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By navigating a career change, a former Partner rediscovers her passion

Former Partner Jess Huang details her journey through the Firm and the things she’s learned about herself since leaving.
Headshot of Jess Huang
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Change is an inevitable part of life, but it doesn’t always need to be an overwhelming experience. In former Partner Jess Huang’s (CHI, SVO 09-22) experience, it means leaning in and embracing the change.

In early 2022, Jess left McKinsey – the only place she had worked since graduation – to join Google as Managing Director of Product Strategy & Operations for Global SMB Advertising. For her, change meant an opportunity – to learn something new, both professionally and personally, and to embrace the strengths of emotional intelligence, intellectual curiosity, and adaptability that had served her so well during her journey through the Firm, going from a BA to a Partner in the Marketing & Sales Practice and leading the Firm’s Women in the Workplace initiative.

In this interview, we dive into how Jess navigates personal and professional change, what drives her, and what she has learned about herself since leaving McKinsey.

You have degrees in biology and philosophy. How did you find your way to consulting with that background?

I had no idea what consulting was, but I applied because it sounded interesting. I remember getting an email that said, "Congrats on the interview. Would love to connect and practice an interview with you." And I thought, "Oh, that's interesting. Why would we practice an interview?" I was not prepared when I got on the phone for the prep, and she began, "So, you're a taxi driver in New York." But I found that I loved doing the case interviews. They were fun, and that was a good sign of what was to come and my fit for the job.

Were your first days at the Firm consistent with those initial expectations?

I was approaching it as a learning experience, which fit what I was looking for. I learned so much every day. It also exceeded my expectations in a lot of other ways. I didn't fully appreciate the skill sets I would develop and how transferable they would be between clients and industries. And now that I’ve left McKinsey, I've found those skills to be equally transferable outside McKinsey.

You were a leader of the Firm’s Women in the Workplace report. Tell us what that is and your role in developing it.

Women in the Workplace is the largest study in North America on women's representation and workplace experiences. It is published in partnership with Lean In and is in its seventh year. It is an often-cited resource and is leveraged by clients as a yearly pulse-check on progress against women's representation and experiences at their companies.

I had the opportunity to help lead the research. It was an amazing way to have impact outside of my client work and feel like I was contributing to the broader cause of DE&I [Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion], specifically around helping women advance in business, which I am passionate about. I'm proud to have been part of its growth and evolution.

Last year, you joined Google. Tell us about your role.

I work within Google Customer Solutions, which is Google's ads business that serves small and medium businesses. We have a wide range of customers that use our advertising products, from your neighborhood pizza shop owned by a sole proprietor to large brands that consumers regularly interact with.

My role fits in between product and sales. It is all about shaping what products and solutions can help our customers and how we can simplify and scale those solutions so that our sales team can have the skills, knowledge, and tools to sell their products to a large and diverse customer base.

Jess Huang with her family
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What keys have been helpful in navigating change?

The learning mindset helps me a lot. Reframing and viewing change as an opportunity to be challenged and grow, whether around content, people, or myself. It helps me in life because it feels more like an opportunity to learn something new versus overcoming a massive or crazy change.

The other thing is maintaining a broad perspective. It's easy to get stuck in your day-to-day and become overwhelmed. But also, realizing that in the grand scheme of things, there are so many other things going on for different people in the world, and I have been lucky enough that while changes are challenging and need to be navigated, they aren’t world-ending.

Last, it's always easier when you have stability in other areas of your life. Whether that’s my health and fitness routine or my relationships with people I can go to for support, advice, or to vent, having stability in these areas helps me navigate change.

What passions drive you?

If I look thematically at what drives me, the people element is big. I have a lot of passion for making connections, bringing people together, and helping them achieve their individual goals. I also have a passion for collaborating with others to achieve shared goals.

The other big one is I have a passion for hard problems. My intellectual curiosity has always attracted me to the “shiny” problems and figuring out how to attack them from different angles, break them down, and solve them.

What’s your approach to unleashing the potential in others?

At the heart of it, it depends on what your team members care about, where they want to develop, what they're passionate about, and what they want to achieve. The beauty of McKinsey and Google is the diverse teams with different backgrounds, experiences, and home situations and how that manifests in wanting to achieve different things.

When it comes to unlocking potential, it's helping them achieve their goals and pushing them where you think they have potential in areas they have yet to think about or haven't seen in themselves.

What have you learned about yourself since leaving the Firm?

It has reinforced a few things. First, it's how much I connect through people to take in information and get the pulse of organizations.

At Google, I primarily learned through talking to people during my first 90 days of onboarding. Of course, there are onboarding videos, decks, etc., but there was no substitute for learning by connecting with people, realizing how they were connected, and what they were working on.

Another one is that I've always considered myself a structured person, and maybe that's due to growing up at McKinsey, or perhaps it's a personal quality. I was at the Firm for so long that separating the two is hard. But I realized that despite loving structure, McKinsey prepped me to deal with ambiguity. I learned that I could drop into a new company, job, role, context, and business, and be okay.

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