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What it takes to make the cut in a consulting career

| Updated on: Dec 08, 2015
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Shailesh Kekre, Principal, McKinsey India, says academic brilliance is not the only criterion; core skills matter too

What do Richard Branson, Azim Premji, Steve Jobs, Dhirubhai Ambani and Roman Abramovich have in common, besides being rich, famous and successful? Most of them are college dropouts and not one of them has an MBA degree. Pointing this out to an audience of B-schoolers, deans, faculty members and industry persons at The Hindu Business Line-MBA Universe.com MBA Careers Conference in Bengaluru last Friday,  Shailesh Kekre, Principal, McKinsey India, made it clear that an MBA may be a ticket to a lot of career opportunities, but it certainly does not guarantee success.

Drawing on his 16 years of experience at McKinsey India, Kekre listed out five learnings he picked up, captivating the audience and explaining, through a series of interesting anecdotes, stories and popular cartoons, what it takes to get into a top-notch career in consulting.   

Pursue your passion 1 An MBA degree is not a must-have. Some of the world’s, and India’s, most rich, famous and successful people had no MBA degree but built successful organisations despite it.

2 Pursue your passion and not a “dream job” because those who pursue their passion truly excel in it; while a “dream job” may not be where one’s true passion lies. First find your passion and then pursue it to be successful and happy.     

3 Play hard but, play to your strengths and decide which race you want to run. The world is full of opportunities right now, so knowing which race to run, choosing and excelling in it, is important.

4 Enjoy the journey, without getting burnt out in the race to the top of the corporate ladder. It is important to take the time out to enjoy the process, learning and teamwork that takes one to the goal, rather than be obsessed with rewards and achievements. 

5Nurture curiosity and not conformity. What makes some corporations more successful than others is their ability to think out of the box, innovate, and question the status quo.

Distinctive dimension “I wish someone had told me about all of this before I got into an MBA school; but I picked it up along the way and decided to share my learnings with you all instead of being all preachy,” said Kekre.

To a query from a Tier 2 B-school student on how to get on to the McKinsey radar, Kekre said: “We hire not just from the top B-schools and engineering institutes but from all kinds of schools and professions. Some of our most successful hires are army men who have fought the Kargil war, pilots, doctors who decided to become management consultants, national swimming champions — all of whom and are my colleagues at McKinsey and bring a completely different perspective to problem-solving for clients.”

What makes one interesting Stating that academic brilliance is not always what McKinsey is looking for, he said: “As we interview candidates, we do look at core skill-sets, their ability to solve problems, communicate and make an impression, among others. There are seven or eight dimensions we look at and we do recognise that no one is distinctive in all dimensions. We hire people who are distinctive in one dimension and are okay on the others.” One of Kekre’s pet questions while interviewing people is: Outside of your work or studies, what is the one thing that you truly love to do and how have you excelled at it? The most common answer from candidates that he hears is: I love to be with friends. “Who doesn’t love to be with friends? I am yet to find a person who doesn’t.  A candidate has to find out what it is about his personality that makes him an interesting individual to be hired into McKinsey, and why he will prove to be important to the organisation. That will get him the job, not clichéd answers.”

Published on March 10, 2018

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