Kevin Sneader on why working at McKinsey is the best job in the world

Kevin on virtual townhall
Kevin on virtual townhall

In 1989, I was in my last year at the University of Glasgow. I had no clue what consulting was, and I’d never heard of McKinsey. Neither had any of my classmates – nearly all of whom were from within 30 miles of the city – since McKinsey didn’t have a recruiting presence on campus. I was studying Scottish Law. I liked it but couldn’t imagine doing it for the long-term.

I was also the president of the student union, which meant I essentially ran the biggest bar in Glasgow. One night, as I was cleaning up the union, I found a McKinsey pamphlet that promised opportunities to solve tough, meaningful problems in a variety of industries. It sounded like a great way to explore what I wanted to do with my life, so I reached out. Somewhat to my surprise, someone from the London office with Scottish roots contacted me. At his invitation, I met him in London; we had a lovely conversation, and I left, expecting nothing more.

Yet, things progressed and, after a few rounds of interviews, I received an offer to join McKinsey as a business analyst in London. So I wish I could say that my arrival at McKinsey was part of a carefully assembled career plan – it was not!

Why McKinsey now?

A lot has changed at the firm since I joined. When candidates today ask me why they should come to McKinsey, I tell them it’s still the best job in the world. There are many reasons I believe that, and of course, I’m biased. One key reason is that in this uncertain world, McKinsey is motivated by its purpose to create positive, enduring change in the world; guided by its values; and able to offer stability and variety in its work. We tackle challenges that matter, and we’re doing it with diverse teams of amazing people all over the world.

Sometimes people ask me how McKinsey is different from other consulting firms. That’s hard for me to answer because I’ve never worked anywhere else. I can say we talk more about who we are and how we live our values. Check out our We Are McKinsey site to watch excerpts from the weekly fireside chats I’ve been hosting with colleagues around the world, and subscribe to our careers blog to read more of our colleagues’ stories. Our culture is very collaborative – we are truly one firm – though we provide many paths to success for our people.

(Learn more about joining McKinsey now from Kevin and Lareina Yee).

What kinds of work is McKinsey doing? What will I do when I join?

Our work is so varied, it’s difficult to describe succinctly. Lots of our recent client work has been related to helping organizations cope with the effects of COVID-19. We’ve published more than 540 articles and surveys that have had 24.5 million reads in seven months. Since March, we have undertaken hundreds of engagements in more than 40 countries. For example, we’ve helped health care providers and medical device manufacturers tackle supply chain challenges; airlines face declining travel and surges in refund requests; schools and offices decide when, if and how to reopen; and governments gather fact bases to understand the scale of the situation and the range of possible outcomes. We don’t do policy work, but we do quantitative and qualitative analyses to help organizations assess the challenges they’re facing, brainstorm and triage possible solutions, and implement them effectively.

We’ve also engaged in pro bono work to support social organizations. Our offices have collected and donated supplies to hospitals, food banks, and nonprofits. Medics among us have returned to the front lines. That piece especially inspires me.

How do I get assigned to a project?

If you apply for a consulting role, you can choose from cross-functional / generalist roles, functionally aligned roles (in area such as digital, operations, or marketing & sales), or technical roles (e.g., data scientist, product designer). Our recruiters will guide you through that process and ask you questions to determine your skills, career goals, and interests.

Once you’re here, if you’re in a client-facing role, you’ll be paired with a professional development manager and senior-tenured colleague who will help you with staffing choices. Staffing is always a discussion between you, your mentors, and team leaders. Those conversations will focus on pairing you with client teams that need your expertise and will help you add new skills to your consulting tool kit. We don’t use algorithms to staff.

I find candidates have a lot of misconceptions about staffing. If you’re interested in learning more, I encourage you to read these stories from our colleagues. It’s worth noting that our historical model is evolving; we’re offering more part-time, flexible hours, and team working models as we work through COVID-19 implications with our colleagues and clients.

You mentioned McKinsey’s diverse teams. Tell us more about inclusion at the firm.

A week before I joined McKinsey, I was invited to come to London for a photo shoot. There were three of us. One woman was a rocket scientist with a PhD from Cambridge. The other woman came from Vietnam to London. Then there was me. I had no idea why I was invited, but it made me feel special to be among such good company, so I smiled happily.

When the brochure was printed, our photo appeared under the heading “Diversity and Inclusion.” My photo was there to highlight that someone with a very different background and education could join McKinsey.

We’ve come a long way since then, and we’re still on the journey. We’ve made progress especially in recruiting. We’re close to gender parity among our new hires in nearly every part of the world.. Now, I want to see us get to parity among our engagement managers, associate partners and partners.

When it comes to racial inclusion, the killing of George Floyd was a pivotal moment in history. Sadly, it’s only one of many incidents, but it made everyone take notice of a pervasive, long-standing problem. McKinsey committed to 10 actions to promote racial inclusion within our firm and outside of it. I meet twice a week with a team of colleagues to discuss how we can act, and we’ve had leaders from other organizations ask to partner with us.

We value diversity in all its forms. We have invested in building a culture that celebrates authenticity; we have affinity networks – some more than 20 years old – to provide support, training, and a sense of community. We research the benefits of diversity and inclusion extensively to encourage change among organizations. We serve communities and clients on these topics, too. Learn more here.

Kevin and wife in front of a alligator caution sign
Kevin and his wife, Amy, in alligator territory 
Kevin and wife in front of a alligator caution sign

Tell us more about mobility and the global nature of the firm.

Since I joined McKinsey, my journey has taken me all over the world. My first experience was working in a foreign country: England. I did a short stint in Paris before heading off to Harvard Business School, where I met my wife, Amy. She’s from Washington, DC, and we wanted to stay in the US, but I couldn’t because I didn’t have the correct visa. So back to London we went; for about 18 months.

Amy spoke Japanese and wanted to spend time in Asia; I didn’t speak Japanese, so I transferred to Hong Kong while she was in Japan and we did the distance thing for a while. I was later asked to move to China to help start an office in Beijing; Amy and I jumped at the chance. A few years later, we found ourselves back in the US, where we stayed for about 10 years. Both our daughters were born there. I became the managing partner of the Mid-Atlantic office. Then it was back to London, then Hong Kong, now the US again...

I have valued all those experiences immeasurably. Many of my colleagues have had similar international experiences. It’s important for our clients, too, so we bring the best people and the best knowledge to the table to help them navigate their issues.

Kevin driving an recreational vehicle
Kevin driving the RV on his family's road trip
Kevin driving an recreational vehicle

Any other advice – or things you wish you would have known when you started?

We have a very strong feedback culture at the firm. That’s how we help each other grow. We have a saying that feedback is a gift, and it is. BUT, you don’t keep every gift you receive; some you have to return. For example, colleagues encouraged me to take an associate partner role in London instead of going to Asia with Amy the first time around. I didn’t get promoted as quickly, but in the end it never mattered.

Kevin grilling at the campsite
Kevin grilling up dinner at the RV campsite
Kevin grilling at the campsite
This summer, we took our daughters on an RV trip across the US before dropping my oldest off at college. I guess I would sum up by saying I’ve gained an important perspective: McKinsey is more than a job but less than a life.

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