My Very Own McKinsey Summer Internship Experience – Abhishek Ghosh – IIM Bangalore
Two days of orientation completed at one of the most renowned, yet mystical firms in the world. We were taught everything, from the much-celebrated McKinsey way of problem-solving (MECE anyone?!), handling tough client conversations and the charismatic ways in which the firm defends its values. In the same breath, we also dealt with more mundane matters such as pre-loaded PPT templates and Excel (life-savers, as we’d like to christen them!)
As soon as we received our laptops, everyone dashed into a frenzy to check their first mail. And voila, the name of the client flashes with instructions to book flight tickets for that very evening! We could all smell adventure already. Arrive day one, and I’d hoped that the remaining 38 interns across IIM A, B, C and JBIMS also had fluttering hearts. Weeks of shopping for the perfect shade of off-white shirt, pinstriped black trousers to match the suit, the two-sided (brown and black) belt and the pair of shoes which makes just the right amount of clicking, all culminated to this. I got a call from my EM (Engagement Manager, McK-speak for the boss) instructing me to turn up at a five-star hotel in Mumbai.
What did I need to practice or brush up before I reach? All those hours of case interview practice, speed math, Excel Training and Competition and Strategy classes – what skill would I need to apply first? I walk into the room and got quickly introduced to the team. Unlike what I’d imagined in my head, the team was a paradigm of diversity. There were two members from the functional expertise track, who’d already had more than 10 years of work experience in FMCG companies. Another member was from the Knowledge Centre and was a thorough professional at handling all sorts of data analytics and industry profiling. Yet another member was an Implementor, which was amazingly unique for me, as it proved that as consultants, we not only advise, but work with the client to get things running on the ground. And finally, my co-intern (we were encouraged to think of ourselves as associates and not merely ‘summer’ associates), an EM and an AP. Smiling, friendly faces all (phew!). But, what’s this? The next moment, I’m being pulled to the front of the room to lead the proceedings at the workshop. The client Promoter, MD, CEO, National Sales Head are on the front seats, with the AP (Associate Partner), to keep company.
I’m made in charge of a polling activity, where we ask questions to the audience on their opinion of the sales presentations, and they vote using a pad. I jump headlong into my role – helping with an interesting leadership exercise where we instil new vigour into the employees by making them change their language patterns and attitudes. During the lunch break, I try introducing myself to the MD and HR Head (who take a keen interest in this new, young addition to the team, ‘naya khoon’ we’re called). I try sounding mature and knowledgeable about the company and industry while discreetly loading my plate with the mouth-watering basa fish, laal maas and kahlua pudding! I am also introduced to the module that I would be independently in-charge of. Imagine the amount of importance and responsibility we get as an intern!
Impatient to impress, given my debating background, I stand up during one of the presentations and make an announcement, only to look behind me to see the sales head motioning me to sit. “I’m not quite finished, young man”, I hear and become pale with fright. What would my EM think? To make things worse, my team members tell me- why didn’t you save the results of the survey? We must send a daily dashboard of updates to the CEO. Hope you were taking notes at the conference. What’s your Day Zero hypothesis of their problem? What are your insights? Before I feel like burying my head in the ground, the client CEO comes to us and asks us to join the team in the karaoke night they’re having inside, while my team bursts into peals of laughter. As my co-intern and I would learn later, the firm has a strong culture of trolling – if you leave your laptop unattended and unlocked, you can have friends texting you as to why you’re suddenly leaving the firm, wanting to party in the Andamans or confessing your love for mutton biryani to the Partners! We end day one on a high note, with another glimpse at the perks of a consulting life. We have a multi-course meal at an upscale hotel while I try to absorb all the jargon, and get up to speed with a whole new industry and experience.
This is how a motorhead senior of mine beautifully summed up the expectations at a consulting firm- they don’t expect you to have a full tank when you join, but they certainly expect you to have pick-up and acceleration superior to almost everyone in the industry!
*Disclaimer, the next section is my take on what might constitute a successful internship. But again, as the title suggests, there is no one path to success. So don’t let these guidelines constrain your individuality and thinking. Interestingly, the firm respects diversity in MBTI indicators and lets you control your work style. However, some important criteria on which you are judged at the internship are:
- Problem-solving: shortened to PS at the firm, this piece of jargon is an all-time favourite. Remember all those photos of consultants filling up whiteboards with issue trees, making a hypothesis, gathering relevant data and drilling down to the root cause of the issue? Well, that’s all PS. This is where your ability to structure and break down problems really gets put to the test. And the firm has an exhaustive repository of previous studies (PD’s, add that to your dictionary) and even experts/colleagues from all around the world who are just a call away. Leverage away!
- Entrepreneurship and client impact: “Do whatever it takes to get the best results for our client!” This is not about taking up extra work (read getting Starbucks coffee/desperately trying to pick up new modules so that you can claim to be the last one to leave office) just to impress the team. It’s about bringing maximum convenience for the client to implement your idea, simplifying processes while maintaining impact and always going back to the EM by proposing what you think should be the next deliverable for your workstream.
- Relationship with the client: at McK, you are thrown in at the deep end of the pool (what sometimes feels like an ocean!). You interview clients, ask them for data and work with them to get modules implemented on a daily basis. Often, you also present your recommendations to the CEO. Did you take the client through your analyses? Did you rightfully incorporate their suggestions/constraints to make your model more realistic? Especially in implementation heavy cases, it might even help if you move out of the (sometimes stuffy) conference room and work alongside the client stakeholders, as this goes a long way in getting their buy-in and is often a source of brilliant insights over evening chai-and-brownie brainstorming sessions.
- Top-down communication: time is really a rare commodity, especially as you move up the chain of command. All the talking, reports and PPT’s at the firm are so differently structured from normal conversational lingo, that it might almost seem like a new language! The Minto Pyramid Principle (authored by Barbara Minto, a McK alum) will help you condense everything you ever wanted to say into three crisp points that would be music to the time-crunched executives’ ears.
- (Aside) Book recommendations: Microsoft Excel Data Analysis and Business Modeling by Wayne Winston, and The Missing Manual by Matthew MacDonald to brush up on Excel modelling. Victor Cheng’s website was my Mecca for not only case interview prep but also a lot of inside gyaan on the industry.
Bottom line, bring visibility to your work, always remain aligned to what was asked of you and what you have delivered and be a person the team would really enjoy working with.
If I were to map my journey chronologically, the firm differentiated itself in my mind even before the interview process. Along with the usual fare of consulting dinners and workshops, McK had an entire evening where the focus was on celebrating your journey,playing football with the Partners, strumming guitars and singing purani Bollywood classics while sharing a laugh in what felt like an open, welcoming embrace. The firm is not only about being the ‘gold standard’ in consulting, the intense competition or the stellar perks. To me, the firm let me be comfortable in my own skin while enabling me to do whatever I thought was necessary (the much-vaunted end-to-end ownership) to help solve the client problem at hand.