Recently, I got the chance to interview Marissa Solomon, a business analyst working at McKinsey. McKinsey is a worldwide management consulting firm who currently counsels about 80% of the world’s largest corporations. That’s quite impressive! They are a great company with a bright future and I’m glad Marissa took the time to answer some of our questions.
Q: How did you first come across the opportunity to intern with McKinsey?
A: I learned about McKinsey through on-campus recruiting during undergrad. Some of my greatest role models in college went to work at McKinsey both as summer interns and full-time analysts, which made me very excited to learn more about the opportunity to intern there.
Q: Did any of your fellow interns also hire on full-time? If so, do you keep in touch and support each other?
A: I believe my entire Summer Business Analyst class re-joined full-time. Almost three years later, we are still an extraordinarily tight community.
Q: Now that you’re full-time, do you feel like the internship prepared you well enough for what you do now or is it very different?
A: Yes, I definitely feel interning prepared me very well for the full-time business analyst role. McKinsey does an excellent job designing the summer internship to completely resemble the real-life, full-time experience. Summer interns are treated as full-time analysts on the team, visit the client site with the team members, and are expected to actively participate in problem solving sessions and client meetings.
Q: Has the transition from internship to full-time been difficult or have you adjusted well?
A: The transition from internship to full-time is definitely an adjustment – for reasons as simple as moving to a new city and giving away the often flexible life of an undergrad! That said, the firm matches you with buddies, mentors, and resources from day one to support you in the transition. My team on my first engagement helped me carve my path at McKinsey, supported me and helped me see many exciting opportunities.
Q: What are the key responsibilities of a business analyst?
A: Before answering what the responsibilities of a business analyst are, it may be helpful to begin with describing what management consulting is. It may seem obvious, but many people do not understand what we do day-to-day. I would describe consulting as the science and art of working with organizations to solve their most complex problems and opportunities.
This translates to responsibilities in many ways, and I would say there are three primary things: (1) you have the responsibility to your client to be a problem solver, thought partner, and trusted advisor, (2) you have the responsibility for your specific part of the larger project and understand how it contributes to the overall, and (3) you have the responsibility to push the team’s thinking, disagree when necessary, and ensure the team is on track to delivering impact.
Q: In your opinion, what are the best skills a person in your field can have?
A: The great thing about working at McKinsey is the diverse backgrounds you will come across. There are people across industries, with different professional degrees, from different geographies, but amidst all the diversity, there are two main qualities management consultants should have. First, they should have strong problem solving skills – both conceptual and analytical. Second, they should be able to work well in teams – both client and McKinsey teams.
Q: Can you walk me through a typical day at work?
A: The exciting thing about McKinsey is that there is no “typical” day of work. My day may look very different depending on the client I am serving, the industry or geography we are in, and my team. On a typical engagement, I go to the client site Monday through Thursday. While there, my days will consist of pushing forward my discrete piece of work on the study, meeting with clients, and problem solving with the team. We have numerous team brainstorms during the day to share updates on our work, break apart tough problems, and ensure impact is being delivered.
At the end of the day, we often go to dinner together, especially on travel studies. The great thing about consulting is the immense amount of flexibility. At the beginning of each new engagement, the team will set “norms” for how we want our days to look – for example, some people like to go to the gym in the evenings and log back on to finish work later, which is completely accepted!
Q: Do you work directly with your clients? How do you create a relationship with your clients?
A: Yes, all members of the team work directly with our clients. That is what I consider the most fulfilling part of the job. It’s very cool that as a 20-something business analyst, you have the opportunity to build and maintain strong relationships with seasoned experts across industries and companies. Building relationships often starts with the business analyst owning a specific piece of work – knowing the details and sharing information that the client might not otherwise know.
Q: Do you find yourself more often working alone or with a team? Which do you prefer?
A: I am almost always working with a team. That’s what management consulting is all about. I definitely prefer that, as it makes the day more fun and enables the team to arrive at a better solution and have greater impact. If you do have something you need to push on, it is always appropriate to leave the room or put in headphones. I do that quite a bit, too.
Q: What is your favorite part about working with McKinsey?
A: The people. Hands down. I have never met a group of more inspiring people. I learn just as much from the people I have met here as from the work itself. I am so grateful for the numerous communities within McKinsey– whether it’s a women’s network, industry practice, or my business analyst class.
Q: What advice would you give somebody aspiring to become a business analyst?
A: I would encourage anyone who is excited about solving really tough problems and helping clients capture new opportunities to consider a career in management consulting.
In terms of tactical advice, I would recommend you talk to any friends or contacts in management consulting to really learn what the job is about. There really is no typical day, so it’s helpful to learn about the different engagements people do. I also would encourage you to try to get a flavor of the consulting experience in undergrad. You can sign up for classes that primarily focus on group projects to get the team experience, you can join a consulting club, or you can find organizations that help clients or others tackle big problems.
It was a great opportunity being able to learn more about McKinsey and what a business analyst does. McKinsey sounds like a great company to work for with great people. Marissa mentioned that her favorite part is the people and how she learns from her colleagues as much as she learns from the work itself; I think that’s something we should all look for in a job. As someone once said, “if you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.” Surround yourself with people you can learn from and you’re bound to be successful.
Once again, a big thanks to Marissa and McKinsey for lending us their time!
Valeria Tirado is a senior at Rutgers University – New Brunswick with a major in Environmental and Business Economics. After graduation, she is interested in working with a non-profit organization like the World Wildlife Fund and eventually wants to go to grad school for Economics. Among the schools she is considering are NYU and Vanderbilt. Valeria can be found on Twitter at @valeriat94.