What it does: Management consulting
Staff stats: Over 20,000 globally spread across 120 offices
The good bits: Working for one of the world’s most influential firms with excellent professional development
The not so good bits: Challenging work life balance, high expectations, lots of travel
The McKinsey & Company Story
McKinsey & Company, regularly referred to as McKinsey (or more infamously, “The Firm”) was founded in 1926 by James ‘Mac’ McKinsey – making it one of the world’s oldest enduring management consultancies. McKinsey’s point of difference was this: apply accounting principles to business problems (‘Mac’ after all, was a professor of accounting at the University of Chicago), and require partners to be equipped with multiple university degrees and strong connections to the business establishment. McKinsey’s work was influenced by his time spent working for the US Army’s ordnance department. Here he’d been taken aback by the inefficiency with which many military suppliers operated, and he applied these learnings to advise businesses on how to operate more efficiently (and hence profitably). And thus the management-consulting industry was born.
While McKinsey died unexpectedly in 1937, a Harvard-educated economist called Martin Bower (who joined in 1933) continued the growth of the firm, bumping up McKinsey’s revenue from $2 million to $20 million between 1950 and 1967. Bower laid the foundations for what was to be McKinsey’s subsequent global success.
Increasing competition from new consultancies such as the Boston Consulting Group (founded 1963) and Bain & Company (founded 1973) led to some tough times and revenue contraction. This led the firm to shift away from a generalist approach into 15 specialised working groups to bolster industry capability and knowledge management practices, ensuring continued growth and success to the present day.
Today, McKinsey remains an iconic management consulting brand with over 120 offices and $8 billion in revenue globally. It has been influential in establishing the norms of modern business and government, with examples ranging from the creation of the White House Chief of Staff to the development and industry adoption of the barcode.
In Australia, McKinsey has offices in Melbourne, Perth and Sydney, with expertise across a broad range of industries (such as aerospace, consumer goods, financial services, media and retail) and business functions (including strategy, operations, analytics and implementation).
McKinsey is renowned for the gentlemanly, if competitive, culture created by Marvin Bower. Staff are expected to be discreet about client business and always put their client’s interests ahead of their own.
McKinsey asserts that inclusion and diversity are critical to achieving its dual mission to help “clients make substantial, lasting performance improvements and to build a firm that attracts, develops, excites and retains exceptional people.” It has support networks for women, members of the LGBTQ community, colleagues from minority ethnic groups, parents of special-needs children and colleagues with disabilities. The organisation invests heavily in research on the business and economic case for diversity, while also helping clients with challenges faced around diversity.
McKinsey is particularly focused on increasing the representation of women in senior roles. To encourage this, it’s introduced more flexible working arrangements, special types of leave for staff with childcare responsibilities, an initiative to pair promising female staff with ‘sponsors’ who will encourage them to keep climbing the career ladder as well as inclusive leadership training to “raise awareness of personal biases”.
In Australia, employees are staffed in locations throughout Australia and New Zealand, and most teams agree to work at the client’s offices Monday through Thursday, returning to their home offices each Friday. This helps limit time away from home for out-of-town projects. McKinsey strives to prioritise its employees’ lifestyles and will “proactively help teams find the right balance”. This involves a staffing coordinator that will “try to incorporate your personal needs and requests into staffing decisions”.
It’s also long been expected that McKinsey staff will be pillars of their communities and devote some of their scarce free time to helping out at their church or, more recently, community organisations. McKinsey has been an advocate of corporate social responsibility since before the term was invented. Even in its early days, the firm was providing pro bono advice to organisations such as the Red Cross.
These days, McKinsey is committed to social impact through the way it runs its firm. In the last two years it has supported more than 1,000 non-profits (including 240 pro bono projects), ranging from local charities and chambers of commerce to international NGOs, global think tanks and universities.
In addition to pro bono consulting support to help non-profits develop strategies, implement transformations or optimise operations, McKinsey partners are also active members of the boards of more than 50% of these organisations.
McKinsey also offers its employees the opportunity to volunteer overseas on international development projects through its Take Time program, enabling its staff to pursue their social passions and interests in between engagements. In 2014, McKinsey launched the McKinsey Social Initiative (MSI), an independent non-profit which it supports through access to the firm’s skills, resources and convening power. Its first initiative “Generation”, seeks to close the youth-employment gap through a program that accelerates learning and places disconnected young adults in jobs.
The recruitment process
McKinsey is open to recruiting grads from a range of disciplines but you’ll need to be a “strong problem solver with potential”. You’ll also require impressive grades, leadership abilities and some work experience.
If you attend one of the nation’s more prestigious universities, you’ll probably have an opportunity to meet McKinsey recruiters on campus. Whether you do or not, you’ll still need to go through the standard application process.
Undergraduates join as a Business Analyst and may have up to 2 years’ full-time work experience. Australian and New Zealand students should be applying at the start of their final year.
Postgraduate students typically apply for the role of Junior Associate or Associate. These applicants typically hold an undergraduate degree together with 3 to 5 years’ work experience OR an undergraduate degree together with postgraduate degree and no work experience. These applicants are recommended to submit their application 6-12 months in advance of an anticipated start date.
The first step is making an online application. McKinsey says there’s no “exact template” to getting a job there, but it does state a few key things you’ll need to demonstrate. This includes an ability to “develop and implement creative solutions to challenging problems”. As always, this will mean working well within teams to do this. The company also looks for people with “an entrepreneurial spirit” who are innovative by nature. McKinsey values people that can show “strong intellectual abilities and rigor” grounded with a “practical sense of what works and what does not”. Finally, you’ll need to demonstrate you can lead yourself, teams and communities, fostering effective teamwork to drive results. Greater importance is placed on meeting these criteria than an applicant’s degree or field of study. However, study in a business-related field is likely helpful and sometimes advantageous.
If you’re lucky enough to make the cut, you’ll then be invited to attend a combination of interviews. This will likely include both experience and case interviews. Experience (or behavioural) interviews will look to understand your key accomplishments and challenges, and unpick what skills you may have to contribute to McKinsey. Be prepared to discuss some important experiences in a detailed way, focusing on your specific role and the key actions that were critical to success. Case interviews will assess your problem-solving skills and (as with most consultancies), these scenarios are typically based on real client projects. Interviewers will be looking at how you structure ambiguous business challenges, identify important issues, deal with the implications of facts and data and formulate conclusions and recommendations.
As part of the recruiting process you may also be asked to take a brief test, either online or in person. Depending on the role you apply for, the test may focus on different aspects of your knowledge or abilities. One example of this test is the McKinsey Problem Solving Test, a multiple-choice test that is based on real McKinsey client cases, with no business background required.
Business Analysts at McKinsey typically start on a salary of $95,000 (not including potential signing and other bonuses) – making it one of the highest paying management consultancies for graduates. This can reportedly increase to $130,000 - $160,000 upon promotion to Associate. Similar to other firms, the path to partner is competitive but can be very lucrative. Partners receive a cut of the firm’s performance and can easily earn over $1 million.
There’s a reason that Chelsea Clinton, who presumably wasn’t short of job offers, opted to go work at McKinsey after finishing her PhD at Oxford. The firm recruits the cream of the crop. McKinsey invests more than $100 million per year in its training to help develop its employees. Training ranges from their signature “Embark” program (an intensive ‘how-to-be-a-consultant’ training for newbies) to specialised learning in technology, industry or functional areas. McKinsey also offers coaching and mentorship programs, helping their consultants to grow and plan the next several years of their career. Plus, high-performing consultants are encouraged – and supported financially – to pursue further relevant study, such as an MBA.
Should you choose to leave McKinsey, having ‘The Firm’ rubber stamped on your CV is like a golden ticket to career wonderland. McKinsey alumni can be found at senior levels at most of the world’s significant companies. Plus, given McKinsey folk often like to stick together, and with this dynamic alumni network spread widely throughout the corporate world, ex-McKinsey consultants often feel the benefits of having worked at ‘The Firm’ for years to come. If you’re looking to go places, there are few better investments of your time than spending at least a couple of years at McKinsey at the start of your career.
The vibe of the place
McKinsey’s corporate culture has long been a source of widespread fascination. Both outsiders and insiders have likened joining McKinsey to joining a cult. The firm itself claims it offers an “unrivalled environment for exceptional people”. It also asserts that it is “non-hierarchical and inclusive” and “a caring meritocracy”. There’s a reason McKinsey has been ranked Vault’s #1 consulting firm in Asia Pacific, Europe and North America. Employees at McKinsey regularly cite the high calibre of its talent, supportive environment, and great people to be around as key strengths. McKinsey certainly isn’t for everyone. But if you are an exceptional individual hoping to achieve exceptional things, you should thrive there.