McKinsey final round interview or negotiations final exam?

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Whiteboard Michael Scott

How important is your GPA? Think about how much work goes into those 2 numbers on the top of your resume… the difference in effort you need to exert to get a 3.8 instead of a 3.4.There are great reasons to push yourself with your GPA:

  1. Build confidence by proving you can get an A in a difficult class or major
  2. Maximize your learnings and internalize the material
  3. Beating your friends

I’m kidding about that last one. But I’m sure there are many more great reasons for why it is worth investing in your GPA. However, I will make the bold claim that those aren't the real motivations behind why people obsess over their GPA. The usual answers tend to be:

  1. I always strive for a high GPA, why stop now?
  2. I need a high GPA for recruiting/grad school
  3. My parents will be angry if my GPA drops

Seriously. If your primary motive for getting a high GPA is to get a job, think about how much time you are spending each week to increase those 2 numbers in small font at the top of your resume. 20 hours a week? 30? 40?

Yes, it’s important for recruiting, but is it THAT important? Think about what else you could do with 20 hours a week. (With that much time and an unbounded love for cold emailing you could have the world’s greatest network)

Regardless, I’m not going to tell you how much effort to put into your GPA (or at least not in this article hah). Today is about taking intelligent risks. Here’s a story from my recruiting journey:

During recruiting season, I prioritized my daily and weekly to-do list by what will impact my career trajectory the most. During finals week of the first semester of my junior year, I had a negotiations exam and a big interview the following day.

Because of other (more important) exams, I didn’t prioritize studying for this negotiations class. The day before, I had to make a decision:

Do I use this last day to cram for my negotiation exam or prepare for my final round interview?

To make my decision, I considered both the best and worst case scenario for each choice.

If I prep for my interview:

  • Best case scenario: I get this great internship and accelerate my early career trajectory. I can go back to this firm full-time, or I can move to any other company I want with the experience and brand prestige. On top of this, I could get lucky and do well on the exam and end the class with an A… although if I get this internship offer who cares about a minor bump in my GPA.
  • Worst case scenario: I don’t crush the final round interview and do not get the offer. Furthermore, I do poorly on my exam, get a B or B- in the class, and my GPA takes a hit.

Likelihood to land the internship offer: 6/10

Likelihood to get an A in Negotiations: 3/10

If I prep for my exam:

  • Best case scenario: I kill the exam and get an A in the class! On top of this, the stars align and I get the internship offer.
  • Worst case scenario: I do okay on the exam and end the class with a B+. Unfortunately, I don’t get the internship offer.

Likelihood to land the internship offer: 3/10

Likelihood to get an A in Negotiations: 6/10

With these tradeoffs, which would you choose?

I hope you said prep for the interview. The career-impact of landing the internship is significantly higher than the career-impact of getting an A in the class.

This is why it’s so important to take a calculated risk. As students, we are conditioned from an early age to maximize our GPAs. When life gives you an opportunity that is more impactful than raising your GPA, take the risk and go for it!

So, what happened? I didn’t get the offer. Despite light preparation and relaxation on the last day, I did well -- but not well enough -- to land the internship offer. On top of this, I bombed the exam.

I remember walking out leaving half the exam blank (it was a free response memorization-based test… my greatest weakness).

Honestly, I forgot whether I ended up with a B-, B, or B+... but who cares. It literally didn’t impact my life and things worked out. I definitely would not be where I am today without taking intelligent risks.

When deciding where to spend your time, consider the tradeoffs and how each opportunity will help you achieve your long-term goals. It is tough going against conventional wisdom (eg. studying for the final), but thinking through the potential outcomes will give you confidence to take an intelligent risk.

So if I could go back in time would I make the same decision despite the outcome?

Whiteboard Michael Scott


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