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Real Humans of McKinsey: Olivia Qi Zhang, Georgetown McDonough MBA ’22, Consultant

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In this edition of Real Humans: Alumni, we meet Olivia Qi Zhang, who had the unique experience of being a foreign correspondent on business and politics before deciding she was more interested in the former than the latter. At Georgetown McDonough, she found the global mindset and perspectives she was looking for to cultivate her future career in consulting at McKinsey & Co.

Olivia Qi Zhang, Georgetown McDonough MBA ’22, Consultant at McKinsey

Age: 32
Hometown: Shanxi, China
Undergraduate Institution and Major: Culture Industry Business Management, Zhejiang University of Media, China
Graduate Business School, Graduation Year and Concentration (if applicable): Georgetown McDonough School of Business, 2022
Pre-MBA Work Experience (years, industry): Jan 2016 – September 2020, Journalism
Post-MBA Work Experience (years, industry): Aug 2022 – now Consulting

Why did you choose to attend business school?
I leveraged business schools to make the career transition from journalism to consulting. I was at the junction where I really enjoyed my nearly-5-year career as a journalist and meanwhile, my growth was stagnating due to both external and internal reasons. Through reporting on the intersection of politics and business in Washington D.C., I realize my interest is more on business than politics and I would love to further my business acumen and start another chapter of my career.

Why McDonough? What factors figured most prominently into your decision of where to attend?
As a former foreign correspondent navigating through different cultures, global mindsets and perspectives is a very important part of my identity, which I wanted to continue to cultivate in the business context.

Georgetown caught my eye with the Global Business Experience, a core curriculum in the second year where you utilize what you’ve learned to help a company in another country solve a real-world business problem. My GBE project was to help a telecom company in Chile with an optimal pricing structure. The more I learn about the industry and the client, the more fascinated I am by the complexity of the problems and the impact we, as a team, can make by helping solve them.

What about your MBA experience prepared you for your current career?
Three main things really helped prepare me for my career at McKinsey. Firstly, it’s the business acumen, technical knowledge, and soft skills I’ve further developed at McDonough School of Business. The learning curve was so steep that you would be surprised even after the first semester in school. 

More importantly, the culture at MSB helped me adapt to company culture quickly. One alum told me that the workplace is an extension of business school in terms of the way we work together/group projects, networking, club events, etc. As an international student, I have adapted to Corporate America with more ease because of my MSB experience.

What was your internship during business school?  How did that inform your post-MBA career choice?
I did my internship with Amazon as a Senior Program Manager intern. I was assigned to a technical team I had little prior knowledge of. But I quickly grasped the key information and pain point through reading materials and talking to different people, ultimately designing a digital tool for internal stakeholders to solve the problem. 

I came to realize how much I enjoyed solving complex problems, and I would love to keep doing that in different industries and functions. Consulting is a profession that can satisfy my intellectual curiosity.

Why did you choose your current company? What factors figured most prominently into your decision of where to work?
Two factors really matter to me when I think about where to work: whether it can meet my intellectual curiosity and, a supportive environment where everyone helps each other grow. 

As someone with a non-traditional background, McKinsey will help me get maximum exposure to different industries and functions and find the areas I would like to focus on.

More importantly, I feel truly supported even during the interview process, where a lot of resources were provided to help candidates succeed, such as casing buddies, and office buddies on top of group sessions. Now eight months into the job, I still feel the same way. There are indeed tough situations to navigate, but I feel supported with the help from team members, PD, and mentors within the company.  

How has COVID impacted your industry/career plans? 
Before the pandemic, my upbringing and culture shaped my view on a career – you have to be successful in a career in order to have a happy and fulfilling life. I took pride in what I did and my job was a very big part of my identity. In many senses, I lived to work.

But the pandemic and business school forced me to slow down and pause to reflect. I discovered more outside of my work and professional life. Life is a long learning and exploratory process, not just professionally and outwardly. I have embarked on an inward journey of learning about myself and how the human mind works through yoga, meditation, reading, and therapies. I am still and will always be on my way to self-exploration.

Advice to current MBA students:
–One thing you would absolutely do again as part of the job search?
Talk to people from companies you’re truly interested in working for. There is a reason that networking exists.

–One thing you would change or do differently?
I would try not to be too stressed about networking. Instead, leverage networking as a two-way selection and see it as an opportunity for me to truly get to know the companies I am interested in working for.

–Were there any surprises regarding your current employer’s recruiting process?
As I mentioned earlier, I was surprised by how many resources McKinsey provided to help us prepare for interviews. During the interviews, what I really appreciated was that all 4 of my interviewers were trying to ease my nervousness by finding commonalities on my resume to connect me. It’s these details that matter a lot to me. 

–What piece of advice do you wish you had been given during your MBA?
Invest your time to get to know people around you in business school. This may sound cliché, but relationships are such an important element of our lives, and business school is no exception. I wish I have had more one-on-one conversations with my colleagues and faculty members for coffee/lunch/dinner. Everyone at McDonough has such a different background, and getting to know their stories inspires me. 

Christina Griffith
Christina Griffith is a writer and editor based in Philadelphia. She specializes in covering education, science, and history, and has experience in research and interviews, magazine content, and web content writing.