Among management consultants, McKinsey & Company has earned a reputation for its rigorous hiring process. Let’s look at what a McKinsey resume looks like and how to create it.
McKinsey can certainly afford to be rigorous. It attracts a remarkable pool of applicants, including Rhodes and Marshall Scholars, from the best schools. These exceptional candidates compete for positions at McKinsey because a job there is guaranteed to be a great career move. “The Firm,” as it is known, counts among its clients 90 percent of the Fortune 100 and two-thirds of the Fortune 1000 companies. It has offices in 55 countries, on every continent except Antarctica, employing a staff of 17,000. Forbes put the firm’s 2011 revenue at around $7.5 billion.
Here are some examples of why resume length is a lot more complicated than it seems:
McKinsey’s hiring process has become famous for its difficulty. Obviously, you need a very good resume to get an invitation to interview, but McKinsey offers some help. It makes no secret of what it is looking for in a resume: clear evidence of problem solving, achievement, personal impact, and leadership. That’s a good start when trying to get hired at McKinsey.
I worked at McKinsey for seven years and saw a lot of resumes, good and bad, from applicants at entry level and more senior levels. This experience has given me the know-how to prepare resumes appropriate for The Firm.
Since most organizations value the same qualities as McKinsey does, a resume that’s “McKinsey ready” is likely to suit all sorts of employers in all sorts of industries.
• Make your resume easy to read. Keep formatting crisp, clear, and consistent. Use at least a 10-point, business-appropriate font, and leave margins that are wide enough for a resume screener to write notes in.
• Put your name and contact information at the top. Make sure it’s all correct. Use a professional-sounding email address, no matter how fond you are of any comedic ones you have.
• List your education first, especially if you’re a new graduate. Include details such as GPA, test scores, and honors. For a truly exceptional achievement, attach a copy of your transcript.
• For both your education and experience, list items in reverse chronological order, with dates clearly shown on the left side of the page.
• Always be specific. When writing about achievements, provide details and context. If you “led major new initiatives,” give examples of those initiatives and the impact they had.
• Include extracurricular activities, volunteer experience, and outside interests. Be as specific as possible so that the screener sees a connection between your activities and your career. As McKinsey advises, “Don’t just tell us about your hobbies; tell us what you achieved in pursuing them.”
• Have a friend review your resume with a very skeptical eye. This will identify easily correctable errors and items that need clarification or elaboration.
• Don’t treat your resume as an art project, using a mix of quirky fonts and “creative” formatting.
• Never allow errors to slip through, whether they are formatting, spelling, grammar, or other types of errors.
• Don’t use jargon that may be unfamiliar to the nonspecialist resume reviewer.
• If you hold a foreign degree, don’t assume that the reviewer will be familiar with it. When in doubt, explain.
• Don’t leave potential red flags unexplained. For example, a year-long gap in your employment will be noticed. If you can explain it, do so.
Beyond these rules, you should approach your resume with two complementary principles in mind: First, make it as easy as possible for the resume screener to find all of the skills and experience you have that will lead to a positive response, and touch on McKinsey’s bases: problem solving, achievement, personal impact, and leadership.
Second, make it as hard as possible for the screener to find a reason to reject you. Be mindful of the fact that he or she is more than willing to move on to the next resume in a very large pile.
This guidance will help you get started in the McKinsey resume-writing process, but there is still much work to do.