Monday, July 1, 2013

5 Ways to Get the Most Out of your McKinsey Summer Internship

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It's internship season and that means all the insecure overachievers who are McKinsey Summer Associates and Summer Business Analysts are stressing out about whether or not they'll get a job offer at the end of the summer.  While securing the full-time offer is important, there are other critical things a Summer can get out of the internship.  Here are some tips on getting the most out of a McKinsey summer internship....

1. Enjoy the summer

The Firm has invested a lot of time and effort into identifying the best candidates for internships.  Along with returning BAs, the summer internship program is the primary source for full-time hires.  Therefore, Summer Associates (SA) and Summer Business Analysts (SBA) receive internship offers because the Firm is fairly certain they will make good full-time consultants.  As a result, at least in the US, the summer internship program is as much about recruiting and "cultivating" SAs and SBAs for full-time recruiting as much as it is about evaluating their performance.

Don't get me wrong - it's still possible for SA/SBAs to not get a full-time offer.  Sometimes it's just apparent that there isn't a great fit between the intern and the Firm or consulting in general.  Other times, SAs/SBAs exhibit such poor judgement, professionalism, or performance that they're not asked to return.  But those cases are rare.  In all of the SA/SBA classes I've been a part of or helped recruit, fewer than 10% do not get an offer to return.

That means as long as you don't drop the ball frequently and/or in a egregious way, you're likely to get an offer to return.  So, mind your Ps and Qs, but know that you don't have to stress out about locking down your offer to return and try to enjoy the summer.  Because the Firm wants interns to return, summers are usually filled with fun, social weekend events, including the annual North American SA/SBA Conference where all the interns from across the continent are brought together to a resort environment for a weekend of fun.  Past SA/SBC Conference activities have included scuba diving, golf, horseback riding, surfing, and sailing.

2.  Interview the Firm

The summer gives the Firm 10 weeks to assess interns - it's a far better litmus test of a person's ability to succeed at McKinsey than a handful of one-hour interviews.  The same applies in reverse - the summer is a much better way for interns to assess the Firm.  SAs/SBAs will learn far more about whether or not they like McKinsey over the course of the summer than they can through coffee chats, research, and interviews.

It's important that interns be honest with themselves over the summer.  Consulting jobs at McKinsey are prestigious, pay well, and can boost a resume, so it can be tempting to accept a full-time despite signs that it's not the best fit.  Some critical questions for interns to ask themselves over course of the the summer are:
  • Do I like Consulting?
  • Do I like the culture of the Firm?
  • Do I like my colleagues?  My engagement teams?  My SA/SBA class?
  • Do I like the people in my location?  Is the size of the office right for me?  Am I excited to work with the Partners?
  • Can I handle the lifestyle?  The long hours?  The travel?  The high standards?  The stress?
McKinsey gives SAs/SBAs a "real" summer experience.  On most McKinsey teams, the SA/SBA is given the same responsibilities as any other, new, full-time Associate or Business Analyst.  So, the summer internship is representative of what the full-time experience will be like.  My understanding is that other Firms give their interns a much cushier summer experience than their full-time consultants get.

3.  Be a sponge

 ...and I'm not referring to taking full advantage of the open bars that seem to be at every McKinsey event, although you should also do that!  I'm talking about soaking in as much knowledge as you can about how the Firm works and how to be a high-performing consultant.  Even though it might not feel like it at the end of the summer, you will have learned a tremendous amount about how to be a better consultant. 

When you return as a full-time consultant, you will have a huge advantage over the other full-time hires.  After 10 weeks as an SA/SBA, you'll know things that your full-time classmates won't.  Some examples include, how to...
  • make client-ready pages
  • submit R&I requests
  • send pages to VGI for production
  • reach advanced analytic support for help with Excel models
You'll even know what to wear to client sites or to the McKinsey office, how to submit expense reports, and have an inkling of how staffing works.  These are all things that your full-time class won't know and will be looking to you for help.
Also, when you return to campus after your internship, you'll be in a much better position to help you classmates understand what they're getting into as they apply for full-time consulting positions.  McKinsey's returning SAs/SBAs are often the Firm's most effective recruiting resources for aspiring consultants..

4.  Build a reputation

Other full-time classmates aren't the only ones with heightened expectations of returning SAs/SBAs.  Partners and Engagement Managers (EMs) putting teams together know that returning summers are likely to be more effective than a brand-new Associate or Business Analyst.  Therefore, returning summers tend to be in high demand.

Most new consultants are unknown quantities, so there's no reason for a Partner or EM to go out of their way to staff one.  But if, during your summer internship, you can do the following, the more likely you'll have people willing to go out of their way to staff and work with you.
  • Establish a track record for high performance
  • Build a reputation with your team and Partner(s)
  • Network with other SAs/SBAs, partners, and consultants
  • Gain some expertise on an industry, function, or client
That will give you more options for your early staffing, increasing the likelihood that you can be successful in your first few engagements.

5.  Get to know your SA/SBA class

During the summer, the Firm will give you plenty of opportunities to interact with your SA/SBA classmates, especially those from the same office complex.  Take full advantage of these chances to connect with your summer class - it seems that summer classes are able to form much more tightly knit groups than the larger full-time classes.

If you plan to return to McKinsey full-time, these people will be your support network for your first few years in the Firm.  It's also likely that you'll be attending many of the same tenure-based trainings throughout your McKinsey career.  You'll be experiencing many of the same things and facing the same challenges at the same time, so you'll be able to give each other a lot of advice and support.  This is especially true when, as a group, you begin to face career milestones and decisions like how to manage teams and when/how to leave the Firm.  To this day, some of my strongest friendships and connections are with my SA/SBA classmates.


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