I had never imagined working in strategy consulting. Growing up, I was passionate about wildlife, nature conservation and development economics. I had read some of McKinsey’s research in my previous internship in the Indian Ministry of Environment and Forests, so when a friend of mine decided to apply for the McKinsey summer internship I thought I would investigate further.
I read about the interesting work that the Sustainability and Resource Productivity (SRP) practice at McKinsey do and spoke with a friend of mine who is a consultant at McKinsey. Applying for an internship made a lot of sense for me, because it would give me an opportunity to try out an industry I would not have otherwise applied to for a full time job. The length of the two month internship was perfect: long enough for me to get involved and see if I wanted to do this for a significant period of time, but short enough for me to still have a 45 day summer break!
Initially I assumed that the most exciting part of my summer would be the opportunity to work for large organisations and help them with their biggest problems, but what really defined my internship were the people I worked with.
Before I joined I met up with my formal mentor Martin – a junior partner. His role was to help me understand the firm, evaluate me over the summer and make sure that I had a valuable and realistic experience. Martin was a young Norwegian who had studied public policy and international development and does most of his work at McKinsey on infrastructure and the extractive industry in Africa.
He was passionate about development, and passionate about helping the best parts of business and development mix. Martin helped and advised me throughout my internship – connecting me with interesting people within the firm who I could meet and speak with, and helping me understand my role.
Despite being incredibly busy, he took me out for coffee several times to chat about my concerns and help me understand areas where I could improve and always replied to my emails almost instantly. The individual attention and emphasis on helping me grow and develop was not at all what I expected, and was a recurring feature within the firm.
Over my 8 weeks, I worked for a professional services company, helping them understand whether they should develop a new service line and with a large consumer electronics company, helping it define its sales and marketing strategy in Europe. On both projects I was in a team with just two other consultants. The work was exciting and challenging.
On my first client study I was responsible for building a financial model that would predict the revenue and profit of a hypothetical division within the professional service firm. This involved making a lot of assumptions, and contacting experts from within McKinsey and our client organisation to help me make these assumptions. It also involved building my first ever Excel model – with a lot of help from Rob, another consultant on my team.
I frequently participated in team problem solving sessions, where we sat around a white board and structured the work we should be doing, the questions we were trying to answer and discussed our hypothesises and ideas so far. My opinion was given weight within the team, and the hierarchy dissolved during these problem solving sessions, even when a partner was involved.
My second project was similar, except this time I was in charge of understanding the relative attractiveness of different countries – in terms of both macroeconomic indicators and forecasts as well as consumer electric and electronics spends.
The real responsibility I was given on both teams, as well as the expectation that I would produce something that would be a part of our recommendations was surprising and exciting. Of course I would not have been able to produce much without the outstanding support I received at every stage. An important criterion on which McKinsey consultants -whether junior or senior – are evaluated is how they help others to develop. Within McKinsey’s culture helping other consultants to grow is considered crucial. I was coached, and when I learned slowly, I was coached again.
The support system in McKinsey reminded me somewhat of my junior school, in the best possible way. I was constantly supported by very intelligent people –with a high IQ and equally a high emotional intelligence.
Constructive feedback and encouragement was a continuous part of my time in McKinsey. The experience, both of the work I did, how much I grew, but mainly of the people I was able to work with, was amazing. I would encourage others to apply, – even if they initially believe that their career path may lie elsewhere.