If you have an upcoming McKinsey case interview and are feeling stressed, overwhelmed, or unsure what to do, we have you covered.
While McKinsey case interviews can seem complicated and challenging, they can be relatively straight forward with enough practice.
In this article, we’ll walk you through a McKinsey case interview step-by-step to give you an overview of what to expect and what you should be doing every step of the way.
We’ll cover in detail:
- What is a McKinsey case interview?
- Why does McKinsey use case interviews?
- What do McKinsey case interviews assess?
- What is the format of a McKinsey case interview?
- How do I solve a McKinsey case interview?
- What are examples of McKinsey case interviews?
- What are recommended resources for McKinsey case interviews?
If you’re looking for a step-by-step shortcut to learn case interviews quickly, enroll in our case interview course. These insider strategies from a former Bain interviewer helped 30,000+ land consulting offers while saving hundreds of hours of prep time.
What is a McKinsey case interview?
A McKinsey case interview, also known as a “case” for short, is a 30 to 45-minute exercise in which you and the interviewer work together to develop a recommendation or answer to a business problem.
These business problems can be anything that real companies face:
- How can Uber increase its profitability?
- What can Netflix do to increase customer retention?
- How should Tesla price its new electric vehicle?
- Where should Disney open another Disneyland theme park?
McKinsey case interviews simulate what the consulting job will be like by placing you in a hypothetical business situation. Cases simulate real business problems that consulting firms solve for their clients. Many McKinsey case interviews are based on actual projects that interviewers have worked on.
While McKinsey consulting projects typically last between 3 to 9 months, McKinsey case interviews condense solving the business problem into just 30 to 45 minutes.
McKinsey case interviews can cover any industry, including retail, consumer packaged goods, financial services, energy, education, healthcare, government, and technology.
They can also cover a wide range of business situations, including entering a new market, launching a new product, acquiring a company, improving profitability, and growing revenues.
Although McKinsey case interviews cover a wide range of industries and business situations, no technical or specialized knowledge is needed.
Why does McKinsey use case interviews?
McKinsey uses case interviews because they are the best way for McKinsey to predict which candidates will make the best consultants. McKinsey case interviews do not predict this perfectly, but they come quite close. Assessing candidates based only on their McKinsey resume is not sufficient.
Since McKinsey case interviews simulate the consulting job by placing you in a hypothetical business situation, McKinsey interviewers use case interviews to see how you would perform as a hypothetical consultant.
Many of the skills and qualities needed to successfully complete a case interview are the same skills and qualities needed to successfully finish a McKinsey consulting case project.
Case interviews also give you a sense of whether you would like the consulting job at McKinsey.
If you find case interviews interesting and exciting, you’ll likely enjoy consulting and working at McKinsey. If you find case interviews dull and boring, consulting may not be the best profession for you.
What do McKinsey case interviews assess?
McKinsey case interviews assess five different qualities or characteristics.
All of these five qualities can be assessed in just a 30 to 45-minute McKinsey case interview. This is what makes case interviews so effective in assessing consulting candidates.
1. Logical, structured thinking
Consultants need to be organized and methodical in order to work efficiently.
- Can you structure complex problems in a clear, simple way?
- Can you take tremendous amounts of information and data and identify the most important points?
- Can you use logic and reason to make appropriate conclusions?
2. Analytical problem solving
Consultants work with a tremendous amount of data and information in order to develop recommendations to complex problems.
- Can you read and interpret data well?
- Can you perform math computations smoothly and accurately?
- Can you conduct the right analyses to draw the right conclusions?
3. Business acumen
A strong business instinct helps consultants make the right decisions and develop the right recommendations.
- Do you have a basic understanding of fundamental business concepts?
- Do your conclusions and recommendations make sense from a business perspective?
4. Communication skills
Consultants need strong communication skills to collaborate with teammates and clients effectively.
- Can you communicate in a clear, concise way?
- Are you articulate in what you are saying?
5. Personality and cultural fit
Consultants spend a lot of time working closely in small teams. Having a personality and attitude that fits with the team makes the whole team work better together.
- Are you coachable and easy to work with?
- Are you pleasant to be around?
What is the format of a McKinsey case interview?
Although there is a wide range of different cases you could be asked to solve, all McKinsey case interviews follow the same progression.
- Understanding the case background: the interviewer will provide you information on who the company or client is, what their business problem is, and any other relevant context needed for the case
- Asking clarifying questions: you’ll have the opportunity to ask questions to confirm your understanding of the case
- Structuring a framework: you’ll create and present a framework to the interviewer that organizes your thoughts and identifies the different areas or key questions you’d like to further investigate
- Starting the case: the interviewer will ask either a quantitative or qualitative question for you to answer
- Solving quantitative problems: the interviewer may ask you to perform math calculations, such as calculating profit, breakeven, or analyzing charts and graphs
- Answering qualitative questions: the interviewer may ask business judgment questions to assess your business acumen and intuition
- Delivering a recommendation: the interviewer will ask you for your final overall recommendation for the case.
It is worth noting that while most consulting firms opt for a candidate-led interview approach, where the interviewee takes the lead in navigating a case, McKinsey stands out with its interviewer-led format.
In McKinsey's interviewer-led approach, the interviewer plays a more active role in guiding the conversation.
Rather than the candidate taking charge of the case, the interviewer presents the business problem and directs the discussion.
This approach aligns with McKinsey's emphasis on teamwork, collaboration, and adaptability, skills crucial in the world of consulting. By simulating the client-consultant interaction, this approach helps assess how candidates handle challenges in real-time discussions.
How do I solve a McKinsey case interview?
Below, we’ll walk through the seven steps of a McKinsey case interview that was presented in the previous section to show you how you should solve a McKinsey case interview.
1. Understanding the case background
The case interview will begin with the interviewer giving you the case background information. Let’s say that the interviewer reads you the following:
Interviewer: Our client, Coca-Cola, is a large manufacturer and retailer of non-alcoholic beverages, such as sodas, juices, sports drinks, and teas. They have annual revenues of roughly $30 billion and an operating margin of roughly 30%. Coca-Cola is looking to grow and is considering entering the beer market in the United States. Should they enter?
As the interviewer reads this, take notes. It is important to understand what the objective of the case is and keep track of information.
One strategy for taking notes effectively is to turn your paper landscape and draw a vertical line to divide your paper into two sections. The first section should be roughly two-thirds of the page while the second section will be one-third of the page.
Take notes in the second section of your page.
After the interviewer finishes giving the case background information, confirm that you understand the situation and objective. Provide a concise synthesis like the following:
You: To make sure I understand correctly, our client, Coca-Cola, is a large manufacturer and retailer of non-alcoholic beverages. They are looking to grow and our objective is to determine whether or not they should enter the U.S. beer market.
Interviewer: That sounds right.
Make sure your synthesis is concise. You do not want to regurgitate verbatim everything that the interviewer has said. Only mention the most important pieces of information.
You should also make sure you verify the objective of the case. Answering or solving the wrong case objective is the quickest way to fail a case interview.
2. Asking clarifying questions
Next in the case interview, you’ll have the opportunity to ask questions before you begin thinking about how to solve the case.
At this point, only ask questions that are critical for you to fully understand the case background and objective. You’ll be able to ask more questions later.
You might ask a few questions like the following:
You: Is Coca-Cola looking to specifically grow revenues or profits?
Interviewer: Coca-Cola wants to grow profits.
You: Is there a particular financial goal or metric Coca-Cola is trying to reach within a certain time frame?
Interviewer: They are looking to grow annual profits by $2 billion within 5 years.
You: Great. Those are all the immediate questions I have for now.
3. Structuring a framework
After you understand the case background and objective of the case interview, lay out a framework of what areas you want to look into in order to answer or solve the case.
A case interview framework is simply a tool that helps you structure and break down complex problems into simpler, smaller components. Think of a framework as brainstorming different ideas and organizing them into different categories.
When creating a framework, it is completely acceptable to ask the interviewer for a few minutes of silence to write out a framework.
You: Would you mind if I take a few minutes to structure my thoughts and develop a framework to tackle this case?
Interviewer: Of course, go ahead.
For this case example, what do you need to know in order to help Coca-Cola decide whether or not they should enter the beer market?
You might brainstorm the following questions:
- Does Coca-Cola know how to produce beer?
- Would people buy beer made by Coca-Cola?
- Where would Coca Cola sell its beer?
- How much would it cost to enter the beer market?
- Will Coca-Cola be profitable from doing this?
- How can Coca-Cola outcompete competitors?
- What is the market size of the beer market?
This is not a very structured way of tackling the case, so organize these ideas into a framework that has 3 – 4 broad areas, also called “buckets”, that you want to investigate.
An easy way to develop these buckets is to ask yourself, what 3 – 4 things must be true for you to 100% recommend that Coca-Cola should enter the beer market.
In an ideal world. These four things would need to be true:
- The beer market is an attractive market with high profit margins
- Competitors are weak and Coca-Cola will be able to capture significant market share
- Coca-Cola has the capabilities to produce an outstanding beer product
- Coca-Cola will be extremely profitable
You can rephrase these points to be the broad categories in your framework.
Next, let’s add a few bullets under each category to give more detail on exactly what information we need to know to decide whether Coca-Cola should enter the beer market.
This entire process of brainstorming ideas and developing a structured framework should only take a few minutes.
For a complete guide on how to create tailored and unique frameworks for each case, check out our article on case interview frameworks.
Now that you have your framework, turn your paper to face the interviewer and walk them through it.
You: To decide whether or not Coca-Cola should enter the market, I want to look into four main areas.
One, I want to look into the beer market attractiveness. Is this an attractive market to enter? I’d want to look into areas such as the market size, growth rate, and profit margins.
Two, I want to look into the beer competitive landscape. Is this market competitive, and will Coca-Cola be able to capture meaningful market share? I want to look into questions such as the number of competitors, how much market share each competitor has, and whether competitors have any competitive advantages.
Three, I want to look into Coca-Cola’s capabilities. Do they have the capabilities to succeed in the beer market? I want to look into things such as whether they have the expertise to produce beer, whether they have the distribution channels to sell beer, and whether there are any existing synergies they can leverage.
Four, I want to look into expected profitability. Will Coca-Cola be profitable from entering the beer market? I want to look into areas such as expected revenues, expected costs, and how long it would take to break even.
The interviewer might ask a few questions on your framework, but will otherwise indicate whether they agree or disagree with your approach.
4. Starting the case
McKinsey case interviews are interviewer-led. So, the interviewer will propose which area of your framework they would like to dive deeper into. They might say something like the following:
Interviewer: Your framework makes sense to me. Why don’t we start by estimating the size of the U.S. beer market.
5. Solving quantitative problems
Expect to perform calculations and analyze charts and graphs during your case interview.
Market sizing questions are one type of quantitative question you may get asked. Let’s say the interviewer asks you:
Interviewer: What is the market size of beer in the U.S.?
Most candidates jump right into the math, stating the U.S. population and then performing various calculations. Doing math without laying out a structure often leads to making unnecessary calculations or reaching a dead-end.
Laying out an upfront approach helps avoid these mistakes and demonstrates that you are a logical, structured thinker.
For this market sizing problem, you could structure your approach in the following way:
- Start with the U.S. population
- Estimate the percentage that are legally allowed to drink alcohol
- Estimate the percentage that drink beer
- Estimate the frequency in which people drink beer
- Estimate the average price per can or bottle of beer
Multiplying these steps together gives you the answer. By laying out an approach up front, the interviewer can easily understand how you are thinking about the problem. With the right structure, the rest of the problem is simple arithmetic.
Sometimes the interviewer will give you numbers to use for these calculations. Other times, you’ll be expected to make assumptions or estimates.
When performing your calculations, make sure to do them on a separate sheet of paper. Calculations often get messy and you want to keep your original paper clean and organized.
A sample answer to this question could look like this:
You: To estimate the market size of beer in the U.S., I’m going to start with the U.S. population. Then, I’ll estimate the percentage that are eligible to drink alcohol. I’ll then estimate the percentage of the remaining population that drinks beer.
If we take this and multiply it by the frequency in which people drink beer and the average price per can or bottle of beer, we will find an estimate for the market size.
Does this approach make sense to you?
Interviewer: Makes sense to me.
You: Great. I’ll assume the U.S. population is 320M people. Assuming the average life expectancy is 80 years old and an even distribution of ages, roughly 75% of the population can legally drink alcohol.
This gives us 240M people. Of these, let’s assume 75% of people drink beer. That gives us 180M beer drinkers.
Let’s say on average, a person drinks five beers a week, or roughly 250 beers per year, assuming roughly 50 weeks per year.
This gives us 180M * 250 = 45B cans or bottles of beer.
Assuming the average can or bottle of beer costs $2, this gives a market size of $90B.
You should not only answer the question, but tie the answer to the case objective.
In other words, how does knowing the U.S. market size of beer help you decide whether or not Coca-Cola should enter the market?
You could say something like the following:
You: Given that Coca-Cola has annual revenues of $30B, a $90B beer market represents a massive opportunity. The market size makes the beer market look attractive, but I’d like to understand if beer margins are typically high and determine how much market share Coca-Cola could realistically capture.
6. Answering qualitative questions
In addition to asking quantitative questions during the case interview, the interviewer will also ask qualitative questions.
One type of qualitative question you could get asked are brainstorming questions. For example, the interviewer might ask:
Interviewer: What are the barriers to entry in the beer market?
Most candidates answer by listing ideas that immediately come to mind:
- Brewing equipment
- Beer production expertise
- Distribution channels
- Brand name
This is a highly unstructured way of answering the question. Make sure to use a simple structure to organize your thoughts.
A simple structure, such as thinking about barriers to entry as either economic barriers or non-economic barriers, helps facilitate brainstorming and demonstrates logic and structure.
With this structure, you might come up with the following answer:
You: I’m thinking of barriers to entry as economic barriers and non-economic barriers. Economic barriers include things such as equipment, raw material, and other capital. Non-economic barriers include: beer brewing expertise, brand name, and distribution channels.
Looking at these barriers, I think it will take Coca-Cola a lot of work to overcome these barriers. While Coca-Cola does have a brand name and distribution channels, they lack beer brewing expertise and would have to buy a lot of expensive equipment and machinery. These barriers make entering the beer market difficult.
7. Delivering a recommendation
You’ve done a ton of work so far in the case interview and now it is time to put everything together into a recommendation.
Throughout the interview, you should have been making notes of key takeaways after each question you answer.
Take a look at the key takeaways you’ve accumulated so far and decide whether you want to recommend entering the beer market or not entering the beer market:
- The U.S. beer market size is $90B compared to Coca-Cola’s annual revenue of $30B
- The beer market profit margins are 10% compared to Coca-Cola’s average margin of 30%
- The beer market is highly concentrated across all categories
- Barriers to entry are moderate
- There are some synergies with existing production
There is no right or wrong recommendation, as long as you support your recommendation with reasons and evidence.
Regardless of what stance you take, make sure you have a firm recommendation. You do not want to be flimsy and switch back and forth between recommending entering the market and not entering the market.
Secondly, make sure your recommendation is clear and concise. Use the following structure:
- Clearly state what your recommendation is
- Follow that with the 2 - 3 reasons that support your recommendation
- State what potential next steps would be to further validate your recommendation
The conclusion of the case might look like the following:
Interviewer: Let’s say that you bump into the CEO of Coca-Cola in the elevator. He asks you what your preliminary recommendation is. What do you say?
You: I recommend that Coca-Cola should not enter the U.S. beer market for the following three reasons.
One, although the market size is fairly large at $90B, the margins for beer are just 10%, significantly less than Coca-Cola’s overall operating margin of 30%.
Two, the beer market is very competitive. In all beer segments, market share is concentrated among a few players, which implies high barriers to entry. Coca-Cola lacks beer brewing expertise to produce a great product that existing incumbents have.
Three, there are not that many production synergies that Coca-Cola can leverage with its existing products. Coca-Cola would need to buy new equipment, source new raw materials, and provide new training to employees, which will be time-consuming and costly.
For next steps, I want to look into Coca-Cola’s annual expected profits if they were to enter the U.S. beer market. I hypothesize that they will be unable to achieve an increase in annual profits of $2B within five years, but I’d like to confirm this through further analysis.
What are examples of McKinsey case interviews?
The best place to find examples of McKinsey case interviews is on their official website. There, they have provided four case interview examples that you can practice along with:
- Diconsa case interview practice: Non-profit case focused on deciding whether to leverage a chain of convenience stores to deliver basic financial services to inhabitants of rural Mexico. Great practice case for the non-profit sector.
- GlobaPharm case interview practice: Acquisition case focused on deciding whether a large pharmaceutical company should acquire a smaller startup. This case has very difficult math calculations that you can practice.
- Electro-light case interview practice: New product launch case focused on deciding whether a beverage company should launch a new sports drink. Outstanding case to practice interpreting various charts and graphs.
- National Education case interview practice: Non-profit case focused on helping an Eastern European country’s Department of Education improve their school system. Another great practice case for the non-profit sector.
We have videos that walk through the first two McKinsey case examples.
For more McKinsey case interview examples and practice cases, check out our article on 23 MBA consulting casebooks with 700+ free practice cases.
Many of the casebooks that MBA consulting clubs put together compile previous cases given by consulting firms, including McKinsey.
What are recommended resources for McKinsey Case Interviews?
While we have covered a lot on McKinsey case interviews, there are so many more strategies, advice, and tips we’d like to teach you.
We want to see you walk into your McKinsey interview, crush every single case interview, and leave with a McKinsey job offer.
To prepare for McKinsey case interviews as well as case interviews from other consulting firms, we recommend the following resources:
- Comprehensive Case Interview Course (our #1 recommendation): The only resource you need. Whether you have no business background, rusty math skills, or are short on time, this step-by-step course will transform you into a top 1% caser that lands multiple consulting offers.
- Hacking the Case Interview Book (available on Amazon): Perfect for beginners that are short on time. Transform yourself from a stressed-out case interview newbie to a confident intermediate in under a week. Some readers finish this book in a day and can already tackle tough cases.
- The Ultimate Case Interview Workbook (available on Amazon): Perfect for intermediates struggling with frameworks, case math, or generating business insights. No need to find a case partner – these drills, practice problems, and full-length cases can all be done by yourself.
- Case Interview Coaching: Personalized, one-on-one coaching with former consulting interviewers
- Behavioral & Fit Interview Course: Be prepared for 98% of behavioral and fit questions in just a few hours. We'll teach you exactly how to draft answers that will impress your interviewer
- Resume Review & Editing: Transform your resume into one that will get you multiple interviews