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Real Humans of McKinsey: Jenna Benefield, Wharton ’18, Associate

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The MBA is a vehicle for advancement in–or into–many industries, and consulting is consistently one of the most popular destinations.  And within the consulting industry, McKinsey & Company is considered one of the most prestigious firms in the world.

MBA graduates usually enter McKinsey as an associate, working either as a generalist or as a practice consultant. Generalist consultants move fluidly between different industries and functional areas, whereas practice consultants spend at least 50 percent of their time focused on a particular industry or function.

So, what does the pathway to McKinsey look like?  How does an MBA prepare candidates with the leadership skills, problem-solving abilities and more that McKinsey looks for?  McKinsey reports that nearly half of their consultant hires come from MBA programs, but it’s an exceptional achievement to land there. For a look at the inside track, we caught up with Wharton alumna, Jenna Benefield.  She graduated the Wharton MBA program in 2018 and has been an associate at McKinsey since then. Read on for her story of how a Wharton MBA prepared her for McKinsey, what she loves about the firm and more.

Jenna Benefield, Wharton ’18, Associate

Jenna Benefield, Wharton ’18, Associate at McKinsey

Age: 29
Hometown:  Tempe, Arizona
Undergraduate Institution and Major: Arizona State University – Finance and Accounting
Graduate Business School, Graduation Year and Concentration (if applicable): Wharton MBA 2018 – Entrepreneurial Management and Operations
Pre-MBA Work Experience: 4 years, Financial Services
Post-MBA Work Experience:
1.5, Management Consulting

Why did you choose to attend business school?
In the 4 years I worked before business school, I spent much of that time learning about how to successfully launch a major geographic expansion, build great teams, and create strategies to mitigate risk.  What I learned in those roles will shape how I approach solving problems for the rest of my career.

When I thought about business school, it all started with wanting to maximize how much I could learn early in my career.  I saw business school as an opportunity to challenge myself intellectually while also rapidly learning from the experiences that my peers had across industries.  The pace of absorbing experiences could hardly be matched in any other career choice, so I was excited to take that time to invest in my knowledge.

Why Wharton? What factors figured most prominently into your decision of where to attend?
Wharton was the ideal choice in an MBA program for me.  I knew I wanted to attend a school known for the caliber of both its professors and students, and Wharton did not disappoint.  My classmates were impressive with an extensive variety of backgrounds, and my professors brought real-world experience into the classroom each day.

Attending Wharton also gave me the opportunity to continue to leverage my Finance background to take more advanced courses, while testing out of coursework I’d completed through my undergraduate degree and pre-MBA job.  This gave me room to take extra electives and try out completely new subjects that I enjoyed – including law, real estate investments, and negotiations.  Having the opportunity to chart my own course through the program gave me the chance to expand my skills.

Wharton’s focus on global learning was the third main draw for me. From having the opportunity to visit 10+ companies in India as part of the India GIP program, to being on teams with students from schools across the globe, I learned a lot about how non-US companies operate.  Companies are increasingly multi-national, and Wharton gave me the opportunity to build my global experience.

What about your MBA experience prepared you for your current career?
Tactically, Wharton forced me to prioritize.  There wasn’t enough time in the day to be involved with everything, so I had to be strategic about where I wanted to focus my energy. This has translated well to consulting, as I am challenged every day to allocate my time on the top priorities that will help clients the most.

Intellectually, the case discussions were great primers for the problem-solving sessions that I now have daily as part of my current career.  Class case discussions were full of people rapidly jumping in and bringing different perspectives from their respective experiences.  This is very similar to the problem-solving discussions we use to press forward in solving our clients’ biggest challenges.  The practice of engaging and debating in these types of groups prepared me to confidently share my perspective in consulting.

What was your internship during business school?  How did that inform your post-MBA career choice?
I interned at McKinsey during business school, and I enjoyed it enough to return full-time after graduating.

Why did you choose your current company? What factors figured most prominently into your decision of where to work?
McKinsey helps clients solve some of their most difficult business problems, and that thought excited me when I was recruiting.  I wanted to challenge myself to be a part of creating novel solutions that will reshape companies and industries.

When I was recruiting and would ask people why they chose McKinsey, they would often say “the people.” I didn’t fully understand what this meant at the start, but throughout recruiting, I met people that I would feel proud and honored to work beside.  I knew that if these were the type of people that were working for McKinsey, this was the right company for me.

Advice to current MBA students:
–One thing you would absolutely do again as part of the job search?
Get to know the people from each of the consulting firms!  You spend a lot of your day with these people, so make sure they’re the type of people you want to work with.

–One thing you would change or do differently?
I don’t know if I could actually do it – but I would really try to stress less about the process.  The recruiting season is a marathon, not a sprint, so make sure to find ways to decompress and stay true to yourself.

–Were there any surprises regarding your current employer’s recruiting process?
Not that I remember – Wharton did a great job helping me navigate the process.

–What piece of advice do you wish you had been given during your MBA?
Take classes and sign up for opportunities that push you outside of your comfort zone!  This is your chance to learn about topics that you may never have the opportunity to explore again.  Some of the classes and activities I was most hesitant about ended up teaching me about myself and gave me new skill sets that I can’t imagine myself without today.

What’s the best thing about working for your current employer?
Similar to when I was recruiting, it’s really the people I work with and the problems I help solve here at McKinsey.  I feel nothing but encouragement to succeed – by everyone from my peers who are there when I need advice to sponsors who create opportunities for me to grow. McKinsey also gives me the flexibility to make sure I’m balancing what’s important to me in life, with programs to take extra time off to travel / spend time with friends and family. Overall, McKinsey gives me the career and personal satisfaction I was looking for in my post-MBA role.

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.