A McKinsey grads eight tips for success at work

One of my biggest pet peeves is people giving bad career advice.

It drives me nuts when I see worn-out cliches like this being passed on to ambitious young professionals.

The only place where success comes before work in the dictionary.

Well, no shit you have to work hard to succeed.

So how does that help you solve a real, day-to-day problem that's limiting your success?

In short, it doesn't.

Most of the well-meaning career advice you get from your mentors, your friends, and your Mom is useless for one of two reasons:

  • It sounds good, but doesn't actually work in the real world.  Example: "If you want to achieve greatness, stop asking for permission." – Anonymous
  • It's too vague or impractical to apply to the messy details of your daily life.  Example: "Find out what you like doing best, and get someone to pay you for it." – Katharine Whitehorn

There is so much terrible advice out there that when you see or hear some actually high-quality advice, it immediately stands out.

This happened to me over the weekend as I was skimming through some old articles I had bookmarked.  One jumped out at me as being the type of high-quality advice that I love to share with WSO and the 1,300+ bankers and consultants on my email newsletter.

A McKinsey grad offers eight pointers for success at work

The article contains 8 pieces of career advice from a former McKinsey Engagement Manager named Shu Hattori.

During his time at McKinsey, Hattori carried a notebook and jotted down every insight he learned about how to do his job better, harvested from his own experiences and by watching top-performing executives and consultants around him.

The result was a book called The McKinsey Edge (disclaimer: I haven't read it), and this list of 8 tips for succeeding at work:

1. Start with the hard stuff in the morning

  • Your mind is clear and focused early in the day, so tackle the toughest matters before you in the early morning. And that means early. He said the average wake-up time of a chief executive officer is about 5 a.m. Usually he is up at 5:30 a.m., and he recommends you join them.

2. Have a 30-second answer to everything

  • Senior leaders expect concise answers. So prepare beforehand for interactions with bosses and clients, writing down questions they might ask and also a terse answer. Think of it as a double-click response – a very brief explanation that might be followed by a deeper explanation in areas where the other person expresses greater interest.

3. Frontload your projects

  • Most projects take some time to get going, then build up steam, and finish in a mad flurry. Try starting with a burst. If you contact somebody and they suggest meeting next week, ask about meeting later today. "Put everything you can at the beginning. Build up quickly as it increases your understanding and credibility," he said.

4. Smile when under stress

  • He noticed that top people don't lose their cool. So when you're under the gun – being challenged at a meeting, perhaps – instead of tensing up and grimacing, just smile. It will calm you, help control emotions, and send a confident signal.

5. Always imagine the worst-case scenario

  • Another reason consultants keep calm in tough situations is that they have taken time to imagine what could go wrong. Mediocre leaders fail to take that preparatory step. When things go awry, they fall into firefighting mode, which can just set them further behind as emotions are unleashed and they scramble in the wrong direction. Instead, he urges you to imagine what could go wrong with a project and then decide, well in advance, what would be the best response. If it happens, you'll avoid panic, and be far more effective.

6. Ask "What would Marvin do?"

  • McKinsey's founding managing director was Marvin Bower, and although he died more than a decade ago and the era of his greatest influence was the fifties and sixties, consultants to this day when faced with a tough challenge will ask, "What would Marvin do?" He preached the importance of ethics and knowing when to dissent, and urged his team to have leadership role models. That's advice you should heed. "It can be people close to you or people you have never met. It can be anyone," Mr. Hattori said. And you want a number of them, different role models for each skill you are trying to learn.

7. Seek energy boosters

  • Know what gives you energy during the day and use those boosters to become more accomplished. He suggests a 7-3 rule: Make sure the positive-energy tasks in a week outweigh the negative drains by a 7-3 ratio. "Working doesn't drain energy. It stimulates you. But you need to know what aspect of work gives you energy and what doesn't," he said.

8. Ask the deeper questions

  • Assume an action you are considering has occurred, and then ask the second level of questions: What will you be facing then? This will take you to a more fruitful level – the consequences of the option you are considering – and help you to understand the situation better.


I love this list.  Tips #2 and #8 about having 30-second answers and asking deeper questions is some of the best career advice I've ever heard.

As you read this advice, what were you thinking?  Did you find yourself nodding along?  Did you think of exact situations where you could have applied these tips at work?

Those are the tell-tale signs of excellent advice.

Good advice doesn't have to be flashy, or new, or even thought-provoking.

Good advice has to be real.

That's why I love this advice, and that's why I wanted to share it with you.

WSO wants to hear from you

What's the best advice on success you've ever received?  What actually works in the messy reality of your day-to-day life?

I'm not talking about the b.s. fortune cookie wisdom that people love to talk about.  I want to hear real advice that's been proven in the trenches and actually works.

Let us know in the comments below.

Comments (9)

Dec 1, 2016 - 9:45am
AndyLouis, what's your opinion? Comment below:

funny timing, this went up on Tuesday: http://www.wallstreetoasis.com/forums/how-mckinsey-made-me-a-better-entrepreneur

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Dec 1, 2016 - 10:33am
Alistair-Clark, what's your opinion? Comment below:

I should have waited a week, although I feel like more McKinsey advice is never a bad thing.

  • 6
Dec 2, 2016 - 6:02am
GMG, what's your opinion? Comment below:


Dec 5, 2016 - 8:29pm
1977CB750, what's your opinion? Comment below:

A bunch of feel-good suggestions with retrofitted logic ("oh now that you said that it makes so much sense". Typical consulting list.

Hah I love the poop that you got on this. Someone is so salty because they live and die by consulting. Heh.
'77 CB 750 '69 Cortina GT
Dec 5, 2016 - 10:20pm
09grad, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Lol yeah.

But even looking at the OP's post now, it's just so much drivel and re-packaged "feel-good" statements. Generalized suggestions are offered without evidence or any back-up, and are structured in such a way that no matter what you do, if you wanted you could link it back to the post.

I guess working in principal investing now I am used to reading things critically. Can't believe this is the quality of work that consultants produce all the time.

Dec 1, 2016 - 11:06pm
TippyTop11, what's your opinion? Comment below:

"You work hard you'll be successful." No no no

It's more like; "If you don't work hard, you can't be successful." - Jimmy Valvano look up his "Cutting down the nets," speech.

26 Broadway where's your sense of humor?
  • 3
Dec 6, 2016 - 1:06am
IlliniProgrammer, what's your opinion? Comment below:

I always thought the rule for consulting and presentations in general was to give two to five points, ideally three, not eight.

A UIUC grad's three tips for happiness:

1.) Find fun stuff to do outside of work. 2.) Choose your boss carefully. 3.) Don't take a management consultant's advice too seriously, lol.

Life is short. Focus on being happy.

Dec 6, 2016 - 10:16am
Swiss_Ninja, what's your opinion? Comment below:

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