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Inside View: McKinsey & Co

Brian Rolfes, Director of Global Recruiting at McKinsey, on the firm's $100 million training programme, learning to make CEO-level decisions, and the 26,000 McKinsey alumni worldwide


Tue Apr 23 2013

Brian Rolfes is in charge of global recruiting at McKinsey and Company. Brian, who is a Partner based in Toronto and has been with the firm since 2001, gives us an insight into the relationship-building, training, and client work that make up a McKinsey career.

Brian himself is a graduate of Carleton University and the University of Saskatchewan in Canada, and both Cambridge and Oxford in the UK! 

McKinsey is rated as the #2 company for MBAs in the U.S. As well as the prestige of working with clients who are leaders in their market and touch millions of people around the world, McKinsey also offers great flexibility - with a program allowing 10 weeks of leave per year - and connects young MBAs with other McKinsey employees worldwide. McKinsey alumni include Chelsea Clinton and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg.
How should I prepare for my case interview?
The case portion of our interview is designed to help both you and McKinsey determine whether or not you would be energized by the type of work we do. If you enjoy the case, you are likely to enjoy a career with McKinsey.
We want you to be successful, so we do everything we can to help you gain comfort and confidence before your interview. We provide you with practice cases, general interview tips and a preparation video on our website. Where possible, we provide access to McKinsey case workshops and coaches. We also encourage you to read the financial press and discuss potential solutions to organizations’ challenges with family members or friends.
As a consultant at McKinsey & Company, would I be able to pick and choose what industry I work in or would my assignments be based on demand?
McKinsey’s scale and scope would provide you with an amazing variety of experiences. We work with some of the largest corporations in the world, dozens of governments and a large set of leading foundations and NGOs. Our breadth would translate into unparalleled opportunities for you to work on complex challenges across many industries and in many functional areas. Such an environment would allow you to ultimately grow faster and go farther than you would if you chose to work elsewhere.
When deciding on staffing, we would take your preferences into account. Upon joining McKinsey, you would be paired with a dedicated Partner-level mentor and a Professional Development manager who would guide your development and help you to optimize your project work.
You should not expect, however, to pick and choose every client engagement on which you work. You should expect to work on a variety of projects that will leverage your strengths and give you opportunities to develop your consulting skill set (e.g., deep analytical expertise, strong leadership ability) with the support and guidance of leaders from diverse backgrounds.
McKinsey spends $100 million a year on formal training programs for employees, can you give me some examples of some training programs I might go through as an MBA new hire?
Because our people matter most to us, we invest heavily in training and development to ensure that each consultant grows and succeeds. As a new Associate from an MBA program, you would participate in up to five weeks of training during your first two years with the firm.
You would attend two in-person training programs that introduce you to the firm, teach you how to be successful on client engagements and prepare you to assume leadership roles, while giving you the opportunity to build friendships with colleagues from around the world. You would also have access to a robust selection (over 200) of on-demand courses online.
These formal training opportunities come in addition to the rich day-to-day learning environment in which you would be immersed. On your teams, you would receive regular feedback from your McKinsey leadership, work side-by-side with talented client leaders, and have access to McKinsey experts. This combination of formal training programs and informal apprenticeship would provide the coaching and support you need to reach your true potential.
You were voted as the #2 company that MBAs in the U.S. said they'd most like to work (Google being #1). Why would an MBA desire to work at McKinsey over other management consulting firms?
We are very gratified to be held in such high regard by MBAs. We believe we continue to be ranked so highly by MBA students year after year because we enable young professionals to reach their potential by working on important challenges collaboratively with exceptional people.
When joining McKinsey, you would be asked to help solve some of our clients’ most difficult, meaningful challenges in areas ranging from big data to clean tech, from transformative M&A to AIDS in Africa. As an Associate, you would have the opportunity to tackle such challenges.
You would be mentored by a talented set of colleagues from all walks of life, including entrepreneurs, professional musicians, Academy Award winners, engineers, Olympic athletes and surgeons. You would build lasting friendships with many of your peers, team leaders and clients, as well as McKinsey experts and alumni. If you decided to move on from McKinsey, that support would continue through our robust, global alumni network.
Moreover, we strive to enable you to have a full, rich life outside McKinsey. Several programs exist to help you balance your personal and professional goals. For example, there is a flexibility program that would allow you to take up to 10 weeks of compensation-adjusted leave time per year. We also offer part-time partner-track programs and constantly improve our traditional client service models.
I am passionate about leadership and entrepreneurship. How would a career at McKinsey help me develop those attributes?
The problem solving and relationship-building skills you would learn at McKinsey would stay with you throughout your career. You would be exposed to tough challenges, learn a time-tested approach to solving problems, be asked to adopt a CEO-level perspective (i.e., think about how complex issues are inter-related), and gain experience making change happen. All of those skills are critical in business, whether you are a consultant, an executive, or an entrepreneur.
Opportunities to further your leadership skills would start on day one. As you advance in your career, you would have additional opportunities to innovate within the firm: you may help to launch a new office, develop the relationship with a new client, or even start a new practice just as a few passionate consultants interested in climate change did a few years ago (which resulted in the creation of our Sustainability and Resource Productivity Practice).
Finally, whether you would stay with McKinsey for the long-term or leave to pursue other interests, you would remain connected to an alumni network of over 26,000 former consultants world-wide, one in five of whom have gone on to start their own business (including the founders of ZocDoc, Teach First, Ethos Water, and shopkick). Many of these entrepreneurs have said that McKinsey gave them the deep exposure to critical business challenges, leadership experience and strong networks that were vital to their success leading and building organizations.
How much are MBAs expected to travel?
On average, about half of your client work would necessitate travel. However, this amount would vary based on your office location, function/industry focus, and personal preferences. We would ask you to spend three to four days each week at the client site to benefit both your client service and your personal development.
The opportunity to work physically alongside your clients would allow you and your teams to communicate and collaborate, arriving at the optimal answer – one that can be implemented and sustained over the long run. It would also provide you with fantastic opportunities to learn directly from McKinsey colleagues and client leaders.
We care very much about making client service sustainable. Every other week, we anonymously survey all teams; this information allows assessment of a team’s working relationship and operating norms and adjustment as necessary. It may go without saying, but we also have a culture that cherishes and protects weekend time, other commitments, etc., so you would be able to maintain the same hobbies and interests you always have.
What does a personal experience interview entail and how should an MBA prepare?
During the personal experience portion of your interview, we attempt to evaluate whether you can work collaboratively with others, communicate your ideas in a compelling way, and inspire others – skills that are vital to the work we do as consultants. We ask you detailed questions about your past experiences, focusing on the role you played and the actions that you took to achieve success.
We encourage you to prepare by reflecting on the times when you exhibited leadership, drive, etc. This is your opportunity to highlight the skills and abilities that you feel allow you to perform well as a consultant at McKinsey.