The journey to McKinsey Japan after studying abroad

We sat down with four of our newer colleagues in Japan to learn about their time at McKinsey. They all studied abroad before returning to Japan to start their professional careers. All of them are passionate about recruiting and improving diversity & inclusion within McKinsey. We hope you’ll enjoy sharing virtually in their experiences and consider applying to join them in our Tokyo and Kansai locations.

Interviewer: How has McKinsey fulfilled your career aspirations?

Keita: I started a small business as a student in Canada and realized my understanding of how businesses work was limited. McKinsey provided me with a platform to work on tough business challenges alongside supportive and knowledgeable colleagues who helped me build my expertise. After two years in the firm, I have acquired skills I never expected to have so early in my career. For example, when I was put in charge of our work at a client subsidiary my team was very encouraging. The engagement manager supported me on key points to deliver each week and provided advice, while giving me the autonomy to drive my workstream. This experience gave me confidence and I learned to effectively communicate our recommendations and mobilize the client team to collaborate. As the consulting industry further develops in Japan, McKinsey will provide endless opportunities for those eager to explore and stretch their boundaries, regardless of their career stage.

Shino: When I was working in the UK after university, the CEO of my company said to me that Japanese manufacturing companies needed to be more creative and revise their approaches to work better with their more culturally diverse counterparts. Having spent the majority of my time growing up in the UK, I was shocked and frustrated by this comment, especially since I knew it was coming with authenticity from someone who had spent much of his career in Japanese corporations. This CEO believed Japan would experience another big boom similar to the 1980s and I wanted to witness this growth and help Japanese companies get to the next level of performance. I came back to better understand Japanese corporate culture, contribute to Japanese society and continue my career.

I was a bit nervous about moving back to Japan after 20 years away. McKinsey gave me the perfect opportunity to work with colleagues from diverse professional and cultural backgrounds, while helping Japanese and international clients with their toughest challenges. On one project, a few junior Japanese counterparts at the client were struggling to get their international leadership to align on new ideas. After observing the meetings, I realized they were doing excellent work but the presentations were too detailed so next steps were lost. I coached the team to present their asks first and only dive into supporting facts as needed. This helped the leadership quickly see the action steps and next steps and react to them.

Interviewer: Since joining McKinsey, has anything surprised you?

Rika: After studying in diverse, multi-cultural Hong Kong, I wanted to pursue a career where I could work on a variety of business issues across industries and sectors. McKinsey Japan allows me to work with Japanese and international clients on topics like digitization, globalization and organizational transformation. At McKinsey, my international background and perspectives are valued and, on several occasions, I have drawn from my international experience to make a difference with companies undergoing cultural change.

Keita: I’ve met colleagues with such diverse backgrounds: a former startup founder, researcher, physician, investment banker, bureaucrat. The list goes on. I‘ve learned so much from working with them. What surprised me, in particular, was that there are many opportunities to connect with firm alumni through events and senior colleagues. I‘m grateful for opportunities to network with people who are active in areas that interest me.

Nene: The biggest surprise for me was the passion for coaching and genuine care McKinsey’s consultants have for each other. Before joining McKinsey, having limited experience outside research, I imagined consulting firms as competitive and harsh. However, it was apparent at the start of my first project that this is not the case at McKinsey. My manager frequently took time for me to discuss my aspirations and concerns about the project. He gave me genuine and practical advice that helped me perform at my best.

Shino: The amount of flexibility and support I receive to pursue my career aspirations, like mobility and international opportunities, is unparalleled. I know if an international opportunity is the best way to expand my knowledge or gain better perspective in an area, the firm and my colleagues support me. A close friend joined a project in Seattle in her fourth year with the intent to gain international exposure. She found her passion in sustainability projects, and has since transferred to the Seattle office where she can focus on these projects. She’s only one of many colleagues across the globe who started off their careers in Japan and ended up somewhere else either temporarily or permanently.

Interviewer: What has been your experience with feedback?

Keita: Feedback is core to McKinsey. It enables me to gather insight, reflect on the best solution and improve going forward. My experience with feedback at the firm has been very positive. It requires openness to different opinions, which was common studying abroad with people from diverse backgrounds.

Shino: In my previous work in the UK, junior colleagues were given responsibilities to lead and execute on workstreams, but their resources were limited because of the scale and short history of the company. At McKinsey, I have access to the best expertise and resources, such as experts with knowledge on the latest industry practices and visual communications specialists who help create our most effective presentations. These resources allow me to focus on helping my clients solve their toughest problems. During problem-solving sessions, feedback is a big part of how we work together and learn, delivering the best to each client situation. Feedback from clients also gives me the unmatched opportunity to deepen my understanding of Japanese culture.

Interviewer: Has the work lived up to your expectations?

Nene: My career goal has always been to address social issues with technology. I joined McKinsey because my time in research helped me realize the importance of connecting academia with private and public sectors. For example, I worked with a traditional Japanese manufacturing client to reduce its environmental footprint in the power generation industry. Additionally, I have learned from firm experts on mobility, urban planning, and smart cities to further develop my expertise in topics about which I’m passionate. The projects and exposure have shaped the way I want to build my career. At McKinsey, if you voice your passions and interests, there is flexibility and support to chart your own path.

Rika: Those who join McKinsey without an industry or functional focus may work on three to six projects a year in completely different areas, enjoying broad exposure. I’ve worked on projects in consumer health, insurance and automotive industries. The firm is very supportive in helping you find the area that is your passion, and you have the flexibility to change your specialty based on how your interests evolve over time. I was initially interested in sustainability but didn’t know much about the work. By working on client projects and getting involved in firm initiatives, I developed a deeper understanding and am more confident in my decision. It gave me comfort, though, to know I had the freedom to switch if had it not worked out that way.

Meet the group

Returning to Japan
Returning to Japan

Rika is an associate in Kansai. She graduated from Hong Kong University of Science & Technology with a degree in biochemistry and environmental science. So far, Rika has supported advanced industries and consumer clients on operations and transformations.

Returning to Japan
Returning to Japan

Keita is an associate in Tokyo. He studied economics, statistics and politics at the University of Toronto. Keita focuses on strategy work for industrial and high tech clients and is passionate about creating businesses where technology meets market needs.

Returning to Japan
Returning to Japan

Shino is an associate in Tokyo and a graduate of the London School of Economics, where she studied economics and environmental policy. Shino, like Rika, now focuses on operations and transformations across industries. Shino looks forward to expanding her experience at McKinsey and eventually leading global expansion for a Japanese start-up. She is involved in recruiting and the onboarding of new hires.

Returning to Japan
Returning to Japan

Nene is a business analyst in Tokyo. She graduated from the University of Cambridge with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in chemical engineering. Nene, like Keita, focuses on industrial and high tech clients. She aspires to address social issues such as sustainability and economic disparity through city planning with data analytics.

Rika, Shino, Keita and Nene’s stories show how much variety and support you can enjoy at McKinsey. If you’re ready to learn more about roles in Japan, click here.

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