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Real Humans of McKinsey: Symone Williams, Cornell Johnson MBA ’19, Engagement Manager

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In this edition of Real Humans: Alumni, Symone Williams, Cornell Johnson MBA ’19, illuminates how business school prepared her for an exciting and fast-paced career in consulting. Read on for her story about joining McKinsey & Company and her advice for current MBA students.

Symone Williams, Cornell Johnson MBA ’19, Engagement Manager at McKinsey

Age: 30
Hometown: Boston, MA
Undergraduate Institution and Major: Columbia University, Barnard College (Urban studies major, Women studies minor)
Graduate Business School, Graduation Year and Concentration (if applicable): Cornell Johnson, 2019
Pre-MBA Work Experience (years, industry): Teach for America (Education/Human capital management, 3 years) Bridgewater Associates (1-year, Human capital management)
Post-MBA Work Experience (years, industry): Consulting, McKinsey and Company 2.5 years

Why did you choose to attend business school?
When I look back at my grade school progress reports (yes, my mom saved them all), one thing that is clear is that I have always been a leader. Whether it was leading a small group of peers to advocate for a longer recess period or leading my 300+ high school students to academic success. Being a compassionate leader has always been at the core of who I am. From my vantage point, business school offered an education in how to expand my leadership skillset and develop a deeper understanding of how to leverage business for social good.

Why Cornell Johnson? What factors figured most prominently into your decision of where to attend?
As cliché as it sounds it was truly Johnson’s close-knit community that sold me. I distinctly remember my first visit to campus. I walked away thinking, I want to be a part of this family! Before confirming my attendance, Johnson students were already signing up to mentor me, and actively working to connect me with alumni who could help me with my career aspirations. I thought if this community is willing to show up for me before I’ve confirmed my attendance imagine how they’ll show up for me once I’m officially a student?!

What about your MBA experience prepared you for your current career?
To this day, I’m not sure anything will compare to the challenges I faced in my first year as a Teach for America educator. Our nations failure to deliver on the promise of an equal opportunity for all students created what felt like insurmountable challenges for my students and I at times. Ultimately, teaching taught me the tenets to being a transformational leader. From helping people to become the best version of themselves, to being quick on my feet and scrappy with my resources, to remembering it’s how I make people feel that will ultimately matter most. Teaching was truly a training ground for me to become a transformational leader, a skillset that makes me a great consultant (and manager). While my current role is highly analytical, it’s equally rooted in helping clients reach their full potential, being quick on my feet, and leading teams of incredible colleagues in tackling massive challenges.

What was your internship during business school?  How did that inform your post-MBA career choice?
I interned at McKinsey and Company and signed on the dotted line as soon as I received my offer. My internship provided me with a window into the wonderful colleagues I’d be working with, the array of problems I’d be tackling, and the exciting travel opportunities that lay ahead with the firm.

Why did you choose your current company? What factors figured most prominently into your decision of where to work?
I came into consulting because I knew it would provide me with the opportunity to develop a sound analytical skillset and the opportunity to work on some of the most interesting problems facing society. Across the consulting firms, I saw McKinsey and Company as the firm that was investing most heavily in the areas that I am passionate about. From racial equity to education and sustainability, McKinsey was leading the way in these areas. I knew I wanted to work at a firm where working on these issues could be a core focus, rather than a pro-bono opportunity.

In addition, the talent and career development opportunities at McKinsey are unparalleled. I can now count C-suite executives within some of the most influential companies as my mentors and sponsors all because of the relationships I’ve built at the firm.

Advice to current MBA students:
–One thing you would absolutely do again as part of the job search?
Don’t judge a book by its cover! Talk to multiple people about their experiences working at the companies you’re considering, and make sure to the company will offer you opportunities that align with what you care about most (not what other people tell you is important.)

–One thing you would change or do differently?
Kick imposter syndrome to the curb. I distinctly remember getting my invite to interview with McKinsey and Company. I sat in disbelief. McKinsey wants to interview me?! I called my dear friend and classmate Marcus Jones, and he said, ‘Of course you got it girl! Get to work!’ I’m grateful to have friends and family encouraging me along my professional journey, but I should have believed in myself from the start.

–Were there any surprises regarding your current employer’s recruiting process?

–What piece of advice do you wish you had been given during your MBA?
Build relationships with MBAs across schools! Your class is not just limited to your respective school. When you start at your post-MBA job, you’ll join another ‘class’ of incoming MBAs. Get a head start by making relationships with MBAs from an array of schools; they’ll be your post business school ‘classmates.’

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!