Left "The Firm" a little over a year ago. I've been meaning to do this and just never got around to it; no time like the present! I'm doing an AMA at r/consulting on reddit as well, in case you run across that.
I joined McKinsey in a mid-sized office in the US as a Business Analyst out of undergrad (top 5 engineering school). Got the DTA (direct to associate) promotion in 2.5 years before leaving.
Why Did you Leave McKinsey?
A wide variety of reasons. Part of it was disillusionment/burn-out. Part of it was that my young age was making my life in consulting harder than it needed to be. I also wanted to get out and try something else out for a change.
I actually left because I had achieved DTA (a big objective for me) and I'd finally come up with a fantastic idea for a business. I started that business summer last year and I've been running it since. It's starting to wind down now; afterward I'm going to see if I can get into venture capital, preferably seed/early-stage.
Are Post MBA Consultants Better than Pre-MBA Consultants?
Definitely not in terms of raw intelligence. Excel prowess never caught up and PPT work was slow to do so. Of course, Associates are less relied upon for that type of work than BAs are anyway.
As you would expect, Associates are generally better with clients. They're older (yes, this matters) and simply know how to handle themselves and others better.
They were also just generally more interesting people. There's a wider variety of candidate profiles entering the firm at the post-MBA level. This translates into more interesting personalities and life stories.
My first inclination was to say that Associates are less douche-baggy. But the HBS grads give the worst BAs a run for their money, and there are just so damn many of them. I don't miss the days of sitting down at a new associate training and asking someone where they went to school, just to get the faux-modest "in Boston" response.
What are the Common Exits from Consulting?
When asked if starting a business is a common exit opp - the OP responded with the following.
Definitely not most. It's a relatively common exit-path, but definitely under 20%. There's plenty of info out there on common exit routes, but some of them include: business school, joining a client, private equity, venture capital, entrepreneurship, banking, etc.
The first thing I focused on after leaving was de-McKinsey-ifying myself. Consultants tend to wrap themselves in what looks like a layer of bullshit to people outside the industry. Jargon, false structuring, a way of carrying oneself. That kind of thing. I made sure to remove as much of that as possible so I could appear "normal" to people out in the world.
Starting a business is obviously a very different beast from being a management consultant. All of your fancy frameworks and awesome analysis go out the window. It's a lot of paperwork and a lot of sales (not just direct sales; you're always selling yourself as an entrepreneur in some way or another). McKinsey helped me manage different complex tasks at the same time, think logically, and work hard under pressure. It did not help me figure out the best way to attract and retain good talent on a tight budget.
What is the Work-Life Balance Like in Consulting?
It's hugely variable based on project. My worst study was 80 hours a week for 6 weeks. My best study was actually under 40 hours a week (though I did not readily admit this to my co-workers). Either way, you're almost certainly going to be spending Monday through Thursday away from home at the junior levels. People with kids handle it by not being with their kids. Unfortunately, all of the phone calls and skype sessions in the world don't make up for that. Having kids will working at McKinsey is something I had always promised myself I would absolutely not do.
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