Consulting 101 At McKinsey: Tiancheng Zhou Reflects On Her Summer In McKinsey Shanghai

In this turbulent summer, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to intern on-site at McKinsey & Co. Shanghai Office with 16 other interns from prominent universities all around the globe. This experience gave me a taste of consulting and a precious chance to interact with outstanding mentors and peers from whom I gained endless inspiration.

The importance of details in consulting

Here’s a list of our daily work: cleansing Excel data, compiling information, downloading reports, making PowerPoints, etc. At first, we considered these tasks trivial and not technically demanding enough, and we were even surprised that regular McKinsey consultants also spent considerable amounts of time on them. When I worked on collecting and sorting companies’ data in different industries, I was constantly asked to refine the results by checking every detail of the companies’ structure and business operations. It was not until the spreadsheet was requested by multiple project teams did I start to realize how useful this information could be in understanding the development of different business areas, finding general patterns, as well as giving a clear presentation of the company and industry trends. Likewise, when my fellow intern Esther showed us her completed deck, we found it extremely informative on the history and core aspects of the industry she was working on. In dedicating our efforts to these seemingly tedious tasks, we learned that for consultants, true, meaningful insights must come from a careful and meticulous understanding of details.

Working as a team to “problem-solve”

Apart from contributing to my sector team, another half of our capacity was devoted to a research project in teams of 6 interns. While I was assigned to research a business model that I never learned about, I was soon carried away by the curiosity everyone displayed: At lunch on our first day of work, we started to download the apps and experience the business ourselves. Over the first week, we’ve read through most of the review articles out there and started debating its advantages and disadvantages. Since the business model is quite new, in the following weeks we spent time discussing it every day and closely monitored the news. In the end, what I took away was way more than our 1.5-hour presentation itself – I had a deep and genuine understanding of this market and felt very comfortable introducing it to other people. Building all of this from scratch over 6 weeks taught me what drives a consultant at work, and how fulfilling it feels.

This blog post was written by Tiancheng Zhou, Harvard College Class of 2023, and participant of the Harvard China Student Internship Program in 2020.