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How is McKinsey a pie-eating contest?
In this metaphor, the pie is work. At McKinsey there's no shortage of pie - just like in a pie-eating contest, there will always be more pie than you could ever eat. Consultants who can eat the most pie - be most productive and do the most work - usually get recognized with higher ratings, faster promotions, and more responsibilities... more pie!
What does it mean for the prize to be more pie?
If you do more work at McKinsey and finish it faster, you'll be rewarded with even more work. This isn't like a typical job where there's a fixed amount of work to do - in those cases, the sooner you finish your work, the sooner you get to go home.
At McKinsey, the expectation is that if you wrap up your current workload, you'll find additional work to do. Here are some ways this can manifest itself at the Firm...
1. Keep pushing furtherConsultants are never truly finished with their workstreams. Even when you think you're finished, there's always more that can be done. Exhibits can be cleaned up, pages can be wordsmithed, analyses can always be pushed further. No matter how many pies you eat, there's always another one.
2. Support other workstreamsEven if you get your workstream to a point where your McKinsey boss considers it finished, the team still has plenty of work that needs to get done. If your work is wrapped up, t's likely that you'll be asked to pitch in on someone else's workstream. If the person you're helping is really behind, in addition to doing some of their work, you might be asked to coach them - a situation that might continue even after your own plate fills back up. Congratulations, you've won someone else's pie!
3. Raising your handAt McKinsey, consultants are expected to contribute to their Office/Location in addition to their regular client work. That usually means things like participating in recruiting, leading training sessions, running social committees, creating knowledge documents, and working on client proposals. They're important and can be fun, so it's worth finding one you can be passionate about and volunteer - it's also better to a) sign up for one you want before you b) get one you don't want thrust upon you. But be aware that you'll be working on these things in your "free time" while you're still working on a client engagement. That means you'll be entering a blueberry pie-eating contest while you're still in the middle of a banana cream pie-eating contest.
And, if you do a really good job, you'll be rewarded with more pie! Do a great job on recruiting? You'll be asked to go to every interview cycle at your alma mater, participate in cultivation events (i.e., "sell" weekends), and be a buddy to offerees. Help write a successful client proposal? Congratulations - now you will be part of that Partner's "go to" team for project proposals and you might be asked for help by the engagement team since you're an expert on the proposal.