Career management – the McKinsey Way

Career management – the McKinsey Way

Having worked for major financial institutions such as Citibank, JP Morgan (via Chemical Bank) and AIG Trading I find this discussion around McKinsey Careers: Helping you to reach your potential interesting to watch:

Now if you listen very carefully you have one of the participants speak to how the consultants getting together, get to know each other, get to be part of the McKinsey family. You’ll also hear a comment about how they, on an impromptu basis, were standing in the hall talking about life, how to improve the world and similar comments.

Becoming a partner at McKinsey & Co is not easy. Much like at Goldman Sachs, the partnership selection program is deep and deeply painful. If you don’t make it through, you’re reportedly encouraged to reconsider whether you’re in the right profession. And not many people do make it through – estimates suggest that no more than 2% of McKinsey associates progress to the elite.

With 2% of associates making it through to partner, it seems like there is more to it than just hanging around the hall having a discussion around how to make the world a better place.

According to Financial Times journalist Duff McDonald, as of September 2013, the firm receives 225,000 employment applications annually and about one percent—or 2,200—of the applicants are hired (Wikipedia).

So each year based on the Wikipedia numbers, 2,200 associates are hired. 2% of them will reach the elite status of a partner, or 44 individuals. I guess that’s a lot better than the odds of winning the Powerball Lottery (the odds of landing this jackpot? One in around 300 million in 2016).

How would one hope to navigate through this to get a shot at the brass ring?

Clearly, you need to have something a little extra than a degree from a great university. It would seem to me that the associates they hire are all pretty smart and accomplished academically. So what’s the deal?

Looking at my career mismanagement lessons

The successful ones must be doing something a little different. I don’t know the management structure, but I would suspect that it’s definitely a pyramid with an extremely wide base and a very narrow point at the top. Working hard, being smart, satisfying client needs are the minimum prerequisites. If the associates didn’t have these attributes they would have been screened out early in the game. Being dedicated to the firm? Well, I’m sure all of them do their very best (probably by working long hours, sacrificing their personal lives, etc.). But there has to be something else!

There is:

    1. Managing upwards. making sure that your seniors ( and I don’t mean just your immediate seniors) know what you are up to, how great a job you’re doing, and how you are adding value to the firm (adding value to the clients is great, but it’s not enough);
    2. When I say seniors, I also mean the partners. You have to work damn hard at making sure that they are aware of what you are doing. No one will get to be a partner if the other partners have never heard of you. It just can’t happen. No firm will promote the great unknown. So there must be a few of them that manage to get a partner’s attention over the years. You need to have an internal mentor, you catch someone’s eye and they know who you are. In some instances, they follow your career along as you nurture that relationship. So work on it. Make yourself heard and known. Get to know your boss’s boss.  You make think that your boss is there for you, but don’t kid yourself, they are there for themselves first. And any of their subordinates that help them progress their careers will be rewarded as well;
    3. I worked for a number of financial institutions who head offices were in New York. What I found out is that being in Toronto I was out of sight and out of mind. I was working very hard trying to develop the bank’s business in Canada. For the most part from a “building the client base perspective” I was doing a pretty good job. But I wasn’t getting any face time with senior management in New York. What I learned the hard way is that if you don’t tell them what you are up to, they assume that you are doing nothing. I know it’s hard to believe, but it’s true. So you need to make sure that the right people know what you are up to. And if you don’t let them know, don’t think for a moment that anyone else will. Be outspoken about your successes because there will be a lot of people who will be more than happy to mention your failures.

There’s no admonition to look out for oneself among the Ten Commandments, but a famous remark of the 1st-century rabbinic commentator Hillel begins: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?”

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