I'm applying to McKinsey. Should I write the optional leadership essay?
I get this question fairly frequently. After all - the leadership essay is optional, right?
Always write one.
I'll elaborate a little bit on the advice I gave in the 'Firm-specific advice' booklet (available to all registered members).
The logic goes as follows: if you won’t go above and beyond for your application, are you going to go above and beyond as a consultant? Anything that impacts your application - even just a little bit - should be taken very seriously by you.
Second of all, remember that if you are a “maybe” or if there are any questions about your communication abilities, your essay will be looked at more closely – this is especially true if the topic of the essay aligns with a perceived weakness in your CV (e.g. leadership).
Finally, make sure to write like a consultant! When I wrote my essay on leadership, I broke it down into 4 sections, and created a diagram for each section. When explaining the leadership structure of the organization I was working with, I found it effective to draw a small pyramid (using SmartArt) which clearly illustrated the breakdown. I used similar approaches for the remaining 3 sections.
Show that you can think in a structured manner and are able to concisely convey your experience. I also added headers, section titles, and saved the document as PDF to make sure the document seemed as professional as possible.
There's similar advice covering applications and interviews for McKinsey, BCG, Oliver Wyman, Monitor, Accenture, and Deloitte in the 'Firm-specific advice' booklet.