What's the worst part about working at McKinsey? What's the dark side of working there?They say at McKinsey that the top partners don't have the Devil on speed-dial, he has THEM on speed-dial.
No, kidding. I just made that up. There are no Faustian deals or visits from Emperor Palpatine. McKinsey is not evil. In fact, I loved working there and don't regret it. But I did leave McKinsey, motivated by a few of the things I mention here.
Everyone knows about constant travel, long-hours and signing your life over to PowerPoint so I'm going to mention about a few things you might not be aware of. This is from my experience, others might disagree.
- The micro-promotions are addictive McKinsey is an up-or-out workplace. You improve and advance – or you're counseled to leave. There is a track and you are always reminded of where you are on that track and how fast you're moving. You are hired as an associate, you need to become an engagement manager in 2 yrs; an AP in 4 years and so on. Every time you get promoted, you feel amazing, and say, ‘well, I could leave, or I can wait 6 months and get another promotion....' There is always another promotion. Before you know it, you've been there 10 yrs and where the hell did the time go?
- You need to decide early whether to be on Partner track People think you can get any job coming out of McKinsey and this might be true while you are an associate or EM. But once you make AP, you are less attractive to the outside world. Yes you've been promoted to a partner staging ground, but...you haven't made partner yet. The best time to leverage McKinsey into an external step-up is when you are EM; you've been promoted, have proven leadership and there is no evidence that McKinsey doesn't want you. This means you have to decide if you want to pursue Partner after ~2 years at the firm. Not everyone knows this and I've seen many APs get trapped.
- The feedback culture is both stimulating and brow-beating If you've made it to McKinsey chances are you're a competitive, ambitious person who thrives on positive feedback. They know this and they dangle that positive feedback every 6 months or so...but always with a "but here is how you can do even better." So you are always thinking about what to do next, what to improve. You never feel quite proud of yourself.
- You have to specialize – McKinsey is nothing more than thousands of people who are either the most knowledgeable at what they do, or learning to become the most knowledgeable. Except many people go into consulting for the variety. Pretty early you have to focus and decide your specialty. Could be industry or function area, but the goal is to become the world's expert so you can travel to different clients and help them with your expertise And a lot of times, that focus is based on the random projects you've had so far (and which you didn't give much thought to). I know someone who ended up "focusing" on airline maintenance because his first project was 9 months with airlines.
- Client services – Anyone who has worked with clients knows how draining this can be. You do what your client wants you to do, all the time, any time. And if you are lower on the ladder, you do what your partner wants you to do because he is doing what the client wants him to do. There is no way around this and sadly, I saw too many partners who could not, or would not push back.
- The good people leave – ok, ok, this is highly subjective. But they often say that the most talented people are too good for McKinsey and go do something else. And the worst people get kicked out. Which leaves the mediocre folks running the show (I mean, mediocre in a massively outrageous talent pool, yes). All I know is that almost every person I admired, enjoyed being around and working with and for – has left the firm. And I hear this from many many people. But again, very subjective.
- You're working for a firm that specializes in efficiency – There is always ALWAYS a McKinsey way: how to write emails, how to take phone calls, how to talk to clients, how to talk to Partners. I sometimes wondered why there wasn't a deck about how to most effectively brush your teeth. It is productive; it leads to high and consistent quality, but can also stifle individuality and creativity.
I don't think that these drawbacks are unique to McKinsey, not even to consulting. It is a very high-powered, very successful, and very impactful organization. To be those things both the firm and the workforce have to make sacrifices. Fine.
I think my biggest issue with McKinsey is that the people who stay are usually the ones who have bought into the McKinsey model. This means they are not the best people to objectively consider McKinsey's pitfalls and they are too often concerned with making the firm in their own image (promoting people like themselves).
It could benefit from more thought diversity. When I was leaving, I told my mentor this and he said, ‘I agree, why don't you be the change you want to see rather than cut and run?' It was a compelling offer, but I didn't want my life to be about ‘changing McKinsey.' Wasn't worth it. Besides, they do just fine without me.
So, like I said, the best people leave. (ha! juuuuust kidding, hardly!)