What McKinsey & Co looks for when hiring from Indian b-schools

Renny Thomas, Partner, Mckinsey & Company

In an exclusive interview with PaGaLGuY, Renny Thomas, partner at global consulting biggie McKinsey & Co speaks about how the company thinks about hiring from business schools and undergraduate colleges and why it expects Indian b-schools to offer more diverse talent pools. An IIT Delhi and IIM Ahmedabad product, Thomas leads McKinsey’s financial services practice in India and also oversees hiring on behalf of other Indian partners at the firm.

What qualities do you look for when you go to b-schools to hire MBA graduates?

We are looking at profiles of candidates who are distinctive in the sense they have something special which could be a source of inspiration to the people who they could lead. We are basically looking for what people could be at the post where they already are, which is potential much more than anything else. Any amount of distinctiveness be it on problem-solving, leadership or the ability to attract people is what we look for. In general, we have a broader set of things we look from our candidates including the ability to lead others, the ability to work with others collaboratively, the ability to solve problems related to business issues and have a way of looking at them, being able to also communicate constantly and effectively and make an impact. But more than anything else we look for that element of distinctiveness which could help them lead others in an environment like McKinsey where we do not have hierarchy.

How effective are b-schools at training for these qualities?

My view on this is that it is all upto students to pick up what they like from a course and to develop themselves. A b-school is a bit of a point of time in one’s career to step back and imbibe skills and also to think about what they want to do. I am not sure this is a question of whether b-schools can or cannot imbibe certain qualities.

I think that we find that the candidates who meet these qualities are in many ways shaped by the experiences that they go through and the inherent learning qualities in them as opposed to something they learned from a classroom.

We are not hiring people for what they are already. We hire for what they can be. Our expectations are of finding someone who can come in with high potential and high learning ability. We put them through the apprenticeship and mentoring programs to develop those leaders for McKinsey or the broader business community. We do not rely on what is taught at b-schools in terms of content as we have a particular way of doing business and leading people. We feel that a b-school or any undergraduate or post-graduate education is important because it leads to personal development. It is something they should go through. We are hiring people to become business leaders.

We do have a programme where we hire non-MBAs as well. It’s not that MBAs are our only source of recruiting. We hire people from different profiles. An MBA helps them understand business.

McKinsey goes to a select few campuses in the country. How do you pick these b-schools?

This is not something static. It’s been more than 20 years and we have kept adding newer campuses to our recruiting list. 15 years ago, the majority of our recruiting was from 3-4 campuses. Now, we have 25 campuses. That will give you an indication that we continuously look for new pools of distinctive talent. The other part is that we remain open to people who apply from anywhere else as well, whether at a b-school or someone who is working somewhere else as well. We get a large number of applicants who apply to us directly as well. We shortlist people and interview them. By no means are we restricted. It keeps changing every year. We are not fixated on a few places or campuses. India is a very large country where no one can claim a general monopoly over talent.

What could b-schools do to prepare students better for business?

We take all students on a journey of learning leadership which develops them to be leaders for us. We look at potential. It’s not about what they are already. That’s what we look for when we interview them. In terms of what b-schools can do, I think the b-schools in our country are doing a fantastic job. Something they could in addition would be to get the diversity mix right because the learning environment can only be developed if you have a mix people from different profiles and they can learn from each other.

How would you define diversity?

It’s diversity in multiple dimensions – not only across gender but also across work experience durations, different professional experiences and backgrounds such as engineering or arts. There has to be a mix of profiles because in the real world, that is the variety of profiles you deal with. If you haven’t gone through the process of learning from each other, it is much more difficult in the business context. That for us is very critical and is one of the reasons we go to a number of business schools and undergraduate colleges. It is because we are looking for diversity in addition to looking for distinctive candidates. It’s a mix of the two and gives the best learning potential for people. We have nothing in our criteria that makes it more or less favourable for engineers or non-engineers.

How is your hiring from undergraduate schools different from that at post-graduate business schools?

We do recruit from a number of undergraduate colleges such as law schools, science colleges, arts colleges and multiple places across the country. We’ve been doing this for a decade and it’s not something new for us. The profiles are of course different. Typically, the undergraduates join as business analysts. After two to three years, some of them do their MBA. Some stay on and move up as consultants. It’s a different role but it’s an integral part of what we do. The MBA graduates we recruit at entry levels. They join as consultants and move through the ranks and play different roles through their career.

How is McKinsey’s hiring at Indian b-schools different from its hiring at international b-schools?

We hire across the world and find distinctive candidates everywhere. Obviously, the profiles of the candidates would be different based on the local market. For example, in India, the candidates would have less work experience than a typical student in other markets. But beyond that each b-school has its own characteristics and its own sources of strength. They all have potentially distinctive candidates for us. See, there are obviously lots of differences between different candidates but that’s not a factor for us. We celebrate distinctiveness of different types and we might find such people at different campuses in India and abroad. It doesn’t matter because we need people who stand out and can lead other people.

How do you define the roles given to Indian b-school students at McKinsey?

We largely hire at entry levels. This is the consulting profession and there’s no difference in terms of roles our candidates have in India as compared to the rest of the world. We hire them in similar roles in India as we would anywhere else. We do adjust for work experience but otherwise it’s very much the same role across the world.

How do you adjust for differing work experience?

It doesn’t make much difference. We hire pretty much at the same level. The only difference is that those who don’t have any experience, we give them a couple of years to grow and develop and then they go back into the same pool. In general, b-schools in India have students with less work experience. We give them an opportunity to have work experience as they come in. But they’re hired in the same pool.

How has the economic slowdown affected hiring at McKinsey? How do you see it affecting future hiring?

I am not tracking the overall job market very closely. As for us, we have concluded recruiting that there hasn’t been any change. I am not sure what the broader situation has been. But as one would expect, given the environment, it probably would’ve been softer than otherwise. It’s not at all affected the recruitments for us.

As for the future, I can’t comment broadly on the industry. For us, it’s not going to change. Our hiring is very much determined by our apprenticeship and mentorship model. Our hiring numbers are determined by our ability to absorb people and develop every person we hire to make a partner, and by our constraints to develop every person given our leadership capacity. We don’t have wild fluctuations based on the environment. Everyone we select is serious decision for us and a commitment to make them successful at something in their careers.