Lisa Bright broke into McKinsey from a school most have never heard of (Miami of Ohio) then exited consulting to venture successfully into the startup world. Now, she does a bit of everything, including serving as an interview coach with Management Consulted.
Lisa has helped hundreds of candidates gain interview success at the top consulting firms in the world. Now, she’s sharing all her secrets. Want to hear how she did it all? Or uncover the top 3 things that set successful candidates apart? Or discover what a day-in-the-life at McKinsey looks like? Today, we’re sharing her unique recruiting journey into McKinsey from a non-target school, out of McKinsey, what she’s been up to since, and her tips for the case interview prep process. Enjoy the discussion!
Listen here or on your favorite podcast channel. A full transcription is available below.
Lisa Bright’s Story of Breaking into McKinsey from a Non-Target University: Full Transcription
Transcription has been edited for length and brevity.
Lisa, we’re very excited today to hear a little bit more about you. I think a lot of people know you from watching case walkthrough videos, etc. So excited to get this podcast episode today in order to just learn a little bit more about you, your journey, your experience. Let’s kick it off with some personal questions. I hear that you have an interesting new hobby. Can you tell us about it?
I do. So I actually just bought a racehorse two weeks ago, which I am very excited about!
Oh my gosh.
My best friend’s little brother is actually an up and coming trainer, so we went thirds on a horse. So that’s going to be my new hobby – spending time out at the barn, grooming horses, things like that. I find that relaxing compared to all the other stuff I have going on. So I’m super excited about that.
That’s so unique. That’s just so cool. I can’t even imagine. Congrats on that, that’s exciting.
Yeah, I’ve always wanted to own a horse, so this is my chance to do that. But I don’t have to have him at my house. I do have a dog that’s about the size of a horse. He’s about 200 pounds. It’s a Great Dane. Now I have an official horse.
Something with the large animals there. I like it. Who is somebody, Lisa, for you that’s had a huge influence on your life?
So I wouldn’t say it’s been one person in particular. I think it’s really been different people at different stages of my life that have kind of helped me at different times. And so I think there’s maybe two that I’ll mention more specifically. So the first was actually my fifth grade science teacher. He always challenged me in a lot of different ways and he’s actually the only teacher or professor that I’ve had in my entire academic career that gave me something less than an A. I actually still stay in touch with him, I see him on a weekly basis. And so he’s been a big part of my life for a long time.
And then the second thing that I’ll mention, is probably my favorite professor, Dr. Schneider, from Miami of Ohio. He, again was a really challenging professor. People either loved him or they hated him and hated his class. He really challenged you in a lot of different ways. And I actually took his MBA level case course when I was an undergrad. So it was one finance business case a week – super intense – but that really prepared me for my interviews with McKinsey, I think, overall.
So those are a couple people. And then obviously, at McKinsey, I’ve had a lot of different mentors over the years. But I think it’s really the people that have challenged me in a lot of ways are the people that I’ve learned the most from, that have influenced me the most.
Lisa, did we just catch there that you have to go all the way back to fifth grade to find when you didn’t get an A? Oh my God, that’s amazing. Oh my gosh, that’s amazing.
He still jokes about this all the time. He’s like, “I’ve given you your only B in your entire academic career.”
Okay, well, let’s flip the script. Let’s go on the total opposite end of the spectrum, then. You’ve had huge academic achievements. What about some sort of challenge that you’ve had in your life? Was there a moment where you thought you wouldn’t succeed? Or where you hit a huge challenge? What happened, and how did you persevere?
So it’s a good question. I would say in the broader scheme of things, I don’t think I’ve ever generally thought that I wouldn’t succeed. I think I’ve always kind of had the mindset as long as you work really hard and keep moving, good things come from that. I’ve had plenty of scenarios where things didn’t pan out as I anticipated, and then I had to pivot to something else. My first startup that I had actually was kind of like that. It’s something I’ve had on the back burner for a while as I’ve been growing some other businesses and things, but I might revive it one day. So I know it’s not directly seen as a time when I didn’t think I’d ever succeed. I don’t think I’ve ever had that directly. It’s always just been smaller things, but then it’s always just transferred to something else.
Well, there’s a huge lesson in there too, right? Just your mindset, especially in the entrepreneurial startup space. It’s like failure is a necessary part of the evolution in the equation, right? And it’s not even failure, quote, unquote. You just put it on pause and there’s the opportunity to go back if you have opportunity and bandwidth to do so. But Lisa Bright, you’re a busy lady. So, for those on the call who don’t know so much about you and your background, could you just give a little bit more of an introduction?
Yeah. So I started coaching with Management Consulted in about 2014. I’ve been coaching with you guys for the past seven years or so. I’ll give you a little bit of history as to how I ended up here.
I actually grew up in a small town in Canton, Ohio. I actually live pretty close to there still now, which most of you probably haven’t heard of, unless you’re a big football fan. It’s actually home of the Football Hall of Fame in the US. It’s a little random fact. I joined and attended Miami of Ohio, not Florida, Miami University in Ohio, to be clear. So I studied business there at Miami. My junior year I interned with McKinsey and then I was recruited by them and joined full time for a couple years after that.
During that timeframe, I worked on probably 20 or so different projects, spanning a ton of industries. But I did spend most of my time in the healthcare sector, overall. After a couple years, I left there to launch my own startup. And around that same time I started coaching with Management Consulted as sort of my day job, and then moonlighting as an entrepreneur on the side.
And then I’ve been involved in several businesses and startups over the last few years. And then most recently, this past year, launched a health care business, providing in-home health services to people with developmental disabilities. So that’s been growing quite well. It’s grown to about 30 to 40 employees or so within the first year.
So we’ve really had a foundation building year, really excited for the growth for this upcoming year. And then in conjunction with that, I’ve been building out a real estate portfolio as well. So that’s my plan for the next couple years, really growing out those two things. And then once I get those both to scale, I can take a step back, then I’ll probably be looking for my next thing, whatever that is. So I’ll figure that out as I go.
Absolutely. Always evolving. So I hear that you graduated from Miami of Ohio with three degrees, is that right?
I did. Yes.
In that undergrad process, you got interested in consulting and got one of those coveted, limited business analyst summer internships, and you got the full time position – all from a non-target school. How were you able to get recruited from McKinsey? And what can others learn from your journey?
That’s actually a really good question and something that I’ve given quite a bit of thought to over the last few years. And I wondered, how did I go from small Canton, Ohio to working at McKinsey?
And for context, I actually am the first of my family to graduate from college. I went to a pretty rough High School, and overall, Miami is a good school, but definitely not a target school. I think I was told, at least when I interviewed, that no one had gone from Miami of Ohio to McKinsey in over 12 years. So the odds were not in my favor, to say the least. I’ll actually walk you through a little bit of my college experience. Just kind of chronologically what that looked like. And then I want to go back and maybe talk through a few of the the main points or takeaways because consulting was not something I started pursuing when I first started college. I kind of fell into it, but I can walk you through that story.
Let’s start with freshman year. So during my freshman year, I came in as an undecided major. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do exactly. I actually wanted to do law, I thought was my plan, but Miami did not have a good law program. And they offered me a full ride, so I found myself at Miami. They had a good business school, so I just kind of fell into that to some extent.
My freshman year I actually took an internship as a door to door book salesperson in North Carolina. That was interesting. That was a rough experience! And then my sophomore year, after going through some initial courses and stuff, my sophomore year, I declared three majors and two minors. So I did accounting, finance, supply chain management operations, and then minors in business analytics and stats.
And during my sophomore year, I also started a role as a TA for an economics professor that was on campus. And one of his former students is a partner in the McKinsey Cleveland office. So he put me in touch with the partner, and the partner basically is one who kind of helped me facilitate getting an interview. So personal connections are gold in the recruiting process at McKinsey. He gave me some advice about my application. This was during my sophomore year, so I couldn’t obviously apply then. And so he gave me some advice for my summer internship after my sophomore year to get a bigger brand name on my resume. So I actually worked as an investment analyst at Charles Schwab my sophomore year.
And then I went back my junior year and landed the interview with McKinsey. So with all that being said, kind of looking back, there’s a few key takeaways that I took looking back, like how did I end up at McKinsey and how did that all happen.
So I’d say the first thing overall was getting work experience early. I think that was really critical. I hear that a lot from undergrads, especially where they’re saying it’s very hard to get internships freshman year, there’s not a lot of internship experiences there.
So I took the door to door sales role. It was not fun, by any means. But I stuck with it and it helped really kind of build the work experience on the resume. They pitched it as running your own business for the summer. So you have to keep track of all your expenses, and sales and all those things. So it was actually a really good opportunity. It was pretty awful, but in terms of the skills and building the resume, it was actually really helpful. So getting work experience is really, really important. I’m always impressed by a lot of our undergrads and their resumes, and just the extent of work experience that they have at 20, 21 years old. So that’s one.
The other thing I think is really focusing on just going above and beyond from an academic standpoint. The consulting firms are really big on GPAs, test scores, things like that. And so the three majors and two minors kind of set me apart to some extent. And I did that against everyone’s advice. I remember one of the department chairs, he told me there’s no way you’re going to finish that. And I was bound to prove him wrong. So I finished those off and did it with a 4.0 GPA. So I think that made a big difference in my offer at McKinsey. So, striving for excellence in an academic setting, I think is really important.
The other thing was doing things outside of my comfort zone. So for example, that role as a TA, I took that because I knew I was really terrified of and bad at public speaking. And so I looked for the most awkward, difficult thing I could possibly do, which was getting up and speaking in front of 200 people, maybe 100 people about twice a week. And so I figured I would eventually desensitize myself to doing that. So that’s one, look for things that challenge you.
And then taking that very uncomfortable role is actually what led me to that particular professor whose former student was the McKinsey partner. So a little bit of luck in there as well. Luck never hurts when it comes to McKinsey recruiting! I had never heard of McKinsey, I had no clue what they did. It was actually my professor who said, “Have you ever thought of a career in consulting? There’s this firm called McKinsey that I think you should look into.”
And so I was like, I had no clue what they do, was not interested. But I started researching it and realized that I was really intrigued by the work that they did. My plan was to go into investment banking, actually. And so somehow found myself at McKinsey. So a little bit more of a random walk to get there to some extent, than people that target consulting right away.
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A Day In The Life Of A McKinsey Consultant
And once you got there, what was it like? What was a typical day like during your tenure at McKinsey?
I’d say most of the days are fairly similar. And then then you have a lot of these weird one-off scenarios, or one-off days where your projects look very different. So typical day, I would say, you leave the hotel – you’re usually in a different city – leave the hotel around, in my experience, 8:00 or 9:00 in the morning. You usually eat breakfast with your team, either at the hotel or at the client site. And then from, let’s say, 9:00 to about 6:00 or 7:00, you’re pretty much in a conference room with your team.
And so your day-to-day is mostly research, Excel, and PowerPoint. You live in those three. And then kind of sprinkle in all the internal meetings with your team, client meetings, interviews with clients. So that’s your typical day. And then head out from the client site, around 6:00 or 8:00 PM or so, grab dinner either with your team or by yourself in the hotel, and then, in my experience, you’re usually working till about midnight or so from your hotel by yourself, and then rinse and repeat the next day. That’s a typical day.
And then you’ve got travel days mixed into that where you’re on flights, very early hours on a Monday. My first project, actually my first week at McKinsey, I actually showed up and they gave me a hard hat, goggles, and power tools, and I was ripping apart telecom equipment, of all things (laughs). So I did not expect that. So day-to-day things can be very different depending on the project. But that’s your typical day. You’re usually in a conference room, a lot of teamwork, working with your team for most of your day.
Do you miss it?
You know, I do to some extent. I actually talked to one of the partners I’d worked with quite a bit about a year ago. And I’d love to go back in like some kind of half capacity or join a project for two months, and then leave, and come back when I want to, but that’s not an option, unfortunately. I do miss the people and the work. I don’t necessarily miss all the travel and the hours. Not as much flexibility that I have now. I probably work just as many hours now, but on my time with more flexibility.
I feel you on that 100%. Well, so you told us a little bit about your journey so far. You left there, you moved into the startup world, you’ve done a number of different things since then. But why at that point did you feel like it was the right time to leave? And how have your consulting skills helped you succeed as an entrepreneur?
So I spent two years at McKinsey, which is the typical time frame. And so at that point, I was faced with the decision of “Do I go back to business school? Do I enter industry in some way?” Sometimes you can make a move into like a more specific practice, or I could go do my own thing.
I did not want to go back to business school after my four years in undergrad, I was like I’m done taking business courses for a while. So that was out of the picture. I didn’t really want to join another company. I felt that honestly, if I was to work for someone, I’d probably stay at McKinsey. And so one of the main reasons I actually got into consulting, or why I was interested in it was I wanted to start my own business one day. So it was kind of the natural, logical step for me.
And so I would say that, overall, there’s been a lot of things that I’ve learned at McKinsey that just kind of followed me through into the entrepreneurial world. So I think the biggest thing that I learned was structure, and just kind of organizing both my work and my day. And so I don’t even really think about it. But if I reflect upon it, whenever I start a new project or anything, I always sit down, I map it out, I structure my work plan, or how I’m going to approach stuff. It’s a mindset, it kind of just stays with you.
But everything from whiteboarding – I have this giant whiteboard in my office – to how I name my files, literally everything kind of carried with me, honestly. So structure is a big thing. I think one of the things that I got really comfortable with is tackling just about anything that I need to.
So in being an entrepreneur, you have to wear every hat, right? So one day, your – well, hour to hour, it changes. You’re legal, you’re IT, you’re HR, you’re finance, accounting. And so I think McKinsey got me really comfortable with just being comfortable wearing all those different hats. You know, I may not be an expert in any of those, but you kind of become a jack of all trades and being comfortable with that, I think is really important. So I think McKinsey really helped in that way.
And then also just from a people standpoint, it’s never been my my core strength, things like communication, leading people, those types of things. And so I think McKinsey made a big difference. Now I have 30, 40 employees, managing the organization, those are skills I think really stayed with me overall. I’m still not the best at it by any means, but I’m way better than I used to be. I think McKinsey had something to do with that.
Oh, absolutely. And amidst your evolution and your success in the startup world, you’ve stayed involved over here on the consulting side as well. As you said, for the past seven years, you’ve helped literally hundreds of candidates land offers at dozens of consulting firms as a coach with Management Consulted. What’s your strategy there? What’s the process that you run your clients through to help them prepare for consulting interviews?
In my first session with folks, I almost always do a full diagnostic case, start to finish. I took a case from our Case Library that we have and I kind of adapted it to make it my own. It’s one that covers a really broad range of areas. So math, charts, creative questions. It’s a really good mix. I give this case to people that literally come to us and they say, “I don’t know what a case is and my interview is on Monday. What do I do?” Let’s run through a case, right. And here’s what it looks like.
I also give this same case to folks that have been doing tons of case prep. And they really just want to refine a few things. It’s a case that covers a lot of that. So I give them a diagnostic case. From there, I can kind of pinpoint where people’s weaknesses are and their strengths. And so my next step would be targeted sessions to fix any areas that people are really struggling with.
So I’m a big believer in just running cases over and over is not nearly as helpful. But if you really just are struggling with math, you probably really need to do some math prep, and do some targeted prep around that. And even within that, it kind of varies by person. Like some people, it’s the mechanics of the math, sometimes it’s people are really struggling with just the setup of the math – those are different things.
And so I do some targeted sessions to help them pinpoint and fix those areas they’re struggling with the most. Usually it’s structure and math, those are the two areas that most people have trouble with. And so I usually do two, three targeted sessions to kind of clean up stuff. And then from there, I just start running full cases. But I like to pick out cases that really highlight people’s weaknesses in different ways so they can learn from those. So tough cases.
And so a lot of my clients, they tell me, I oftentimes give them cases, where they’re like, “I’m doing well. And then I do a case with you and you find the case that just really nailed me.” And I’m like, “Yep. I know where you’re struggling and so I can give you a case that really highlights all that. But that’s where you learn the most, and you grow the most from those.”
Like I mentioned, look for the challenging experiences, those are the ones that help you. And then you know, maybe if it’s a day before their final interview or something, I’m going to dial it back a little bit, give them more of an easier case, but by then they can handle those well. So running full cases, and then sometimes we’ll sprinkle some fit sessions in between as well, to work on some of those issues too.
Absolutely. Diagnostic, targeted sessions on your weakness, maybe sprinkle in some fit, and then refine that simulation right before the interview process. So you’ve worked with so many people, you’ve seen folks succeed in this process. There’s no magic formula, of course, but in your experience, what are a couple qualities that most successful candidates possess?
I would say that there are three key things. So one is being tenacious in solving the case – it’s more of an attitude or the energy that people bring, that’s one. I’ll go back and talk through some of these. The other one is being open to feedback and being able to learn and adjust. That’s really important. And the other thing is just being business minded, which is different than expertise in business. I’ll clarify that a little bit.
In terms of being tenacious, if you give somebody a case, and they sound like they’re actually excited to solve it, and they want to be there, they’re wanting to solve the case, that’s a big factor. If somebody is just kind of moving through it, and they don’t sound like they want to solve it, the energy is low, that is harder to fix.
If they authentically sound excited, because it’s like, “Oh, thanks so much for that information.” (laughs)
Right. Yeah, and that’s feedback I give people. If you have to drink a ton of coffee or something, but be amped up and ready to solve the case. That’s really important, because they’re thinking about on the job, “Are you actually going to enjoy doing this?” And by the way, there is something like getting cased out, to some extent, where people have done too many cases. And then they’re just like, “Oh my gosh, it’s another case.” So you don’t want to get to that point, either.
Open to feedback. That’s another one. So it’s not where people start. It’s about the improvement that they make. So I’ve worked with some folks and I did a first couple sessions, it was like, “Oh, my gosh, there’s just no way we’re gonna get them there.” And then I give them a bunch of homework, and we do some of those targeted sessions and a few sessions later, I’m like, “Whoa, this is a whole different person.” I don’t recognize the same person.
But one of my clients in particular, she was a math major at Harvard with zero business background. And probably the first five sessions I was thinking, “Oh my gosh, this isn’t gonna go well.” She was just really struggling, but she was doing all the prep work and homework. And around session number six or seven, it started clicking, and she just started cracking cases. And I thought, “Wow.” She got an offer at McKinsey.
And then I’ve worked with people that, honestly, their first session goes pretty decent. They’ve been casing, they do pretty well. But they don’t really change. So if you give them feedback to tweak certain things, they just keep doing the same thing over and over, or don’t put in the time to do some of the homework and things like that. And so it’s not where you start, it’s really about making the progress and being open to feedback, which is also very important when you’re on the job. McKinsey really pushes that. It’s all about feedback and making improvements.
And then the other thing about being business minded, and I’d say that’s different from business acumen, or how much content you know. There’s lots of people that have zero business background, but they’re interested in business, they read the Wall Street Journal, those types of things. And so you want to look for a business curiosity.
One of my clients, she was a physician. She had zero business background, and she would go through a case, and she would see something like EBITDA and she’s like, “What is that?” And I would respond with, “EBITDA – it’s earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, amortization.” She goes, “Oh, okay. So it’s earnings excluding those things. Okay, great.” And then she would keep going and she would be perfectly fine.
So the expectation is not that you’re an expert in business, but that you are business minded, and you have a curiosity about business. So I think those are three things that anybody that I know that’s landed offers, I think those are three consistent things that I see across candidates.
Preparing For Coaching / Case Prep
It seems like a little bit of a daunting list, probably, to those who are just getting started in this process. So based on when this conversation is going to go live, folks – like MBAs thinking about interviewing in January – probably some of them are just getting started in their process. Where should they start?
That’s actually a question I get a lot via email prior to the first session. They’re like, “I have a session with you in a week, what should I do?” So I do recommend about a week or two, that’s about the max, of reading content, watching some videos, just to understand what the process looks like. So watching people where it’s a dialogue with the actual case interview is actually really helpful so you can see the process and how it works.
And then reading up on some of the methods or the structures or frameworks, things like that is also really helpful. So I advise like a week or two of reading at most, and then diving into that diagnostic case. So oftentimes, I work with people who have spent two months reading a ton of content. And they’re like, “I think I know this in and out.” And then they go through a diagnostic case, and realize, “Oh, that was different than I expected.”
I always tell people, it’s like reading a book on here’s how you can swim versus getting in the pool and actually doing it. So a week or two of reading is fine. But then I would really quickly get into a diagnostic case with somebody that has quite a bit of experience giving cases so they can actually give you really good actionable feedback of what your strengths and weaknesses are, and then how to make improvements from there. And then doing those targeted areas and working on those.
Absolutely. Well, Lisa, we appreciate you taking the time to share your journey and what you do here at Management Consulted. Any other final thoughts for our listeners here today?
No, I think we covered a ton of stuff. I would just say, overall, if you’re looking to get into consulting, start early. I think that’s really important. And this year in particular has been really odd with the timing of firms’ application deadlines. Every year, they move up their deadlines earlier and earlier. So the earlier you start, the better, would be my advice.
Absolutely. Thanks so much, Lisa!
Not a problem. Thanks, Stephanie!
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