McKinsey’s New Video Game Hiring Test

Bloomberg Businessweek, March 25, 2019 cover story “College is a racket.”
McKinsey and Company has recently partnered with Imbellus Inc., a California startup that is trying to change the way students apply to college by replacing the SATs and ACTs with video games AND change the way they apply to McKinsey.

McKinsey is working with Imbellus to “create game-based tests that measure prospective employees’ decision making, adaptability, and critical thinking.” The goal is to deliver a quantitative picture of how an applicant thinks.

The video games “are ecologically themed, the idea being that any test taker, regardless of background, could grasp the laws of the natural world.” To prevent applicants from gaming the system, no two candidates/test takers experience the game/test the same way. There are tens of thousands of variations of each scenario, each at the same level of difficulty.

“Over the past 18 months, about 5,000 McKinsey job candidates in 20 countries have taken the Imbellus assessment, alongside the company’s traditional multiple-choice exam. For about half of those recruits, their performance on the Imbellus test is a factor in determining whether they receive an in-person interview.”

There is no way to prepare, you will need to improvise. The student interviewed said that she “was presented with three different scenarios, each one depicting a natural environment under stress. In one part of the island, she had to save a native species from an impending natural disaster; in another, she was instructed to create a coral reef ecosystem that could withstand evaluated levels of toxicity.” She felt as if she were playing a video game and forgot that it was a test. Another student told me that the major challenge was being given many data points and deciding which were essential to use/move forward for a particular scenario.

McKinsey plans to double the number of candidates taking the Imbellus test by the end of 2019. Keith McNulty, McKinsey’s head of people analytics and measurement, says “the number will grow significantly over time. Early data suggests that a candidate’s performance on the Imbellus problem-solving simulation is a slightly stronger indicator of whether she’ll be hired than her scores on McKinsey’s traditional test – though not earth-shattering groundbreaking. And still a long way from proving those people will be more successful on the job.”

Imbellus’s software captures and analyzes every keystroke you make during the simulation. They do this to arrive at both a “product score and a process score.” They are not just interested in whether you got it right, they’re interested in how you got there.

Marc’s thoughts: So how does this affect case interviewing? The short answer is that it doesn’t. While this program tests your critical thinking, what it doesn’t test is equally important to consulting. It doesn’t test your confidence level, communication skills, or creativity which are just as important as how you think. Client interaction, ethos, pathos, and logos, the modes of persuasion used to convince clients. Because in the end it is all about the client.

Marc Cosentino

Marc, the world’s foremost authority on case interviewing has twenty seven years of experience with case questions. He has written well over a hundred cases, while coaching, preparing and training more than a hundred and fifty thousand students and alumni. He has written three books involving cases and consulting. Cosentino has given workshops to students at colleges and MBA programs for the last twenty seven years and has held training sessions for career services professionals on how to give cases and how to analyze a student’s performance.