We have to give credit where credit is due – McKinsey is trying to make recruiting (somewhat) fun. One of the more recent additions to McKinsey’s recruiting process is the McKinsey Digital Assessment (also known as the McKinsey Problem Solving Game or “Solve”), a video game that is used to assess a candidate’s cognitive abilities.
This digital test is a way for McKinsey to screen candidates in a way that removes cognitive bias and identifies top candidates before any further time is invested in phone and in-person interviews. McKinsey consultants have busy schedules, so it’s only expected that they create ways to save themselves time, right?
Of course, it’s not all just fun and games. The McKinsey Digital Assessment was thoughtfully and carefully put together by the world’s top consulting firm to filter out candidates. Like most parts of the recruiting process, preparation is crucial.
To that end, here’s an overview of the McKinsey Digital Assessment (or Solve) and what you can expect when taking the exam.
The Why Behind the McKinsey Digital Assessment
McKinsey’s viewpoint is that although academic and professional backgrounds are helpful, they can be the result of situational advantages, such as a wealthy background or being raised in better schooling districts. These advantages could lead to outstanding resumes which don’t always translate to great problem solving skills. As a result, McKinsey believes that the resume screen could leave out candidates with great cognitive abilities who had less socioeconomic advantages and thus less impressive resumes.
The McKinsey Problem Solving Test (PST) tries to limit those advantages; however, even the PST favors candidates with high processing speeds and familiarity with the problems being tested. With so many preparation tools available, it’s also become far easier to pass the exam by simply practicing.
So, say hello to the McKinsey Digital Assessment (or McKinsey Problem Solving Game). This tool helps even the playing field amongst candidates. The digital test is built to test pure raw cognitive talent since it can’t be prepared for and is free from bias.
What is the McKinsey Digital Assessment?
The McKinsey Digital Assessment is a video game in which candidates are immersed in a simulation and need to make quick decisions with imperfect information to achieve a desired outcome. McKinsey states that the focus is not on selecting the candidates who get to the right answers but evaluating how candidates get to their solutions – similar to case interviews.
Solve was developed with leading psychologists and game design experts at IMBELLUS. The game captures all of the candidate’s actions, including mouse movements and the time when certain actions are taken. The overall score is determined by methodologies from data science across five key categories (detailed below).
Candidates have 60 minutes to overcome three distinct challenges and demonstrate their problem solving skills. No prior business knowledge is needed.
The Five Key Cognitive Abilities Tested
The McKinsey Digital Assessment/Solve tests for five key cognitive abilities:
- The ability to form a rational decision from a set of facts
- The ability to select the best course of action among several options with limited time and information
- The ability to use strategies to make learning information and solving problems easier (i.e. testing hypothesis, taking notes)
- The ability to determine the relationships between different factors and to project the outcome of a scenario
- The ability to understand cause & effect relationships involving several factors and feedback loops (i.e. anticipating several orders of consequence)
McKinsey Digital Assessment Prompt
The McKinsey Digital Assessment starts with the following prompt:
“Imagine yourself in a beautiful, serene forest populated by many kinds of wildlife. As you take in the flora and fauna, you learn about an urgent matter demanding your attention: the animals are quickly succumbing to an unknown illness. It’s up to you to figure out what to do—and then act quickly to protect what you can.”
You are then given three different problems. Of course, you choose how much time you would like to put into each section. These problems include:
Understanding the Situation:
At this stage, candidates are tested to see how they process information about a problem and ultimately come up with a plan. Candidates are asked to understand the nature of the disease affecting the simulated environment’s wildlife and construct a plan to limit the impact.
Create a New Ecosystem:
Candidates are given a limited amount of options and resources and are asked to create a new ecosystem for the wildlife. The goal is to set a strong foundation for the animal population by selecting the most optimal choices on disease treatment.
3. Ensure Sustainability:
Candidates are challenged to ensure that the environment can build upon its foundation, thrive, and remain sustainable. The goal is to ensure that the animal population is positioned to survive in the long run.
What the McKinsey Digital Assessment Tests For
The McKinsey Digital Assessment tests for several key cognitive abilities, including critical thinking, decision making, process improvement, situational awareness, and systems thinking.
As you may have discerned from reading about the assessment, the test is designed to be similar to the projects you’ll work at as a consultant at McKinsey. Here is how the assessment parallels to a McKinsey project:
Understanding the Situation:
Case projects start with clients providing massive amounts of data and describing their problem in vague terms. As a consultant, it’s your job to discern what the important facts are and pinpoint them for the client.
2. Create a New Ecosystem:
Your next task is to figure out which parts of the client’s problem are most important and figuring out how to treat them in the most efficient way possible. As you gather more data, the problem becomes more complex but your ability to make an effective foundational plan should grow accordingly.
3. Ensure Sustainability:
Your last and arguably most important task is to create long-lasting impact for your clients.
The McKinsey Digital Assessment/Solve is a fascinating new-ish way to measure a candidate’s raw cognitive ability. The tool is still being proven out, but candidates should expect to face some form of the digital exam this recruiting cycle. Other competitors – looking at you Bain and BCG – are following suit by offering digital assessments of their own.
If you are asked to take the McKinsey Digital Assessment, we suggest managing your time carefully and being comfortable with making imperfect decisions based upon incomplete information. Since there’s no relevant practice test, take a deep breath and do your best! If you are a good fit for McKinsey, you will likely do well. And if you’re not, better to find out now.