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Mentorship at McKinsey

Seven colleagues share how they’ve found mentors, what they’ve learned, and why it has mattered.

One of our values is to develop one another through apprenticeship and mentoring. Wondering what it looks and feels like at McKinsey? Seven colleagues share their experiences to help you find out.

Before we dive in, it’s worth noting there are different types of mentors. At McKinsey, you’re paired with a few formal McKinsey Mentors when you join:

Development group leader – a more senior colleague in your home office. She or he is responsible for your semi–annual reviews and can help advise you on all sorts of topics related to your development
Professional development manager – McKinsey has an office–driven staffing model so this colleague is in your office and will help you join client teams that meet your needs, use your skills and help you grow. She or he will meet with you early on to understand your preferences and needs and then work with you to find the right staffing opportunity to help you meet your goals.

Along the way, other colleagues you meet will become your mentors and sponsors. What’s the difference? Mentors encourage you and can empathize with you, your situation and your goals. Sponsors offer seniority, power and influence to help you meet your goals. At McKinsey we say mentors help you answer big and small questions – about which projects to take, when and in what to focus, how to work with different personalities, etc. Sponsors create opportunities for you and help you grow.

Data scientist Apurva, describes: “The thing I love most about McKinsey is that my learning comes first. My mentors and leaders put me in new roles that challenge me and help me grow, such as running a code academy for senior–level technical experts”.

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Business analyst Leticia shares, “Until I joined McKinsey, I did not know the difference between mentors and sponsors. I learned quickly that mentors are the people you’ll reach out to for advice, whenever you feel bad or have to make a difficult decision, they will provide you guidance, or at least emotional comfort. Sponsors, on the other hand, are the ones who will proactively create opportunities for you to advance in your career, they’ll push you to expand your limits and provide coaching to develop professional skills.”

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The first mentor I had in my career was a junior lawyer. We had to stay up all night, working on a document that was due the next day and, at some point during the long hours, he started telling me about his struggles with his fiancée because of his job. After he opened up, I felt free to tell him about my personal struggles, my doubts regarding becoming a lawyer, he empathized and since then he has always given me advice about how I should pursue my ambitions and combining them with the other parts of my life. Three years later, I still turn to him, as I know I can count on his honesty.. Since I joined the firm, I’ve found many mentors, and just recently found a sponsor. At the end of a study, I had a very good feedback session with a partner and he gave me great advice on things he believed I should pursue as a business analyst at McKinsey. I mentioned the development goals I have and a couple months later, he recommended me to a very high level study, where I had the opportunity to develop additional skills and had a great time”.

Got it – mentors and sponsors are important. How do I find them?

Anneclaire, an implementation associate from Italy met hers during Expedition, a McKinsey event for students and professionals in Europe: “Simona gave a workshop during which she shared her story of coming to the firm as an experienced hire. Hearing about her background and experiences played a big part in me applying. We kept in touch after Expedition. She sent me a really encouraging message when I applied and interviewed, then called me my second week at the firm. I did not expect her to ask me to join her team for my first engagement! Starting on a team with a familiar face was a great way to begin my McKinsey career. Simona put a lot of effort into making sure I was constantly learning. Even now, after our engagement has finished, we are in touch and she has become my McKinsey Mentor.”

You can meet your mentor like Roshni did: “My McKinsey Mentor and I met on a project. She taught me how to set stretch goals and supported me as I strove to achieve them. She showed me being a woman is a strength I can tap into on my consulting journey. She’s one of the first people who helped me realize I shouldn’t apologize for wanting balance in my life. We’ve kept in touch, and she still helps me calibrate and prioritize some of the feedback I receive,”shares this business analyst in Nairobi.

Roshni learned goal setting and balance achieving techniques from her mentor. What else can a McKinsey Mentor teach me?

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Of course, you can learn technical and social skills from your mentors, but sometimes it goes deeper than that. Tilia, for example, learned leadership: “Recently, I did an engagement managing capital spend in high tech. My team was almost entirely female (McKinsey + clients), so this was a great opportunity learn from other women leaders. I watched as they employed various styles to influence large organizations. I got to know and mentor other women to help them find their personal leadership styles.”

Jessica, an associate partner from Jakarta focused on learning technical skills at first: “My first project at McKinsey was facilitating a merger of two large companies. My engagement manager, Alexandria, made extra time to teach me – the person without a business background or any experience with consulting – everything I needed to know to be successful. She showed me how to break down the problems at hand, build effective slides, and present ideas to clients.”More recently she had to make a big life decision. “When I was considering moving to Jakarta, a group of healthcare partners from the New Jersey and New York offices helped me think through the pros and cons. What I really appreciated was how they did it in such an objective way. They placed my excitement and needs above the office interests”.

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What’s it like to be a mentor?

We asked more senior consultants how it is to be a mentor. Jan, an associate partner from Amsterdam, loves it: “When I became an associate partner in 2018, my role shifted from engagement–based (one project at a time) to client–based, meaning I now focus on building long–term advisory relationships with my own set of clients. I’m also able to more formally mentor and coach colleagues. A special treat is leading our LGBTQ+ community in Northern Europe to make sure everyone feels as included and accepted as I always have.”

Better still, the mentorship you receive at McKinsey doesn’t end when you leave us. Former associate Akshay tells: “When I finally decided to look for opportunities outside of McKinsey, my mentors at the firm provided all the necessary contacts, resources, and counsel I needed to successfully find a new role”.

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“I was excited to start a new chapter in my life with a new organization in a new city. Then BAM! I got a call from my new employer a week before I was to start, saying they had to withdraw my offer. It was a big, big shock. I had no home, no job, and I could only stay in this US for 60 days without employment. Literally, all it took was a couple of calls to McKinsey leaders to partially resolve this crisis – no exaggeration”.

To sum up the above, as a true McKinsey consultant, how would you summarize mentorship and sponsorship?

Leticia has an answer: “We have a formula: trust = (credibility * reliability * openness)/self–orientation. This is a simplified vision but makes it clear that in order to build your personal network you’ll have to find who you feel comfortable sharing your thoughts with, but also make yourself reliable and credible to them. Reliability and credibility involve personal effort, mostly to commit and deliver on your promises. But it also means you do not have to wait for a mentor or sponsor to come to you, you should actively look for opportunities to meet and work with others and learn whether they could be good mentors or sponsors to you”.

Great! Now let’s start mentor and sponsoring...

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