What is it like to work at McKinsey? McKinsey and Company is generally the most popular destination for management consulting candidates of all backgrounds. Each year, this holds true for thousands of undergraduate and business school graduates across the globe, as well as thousands more mid-career switchers. In this article, we’ll discuss what it’s like to work at McKinsey – the good, the bad, and the ugly. Let’s dive in.
Note: This perspective was contributed by an anonymous former McKinsey consultant. It was edited for clarity and length only.
Working at McKinsey
Along with Bain and Co and the Boston Consulting Group, McKinsey is one of the three most prestigious consulting firms in the world – generally considered the most prestigious. Working at McKinsey is as satisfying and stressful from the inside as it seems prestigious and glamorous from the outside. We’ll break down what it’s like to work at McKinsey in three buckets (in true consulting fashion!) – the positives, the negatives, and the fringes.
Let’s start with the good parts.
Perhaps the most attractive part of the entire experience is the learning and development. McKinsey consultants are exposed to a high level of problem-solving. This happens through working on important problems for Fortune 500 companies, and consistently engaging with C-level executives on challenging, highly impactful decisions.
The next best reason to be at McKinsey is the people. McKinsey has been around for over 100 years and keeps churning out CEOs, CFOs, and COOs for global organizations. Not that such a position is guaranteed if you join the firm, but you will develop a powerful network through your daily interactions with future corporate leaders. Such a network is never a bad thing. Sundar Pichai (CEO, Alphabet Inc.) and Sheryl Sandberg (COO, Facebook) are just two examples of well-known executives who got their start at McKinsey.
The third reason to work at McKinsey has to do with the exit opportunities you get. If you decide to leave, you’ll have plenty of options to choose from when it comes to the next step of your career. The skills and relationships you develop at McKinsey are invaluable and highly sought-after by many companies.
Now, let’s look at the other side of the coin: the negatives of working at McKinsey.
Perhaps the primary drawback is the lifestyle. It seems appealing to many wishful thinkers and aspiring consultants, but is not so glamorous when you’re living it. Traveling and living out of a suitcase for four days a week, only being able to see your family on the weekends (and sometimes not even that), is not for everyone. There is a reason McKinsey focuses its recruitment on young college graduates who tend to be less hindered by familial excuses.
Now, for the ‘fringes,’ referring to things that can be positives for some and negatives for others.
A former McKinsey employee who launched a start-up said that he had to unlearn consulting to be successful at his new role. Why? The structured nature of a consulting engagement for a large client is very different from running a messy new company. Add to that the “consulting-speak” you get used to while working for McKinsey, and one gets tuned a certain way.
While the skills you learn are transferable, the environment at McKinsey is a bit sanitized if your goal is to go launch or work in a startup environment.
A Day in the Life of a McKinsey Consultant
A day in the life of a McKinsey consultant: what is it like? Mondays and Thursdays are usually travel days and Fridays are spent at the home office. To create a realistic scenario, we’ll assume this is a Tuesday in a regular week. You’re on a project in New York City.
Ideally, you are put up in a hotel close to the client office so you can reach work as soon as possible. The other consideration when selecting a hotel is the rewards system (which is definitely a top perk), allowing you to accumulate enough free nights to use later.
Assuming you need to be at the client site by 7:30 AM, it would make sense to wake up at 6. You might find time for a quick workout, take a shower, and grab some breakfast. You punch into the client office at 7:20 AM, with your coffee in hand (black, of course).
You spend 30 minutes organizing your tasks for the day before a quick check-in meeting with your team at 8:00 AM. Following that, you have a couple of client meetings, where you gather some important data for the analysis you need to submit to your manager by 2:00 PM.
You take a couple of breaks during the day – one with the team for lunch and one after your last client meeting at 5 for a quick coffee. Around 6, you pack up your stuff and head back to the hotel, where you take a couple of hours off to grab dinner, maybe talk to your spouse, or even cram in the workout you missed in the morning. You then join your manager for a late-night analysis in the lobby and plan for the next day.
How to Become a McKinsey Consultant
Now that you know a good bit about the firm, you might be asking how to become a McKinsey consultant. The process of joining McKinsey is like the process for most consulting firms.
Perhaps the most challenging part is the initial step of getting your resume noticed by McKinsey recruiters. References are also a big part of feeders for McKinsey, making networking a differentiator in the recruiting process.
Once the resume is shortlisted, the next step is the McKinsey Digital Assessment or PST. These are screening tests designed to gauge your problem-solving, critical thinking, and analytical skills. This is followed by several rounds of case interviews. These rounds are comprised of 2-3 interviews each with McKinsey staff ranging in seniority from Associates to Partners. Each round is an elimination round and is intended to test the mettle of the candidate by putting him/her under pressure by simulating real-life client situations.
Out-loud practice is the best way to prepare for McKinsey case interviews. You can work with an MBB coach on our team to help get interview-ready quickly.
A career in management consulting with a firm like McKinsey and Company can be incredibly rewarding in several aspects. Though the process of getting in can be tedious and requires tremendous dedication, the rewards are immense. If you’re set on McKinsey, make sure your resume is built to stand out to a firm that accepts only a fraction of applicants each year.
- McKinsey: Firm Profile
- McKinsey Perks: More Than Just a McKinsey Salary
- MBB: McKinsey, BCG, Bain; Are They Really the Best?
- Consulting Resume: Complete Guide
- Case Interview: Complete Prep Guide