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Real Humans of McKinsey: Cayley Heller, NYU Stern ’19, Associate

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The leading consulting firm, McKinsey & Co., staffs globally, putting consultants onto project engagements with five to six team members from other locations around the world.  This lifestyle demands keen adaptability, premier teamwork skills, and, of course, extensive travel.  The “McKinsey way” also involves structured, fact-driven, hypothesis-based processes to deliver client solutions.  MBA programs are the perfect training grounds for the analytical and many other skills McKinsey consultants need, so it’s no wonder the firm recruits about half of their consultants each year from leading business schools.

For Cayley Heller, her summer internship gave her a front-and-center view of the culture and requirements of the McKinsey lifestyle, and the MBA program at NYU Stern further equipped her to become an associate after graduation.   Read on for her story in this edition of Real Humans: Alumni.

Cayley Heller, NYU Stern MBA ’19, Associate

Cayley Heller, NYU Stern MBA ’19, Associate at McKinsey

Age: 27
Hometown: Woodbury, NY
Undergraduate Institution and Major: Cornell University / Major: Policy Analysis and Management; Minors: Business, Education, Inequality Studies
Graduate Business School, Graduation Year and Concentration: NYU Stern School of Business (Class of 2019) / Specializations: Strategy, Marketing
Pre-MBA Work Experience: 3 years, Market Research
Post-MBA Work Experience:
<1 year, Consulting

Why did you choose to attend business school?
Before business school, I worked in an account management role at a market research company. I loved helping my clients understand the competitive landscape and identify growth opportunities, but there were countless other issues they presented that I was eager to help tackle. Hoping to round out my business exposure, sharpen my skills, and ultimately transition into a role that would position me to address a greater variety of those issues, I knew business school was the best route.

Why NYU Stern? What factors figured most prominently into your decision of where to attend?
I was looking for a business school that would open the door to the career opportunities I was interested in and provide the resources and support to help me capitalize on those opportunities. Stern’s location and reputation offered unparalleled access to organizations within NYC, which is where I wanted to continue my career. With the help of the office of career development, the management consulting association, experiential learning courses, and company treks, I knew I’d be able to take advantage of that access.

At the end of the day, though, Stern’s community was the game-changing factor. I attended Stern’s “Opening Doors for Women” breakfast, which brought to life Stern’s emphasis on IQ + EQ. I could tell that Stern had a strong collaborative culture, where every student’s success is shared success. I knew Stern was the right fit – as my home for the next two years and network for a lifetime.

What about your MBA experience prepared you for your current career?
Business school prepared me to be a more structured thinker and effective communicator. Whether I was analyzing a case study or preparing for a presentation, I was required to synthesize a problem in a clear and coherent way. At McKinsey, I am required to use this skill set when tasked with solving the complex problems we face alongside our clients every day.

What was your internship during business school?  How did that inform your post-MBA career choice?
I was a summer associate at McKinsey & Company. Planning to transition to consulting following business school, I used my summer as an opportunity to get my feet wet and determine whether consulting was the right fit for me. Before the internship, I defined what success would look like and I continued to reflect on and evaluate my experience throughout my summer. My internship ultimately exceeded my expectations and I knew I wanted to return full-time.

Why did you choose your current company? What factors figured most prominently into your decision of where to work?
I wanted to work at an organization where I would have significant impact, learn constantly, and enjoy spending time with my colleagues. At the end of the day, it came down to two factors: the work and the people.

At McKinsey, I’m tackling complex problems in industries I’m excited about every day. I can work with retail and consumer brands that I love, media and entertainment brands that fascinate me, and education causes I care about – all while being surrounded by incredible people.

Advice to current MBA students:
–One thing you would absolutely do again as part of the job search?
Keep an open mind. I came into Stern with the intent to transition into consulting, but I continued to explore each step of the way. I considered multiple industries and leveraged my classmates’ diverse backgrounds to learn more. Exploring different options better prepared me for interviews (I’m a big believer in taking lessons from one industry/function to the next) and made me more confident in my decision when I accepted my offer.

–One thing you would change or do differently?
I wish I had prioritized activities differently earlier on, saying no more often. There are endless opportunities to get involved, and it’s so easy to say yes to everything. But overcommitting upfront can limit or block your ability to take advantage of opportunities that arise down the road.

When I finally did become more mindful and selective, I developed a much better understanding of where my skill set and interests lie. This lesson was not only important for me as I engaged in my job search, but also in how I approach my work today.

–Were there any surprises regarding your current employer’s recruiting process?
In general, the MBA consulting recruiting process is highly structured and streamlined. There is a series of milestones laid out, with heavy guidance and support available to help you reach those milestones. Even so, I was surprised at how open and supportive I found the McKinsey teams to be and how interested they were in getting to know my classmates and myself on a personal level.

Now that I’m on the other side of the recruiting process, I understand why: This job is centered around people. I always want to work with people who are equally excited about the work and the culture as I am. Supporting the recruiting process is the best way I can pay it forward (and so the cycle continues!).

–What piece of advice do you wish you had been given during your MBA?
Enjoy every minute. It’s so easy to focus on the future and what’s next, but two years will disappear in the blink of an eye. Business school is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to explore, try new things, reinvent yourself, travel, and reflect – embrace it!

What’s the best thing about working for your current employer?
The people. I have loved spending time with each of the teams I’ve been on, not only making the work rewarding, but a good time as well. And each Friday at the office is a mini-reunion. There are many different groups of people you see every Friday – your classmates, your cohort, your summer team, and all the people you meet along the way. It is fun to catch up and check-in with friends, and to learn more about the vast experiences people have had over the past week.

Lauren Wakal
Lauren Wakal has been covering the MBA admissions space for more than a decade, from in-depth business school profiles to weekly breaking news and more.