– After an exciting couple of years in academia, I faced a choice as I completed my PhD. I had several post-doc opportunities but I knew almost nothing of the world outside academia, and, truth be told, I wasn’t excited about staying any more. I loved the science and the people, not the career path. I started exploring other opportunities. One was a government assignment in Vietnam for a scientific consultancy. I applied and won the competitive tender. It left me feeling like I could do anything – there were suddenly endless possibilities.
During the recruiting process for this government role, second-round candidates received courses in consulting and cross-cultural awareness. It was during one of these classes I first heard about McKinsey and its role as a leader in the consulting industry. I made a deal with myself: if I win this government role, I will apply for a job at McKinsey when it’s completed.
When the time came, I am not proud to admit I had no clue how to apply to McKinsey (now I know the McKinsey careers site is a great place to start). I reached out to my alma mater’s alumni network and was given the name of a McKinsey recruiter. I sent a well-groomed email and received a swift reply that suggested I apply for an upcoming event for PhD students called Insight. I only had a few days before the deadline so I spent all my waking hours drafting, proofreading and optimizing my CV (totally over the top, but I was excited). As you can imagine, I was thrilled to receive an invitation to the event.
My experience at Insight did not disappoint. I’m a big fan of the Alpine region, so the setting in Kitzbühel already put me in good spirits. The professional program was informative, interesting and not too tough. I particularly loved the team room simulation, during which we played the parts of consultants and worked toward a deliverable as a team. The people were undoubtedly the best part – great participants, team members and incredible faculty. Everyone was so nice, open, available and relatable. It was different from what I expected and I felt like I belonged. This might be the biggest cliché, but Insight showed me I could thrive at McKinsey just by being myself. If you’re a PhD, post-doc, or Rhodes, Marshall, or Gates Scholar in the UK, Ireland, Benelux countries or Switzerland, don’t miss your chance to apply for this year’s three-day workshop by SUNDAY 12 Feb. 2107.
When I joined McKinsey full time five months later as a junior associate in Antwerp, I faced a steep learning curve. The first six months were tough. I wanted so badly to be what I thought a great consultant should be like. Then I remembered what I’d learned at Insight: I should be myself. Once I started focusing on being a great Ingvar, things got much better. The last year has been so much fun and very fulfilling. I have learned so much so quickly and developed a strong support network.
For other PhD students out there, I will say my training has helped me succeed at McKinsey in five main ways:
- Analytical strength: academic analyses require rigor, accuracy and strong quantitative skills. PhD programs hone these strengths over a multi-year period in the presence of experienced and brilliant teachers. The only trade-off is that at McKinsey you can’t lose yourself for so long on a particularly complex but interesting piece of modelling; you have to use the 80/20 rule.
- Hypothesis-driven inquisitiveness: when pursuing a PhD, you’re trained to form and test hypotheses. You’re required to be curious. These skills help you perform very well during problem solving sessions at the firm. We love slicing and dicing a complex problem in all shapes and sizes, and feel thrilled when our poking and jabbing reveals an intellectual treasure.
- Teamwork: working at McKinsey means working in teams. As in my PhD program, my favorite times are those I spend with my teammates. My teams in school and at McKinsey have consisted of people from all over of the world, so I’m really enjoying learning the subtle differences between cultures.
- Comfort in any situation: my PhD advisor allowed me to venture into unknown territories in a relatively risk-free environment as long as I published a sufficient number of scientific articles. I used this freedom to explore the European Space Agency, construct photosynthesizing buildings in Iberia, and play Xianqi chess with Vietnamese farmers while drinking huge amounts of tea. This exposure to people from very different backgrounds, working environments and cultures has proven invaluable during my McKinsey journey. Two fun examples: scouring tapas bars in a historic Spanish city with five senior clients and performing Lynyrd Skynyrd on stage with a client’s father-in-law during an all-American strawberry festival.
- Awareness of self: my PhD provided me with time to think about what is important to me and what I want to do with my life. That’s made me more confident in my current choices and allowed me to analyse topics from more perspectives than I would have been able to without it.