The room teemed with black blazers, sweaty palms and briefcases in hands of rushing, fervent Vassar students, anxiously waiting on the chance to meet with the alumnae/i of McKinsey & Company. As students piled in to New England Hall’s recruitment session, many later arrivals found themselves forced to sit on the floor. The atmosphere was eager, but tense: This hour-long meeting could offer a gateway into one of the world’s most prestigious companies.
McKinsey & Company is one of the most successful global consulting firms, currently employing individuals in 65 countries. Each year, McKinsey pools applicants from an elite group of college students—exclusively via on-campus recruiting—for internships and jobs. On Sept. 19, McKinsey made its inaugural recruiting visit to Vassar, largely through the efforts of alumnus and Senior Partner at McKinsey Steven Kauderer ‘85.
McKinsey is most selective about where they recruit students. With a rumored starting salary of $83,000, many students and recent graduates alike covet the opportunity for the firm to come to their college (Case Interview, “Management Consulting Salary,” 2019). In the past, McKinsey has only visited Ivy Leagues, Stanford and the University of California at Berkeley. The company recently made a transition to include liberal arts schools, as they now recruit only at Amherst, Williams and Vassar.
According to its company website, the firm strives to be socially minded, demonstrated through their contributions to organizations like the Malala Fund. They also work pro-bono for several environmental non-profit companies.
However, despite its charitable work, the firm is not without wrongdoings. According to a recent Forbes article, McKinsey has advised and worked with authoritarian governments, some of which have committed human rights violations. In Saudi Arabia, reports produced by McKinsey consultants tracked criticism of the Saudi Crown, resulting in three arrests. McKinsey representatives later stated that they did not expect their work to be used in this fashion (Forbes, “How McKinsey & Co. Fails As A Global Leader,” 12.12.2018).
Could working arrangements like this pose an issue for socially minded Vassar students? When The Miscellany News asked this question to many students in attendance, all were uncomfortable answering. For his part, Kauderer emphasized that McKinsey as a company remains in a constant process of learning from its mistakes. “We try really hard to do well and do good, whether we’re working for private or nonprofit organizations, and do we always get it right? No,” he said. “But all of us collectively and individually don’t get it right. We as a firm try really, really hard to do the right thing. We are a place that learns, and we are learning.”
According to McKinsey’s presentation on Thursday, they strive to recruit high achievers who are capable of the demanding work schedule required by a global consulting company. Kauderer described that Vassar’s liberal arts curriculum encourages students to think and interpret information in an intelligent and creative manner, creating soft skills that directly translate to working in consulting, a business practice of providing companies with solutions for an endless array of internal issues.
Kauderer believes that Vassar offers students this skillset. “Vassar really taught me how to synthesize lots of different pieces of information and put it together and make sense of it,” He explained. “That’s what we do [at McKinsey]: We take diverse sets of data and perspectives and we try to get a sense of truth.”
Associate Dean for the College of Career Development Stacy Bingham noted that forming recruiting relationships with prestigious companies creates opportunities for students that would otherwise be unavailable.
“The field of management consulting (especially at the top-ranked firms) can be hard to break into without alumnae/i and college connections,” said Bingham via email correspondence. “McKinsey is a top-ranked management consulting firm that offers both internships and full-time entry-level positions. Based on student turnout (71 students, representing every class year) at the event, it is clear that students are interested in learning more.”
Medha Venkat-Ramani ’20, who is a double major in economics and political science, agreed. “It can be difficult to apply to many employers that have pipelines for particular schools,” she explained. “This is an opportunity to represent Vassar and the liberal arts education at a major employer.”
For Venkat-Ramani, speaking with Kauderer and other Vassar alums was particularly powerful, as they represent exemplars of the success one can achieve with a Vassar degree. “Meeting with alums helps me imagine myself at the company,” she said. “Even if we never met while at Vassar, we share experiences, memories and values.”
McKinsey & Company offers new graduates and students the chance to begin their careers on an elevated trajectory. One aspect of McKinsey’s presentation focused on mentorship, and how they work with new employees to help them discover their passions within consulting.
“They stressed support, training and mentorship, which are all valuable characteristics that new joiners look for, especially so early in their career,” recounted Venkat-Ramani.
Bingham emphasized that students should be free to pursue any job opportunity, adding that all are encouraged to seek council regarding ethical dilemmas with the Career Development Office (CDO) when looking for jobs. “We in the CDO welcome the opportunity to engage with students in conversations about these topics during career counseling appointments; one strategy we might suggest is having an honest conversation with Vassar alumnae/i who work at a particular company or organization around issues of mission, values, and culture and how they play out in the workplace,” she said.
At the end of the presentation in New England Hall, students quickly jolted from their seats (or lack thereof) to secure a place in line to talk to a McKinsley representative. As one student found his way to the front, a resume emerged from his blazer pocket, and was clandestinely thrusted toward the chest of Kauderer.
All photos courtesy of Diana Liu