From full-time mom to McKinsey consultant

I have a master’s degree in chemical engineering, and I am a chartered engineer with more than 10 years of international industry experience in asset operations, engineering, project delivery, and technical consultancy, predominantly in the energy sector.

I was first contacted about an opportunity at McKinsey in 2016. I was working as the lead process commissioning engineer for a $1.5 billion onshore gas terminal expansion project in Azerbaijan. While I was thrilled about the chance to interview with McKinsey, the timing wasn’t right. I was five months pregnant with my first baby, so I had to let the opportunity pass me by.

I never stopped thinking about working at McKinsey, however. Then in 2020, I learned of another opportunity at the firm. By that time, I was living in London and a full-time mother of two beautiful girls, but I decided I wouldn’t let the opportunity slip through my fingers again. Fortunately, the interview process went well, and I finally joined the firm in 2021, as a junior practice specialist in the Shanghai office.

Jumping back into the workforce

Going back to work after being a full-time mother was not an easy move for me, and I had to make some difficult decisions. However, I never regretted the choice of stepping back into my career.

In my role, I supported multiple CAPEX projects and I can work on projects I am passionate about, including energy efficiency, low carbon, and sustainability.

I love the work I do at the firm, because it’s intriguing for me to see how different companies across different industries operate, and I find it so rewarding to help them with their unique challenges.

Most of all, I am thrilled to work with the people here. I know it can sound cliché, but we do feel like a family. Especially when we’re working intensively on a project—the quick bonding between teammates and the chemistry is unbelievable.

Ditching boardrooms and suits for work sites and hard hats

My idea of management consultancy was dressing up in a fancy business suit and heels, sitting in boardrooms and downtown offices, and meeting with serious, high-profile clients. My experience has not been that at all.

My first CAPEX project was working on a global LNG construction project in a massive Chinese shipyard. My daily work involved walking around the site, checking work progress, and resolving progress performance issues. I dressed in coveralls, steel toecap boots, a hard hat, and safety specs, and my office was a porta-cabin! But the work was so amazing because I worked closely with everyone, from the shipyard management to the frontline workforce.

We had to have a deep understanding of their daily work and pain points, so we could build a relationship based on credibility and trust. I was on site every day, helping real people find solutions to their problems. And seeing the results in real-time through our daily site progress reports was rewarding because I knew I was making a difference.

Growing in my role

To best serve my customers, I must digest vast amounts of information in a short period of time, often in an unfamiliar business area. I have to then pinpoint what is most important, relay that to the clients, and help them focus on the areas that will create the most impact. This can require an intimate understanding of how their unique business or process works, so I am learning something new all the time. But I think the most important skill I have learned—and continue to refine—at the firm is prioritization. Prioritizing to focus on the most significant tasks first. Prioritizing what to say so I deliver the key messages to people who are short on time. And prioritizing my own time so I don’t waste it.

Making my own McKinsey

One of my mentors once told me “To be in control of your own career, don’t let others make decisions for you.” I used to find that hard, especially early in my career. I thought I had to follow a structured career path, earning experience to progress in linear steps, which can be so restrictive and limiting.

At McKinsey, I can follow my own path. The firm offers so many possibilities and routes to grow and succeed. There isn’t a fixed roadmap for everyone. When I joined, I was a full-time mother with a gap in my resume. I wasn’t a young graduate. I didn’t have an MBA. I had zero consulting experience, and I had turned down an opportunity to interview at McKinsey in my past. But here I am, charting my future.

When clients share feedback that they’ve enjoyed working with me, they’ve learned something from our time together, and their business has been positively impacted, I know I’ve added value. It’s a wonderful feeling.

Find a role like Ke’s

More about Ke

In her spare time, she loves travelling, cycling, or just enjoying a nice glass of wine and a movie with her family.

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