Seeking think tanks

Creating impact on the issues that matter to you most

Before joining McKinsey, I was a Politics major attending Princeton University, considering a career in academia. I was the first in my family to attend college, and as a Latino, low-income college student, I held several issues close to my heart, such as economic mobility, housing access, and access to opportunity. My motivation toward academia was driven by my desire to produce knowledge that would encourage change in the public and private sectors to improve the lives of people in poverty.

In line with the goal of becoming a professor, my summer experiences in college included learning a new language, helping organize international exchange programs, and conducting original research in China and Taiwan for my junior and senior independent work. One summer, I interned as a research assistant at a UNESCO World Heritage site in the Gobi Desert of Gansu, China. Living on site near the ancient Buddhist cave temples called the Mogao Grottoes, I helped the security detail and resident art historians with translations from Mandarin to English.

Matt Parodi
Matt Parodi

As I explored alternative career paths, I found academia was one of many ways to make an impact on the issues I cared about most. I became intrigued by the role think tanks play as researchers collaborate with government, academic, and the private sector stakeholders. I felt there was something very practical about studying a topic deeply and testing solutions with people who have the means to implement them. The summer before my senior year in college, I learned about the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI), which is McKinsey’s internal economics think tank. Ultimately, the opportunity to someday help produce a report with MGI drew me to the firm.

When I was recruiting at McKinsey, I found my experiences and goals greatly interested my interviewers. After being here for about a year and a half, I understand why. An acute awareness of the world and an ability to react to changing circumstances are critical to our client work and the knowledge we produce.

If at first you don’t succeed, try again

I applied to McKinsey twice: once for McKinsey’s sophomore summer business analyst program and then again for the full-time business analyst position. After being turned down for the sophomore program, I decided to pursue my academic passions more fully through various internships and a study abroad. At the time, I was not sure if I would recruit for McKinsey again. When senior year rolled around, I decided it was worth another try for a full-time business analyst role, especially given my newfound interest in MGI.

As I prepared for my full-time interviews, I relied a lot on a network of trusted friends to help me through the process. I was lucky to have a few great friends in consulting and some generous McKinsey mentors, who were assigned to guide me in the recruiting process. They helped me think about my interviews as conversations, not a competition.

Matt Parodi
Image taken pre-COVID-19.
Matt Parodi

One friend told me if I went into interviews trying to perform in a certain way – like the profile I thought the interviewer wanted to see – I would be less likely to succeed and get an offer. Worse, if I did, I would likely not be happy in the long-term because I hadn’t been my true self during the interviews. Being vulnerable and bold in the interview process was exhausting emotionally because it made the possibility of rejection feel all the more personal. Yet, my final McKinsey interviewers cited my openness as a factor for extending me the offer.

Happiness is bringing your full self to work

Over the last year and a half, my McKinsey colleagues have taught me a lot of important professional lessons. Most importantly, I’ve learned that bringing my full self to work is essential for my happiness. For me, this includes sharing my background with trusted colleagues and being intentional about how I want to develop at McKinsey.

Halfway through my first client project, I experienced a personally difficult time during which I couldn’t focus on my work. Very nervously, I shared my situation with my engagement manager as I repeatedly apologized for not completing my work. The team responded by offering me time off and the option to work remotely. The next day, I flew out to attend to the matter over the weekend and worked remotely for the following week. I’m still thankful for that experience, because it set the tone for my McKinsey journey. I knew from then on that McKinsey was a place where I could have honest conversations about what was and wasn’t going well – personally or professionally – and find a solution that works.

Currently, I’m bringing my full self to work by leveraging our Take Time program, which allows me to take five to ten weeks off to pursue personal and developmental goals. I’ve used this time to think about graduate school applications, externships, and reflect on my experience thus far. For me, Take Time was critical in my decision to postpone graduate school for another year.

Be vocal about your interests

My advice to someone interested in working at McKinsey is to find what excites you about the job and vocalize it to your recruiters and interviewers early.

Coming into McKinsey, I had this idea that work-life balance meant work-life separation. However, in my experience, I found my life interests – economic mobility, affordability, research – were the greatest sources of happiness in my work. Serving philanthropies, universities, and state governments on various aspects of their COVID-19 response has been the highlight of my time at McKinsey so far. In the last month, I’ve applied what I learned through experiences serving the public and social sectors to a project with McKinsey Global Institute and the McKinsey Institute for Black Economic Mobility! In other words, being up-front about my interests and energizers made me more excited about my client work and ultimately led to even more opportunities for me to work in the areas that matter most to me.

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