Google vs. McKinsey Offers

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Question:

I am about to choose between two very different offers; a fellow position at McKinsey in the Vienna office and a position as online media associate (including a 2,5 year online media training program) with Google in Poland, which starts at a very basic, operational level in AdWords online advertising.

I have consulted many people and have received very different opinions and inconsistent answers.

I would like to ask you what you think of entering either of the two companies in terms of future career development and opportunities and what you think of the following statements and questions that I have heard:

  • McKinsey will rather prepare you for a career in corporations, Google will better prepare you for setting up your own business after some years.
  • It will be harder to get into McKinsey after Google than into Google after McKinsey.
  • Once working for Google, it will be hard to work in a different industry, whereas McKinsey will offer a wider choice of industries.
  • After working for Google, it will be difficult to join a different company, as “Googlers” are influenced too much by Google’s strong corporate culture.
  • Looking down the road 3-6 years, would I reach a higher level at Google if I joined Google now and followed the internal career path, opposed to joining McKinsey first and then crossing over to Google after 3-6 years? (i.e. would McKinsey also help me “jump” several career levels/years also in a company like Google?)
  • Now is the best time to join Google, as the company and the online-industry are growing so strongly and are expected to continue growing exponentially.

I do not feel I have found someone who can give me an as unbiased, objective and professional opinion on this issue and I am hoping you can.

Knowing how busy you are and how precious your time is, I can perfectly understand if you don’t have the time to answer my question.

Because of that, I would be extremely excited and thankful if you do find time to give me your professional opinion on the matter.

Once more, Victor, thank you very much for all your great help and time!

 

My Reply:

Regarding your question about Google vs. McKinsey:

I did a little research on the role you were describing, and have a decent idea of where the role fits in within Google.

At first I thought it was the reputed product manager program at Google, which very much is a role that provides a cross-functional experience that I do agree is very conducive to running a company one day.

I have been a product manager and run product management departments before, and a lot of the CEOs in Silicon Valley -- if they were not engineers, they were most often product managers.

For example, a woman who used to work for me when I was in tech (and before she went to HBS) joined Google before their IPO as a product manager. She now runs major parts of the Google Wi Fi project -- providing wifi services in cities around the U.S.

Apparently her nickname internally is the "Ditch, Witch, B*tch" as she is driving entire teams of construction crews to physically build a private telecom infrastructure for Google users. Given her nickname, I am going to assume she is half decent at what she does.

However, the program you are considering at Google is more of an entry-level job for recent graduates type program. It looks like you will be helping to run the existing Google businesses in a tactical role, managing client accounts and helping operate the business as it stands today, perhaps with some job rotation to get a feel for the company.

It seems very similar to the new college graduate programs at many Fortune 500 companies.

This is in contrast to the sometimes more strategic role a product manager might be responsible for, such as actually entering a new market... e.g., do the research, make the recommendation, and then actually build the product, find the users, go generate revenue... which goes several steps beyond what a consultant would typically do.

Because it is a tactical role, it is unlikely you will get a wide cross-functional experience within the company, and I doubt you will ever work with Google's CEO or their board of directors. The nature of the work described in the job postings I read online suggest the work is more of front line nature than a big picture one.

In contrast, at McKinsey you will get a lot of experience in bigger picture issues, and hone the decision-making skills of a CEO-level decision maker.

The big value I got out of McKinsey is what I call "up/down, left/right"... I was able to work up and down the hierarchy of an organization...

So I saw how customer service complaints were dealt with by customer service agents as well as by board-level leaders (even though it is the same issue, how they deal with them is vastly different).

I saw how a single issue could cut across the entire cross functionality (or looking left and right across the organization chart).

So if customer complaints have increased, is that due to labor problems? Poor customer service processes? R&D problems? Manufacturing? Did we pick the wrong market segment where we can't afford to provide good customer service?

For something as simple as "customer complaints have increased," it is not always clear why they have increased.

At McKinsey, you get such cross-functional exposure that you can fairly easily (and commonly) troubleshoot such an issue.

But, if you look at executives in industry,most of them are exceptionally functionally-oriented, but terribly not cross-functionally oriented.

So the head of customer service has been in customer service 20 years... but never worked a day in finance or sales. The head of operations has never been in marketing. The head of marketing is completely unfamiliar with strategy.

So you have all these highly-paid executives who are well suited to solving problems within their department, but completely unsuited for solving problems that cut across multiple / all departments.

Typically it is only the CEO that has anything remotely resembling cross-functional experience.

When I worked in industry in public companies, I was generally the only person in the company, other than the CEO, that could see and troubleshoot issues that were cross-functional in nature. It is an enormous advantage... and keep in mind, I got all of this out of McKinsey in about three years (and could have jumped ship in two years and got 80% of what I described above).

So to make a long story short, I think McKinsey is the better option by a very wide margin.

(And in case you are wondering why I did not use a standard synthesis approach to make my point, there is a very deliberate reasoning that I will be sharing with my Apex Alliance members on our upcoming monthly conference call.)

I've also included my comments on the specific points you've heard about McKinsey vs. Google. My comments are in [brackets]:

- McKinsey will rather prepare you for a career in corporations, Google will better prepare you for setting up your own business after some years.

[Neither are useful for helping you set up your own business as the number of operational headaches you get shielded from as either a consultant or a manager is just enormous.]

- It will be harder to get into McKinsey after Google than into Google after McKinsey.

[Though the statement is a little oversimplified, I agree with this.]

- Once working for Google, it will be hard to work in a different industry, whereas McKinsey will offer a wider choice of industries.

[The kind of person who works at Google generally refuses to work in any other industry... and yes, McKinsey does give you a wider choice of industries... this is helpful if you do not know what you want to do in the future; it is a less useful benefit if you already know what you want to focus on.]

- After working for Google, it will be difficult to join a different company, as “Googlers” are influenced too much by Google’s strong corporate culture.

[I don't know enough to comment on this... though I will say Googlers are highly sought after by other companies in that industry (Facebook comes to mind as they just raided Google of talent starting a few years ago). Now whether the Googlers will enjoy working elsewhere, I have no idea.]

- Looking down the road 3-6 years, would I reach a higher level at Google if I joined Google now and followed the internal career path, opposed to joining McKinsey first and then crossing over to Google after 3-6 years? (i.e. would McKinsey also help me “jump” several career levels/years also in a company like Google?)

[I don't know what the internal career path at Google looks like, but it is fairly common for ex-consultants to enter at a higher level when they transition to industry than if they had been in industry in an operating role for the same number of years. So as a general rule, I definitely agree with this statement but do not know if it is true at Google in particular.]

- Now is the best time to join Google, as the company and the online-industry are growing so strongly and are expected to continue growing exponentially.

[I definitely agree the industry is growing for the forseeable future, whether it is the best time to join Google -- I don't know. The best time to join Google was ten years ago. It is now a much more mature company. Whether it is good time to join now largely depends on 1) your longer term goals, and 2) your opportunity costs / alternatives).

Hope this helps and once again congratulations on the nice problem you have with all these offers to consider.

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