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Don’t Be A Chicken

summer internships
Altay Otun
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Published on May 28, 2014

Feet trembling, palms sweaty, and thoughts racing through my head, I sat nervously in the waiting area for my name to be called. No, I wasn’t waiting for an impending root canal or even a colonoscopy.

Unfortunately, it was far more painful.

I was waiting to undergo the world’s most difficult interview for a summer internship with McKinsey & Company – a top management consulting firm.

Voted the most difficult interview by Glassdoor.com, a jobs and career website, an interview with McKinsey for a summer internship of a full-time consulting position consists of multiple business case studies, several fit or “soft” interview questions, and a lengthy problem solving test (PST).

As a political science student who hasn’t opened a math textbook since my sophomore year of high school, the interview was even more daunting. 

Nevertheless, I knew of the immense opportunities and benefits of completing a prestigious McKinsey internship and when I was offered a shot at an interview I did not back down – even if I was out of my element.

After about an hour answering math problems on the PST and two case studies (one on expanding the business services of an internet cafe in central Africa and the other on pricing a product that makes truck trailers more aerodynamic), I received the dreaded phone call notifying me that I would not be moving forward in the interview process.

While I was disappointed that I did not get the internship, I wasn’t all that devastated because the interview process was just as valuable.

Feeling like a “fish out of water” and interviewing for a competitive internship that was completely unrelated to my college major was an extremely rewarding and educational experience.

It taught me to have self-confidence, to take chances, and to strive for the very best.

Prior to the interview I had two clear options: I could either take a deep breath and do the best that I could do or turn down the interview and wonder “what if” for the rest of my life.

But what’s the benefit of the latter option? Maybe you save yourself some sleepless nights before the morning of the interview and some embarrassment when you can’t do a simple back of the envelope calculation in your head but is it worth a lifetime of wondering what your life could have been like if you had taken a chance?

As the summer approaches and as you start considering possible summer internships, don’t chicken out and apply for opportunities in your comfort zone. Take a big step out of your element and believe that you can do anything that your put your mind to. And even if you fail, at least you will have a few good war stories.

About the Author:

Altay Otun is a graduate from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. He has held numerous internships with the State Department, the Obama Campaign, Congress, top policy think-tanks, and non-profits. He is also the founder of Canada’s first student run policy think tank- the Policy Scholars Forum. He is passionate about politics and innovation. Find him on LinkedIn and Facebook.

Altay Otun

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