My first two years as an analytics consultant
As the time I’ve spent in my job at McKinsey is nearing two years, I want to reflect on how it’s been and how I’ve changed.
I went into this job full of excitement, anxiousness and with some sadness. I was excited to get to know this firm, the world of business and to apply what I’d learned. The excitement mixed with anxiousness as I pondered what projects I would work on, how my colleagues would be and how I’d adjust. I was also sad, because I didn’t feel completely ready to leave academia. I liked it there and leaving felt like admitting failure.
My best memories over the last two years come from having a good time with people, often in some distant place. My worst memories are from when relationships in the team were broken and I felt like I worked too much with too little effect.
While I’ve learned some new technical skills, I found it more important to improve my general way of working and communicating. I needed to get the balance right between being thorough and being pragmatic, between questioning assumptions and accepting guidance from others. I learned a new vocabulary to speak about my work and became more at ease with sharing unfinished work products to ask for early feedback. I learned to better synthesize large amounts of information and how to mine my pool of prior experiences to propose the next step in an analysis. Most of all, I needed to accept criticisms and to work on my faults.
I’m thankful of how varied the projects I worked on have been. My proudest moments happened in short, intense work episodes during which I had a strong sense of effectiveness: That I was the right person at the right place and my work made a difference.
I’m still the same person I was when I went into this job. My basic opinions, preferences and relative strengths have hardly changed. I only realize what I’ve learned when I meet somebody who doesn’t know something, like a new starter who makes the same mistakes I made before.
To keep balance, it’s been important for me to keep in touch with people outside my job and to stay focused on what I want in the long run. Incentives in the business world can let you lose sight of the boundary between what’s investment and what’s consumption. You collect airline miles and hotel points, go to trainings in nice places and eat dinners in fancy restaurants. But consumption is not durable and while expectations rise, memories fade.
Two years in, the feelings of excitement, anxiousness and sadness are gone. My work has become more routine, as I find myself in situations I’ve been in before. The uncertainties about my job are less and I find it easier to start into new projects and know what to expect. A residue of uncertainty has stayed, as I’ll never know what the next project will bring or if I’ll like being around the people I’ll work with.
The sadness about leaving academia has fallen with every month since I stepped out. About half a year ago it crossed the threshold from where I’m finding it hard to imagine going back. I like that work outside academia is faster and has direct effects. It’s less thorough, but that’s ok. I realized that many of the parts I enjoyed in academia weren’t specific to it, such as exploring new topics, analyzing data or presenting results.
What’s next I don’t know. I enjoy my job and have no plans for a change. But I know that the nagging feeling of needing a change will return and I won’t fight it when it does.