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How Vanessa achieved success and true fulfillment through caring mentorship in McKinsey

Meet Vanessa, an Assessment Specialist whose success story continues to bloom and evolve at McKinsey.

When climbing the ranks of corporate America, few things are quite as impressive as a leader whose success followed a less traditional path. Some people know exactly what they want to be when they grow up and exactly what they need to do in order to get there; others, like Vanessa, find success by figuring it out along the way and letting pure passion and curiosity lead the way.

“There's just absolutely no way I would've actually thought that I'd end up contributing to the assessment of McKinsey’s next leaders,” said Vanessa, an assessment specialist. “My career path found me along the way, and through caring guidance from amazing mentors – and strong sponsorship from leaders I’ve worked with over the years – I was able to carve out an exciting career that spans two continents and almost 16 years at McKinsey.”

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Born and raised in the coastal city of Durban, South Africa, Vanessa began her professional life when she moved to Johannesburg after high school. Johannesburg, according to Vanessa, is the type of place people go to seek career opportunities and discover what they truly want from their careers. It was there, in the city known as the economic capital of the country, that Vanessa began her career at McKinsey as an executive assistant.

She quickly grasped and appreciated the firm's global scope. It’s that appreciation that made it even more obvious to her that she wanted a “career path that had several layers.” That’s when she made the switch to the recruitment team, a path that allowed her to help with efforts to start new McKinsey offices in several African countries.

Vanessa says one of the things that makes her stand out from many of her McKinsey peers is the fact that she did not attend a college or university, but acquired skills and experience through alternative routes. That's another reason she admires the firm’s efforts to welcome and invest in talent with non-conventional backgrounds.

 “The learning curve at McKinsey is steep – your first few years at McKinsey can almost feel like you're doing an MBA,” said Vanessa. “Having been at the firm [for] 16 years, I can say I have probably completed several degrees just through the learning that I've been able to get at the firm in various roles, and in various countries as well.”

An unshakeable tie to McKinsey

After 10 years, there came a point that Vanessa felt she wanted to experience a new career path and made the decision to leave McKinsey for a while. However, she was never able to shake her appreciation for McKinsey and the people who made her experience so profound and inspiring.

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“While I was outside of the firm, it just felt so strange to me,” Vanessa recalled. “I felt like a fish out of water. I knew very quickly that I wanted to come back to McKinsey because the culture at the firm was just such a part of me. I missed the level of professionalism, of expertise, and intellect the people had. My colleagues are so driven and so smart and always willing to stop and help you with anything.”

The people are a huge part of what helped her acclimate to the U.S. when she decided to make the move to McKinsey’s New Jersey office—specifically, the community she found in the McKinsey Black Network (MBN).

“When I was in South Africa, I don't think it really stood out to me how important having the McKinsey Black Network was,” she recalled. “Maybe that was because the majority of us were Black. When I made my transition to the U.S., I found myself in an environment where I was no longer the majority. The New Jersey McKinsey Black Network was really a safe haven and made the transition easier. It was a space that made me feel a little taste of home.”

Vanessa recently pivoted from a role in talent acquisition to join the assessment center of excellence as an Assessment Specialist. The assessment center of excellence is a global team of experts who focus on McKinsey’s assessment techniques.

“It’s not only personally fulfilling to embark on a new learning journey with the firm, but it’s also incredibly exciting to be at the forefront in ensuring the firm’s assessment processes are as equitable, inclusive and unbiased as possible, and that everybody is getting the same fair chance at the recruitment and hiring process,” she said. “It's important to me that we strive to have a firm that is truly reflective of the society we live in – a place where everybody is getting an equal and fair chance.”

A trajectory to success, illuminated by community care

McKinsey is a place where employees can truly find community within any number of their personal passions and interests. For Vanessa, one such passion is her heart for helping people in her life care for their mental health and find the resources they need to be well. She does this through her involvement with Mind Matters, McKinsey’s internal mental health program, which brings mental health awareness and resources to employees who may be in a crisis. Vanessa says she has always cared deeply about supporting people in her life through their mental health ebbs and flows so that “nobody has to suffer alone.”

From supporting people in their mental health to supporting her peers in their journey toward finding their way at McKinsey, Vanessa will always have one thing in mind: making space for herself and her community to become everything they are capable of being.

Her advice for incoming McKinsey talent boils down to one thing: the phrase “make your own McKinsey” is one hundred percent real.

“My advice would be to research the existing opportunities at the firm,” she said, “And discover which of those opportunities you are passionate about and how your skill set will add value. Eventually, you probably will find something that resonates with you. That’s how you’ll find your own tribe and opportunities to do the type of work that matters to you.”

As for Vanessa herself, she’s always looking out for opportunities to reach the next level in her career, all while finding a balance between work and making time for her husband, dog, and favorite hobbies (her latest foray is baking).

“My major goal over the next year is to lay a strong foundation and building blocks to grow my expertise in assessment,” she said. “I'm excited about that, because I feel like I'm at the beginning of a new learning journey, so to speak, and I’m looking forward to collaborating with colleagues to increase diversity at the firm.”

Find a role like Vanessa’s