After graduating from UPenn with a degree in International Studies and Business and then becoming a freelancing backpacker for a year, Joel landed a job as a Management Consultant for McKinsey. Here’s what he has to say with 1.5 years under his belt.
Why did you choose this job?
Coming out of college and having had the experience working for myself as a freelancer, I wanted a role where I could learn the professional skill set one only picks up in a corporate environment, while still having variety in my work and the opportunity to have impact day-to-day. Management consulting, and McKinsey in particular, offered me the opportunity to work on a variety of completely different projects on-site within very different client organizations, learning about a number of different industries and corporate environments. Most importantly, I was surrounded at McKinsey by an extremely diverse and accomplished group of colleagues, which (as cliche as it sounds) was extremely inspiring and pushed me to achieve more.
What is an average day like in your role?
The truth is that every day really is extremely different–both between studies and even within the same study. If I had to pick the “most typical” day, I’d arrive at the client site by 9am and the team would have a quick meeting to align on top priorities for the day and the rest of the week and to book time to do “problem-solving” together, when the whole team collaborates on finding the solution to a difficult problem. I’d then prepare for my day’s meetings, and the rest of the day would be spent hopping in and out of meetings, synthesizing the day’s output into useful learnings to add to the presentation for the client. As a counter-example, though, one of my good friends spent a number of studies on-site at active coal and diamond mines–so really every day and every study is completely different.
What’s the most challenging part of your job?
I found the toughest part of the job to be the need to be “always on.” As a consultant physically at the client site, you always need to be professional, ready to answer any question that the client may ask, and finding useful insights through asking the right questions in every meeting. Because of that, you are intellectually engaged every minute of the day from waking up to going to sleep, which does keep the day interesting but can be very exhausting.
What’s your favorite part of the job?
My favorite part of the job was the people I had the opportunity to work with and bond with, both on my teams and among the other Business Analysts my age across McKinsey. I’d say that anyone you ask will say the best part of McKinsey is the people. I also loved McKinsey’s focus on client impact. The Firm’s Values make extremely clear that client impact comes first, and teams do operate in that way. I was always given unlimited resources to make something happen if it was in the client’s best interests.
What’s a common misconception about your job?
A common misconception I heard from undergrads is that many people think that consulting is all about memorizing frameworks and applying them to the problem at hand or finding a way to twist that problem into a framework you already know. I don’t think I used a pre-baked framework the entire time I was at McKinsey–the team’s focus was always on building from scratch the best solution for the client that would deliver maximum impact, and usually the “best solution” doesn’t involve a popular framework that you’d see in Management 101.
Any tips for current college students who aspire to have your job?
Many college students interested in management consulting think that you need to be an expert in economics or accounting, and that’s not true at all. What McKinsey and the other firms look for is leadership ability, achievement, and thoughtfulness, among other traits. The best thing you can do is continue to work hard and succeed at your current classes and extracurriculars and continue doing the things that make you interesting. When interview time rolls around, then you should focus on practicing as many case interviews as possible, making sure that you can clearly articulate your thought processes around each aspect of the case and your decision to go into consulting.
If you had a time machine and could travel back to visit yourself in college, what’s the #1 piece of advice you would have given yourself?
To relax! I spent a lot of time researching jobs and preparing for interviews and am very glad I did–to be clear, I do think being overprepared is the way to go. But, I should have stressed out about the whole process less than I did and had a bit more faith in myself and that things would work out as long as I worked hard.
What is a fun perk of your job?
I personally loved the travel component, and since you are with your team all day long every week in a different city or country, you end up bonding very closely with them. Part of the perks involved in that include occasional team dinners and fun events to make sure the team is having fun while away.