I had always wanted to be a scientist. When I was four, I told my dad, “I want to go to MIT and make a rocket for NASA.” I studied science, got my PhD in physics at MIT, and worked as a research and development engineer at an electronics firm. I never imagined being anything but a scientist. Then one night, I met some people from consulting firms and investment banks—and I realized there is something else people can do! And I thought, “Why do I have to limit myself? I have only one life.” I had just never tested my possibilities in any other area. I decided to try something new, and I looked for the best firms in several fields. McKinsey was the best of the best. I was thinking if I do not like this after one year, I can come back to the science area again.
My most important lesson: Being smart is not enough
One day during my first year here, a partner spoke to me very bluntly. He said, “You are very smart—but everyone here is smart. To succeed as a consultant, you need to develop communication skills, business judgment, and problem-solving leadership.” This was a shock. I had thought being smart was all you needed to do any kind of work well. I realized I had to change my attitude and learn a whole new skill set. Of all I’ve learned here, this lesson stands out most.
We are hypothesis-driven
In science, you have almost unlimited time—you collect and analyze data to arrive at the right conclusion. As a business consultant, you have limited time and resources—you must get the best answer, not necessarily the only correct one, in the most effective and efficient way. Scientists take a bottom-up approach, while consultants work top-down. At McKinsey, we develop a hypothesis, then gather detailed data to further diagnose the problem, verify our hypothesis, and make recommendations. Also, the core skill for a scientist is analysis; for a consultant it’s judgment. For example, say a company’s growth rate is 10 percent. That could be too high, too low or just right, depending on your business judgment about the situation. Changing my mindset from scientist to consultant was my biggest challenge here, and it’s the way I’ve grown most.
Preparation for any future
Whatever you do in the future—stay here, start your own business, work in industry, or go back to academia—the challenges and learning opportunities you experience while you’re here will be huge assets. So will the network of excellent people you build. McKinsey prepares you to do almost anything.
|MIT – School of Science
|Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology