingers crossed—and then they stay in touch with the offices and the recruiters from the offices. Depending on their school calendar, some hires begin the summer internship between the tail end of May and mid-June. 

What does the summer internship look like?

Interns are with us for 10 weeks. It’s a paid internship and they get the real deal. They are assigned to teams. They own their own work streams. There are expectations that you will perform like any other consultant as if you just started with the firm. Nobody really knows your summer intern except for your team. Clients don’t know because we want them to fully integrate and fully get the experience.

McKinsey interviews focuses equally on problem-solving, personal experience

What’s the interviewing process like and what is your advice for acing it?

We have a problem-solving portion to each interview and a personal experience portion—and both are equally weighted. If you are not hitting both, it’s just not gonna happen. We definitely want to give you a little bit more “at bats,” in a sense. You not only have to have the analytical skills, but you have to have the people skills.

It’s a bit grueling. I describe it as like prepping for a GMAT or any other big test that you’re going to take. You have to put in the work to be able to be successful. Our interview process is tough. You not only have to walk through a business case, but you also have to answer questions around a personal experience. 

Take the time to prepare. You have to put in the work—you really do. That goes for anybody at any school, regardless of resources. Run the cases, and use your friends at first. When you feel secure with practicing with those folks, move on to practicing maybe with somebody at McKinsey, maybe a buddy, maybe somebody you’ve connected with. Run a practice case with them and then listen to the feedback. I’m not saying do 80 practice cases. I’ve heard of people doing that. Do it to the place where you get comfortable. 

For the personal experience portion, video yourself and then watch it. If you were the assessor or the interviewer, how does that make you feel? We’re our own harshest critics. I’m not saying to be mean to yourself. But put yourself in the assessor’s shoes.

How to land a full-time role at McKinsey

What if an MBA student isn’t hired as an intern? Can they still get hired full-time?

We stay in touch with folks. We tell them when to expect hearing from us again, and then we’ll reconnect with them sometime in August, and the process goes by quicker. 

They’ve already been through the process. They’ve already had a lot of conversations. This is now mostly like a reconnection and a resume drop. Our application deadline for full-time MBAs is Sept. 9th across all schools, regardless of school calendar. Then we make interview selections and then interviews happen and all is said and done.

Do summer interns have to reapply to be considered for a full-time position?

No, they don’t. If you were a summer intern, you get an offer to return, and you get a certain period of time to decide if you want to come back. At the end of the summer if you performed well and did everything, you get an offer to return.

How many MBAs do you hire every year?

For summer internship we hired our biggest summer internship class ever at about 500 just for MBAs across all U.S. schools. It could vary anywhere from places like Booth, HBS, Kellogg, Wharton, Stanford—to Rice, CMU, UT Austin, Notre Dame. Very, very healthy year this year. Then for a full time, that just varies. I don’t remember last year’s, but again, it was a very healthy pipeline in terms of the amount that we hired.

Our bigger sources are Wharton, Booth, Kellogg—we have great relationships with their career services. We’re also expanding our reach also to a lot of the HBCUs. We’re building that relationship with career services, and we’ve been able to start to hire folks from those schools. We’re excited about those opportunities. 

Highlight your leadership experience, be true to yourself

What skillsets are most important to McKinsey?

Having leadership experience. You could be a leader in your community. You could be a leader in a club, you could be a leader in so many ways. That’s what I love about our process. People think they’d have to keep it to a business example or a work example—and you don’t. We want to hear about all those other things that you have going on.

Also entrepreneurship. You could be a parent and maybe started something for the kids at the school for your children. That’s entrepreneurship. You can show it to me in so many different ways. And again, teamwork. It doesn’t always have to be in a work setting. You can shine in so many different ways, but I would definitely say leadership, teamwork, and entrepreneurship. 

What other advice do you have for MBAs who want to work at McKinsey?

Be true to yourself. Really take a step back and really focus on the things you want to get out of the process, how you’re feeling, and your original intentions. I think that helps a lot to just do a little bit of that reflection before.

It will all work out in the end how it’s supposed to. Stick to you. 

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