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Clear Admit’s Stacey Oyler Sheds Light On MBA Summer Internship Hiring Process At Top Firms Like McKinsey

It’s first-year internship recruiting season at business schools across the United States. As students scramble to line up interviews with potential employers, they confront a complex process made even more complicated by the demands of their first-year core coursework and other campus commitments. Last week, Clear Admit spoke with Stacey Oyler, a Clear Admit admissions consultant and former McKinsey & Co. MBA recruiter, to shed light on this process.Stacey Oyler

After joining McKinsey, Oyler initiated a formal recruiting process for the firm on the campus of Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business. Her familiarity with the school—she worked previously as the Assistant Director of Admissions at Tuck—and its approach to the recruiting process allowed her great insight into how McKinsey could approach potential new-hires. For example, “one unique thing about Tuck is that they have a bid list,” said Oyler. “You [as a student] are given a certain number of points that you can use towards bidding on interviews.” Oyler said about 50% of McKinsey’s total number of interview slots were reserved for bid students. “Of the remaining 50% we got to choose who we wanted to see.”

One of Oyler’s key pieces of advice was to be flexible geographically. “We would have students list three offices where they would be willing to work, and nine times out of ten students chose only the ‘sexiest’ places,” she said.  These included cities like New York, San Francisco and London. But ultimately, the less glamorous offices are the ones with openings. “What ends up happening is that the office decides based on [a student’s indication of] location who they want to see.” So if you’ve only indicated that you’re willing to work in New York, San Fransisco or London, an office in Philadelphia that has positions open may not even consider your application.

“Don’t think about geography as where you want to live,” said Oyler. “Think about where you would be valued and where you could most utilize your skill-set. Students never say that they want to work in Cleveland, but Cleveland needs people.”

“Do you want to work in Boston,” she summarized bluntly, “or do you want to work at McKinsey?”

 ***

The management consulting interview process itself—which Oyler clarified differs from that of other industries—is well-defined. It consists of two rounds: one on-campus interview with a recruiter, followed by on-site interviews at office locations if applicants clear the first round. It may be surprising for some to learn that this internship interview process is exactly the same as for full-time positions. “[We had] a bar, and [weren’t] going to lower that bar for summer internships,” said Oyler.

Each interview begins with ten minutes of resume review followed by a thirty-minute business case, drawn from a large book of potential cases. “The consultants conducting the interview pick their favorites, usually by industry,” Oyler said, noting that there’s also a constant process of weeding out old cases that have been leaked and used as preparation material by applicants.

It’s understandable that first-year students want to know how they can excel during their interviews. But just as important to their success is knowing how to avoid committing a fatal mistake. “The single biggest mistake students make in their interviews,” Oyler said, “is that they are afraid of silence.”

The cases used by management consulting firms like McKinsey require the applicant to solve fairly complex business problems on the spot. But they don’t require or expect them to solve it instantaneously, said Oyler.

“Students are often so afraid that if they spend too long working on a problem they won’t look smart,” she said. “Then they rush, and they build an entire business case around the wrong number (as an example). Even if they get everything else right, it’s hard to say they performed well if they got the data wrong and the wrong answer.”

“Thoughtful silence is so much better than speaking and hoping your mind catches up with your mouth,” she added. “It never does!”

Oyler described the interviews themselves as an extremely meritocratic process. “Our goal was: whoever does well goes on,” said Oyler. “There is no target number or quota we were trying to get to.” Moreover, she said that many of the best applicants she recruited at Tuck came from non-traditional backgrounds—fields like journalism or the liberal arts, which are underrepresented at business schools. “A lot of people want to do consulting, but they don’t think they have the background,” she said, acknowledging that in certain cases students do benefit from a degree of specialization and expertise in one field. “But it’s really about problem solving and critical thinking, and anybody can do that. Leaders are problem solvers at the end of the day.”

Often even more impressive than the non-traditional applicants, in Oyler’s experience, were the bid candidates—students who may have sacrificed interview opportunities at other firms to ensure getting a shot at their dream internship. “They want it more,” she observed. “Often, when we would select someone, they would also interview with Bain, BCG [Boston Consulting Group]…” firms that along with McKinsey constitute the so-called “big three” strategy consulting firms. “But if you have this candidate who puts all of his bid points on McKinsey, he will probably be really prepared.”

Most of all, Oyler stressed that the students who put in the effort are those who nail the cases. “If you are willing to try really hard and pore over cases for hours and hours, you’ll do well,” she said. “This is something you can prepare for.”

***

You’re a first-year MBA student who has just completed a grueling round of interviews—and landed an internship at your dream firm. Congratulations! What can you expect your summer job to look like? The eight week internship experience is structured to be simultaneously positive and challenging, according to Oyler.

At consulting firms like McKinsey, MBA interns are treated as “summer associates,” responsible for performing the same duties as new hires for full-time positions. If interns perform well over the course of the summer, they may earn full-time offers with the firm. “You keep the bar high during internship interviews precisely for this reason,” said Oyler.

In addition to acclimating students to the demands of the industry, the internship is designed to leave them with a positive impression of the firm. “Offices are making an effort to put them [interns] on interesting projects,” she said.  This is because firms hope to ensure a “high yield” of students who accept full-time offers.

“You are wined and dined…but also evaluated,” said Oyler. “Overall, it is a pretty intense experience.”

***

So what does this information mean for business school applicants, for whom first-year summer internships are just a distant light at the end of the long MBA application tunnel? It’s all about understanding—as early as possible—what you want to do with your MBA.

Large firms like McKinsey recruit MBAs primarily from a small number of “core” schools. While McKinsey doesn’t reveal the names of these programs, and Oyler is bound by confidentiality not to share them, she did reveal that students at these schools have a key advantage when it comes to securing internships.  A McKinsey consultant, typically an alumnus or alumna of the school, is often staffed at each of these schools during the school year to host office-hours and brown bag lunches, helping students prepare for case interviews and learn more about the firm.

On the other hand, a single recruiting team oversees McKinsey MBA recruiting for all non-core MBA programs. This underscores how essential it is that applicants do their due diligence on target schools.  “It’s very important that applicants have some ideas and are looking at career prospects for their schools of interest. If you’re dead-set on working for a big three consulting firm,” Oyler said, “you have to find out where they are recruiting. Why spend $200,000 on a school if the company you want to work for doesn’t recruit there?”

This point applies across firms, industries and continents. One student seeking a job in the energy industry, for instance, might develop a drastically different list of target schools than a student considering a career in management consulting. As a general rule, the key is to be proactive about defining your career goals and diligent about researching MBA programs that fit them.

“This should be factored into your school decision-making process,” Oyler concluded. “You need a return on your investment, right?”

 

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