It’s Not Just What You Answer, It’s How
In leading a client service line, McKinsey Digital, that is at the intersection of strategic consulting and on-the-ground assistance to clients, we are looking to build a team that is willing to take significant risks and create what cannot be mined from supposed “best practices.” But at its core, besides content expertise, there are four indelible traits I look for:
- The curiosity and tenaciousness of a good journalist that must get the real, full story. Yes, data and analytics are important, but you need to get out, talk to people, and be able to ask the right questions to truly diagnose the client’s situation
- An entrepreneurial streak to push the art of the possible in coming up with solutions and ideas, but also the realism to understand the unmovable constraints that have to be considered
- The sense of second and third order implications of ideas. Thinking through the ripple effects on people’s jobs, on policy decisions, on incentives, and most importantly, on our client’s customers
- The comfort to be on stage in a variety of challenging situations, ranging from one-to-one counseling, to group facilitation, to major presentations. Often, motivation for our clients requires a bit of theater, and at a minimum, a sense of conviction and energy that has to be palpable when you walk into a room
So while McKinsey famously uses case interviews in recruiting, the key for me is not looking just for a candidate’s answers, but seeing how they work through the ping pong of the discussion, ask questions, explore options, and consider implications. I also want to see real leadership on a resume and will challenge interviewees to describe the details of how they moved people’s opinions. Consulting is profoundly a people profession. How people both relate to and lead others is an absolutely critical success factor.
Over time, I have found that the best candidates go with the flow and push back as much as they try to take what I give them in the discussion. I want to bring on people who will help me learn and raise the average of my teams. Lately, it seems many of those whom we are bringing on have started their careers in digital agencies, learned the content, but then realized that their clients need something bigger than what the agency offers to make the real changes that will move their businesses. These candidates know the mechanics, but are pushing themselves to address the strategy, organization, and process changes their clients need. That entrepreneurial spark is what we look for, and then we need to explore whether the recruit has those core traits I described above. We are seeing some great young talent and are excited at how we’ve been growing.