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McKinsey’s Global Head Of Recruitment Tells You How To Get Hired

McKinsey hired 1,100 MBA graduates between July 2018 and June 2019. Brian Rolfes explains how you can join them

Wed Sep 12 2018



For a man who didn’t go to business school, Brian Rolfes has spent an awful lot of time on MBA campuses. McKinsey & Company’s head of global recruitment lives at the forefront of business, and since joining the company in 1995 he’s developed an eagle eye used to pinpoint the next generation of global consultants.

MBA hiring is integral to McKinsey’s recruitment strategy. The company hired approximately 1,100 people from MBA programs between July 2018 and June 2019—up from 876 recorded in 2010.

He adds that the summer internship program is a hotbed for future recruits. Nearly all summer interns join McKinsey full-time, approximately 400 alone last year.

“Our summer intern program is especially successful as we make sure our interns have a substantial role on their client teams, so they really get a glimpse into what being a consultant is like,” he says.

Although the company accepts candidates from all MBA programs, Brian explains that there is a group of 30 business schools he works with particularly closely. They...

e: INSEAD, London Business School, Harvard, IESE, Wharton, Stanford Graduate School of Business, MIT, Chicago Booth, and Kellogg School of Management.

Check out our podcast: The Business School Question

Episode 8: Why Do Consulting Firms Love MBAs

Enrolment at one of McKinsey’s key recruitment schools isn’t a guaranteed pass into the firm though. There is no one-size-fits-all at the company, and Brian admits that is something McKinsey want to hammer home.

“Our strength is in our diversity of background, expertise, style,” he says. “Candidates can stand out by sharing what they are interested in, their skills, and experiences.

“The best interviews are really conversations, so feel free to share who you are beyond your CV. I advise students to genuinely be themselves and ask the questions they really want answers to, those that will help them learn about consulting and McKinsey.”

The qualities that rank highest are problem solving and the ability to work in teams and develop strong relationships. Analytical skills are also vital, alongside leadership and creativity.

Once highlighted, candidates embark on the two-round interview process where Brian says the focus is on assessing problem solving skills. Interviewers then try to get to the bottom of the candidate’s leadership style, entrepreneurship, and achievement potential.

There are no trick questions, Brian adds, and he encourages MBA candidates to pay equal attention to the personal experience as they do the case study portion of the process.

“Remember to think of examples of when you led a group or project, solved a tough problem, or showed your entrepreneurial skills,” he says. “This portion of the interview is a great opportunity for candidates to stand out.”

Technology’s ability to break down borders and act as a catalyst for wireless, global communication has allowed McKinsey to expand into more than 120 locations around the world, in over 60 countries.

And, as emerging markets break into the developed world, there is an increased demand in these areas for digital implementation, design, big data, and software engineering.

Digital skills are omnipresent as McKinsey grows and expands into these areas—technologists, engineers, and digital and user experts are just some of the roles Brian highlights. 

That’s where Brian sees the future of consulting. “Our clients still need traditional strategy consulting, but they need other expertise such as implementation, design, and technical advice,” he explains. 

“This expansion means we’ve increased the educational and experiential backgrounds we look for, and there are an increasing number of opportunities at and entry points into McKinsey.”  

Mimicking an MBA classroom, McKinsey’s success swings on a pendulum of diversity. That means recruiting people from across the spectrum of interest, age, gender, sexual orientation, leadership, style, education, and culture.

McKinsey’s diversity-driven agenda is in good hands. Brian is one of the firm’s diversity and inclusion leaders, and one of the founders of GLAM, the company’s 20+ year old LGBTQ+ network. It has nearly 700 members globally and more than 3,000 Allies.

“This is an especially top priority for me given my history as a diversity leader,” says Brian. “We continuously go to new groups, schools, and audiences to find the best talent, including people who may never have considered consulting as a career.”

Brian also advises executives in the private, public, and social sectors on LGBTQ+ affinity best practices, creating more inclusive leaders by fostering knowledgeable and responsible organizations.

On top of that, he leads the Ontario Rhodes Scholarship Selection Committee—for young men and women identified as the outstanding leaders of the future. He has also fought for equal marriage in Canada with his husband, and they were one of the first same-sex married couples in the country.

McKinsey, Brian says, is an avenue for exploration and pushing the agenda towards a more inclusive workspace where collaboration and diversity reign supreme.

Brian advises new joiners to think about the areas in which they’d live to dive deeper—whether that be a favored industry, country, or skill.

“I tell people not to be shy in thinking about making their own McKinsey, because it’s all waiting for you,” he concludes.

“If you know what you want to do, come to McKinsey because we likely do it. If, however, you don’t know what you want to do, you should still come to McKinsey, because there’s no better place to explore, experiment, and figure out what you want to do.”