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Real Humans of McKinsey: Joel Thompson, NYU Stern MBA ’21, Associate

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Joel Thompson was a young professional that had acquired a ton of experience in the world of entrepreneurship. But, after running or starting a few companies, he was ready to challenge himself and learn something new. In this edition of Real Humans: Alumni, he talks about how NYU’s Stern School of Business helped broaden his horizons and reinforced the value of an open mind to help him land at McKinsey.

Read on to learn more about his business school experiences and his advice for current MBA students.

Joel Thompson, NYU Stern MBA ’21, Associate at McKinsey & Company

Age: 33
Employer & Title: Associate, McKinsey & Co.
Hometown: Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Undergraduate Institution and Major: Augustana University
Graduate Business School, Graduation Year and Concentration (if applicable): NYU Stern, 2021, Strategy, Marketing
Pre-MBA Work Experience (years, industry): 7 years, entrepreneur. Most recently, ran a craft brewery (Fernson Brewing Company). Prior to that, helped start and build a medical device company (neurolens).
Post-MBA Work Experience (years, industry): 7 months, management consulting

Why did you choose to attend business school?
Prior to business school, all of my work experience was in the startup world, where you learn by doing. It was a fantastic (and intense) education, but I rarely came up for air to explore what else is out there. I wanted to use business school as an opportunity to try things I was curious about and meet interesting people from all over the world, all while getting a world-class education.

Why NYU Stern? What factors figured most prominently into your decision of where to attend?
The biggest reason was definitely location – learning about business in the global center of commerce seemed like a total no brainer to me. The number of spontaneous opportunities that come from being in New York City astounded me. From part-time professors who double as executives at Fortune 500 companies, to the wealth of in-semester internships simply by proximity, and to guest lecturers who are inevitably in NYC on a regular basis, I can’t imagine a better place to get a deep experiential business education than in the heart of Manhattan.

What about your MBA experience prepared you for your current career?
I think business school serves as a nice little petri dish for developing a variety of frameworks that lay a really solid base of business knowledge. Going into life as a consultant with that solid base has been immensely helpful. I know there are books and courses on how you can prepare to be a better consultant, but I think it all comes back to many of these basic frameworks that you’ll inevitably pick up in two years of business school.

What was your internship during business school? How did that inform your post-MBA career choice?
I spent my summer with a medical device venture capital group called Flying L Ventures. It was a fascinating 12-week deep-dive into discovering, evaluating, and supporting quality investments; however, it also taught me that I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. I left that internship looking for more variety, and consulting was an obvious choice, full of people who don’t know what they want to be when they grow up, yet intensely focused on learning.

Why did you choose your current company? What factors figured most prominently into your decision of where to work?
When I started recruiting during the first year of business school, I decided to treat the entire experience as a four-year endeavor, meaning I’d take two years in the classroom and commit to at least two years in the company (now that I’m here, two years definitely isn’t going to be enough) where I thought I could learn the most about business in the real world. With that in mind, I don’t think there’s a better place on Earth to get the breadth and depth of exposure to challenging business situations as McKinsey. In just seven months here, I’ve worked with massive global companies as well as start-ups and am getting every bit of variety I came here for.

How has COVID impacted your industry/career plans?
One of the reasons I wasn’t the most excited about consulting when I got to business school was the traditional Monday to Thursday travel schedule. I got married to my awesome wife in the second year of business school and being gone over half the time didn’t sound too appealing. With COVID, the industry has become much more flexible. If I want to travel, I can easily find studies that offer that. In my case, I’ve been able to stay close to home (often literally at home) and continue to work on some of the most interesting topics with clients all over the country.

Advice to current MBA students:
–One thing you would absolutely do again as part of the job search?
Going into business school, I didn’t know exactly what my first career step out of school would be. Business school offers this really cool opportunity to explore industries. In one day you could sit in on a corporate presentation with Nike, Google, and McKinsey and get a glimpse into what a career at each could look like. I think it’s a great chance to gain exposure into areas you’re curious about and I’d encourage everyone to approach recruiting with an open mind.

–One thing you would change or do differently?
Lean on the experience of 2nd-year b-school students or recent graduates from my program more. I don’t think I understood how much they would be willing to invest in my success. Now that I’m on the other side of it, helping current students is a blast – and I think I could have saved myself a fair amount of pain throughout the process had I been more willing to reach out for help while I was going through recruiting.

–Were there any surprises regarding your current employer’s recruiting process?
If anything, I was surprised at how human the people were. When I started recruiting, everyone put McKinsey/Bain/BCG on such a pedestal that I expected everyone to be perfect. Getting into the process and meeting the people who make up these firms, I quickly learned (and it’s been further reinforced time after time) that there are indeed extraordinary people, but those people are also humble, imperfect, and almost always willing to help.

–What piece of advice do you wish you had been given during your MBA?
I think that there was so much pressure up front about getting a great summer internship and almost a feeling of if you didn’t get your dream internship, you had failed in some way. In hindsight, I think that everyone should be more open-minded about where they land for their summer. It’s really the one consequence-free opportunity to give a job a test drive. I personally tried venture capital, learned that I wanted to be more hands on, and pivoted to consulting.

Alexandra Markovich
Alexandra (Alex) Markovich was born and raised in Miami, Florida. She attended Florida State University (FSU), where she obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in English. After her time at FSU, she has continued to pursue learning more about the writing industry by enrolling herself in editing certificate programs provided by Poynter Institute and the University of Chicago. In her spare time, you can find Alex working out her local gym, perusing local book stores, taking her dogs to the local dog park, and soaking up the Miami sun!