How a rugby injury led me to McKinsey and Harvard

Growing up in Northern Ireland

How a rugby injury led me to McKinsey and Harvard
How a rugby injury led me to McKinsey and Harvard

I was raised on a dairy farm in Northern Ireland, close to the Southern Irish border in a small, tight-knit community. I had never heard of consulting or McKinsey and knew very little about university.

My initial plan was to make a career out of sport. In my late teens, I was involved with Ireland Rugby at the Under 20s level, and I had seen guys around me get professional contracts. Unfortunately, I got a serious neck injury during a game. I was unable to play for a year and had scary conversations with my doctor about surgery before I was 20.

Figuring out my career path

How a rugby injury led me to McKinsey and Harvard
How a rugby injury led me to McKinsey and Harvard

I began studying economics at my local university, Queen’s University Belfast. I was discovering academia for the first time in my family. I took this newfound time to gain a diversity of experiences to figure out what I wanted to do next. I tried a lot of things. I did internships in the House of Commons, on Capitol Hill and in private equity.

From these experiences, I learned two things. I found the public sector and principal investing fascinating, and I wanted more exposure to both. Second, I wanted to learn to be a well-rounded professional.

As I finished my undergrad and went on to do my masters at Trinity College in Dublin, consulting became a no-brainer to me. I decided to apply to McKinsey.

My first impressions

How a rugby injury led me to McKinsey and Harvard
How a rugby injury led me to McKinsey and Harvard

During the recruiting process, I attended events for some of McKinsey’s many affinity networks. Seeing people similar to me was reassuring. I also practiced cases with McKinsey consultants. Going into the interviews, I felt comfortable being me and was prepared as I could be.

The personal experience stories I shared during my interviews were, perhaps, atypical. I talked about times my leadership was stretched while working in Northern Ireland with victims from The Troubles and navigating the complexities of peacebuilding back home. I described making trade-offs to balance building a classic car business while caring for my mother during university. My interviewers were empathetic and inquisitive throughout. I really felt I was given the opportunity to share my experiences.

Continued support

That support and freedom to be me and pursue what matters to me has continued since I joined McKinsey in London this year. For example, during my last year of university, I went through specialist selection for the Army. It was important to me to find an employer that enabled me to complete the rest of my training and then hopefully, service as a reserve officer. The London office currently has 17 reservists. Every year, we get an extra two weeks of paid leave for military duties, which we can schedule around client engagements.

Opportunities to give back

How a rugby injury led me to McKinsey and Harvard
How a rugby injury led me to McKinsey and Harvard

I am also working alongside SEO London, an organization with which McKinsey partners, and I have frequent interactions with members of McKinsey’s PRISM network. It aims to improve socio-economic mobility, providing career coaching to historically underrepresented groups.

I try to give back to my communities proactively and this included going to Athens with a humanitarian aid charity during the refugee crisis and bringing communities together through sport in Cape Town. I look forward to doing more of this, as well as working on pro-bono engagements and utilizing my paid volunteer time off through McKinsey.

Next steps

Sometime after receiving my offer to McKinsey, I became aware of a deferred MBA program at Harvard Business School. It seemed like such a far reach – something that just didn’t happen to folks from my hometown. I decided to give it a shot anyway. I reached out to colleagues and McKinsey alumni for guidance on the standardized tests and how to craft my essays. My first draft got torn to shreds! I went through iteration after iteration with my mentors at the firm. After their invaluable advice, I got admitted to Harvard Business School. That was definitely a night for champagne!

My happy place

Although I don’t play anymore, I remain a sports fanatic. My happy place is in the pub with some friends, watching rugby or football and complaining about the referees.

Beyond that, I am a geek and get lost playing video games, and have even won a wee bit of money in gaming competitions.

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