McKinsey Phone Interview: Step-By-Step Guide (2024)

McKinsey Phone Interview

A McKinsey phone interview is a 30-minute preliminary interview focused on a short case interview that is designed to screen candidates before McKinsey first round interviews. They are typically given to experienced hires and advanced degree candidates.


Nailing the McKinsey phone interview is crucial to moving onto the next interview round. Given that it is only 30 minutes, just a single mistake can lead to rejection.


If you have an upcoming McKinsey phone interview, we have you covered. We’ll walk you through step-by-step exactly how you can nail your interview.


In this article, we’ll cover:


  • What questions are asked in a McKinsey phone interview?


  • What does a McKinsey phone interview assess?


  • What are the differences between a McKinsey phone interview and in-person interview?


  • Performance tips for the McKinsey phone interview


  • Technical tips for the McKinsey phone interview


  • What happens after the McKinsey phone interview


  • Recommended resources for McKinsey case interviews


If you’re looking for a step-by-step shortcut to learn McKinsey 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.


Understanding the McKinsey Phone Interview


What questions are asked in a McKinsey phone interview?


The McKinsey phone interview consists primarily of a slightly shorter, 30-minute case interview. There are no behavioral interview questions asked and there is no McKinsey Personal Experience Interview (PEI). However, the interviewer may ask questions on your McKinsey resume. There may be an opportunity to ask the interviewer questions at the end of the interview.


Case interviews are a special type of interview that every single consulting firm uses, including McKinsey.


A case interview, also known as a “case” for short, is a 30 to 60-minute exercise in which you and the interviewer work together to develop a recommendation or answer to a business problem.


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 case interviews are based on actual projects that interviewers have worked on.


While consulting projects typically last between 3 to 9 months, case interviews condense solving the business problem into just 30 to 45 minutes.


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 case interviews cover a wide range of industries and business situations, no technical or specialized knowledge is needed.


Here’s what you can expect in your McKinsey phone interview:


  • Introduction: The interviewer sets the stage by providing a brief overview of the case. This might include background information about the client, the industry, and the specific problem at hand.


  • Candidate questions: The candidate is given an opportunity to ask clarifying questions. This is important for understanding the problem and gathering necessary information.


  • Structuring: The candidate outlines a structured approach to solving the case. This may involve breaking down the problem into its key components, defining the framework for analysis, and identifying the main issues.


  • Data and information gathering: The candidate may be provided with additional information, data, or exhibits related to the case. They are expected to use this information to further analyze the problem.


  • Quantitative analysis: Depending on the nature of the case, the candidate may need to perform calculations, data analysis, or financial modeling to support their recommendations.


  • Qualitative discussion: The candidate may be asked to brainstorm ideas or be asked of their business opinion on a specific business issue.


  • Recommendation: The candidate summarizes their key points and provides a brief recommendation for how the client should address the problem. These recommendations should be well-reasoned and backed by the analysis conducted.


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 McKinsey interviewer presents the business problem and directs the discussion.


What does a McKinsey phone interview assess?


A McKinsey phone interview primarily assesses case interview skills such as logical and structured thinking, analytical problem solving, business acumen, communication skills, and personality and cultural fit.


1. Logical and structured thinking: 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: 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: Do you have a basic understanding of fundamental business concepts? Do your conclusions and recommendations make sense from a business perspective?


4. Communication skills: Can you communicate in a clear, concise way? Are you articulate in what you are saying?


5. Personality and cultural fit: Are you coachable and easy to work with? Are you pleasant to be around?


To pass your McKinsey phone interview, you’ll need to demonstrate competency in all of these qualities. A deficiency in any of these areas will likely lead to rejection.


What are the differences between a McKinsey phone interview and in-person interview?


The major differences between a McKinsey phone interview and in-person interview are that the phone interview is shorter, has an easier case interview with less depth, does not have complicated exhibits, and lacks qualitative discussion.
1. Shorter interview length


The case interview in a McKinsey phone interview is roughly 30 minutes, shorter than the typical 40- to 60-minute McKinsey case interview.


2. Easier case interview with less depth


The case interview in a McKinsey phone interview will be a more straight-forward business problem, such as:


  • Why is profitability declining?


  • Should we enter this new market?


  • Should we acquire this company?


It is unlikely that you’ll get an unusual or atypical business situation.


Additionally, because the McKinsey phone interview is only 30 minutes, the case will be covered in less depth. There will either be fewer questions asked during the case or the questions asked will be very surface-level, not requiring deeper dives.


3. Does not have complicated exhibits


Given that the McKinsey phone interview is only 30 minutes, there will likely not be time for the interviewer to hand you several different exhibits with complicated charts and graphs. You’ll likely be given a simpler quantitative problem to solve.


4. Lacks qualitative discussion


In a typical case interview, the interviewer will ask a few qualitative questions to start a discussion to assess your business acumen.


Given that the McKinsey phone interview is only 30 minutes, there will likely only be enough time for you to solve the main quantitative problem and perhaps briefly answer one qualitative question.


Therefore, you’ll be less tested on business knowledge and principles during the McKinsey phone interview.


Performance Tips for the McKinsey Phone Interview


Follow these tips to ensure that you perform your best during your McKinsey phone interview.


1. Speak up if you can’t understand what the interviewer is saying


If you can’t understand the interviewer, make sure to speak up. If the interviewer’s sound is too soft, cutting in and out, or you are hearing an echo, let your interviewer know. Communication during a phone or video interview is already difficult and you don’t want to put yourself in a disadvantage by having to deal with these issues.


You may need to propose rejoining the call or using different audio equipment to fix these issues. If you and the interviewer still cannot resolve these issues, you may need to propose rescheduling the interview.


2. Look into the web camera, not at the computer screen


During an in-person case interview, you want to be making strong eye contact with the interviewer when you are speaking or listening. In a web conference case interview, you also want to do the same.


To best simulate eye contact, look into the web camera, not at the computer screen. Looking at the computer screen actually makes you look like you are staring downwards on your interviewer’s screen. Looking at the web camera makes you look like you are staring directly forward, into the interviewer’s eyes.


3. Over-communicate and summarize regularly


You will need to over-communicate in a phone or video case interview in order to communicate with the same level of clarity as an in-person case interview. Tell the interviewer what you are going to say, say it, and then tell the interviewer what you’ve said.


You may also find it helpful to regularly summarize what is going through your mind during the case interview. You want the case interviewer to know exactly what you are thinking and what you are planning to do next.


4. Speak more slowly


For phone and video conference case interviews, try to speak slightly slower than how you would speak during an in-person case interview. Since it is harder to hear things on the phone, you need to give the interviewer more time to process and understand what you are saying.


 Additionally, speaking more slowly makes it easier for the interviewer to jump into the conversation if they have follow-up questions or information to provide you.


5. Use numbered lists


Try to structure your answers and responses to make it easier for the interviewer to follow and understand what you are saying. If you are planning to speak for more than a minute, enumerate your thoughts and ideas by using a numbered list. This helps the interviewer understand when you are changing topics.


6. Pause briefly after each major thought


In a phone or video conference case interview, you won’t be able to read the interviewer’s body language. So, you won’t know when they are trying to jump into the conversation to point something out or ask you a question.


To give the interviewer opportunities to speak more easily, pause briefly after each major thought. If the interviewer does not jump in, continue what you are about to say. Else, the interviewer may ask you a follow-up question or provide feedback to you.


7. Show the interviewer what you are writing


In an in-person case interview, you can easily show the interviewer what you are writing by turning your paper around and presenting it. In a phone or video conference case interview, this is not possible.


If you think it is helpful to share with the interviewer what you are writing, you have several options if the case interview is done through video conference. You can point your web camera at your paper, take a picture of your paper and email it to the interviewer, share your screen, or use digital whiteboards if the teleconferencing software has that feature.


If the case interview is done through phone, the only way to share your work is to take a picture of your paper and email it to the interviewer.


While there are many benefits in showing the interviewer what you are writing, the biggest drawback is that it takes time. You will need to make a decision on whether what you have to share is worth the time.


Sometimes, if you overcommunicate, you will not need to show the interviewer what you are writing. Other times, it may be easier to share what you are writing rather than trying to talk through it.


Technical Tips for the McKinsey Phone Interview


Follow these technical tips to ensure that your McKinsey phone interview goes smoothly.


1. Choose a quiet place to do the interview


You don’t want to be dealing with loud noises during your case interview. These can be distracting for both you and the interviewer and make communication more difficult. Therefore, choose a quiet place to do the interview.


Be aware of the time of day that you will be doing the interview. Many places are quiet during some parts of the day, but noisy during other parts of the day.


2. Confirm that you have good phone or internet signal


Whichever place you choose to take your phone or video conference case interview, make sure that you have good phone or internet signal. You don’t want to be dealing with dropped calls or poor internet connectivity, which can severely interrupt your interview.


Avoid taking calls in basements or underground floors. For better internet connection, try to be close to the nearest router.


3. Choose an appropriate background for video conference case interviews


If you are doing a video conference case interview, try to make your camera face a plain background that is free of distracting objects. You don’t want to be showing your messy room.


Making your camera face the wall is a simple way to get an appropriate background. If this is not possible, many video conferencing software allow you to use a virtual background by uploading an image. Upload a background image that is a solid, neutral color.


4. Have a light source for video calls


For interviews done through video call, make sure you have a light source turned on near your computer. Light makes a big difference in terms of video quality and helps you look better in front of your web camera. Having a brightly lit environment is also more aesthetically pleasing to look at.


You want to avoid taking the interview in a dark setting, which would make it difficult for the interviewer to see you. A dimly lit environment is also not aesthetically pleasing to look at.


5. Test that your camera works beforehand



For video call interviews, make sure that your camera works beforehand. This will give you time to buy or borrow a laptop with a working camera if the one that you have doesn’t work.


You don’t need to have the highest quality web camera, but it should preferably be at least 720p resolution. This is the resolution on most computer web cameras. If your computer is very old, you may want to invest in a cheap web camera.


6. Make sure you have the necessary software installed


Video conferencing software usually has a web-browser version and a desktop application version. You should use the desktop application version because there is more functionality and stability.


However, this requires you to download the software. Make sure to download the software in advance because it could take a long time to finish downloading and installing the software.


7. Use earphones that have a built-in microphone


If you are using your laptop to take your video conference case interview, don’t use your laptop’s built-in microphone, which typically produces low-quality sound. To have better sound quality, you want the microphone to be near your mouth or throat.


Many earphones have built-in microphones. You want to be using earphones during your interview for three reasons.


One, you will hear better since sound is being directed right into your ears. Two, you will produce higher quality sound since the earphone’s microphone is close to your mouth or throat. Three, using earphones will prevent echoing. If you are using your laptop’s speakers and microphone, sometimes the laptop microphone will pick up sound coming out of the laptop speakers.


8. Make sure your phone or laptop is fully charged


You don’t want to have your phone or laptop die during an interview. Therefore, charge them beforehand so you don’t need to worry about how much battery you have remaining. You could also plug your phone or laptop into a charger during the interview instead.


9. Join the video conference a few minutes early


For video conference case interviews, join the call a few minutes early just in case you have any issues signing in or joining the meeting. This time buffer is helpful in case anything goes wrong.


There may be last-minute software updates required, so you want to avoid a situation like this that would make you late for your interview.


What Happens After the McKinsey Phone Interview


After your McKinsey phone interview, you should hear back from the interviewer or from a McKinsey recruiter within a few days.


If it takes longer than a few days to hear back, you may have been put on an unofficial “waitlist.” The firm is waiting for other interviews to be completed before deciding who to move onto the next round.


However, for the vast majority of candidates, you’ll hear back on whether or not you will move onto the next round fairly quickly.


If you have passed the McKinsey phone interview, you should expect the next round of interviews to happen fairly quickly, usually within one to a few weeks.


McKinsey first round interview consists of two separate 40- to 60-minute interviews. The majority of the time will be focused on case interviews, but you will also get a few other types of questions. There are four types of questions you’ll get asked:


  • Case interview





Your McKinsey final round interview will typically consist of two to three separate 40- to 60-minute interviews. You’ll see the same four types of McKinsey interview questions that you saw in your first round interviews.


However, there are three important distinctions between your first round McKinsey interview and your final round McKinsey interview.


One, your interviewers will likely be more senior people at McKinsey. This means that the case interviews you receive may be a bit less structured and more qualitative in nature. The case interview may feel more like a discussion where you and the interviewer are discussing your opinions and ideas on a business problem.


Two, there will be more of an emphasis on assessing your fit with the firm. The first round interview is primarily used as a screener to determine whether or not you can solve case interviews effectively and whether or not you have the potential to be a great consultant.


Final round interviews will also continue to assess this, but interviewers will also be determining whether or not you would be a great fit with the office. Are you coachable and easy to work with? Are you collaborative? These are a few of the qualities that interviewers want to see.


Three, your interviewers may read the notes that your interviewers wrote during your McKinsey first round interview. If there was a particular area of the case interview that you struggled with, interviewers may want to test you again on it to make sure that it is not a significant weakness.


Full a complete guide to McKinsey first round and final round interviews, check out our comprehensive McKinsey interview guide.


Recommended Resources for McKinsey Case Interviews


Here are the resources we recommend to learn the most robust, effective McKinsey case interview strategies in the least time-consuming way:


  • 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.

  • 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