The McKinsey Personal Experience Interview (PEI) is asked in almost every McKinsey interview. While case interviews assess for problem solving and analytical skills, the McKinsey PEI focuses on assessing your personal qualities to determine if you would be a good fit for McKinsey.
Below is a list of eight things you absolutely must know about the McKinsey Personal Experience Interview. We’ll cover in detail what the McKinsey PEI is, what interviewers look for, what the most common questions are, and how to best answer McKinsey PEI questions.
1. The McKinsey PEI is Asked in Almost Every Interview
Almost every single McKinsey interviewer will ask you the McKinsey PEI question.
The McKinsey PEI will be given either before the case interview or after the case interview is completed. It will last between 10 to 15 minutes.
Your McKinsey first round interview typically has two interviewers while your McKinsey final round interview typically has two or three interviewers. Therefore, you’ll be answering the McKinsey PEI question four to five times.
Since each PEI lasts between 10 to 15 minutes, you’ll spend 40 to 75 minutes in total answering PEI questions!
Clearly, McKinsey places an important emphasis on this type of interview question, so make sure you are spending enough time preparing.
Many candidates will spend hundreds of hours preparing for case interviews while only spending an hour preparing for McKinsey PEI questions. Therefore, by spending even a few hours preparing for PEI questions, you can give yourself a significant edge over the competition.
2. McKinsey PEI is a Behavioral Interview Question that Goes Deep
You’ve likely answered behavioral or fit questions before in one of your previous interviews. Behavioral questions are the most common questions asked in interviews. Common behavioral questions include:
- Tell me about a time where you led a team
- Describe a time when you had a disagreement with a teammate
- Give an example of how you motivate people
- Describe a time when you solved a difficult problem
The McKinsey Personal Experience Interview is simply a single behavioral question that takes up 10 to 15 minutes, which is a long time for a single question.
Because your interviewer is only asking you one behavioral question, be prepared to dive deeper into your answer and story than in any other interview you’ve had.
Expect to be asked several follow-up questions:
- Why did you do the things that you did?
- How did you make this decision?
- What was going through your mind at the time?
- How did others react to this?
- What did you learn from this?
The interviewer doesn’t just want to know what happened and what you did, they want to get inside your head to understand why you did it and how you went about doing it.
3. McKinsey PEI Assesses Four Different Qualities
What are McKinsey interviewers looking for when asking PEI questions?
McKinsey is very transparent on their website about the four qualities they look for in candidates.
- Personal Impact: Have you made a significant and meaningful impact on other people, organizations, or the world?
- Entrepreneurial Drive: Do you challenge the status quo? Do you aspire to develop new ideas, processes, or solutions to problems?
- Problem Solving Skills: Do you have the skills to solve difficult, complex problems? How do you handle difficult situations or circumstances?
- Leadership Abilities: Do you have the skills to lead yourself, your teams, and your community to drive results?
Each of your answers to McKinsey PEI questions should highlight at least one of these qualities about yourself. Ideally, your answers will address multiple qualities.
4. There are 4 Common McKinsey PEI Questions
Given that McKinsey is very transparent on what qualities they look for, the PEI interview questions that you get are very predictable.
There are generally four categories of questions. Under each category, we list the most common McKinsey PEI questions asked.
- Give an example of a time when you led a team
- Tell me about a time when you showed initiative
- Give me an example of a time when you went above and beyond the call of duty
- Tell me about a time when you disagreed with a teammate
- Give a time when you disagreed with your manager
- Describe a situation in which you handled conflict while working on a team
- Give an example of a time you had to persuade someone on a particular course of action
- Describe a situation in which you had to motivate someone
- Tell me about a time when you had to change someone’s mind
- Tell me about a time when you tried to accomplish something but failed
- Give me an example of a time when you solved a difficult problem
- Talk about a setback you had at work and what you did
5. Prepare your McKinsey PEI Answers Beforehand
Since you already know the types of McKinsey PEI questions you may be asked, you can prepare answers to these questions well in advance.
By doing this, you’ll have much less stress on interview day because you’ll know that you already have answers prepared for any McKinsey PEI question that you could be asked. Additionally, if you already know the content of your answer to McKinsey PEI questions, you can focus on the delivery during the interview.
You can focus on communicating in a clear, concise way to make it easy for the interviewer to follow. You can focus on articulating your words to make the story more interesting and exciting.
Therefore, prepare 6 to 8 different stories drawn upon your past professional and personal experiences. Select experiences that are the most impressive, impactful, or unique.
Ensure that these stories are collectively diverse. You don’t want to have eight stories all about leadership. Instead, have at least one story for each of the four categories of McKinsey PEI questions.
When you are asked a PEI question, mentally run through your list of prepared stories and select the story that is most relevant. You may need to slightly adapt, reframe, or tailor your story to ensure that it emphasizes and focuses on the quality that the interviewer is asking for.
6. Structure your McKinsey PEI Answer
Just as you would structure your approach and answer to case interviews, you should also structure your answer to PEI questions. Structured thinking is one of the most important qualities to being a successful consultant, so make sure that you are always demonstrating this.
Structuring your answer to McKinsey PEI questions will keep your stories concise and easy to follow. Structure also helps you focus on the key messages that you want to deliver.
You can use the A-STAR method to structure your answer. A-STAR stands for Answer, Situation, Task, Action, and Result.
- Answer: Provide a one or two sentence answer to the question. This helps the interviewer understand exactly what story you are about to share.
- Situation: Provide a brief overview of the situation and any context that is needed to understand the story better. Try to keep this section as short as possible because it is not as important as the Action and Results sections.
- Task: Describe what you were asked or required to deliver or achieve. Again, try to keep this section concise because it is not as important as the Action and Results sections.
- Action: Explain what steps you took to handle the task or to meet the goal or objective.
- Result: Describe the outcome that your actions had, quantifying the impact and effect you had on the organization. You can also describe your key takeaways from this experience and how it impacted or influenced you as a person.
Using the A-STAR method will demonstrate that you can tell a story in a structured way while also best highlighting your qualities and accomplishments.
7. Focus on Yourself and Your Impact
When answering McKinsey PEI questions, make sure that you are focusing on yourself and what you did, using the word “I.”
Often times, candidates will speak on behalf of the team that they worked on and talk about what the team did, using the word “we.” This takes away from your accomplishments because it makes it sound like the team did everything, not you.
Secondly, make sure that you explicitly state the impact of your work. Now is not the time to be humble, so make sure to communicate how great of a job you did, how others praised your work, and all of the positive impact your work had.
It may feel uncomfortable to some people to talk so much about themselves, but know that every interview candidate will be answering McKinsey PEI questions in a way that makes them sound the most impressive and accomplished.
8. Don’t Repeat Answers or Give Irrelevant Stories
Don’t repeat answers or stories for McKinsey PEI questions in the same interview round. How would it look if two interviewers found out that you gave the same exact story to both of their McKinsey PEI questions?
They may think that you don’t have many impressive stories of accomplishment so you had to resort to telling the same story. They could also think that you are lazy by reusing the same story.
Interviewers will often specify that they want you to give a story or answer that is different from the one that you gave to the previous interviewer. Other times they won’t. To be safe, it is better to not reuse the same stories in the same interview round.
You can, however, reuse stories across different interview rounds. For example, for your final round McKinsey interview, you can reuse stories that you already told during your McKinsey first round interviews.
Finally, make sure that the answer or story that you give is relevant to the question being asked. If the interviewer asks you to give an example of a time when you disagreed with a teammate, don’t give them a story focused on leadership.
Sometimes, the interviewer will cut you off and ask you for a different story if the first story you are telling is not entirely relevant to the McKinsey PEI question being asked.
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