Can you join McKinsey directly as an EM or do you have to join as an Associate first? Is direct hire to EM common?

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It’s very, very uncommon but it does happen.

The only instances I’ve seen it happen is when the person is actually very senior (senior director, VP level) and they’re coming down to an EM level. It’s almost never a lateral or even promotional hire.

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You can. When I was at the firm we had alot of lateral hires into em equivalent roles when you come from another firm or you have speciality skills so you join our newer functions like digital, analytics etc. You do however have to do a project or 2 as an associate to get your bearings

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I’ve seen this for expert roles, but very rarely for integrative (generalist consulting) roles.

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