A day of a McKinsey consultant

14/10/2013

As the title suggests, this blog entry is an attempt to describe a day in the life of a McKinsey consultant. It is something I feel very happy to do and yet I worry a little whether I am able to convey to people reading this text what it truly is like to work at McKinsey.

I have come to discover that the words “no two days are alike” hold more true at McKinsey than in most other places (as I was writing this text, my colleague actually asked me if I was going to start with this cliché but yes, I did, because it describes our work so well). Consulting is project-oriented work which means we get to serve different clients in different industries each facing their own unique set of challenges. Furthermore, not only do client contexts change, but also the McKinsey teams we work in vary from one project to another. Consequently, since I started at McKinsey in October 2012, I have had the chance to work in five different industries, with six different teams and with travel into three different countries. Thus, describing a day in the life of a McKinsey consultant is essentially about balancing between what is typical or consistent in our daily work (the way we work) and what is not so typical and consistent (what we do). That being said, this is my attempt to draw on the experience I have and hopefully provide you with a little more insight into what our working lives are like.

On the “way we work”, I would say a consultant’s day starts like anybody else’s for that matter: with the alarm going off just when you feel like sleeping some more.  Although I am no morning person, I often do sports in the morning before going to work because I have found that exercising before work is by far the best way for me. Since work can get intense, it is important to occupy myself with something non-work related that gives me energy. This may not be sports for everyone, but I assure you that you don’t have to give up your athletic or other ambitions when joining McKinsey. Not being able to actively exercise while working was in fact one of my concerns before joining McKinsey, but I actually did my first ever half triathlon this summer. The triathlon itself and all the exercising required for it serve as good evidence of being able to combine consulting at McKinsey and my sporting ambitions.

Since McKinsey teams work closely with clients, after the morning workout I often go directly to my client site to meet with the rest of the team. On the projects that I have been part of, the core team has usually comprised of an engagement manager (i.e. project team leader), myself and another junior associate or associate. In most cases we have team members from our other offices around the world and that creates a great international touch in the work we do. The work of the team is divided into separate work streams that are each driven by a consultant and the whole palette is then managed by the engagement manager. Depending on my work stream, my day at the client site is usually filled with a mixture of client interviews and meetings but also independent work and team problem solving. Team problem solving is basically a situation where the team (sometimes joint McKinsey and client team, sometimes just us consultants) brainstorm together over a challenging issue from one of the work streams in order to come up with a solution. After a day at the client’s, the teams often retreat to the office or hotel, depending on where the client is located, to reflect, synthesize and develop recommendations based on the day’s insights.

When it comes to “what we do”, one project can involve various types of tasks. For example, in one client project I did shop floor interviews with client representatives on one day and performed sales funnel analysis the next day. The first task required drafting an interview guide and going out to the shops whereas the second task required some Excel analysis and working with my client to better understand their data and how they use it. Personally, I feel that the best part of the job is the hands-on work that we get to do such as walking around a factory floor with a client and helping them re-think their work.

Of course our work is not only meetings, interviews and factory visits. A lot of the work also involves using basic tools such as PowerPoint and Excel: we use these tools to put our insights and recommendations in writing or to crunch some numbers for an analysis. I think I have even heard someone make a humorous remark about consultants only communicating through PowerPoint slides. Anyway, one key thing you learn as a consultant is that being capable to run the Excel analysis is one thing, but synthesizing your findings and communicating them to the client as a compelling story with a clear “so what” is at least equally important. Overall, the versatility of the work and increasing degree of independence as we progress in our consulting careers enable us to grow and develop ourselves in every project.

I hope I have left you with some additional insight into the “day in the life of a McKinsey consultant” as I set out to do at the beginning of this text. I strongly suggest you come to our future recruiting events to learn more about our work and get a second opinion. After all, the above is just my description and McKinsey has many more different stories and experiences to share.

I hope to see you in our future recruiting events or working in one of our teams!

Best,

Oliver Nilsson

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