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From PhD to McKinsey

Antoine joined McKinsey to level up hands-on skills after spending time in research

Why did you choose to join McKinsey?

The better question for me would be, why didn’t I join earlier? I was already interested in McKinsey during my master’s studies. I was looking into joining upon graduation when a PhD offer came my way, and I could not refuse it. It was a project at the intersection of my interests – healthcare, computer science and engineering – in a partnership between a French microbiology laboratory and an instrument manufacturer in California.

I really enjoyed the time I spent in research, however, I never saw it as a long-term career. I saw McKinsey was a great entry point to gain hands-on skills and then move into management. When I finally applied, I was afraid that having spent almost five years in research was going to hold me back. Now seven months into my McKinsey journey, I realize my background has helped me bring a different perspective to the firm. For example, it has been easier to work in my areas of interest since I came in with relevant experience. I’ve had ample opportunities to discover new ones, too. Since I was quite comfortable analyzing data, I quickly ramped up to work on the analytical workstreams; I received great targeted coaching to fill in my gaps, which allowed me to bring my best self to our clients.

How was the transition, especially in the virtual context?

Due to the pandemic, I didn’t have many in-person interactions in my previous role. My day-to-day work was 100% remote. We had a couple of meetings each week, and we’d chat with each other when needed to for work or just to have a conversation. Therefore, I was prepared to work in the virtual context.

At McKinsey, we have a virtual – for now, at least – check-in and check-out every day, and our workstreams on the project are closely related. I already feel connected, even though I’m still working remotely. Furthermore, the firm has been quite creative in offering virtual social activities, which are fun and have definitely helped me meet new people.

The biggest difference at McKinsey is the pace. In research, I had a couple of projects running for months in parallel. At McKinsey, everything goes faster; sometimes I feel like my team gets a week’s worth of work done in a day. I’m staffed on one client project at a time for a relatively short period. When our work is complete for one client, an entirely new engagement starts.

I’m really excited by the breadth and diversity at McKinsey; I can work on anything from cloud to pharma, education, organization, marketing or operations. I can go deep into topics, too.

The collaborative spirit and the fact that we’re all here for each other has really helped my transition from academia and research to consulting.

What did you learn from your first projects?

My first engagements were special as I was getting used to a completely different working environment. At the end, it struck me how much I’d learned and grown from these first experiences.

I started on an internal project on cloud, where I discovered how McKinsey works in digital. I knew McKinsey did more than traditional consulting, but I was surprised to discover the number of technical assets we have and the breadth of use cases we cover.

Shortly after, I had a project digitizing a pharma production line and another organizing part of the Belgian education system. In these projects, thanks to the coaching I received, I learned how to better interact with clients, especially going from showing analyses to communicating insights and recommendations.

What advice would you give young professionals interested in McKinsey careers?

If you never try, you’ll never know. If you have doubts, do not hesitate to reach out to consultants or people in your network who have previously applied to or worked at McKinsey to get their advice. Interviews are a great way to see whether McKinsey’s the right fit for you. You shouldn’t forget that it goes both ways; you are choosing McKinsey as much as McKinsey is choosing you.

In my case, I asked extensive questions when I was initially contemplating joining McKinsey during my master’s, five years before I actually applied. I didn’t really do that level of diligence again this time. When I joined, I was in for several positive surprises, seeing how much more diverse (in terms of people) and diversified (in terms of projects) McKinsey was compared to my expectations. I saw how the firm has really evolved over the last five years, so if you haven’t explored McKinsey in a while, I’d recommend checking it out again.

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