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Florian

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McKinsey Expert Track vs Generalist Track

I have a background in healthcare and have been recommended for a Healthcare Expert role (which I am told is equivalent to an Engagement Manager). Due to local recruiting needs - I could start asap and recruitment could be accelerated (but will still have to meet interview thresholds). In contrast, generalist roles have slowed in recruitment and start dates are being pushed back (potentially by 6 months) and it is more likely I would start as an Associate.

I am wondering if anyone has any thoughts on the expert vs generalist track, specifically looking at differences in performance metrics and the likelihood of associate partner / partner promotion.

I expect a lot of this will depend on my individual performance - but I have gained a general sense that it is much tougher to reach partner level via the expert track and may actually take longer overall? If anyone has any thoughts or personal experiences I would be very grateful. Thanks!

I have a background in healthcare and have been recommended for a Healthcare Expert role (which I am told is equivalent to an Engagement Manager). Due to local recruiting needs - I could start asap and recruitment could be accelerated (but will still have to meet interview thresholds). In contrast, generalist roles have slowed in recruitment and start dates are being pushed back (potentially by 6 months) and it is more likely I would start as an Associate.

I am wondering if anyone has any thoughts on the expert vs generalist track, specifically looking at differences in performance metrics and the likelihood of associate partner / partner promotion.

I expect a lot of this will depend on my individual performance - but I have gained a general sense that it is much tougher to reach partner level via the expert track and may actually take longer overall? If anyone has any thoughts or personal experiences I would be very grateful. Thanks!

(edited)

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Hey there,

An expert role is NOT the same as an engagement manager role. Be careful about misinformation here.

The tasks and expectations are completely different. They are roughly the same in the pecking order if you were to compare the different tracks.

Yet the key function of experts is to support consulting teams that sit with the client with their domain expertise and network. They often work on several engagements in parallel and devote x amount of days per week to one topic, or even split the hours in their days (e.g., support some analysis for one team in the AM, attend a client meeting for another team in the PM). Sometimes they are staffed on a project just as a regular consultant would be over a period of weeks.

In that role, they might travel to the client site or support from their local office. In general, their travel is less than the travel for consultants.

They usually do not take responsibilities of an EM. Their development goals are focused more on

  • how effectively they work together with the teams, providing support and input
  • utilization rates, helping out on a lot of engagements at all times
  • publish research on behalf of the firm (much bigger part of their job than for the consultant track)

That being said, depending on your own development goals, you should choose the role you are most interested in. It is not as clear cut with the progression and some people move tracks. You can make a career out of both. The key question for you is what type you would enjoy more.

Cheers,

Florian

Hey there,

An expert role is NOT the same as an engagement manager role. Be careful about misinformation here.

The tasks and expectations are completely different. They are roughly the same in the pecking order if you were to compare the different tracks.

Yet the key function of experts is to support consulting teams that sit with the client with their domain expertise and network. They often work on several engagements in parallel and devote x amount of days per week to one topic, or even split the hours in their days (e.g., support some analysis for one team in the AM, attend a client meeting for another team in the PM). Sometimes they are staffed on a project just as a regular consultant would be over a period of weeks.

In that role, they might travel to the client site or support from their local office. In general, their travel is less than the travel for consultants.

They usually do not take responsibilities of an EM. Their development goals are focused more on

  • how effectively they work together with the teams, providing support and input
  • utilization rates, helping out on a lot of engagements at all times
  • publish research on behalf of the firm (much bigger part of their job than for the consultant track)

That being said, depending on your own development goals, you should choose the role you are most interested in. It is not as clear cut with the progression and some people move tracks. You can make a career out of both. The key question for you is what type you would enjoy more.

Cheers,

Florian

Hi Florian - thanks for a great and detailed reply. That's a very useful distinction to have in mind. I wonder if in your opinion there were any benefits of the generalist vs expert track beyond working in different industries? I am quite content with healthcare but worry there are some hard & soft skills I may only really develop in the generalist pathway? Such as client-facing interactions / opportunities to sell work etc. — Anonymous A on Mar 19, 2021 (edited)

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EDIT: Florian now has me sufficiently confused :) If you are being brought in as an Engagement Manager at McKinsey in the Healthcare practice, my below text holds. If you're being brought into the Knowledge team, my below text does not hold (and you 100% need to take the Associate option)

Um, if you're worried about speed to Partner, why would you start an entire 2-3 years behind? I hope I'm not missing something and my fellow coaches don't contradict me, but it's pretty clear you go the EM specialist route...of course IF you're happy to be in the expert track and you're optimizing pay + promotion speed.

All that said, there are 2 other considerations:

  1. What do you want? Do you want exposure to many industries/functions so you can make up your mind? Or do you ultimately want to end up in Healthcare? If it's the latter, why would you beat around the bush, and suffer a longer promotion cycle and a lot less money?
  2. Remember, starting as EM (or Project Lead at BCG) is easily the hardest role to jump into. It takes a seriously impressive person to make it through (you're learning the company, ways of working, and content, all while managing teams, Partners, AND clients). As Associate/Consultant, you only have to do the first half.

EDIT: Florian now has me sufficiently confused :) If you are being brought in as an Engagement Manager at McKinsey in the Healthcare practice, my below text holds. If you're being brought into the Knowledge team, my below text does not hold (and you 100% need to take the Associate option)

Um, if you're worried about speed to Partner, why would you start an entire 2-3 years behind? I hope I'm not missing something and my fellow coaches don't contradict me, but it's pretty clear you go the EM specialist route...of course IF you're happy to be in the expert track and you're optimizing pay + promotion speed.

All that said, there are 2 other considerations:

  1. What do you want? Do you want exposure to many industries/functions so you can make up your mind? Or do you ultimately want to end up in Healthcare? If it's the latter, why would you beat around the bush, and suffer a longer promotion cycle and a lot less money?
  2. Remember, starting as EM (or Project Lead at BCG) is easily the hardest role to jump into. It takes a seriously impressive person to make it through (you're learning the company, ways of working, and content, all while managing teams, Partners, AND clients). As Associate/Consultant, you only have to do the first half.

(edited)

Hi Ian - thanks for the sage advice - very much appreciated. I really do love healthcare - feel it's impact driven & has a tonne of variety from PE - Pharma - MedTech - Health Technology - HSS - Global Health. But I am concerned that internally an expert track consultant is viewed or advances differently to the generalist so the 1.5 years I would gain in skipping Associate level in the long-run won't be worth it. I think I need to do some more research / talk to people who have been experts and switched to AP & Partner. Either way I am lucky to have the opportunity and grateful for your advice! Of note I have no prior formal consulting work experience but I have led regional and national health projects / currently finishing up an MBA. Addendum: I will not be on the knowledge team - but the "expert" consulting track — Anonymous on Mar 19, 2021 (edited)

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Ian is 100% right - I do not see the point of NOT starting as the Associate. In terms of risk management for you, I d take the Associate position first. EM is pretty darn tough without previous hard-core MBB Associate / Consultant experience.

Ian is 100% right - I do not see the point of NOT starting as the Associate. In terms of risk management for you, I d take the Associate position first. EM is pretty darn tough without previous hard-core MBB Associate / Consultant experience.

Thanks Dennis - good insights. No formal consulting practice prior....! But a number of project leadership engagements at international levels and currently finishing up an MBA. But this does remain a concern! — Anonymous A on Mar 19, 2021 (edited)

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Hey there!

Agree with what colleagues said - EM will be hard to do without previous background experience. I would definitely suggest starting from Associate as it will give you much more confidence and ways to develop, while EM has more responsibilities and at some point might become even more stressful.

Good luck!

GB

Hey there!

Agree with what colleagues said - EM will be hard to do without previous background experience. I would definitely suggest starting from Associate as it will give you much more confidence and ways to develop, while EM has more responsibilities and at some point might become even more stressful.

Good luck!

GB

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Hello!

Important question: are you being hired as a generalist or in the Knowledge team? This is a game changer

Cheers,

Clara

Hello!

Important question: are you being hired as a generalist or in the Knowledge team? This is a game changer

Cheers,

Clara

Hi Clara - thanks for taking the time to reply. So what I have been told by a recruiter & partner: consulting pathways are generalist or expert track. Experts can progress in one of two ways: Electable Partner / Non-electable Senior Expert . I am not on the knowledge team (which I believe is also called the research track?) . What I can't get a good handle on are the comparative advantages / disadvantages - especially in career progression / how the role is viewed internally. I really enjoy healthcare and feel there is enough variety in PE healthcare / pharma / med tech / HSS to keep me busy so focusing on the practice is not a concern. But I don't want to jump into the expert track if it puts be at a disadvantage in terms of career progression. — Anonymous on Mar 19, 2021 (edited)

Hi! I'm joining as a generalist in a few months but I considered the expert track and the (separate, not to be confused) knowledge and research track as well. I spoke to over 30 people at various levels in both tracks that are relevant to my background and expertise. However, I clearly don't have the personal experience yet as my start date isn't for a while.

To clear up any confusion, there are three paths at McK with varying levels of specialization and client-facing exposure:

1) The classic path: Generalist Consultant Track (Biz Analyst -> Associate -> EM -> AP -> P)

2) A new, client services path: Expert Consultant Track (Analyst/Fellow -> Specialist -> Expert -> Expert AP -> P), which includes Solution Leaders (APs), Coaches/Implementaiton Coaches, and other positions if it's a client-facing solutions role/track

3) A "middle-office", partly support and partly client facing path: Knowledge and Research Track (various roles, including Analyst/Fellow, Specialist, Manager, and others), which includes R&D roles that are in developing and refining solutions like Product Owners

Expert is the equivalent seniority level to an EM on the expert track. I recently spoke to a former Expert Partner at McK who shared that 1) the speed of progression is more lenient with expert roles because you are building the expertise at each level, and the firm understands that takes time and 2) it's extremely tough to be an expert partner because the depth of specialization makes selling broadly difficult, given how focused you are on one area. He did say it is very rewarding though.

This means the track could take longer, but that doesn't mean it must be longer just because you're on that side. This also may mean that starting at the Expert level could be more forgiving than starting as a generalist EM, because of the slower up or out process that means you may not be shown the door as quickly if you're not able to adjust.

Ultimately, to progress to AP and above, according to this Expert Partner and the general process at McK, you must specialize and make it clear what you want to be known for, both inside and outside of the company. Because the expert track accelerates and focuses that specialization, it could be helpful for you to jump right into doing what you want (if that's healthcare).

I recommend speaking to people on both tracks and doing some research on LinkedIn to see for yourself which one matches your interest. Ultimately, I was applying as an advanced degree candidate and only had the opportunity to start as a generalist. However, I plan to specialize quickly and I've already built relationships with many people on the expert, solutions, and knowledge/research tracks. Happy to chat more if you're interested, but better to talk with people in the Healthcare practice directly. Good luck!

Hi! I'm joining as a generalist in a few months but I considered the expert track and the (separate, not to be confused) knowledge and research track as well. I spoke to over 30 people at various levels in both tracks that are relevant to my background and expertise. However, I clearly don't have the personal experience yet as my start date isn't for a while.

To clear up any confusion, there are three paths at McK with varying levels of specialization and client-facing exposure:

1) The classic path: Generalist Consultant Track (Biz Analyst -> Associate -> EM -> AP -> P)

2) A new, client services path: Expert Consultant Track (Analyst/Fellow -> Specialist -> Expert -> Expert AP -> P), which includes Solution Leaders (APs), Coaches/Implementaiton Coaches, and other positions if it's a client-facing solutions role/track

3) A "middle-office", partly support and partly client facing path: Knowledge and Research Track (various roles, including Analyst/Fellow, Specialist, Manager, and others), which includes R&D roles that are in developing and refining solutions like Product Owners

Expert is the equivalent seniority level to an EM on the expert track. I recently spoke to a former Expert Partner at McK who shared that 1) the speed of progression is more lenient with expert roles because you are building the expertise at each level, and the firm understands that takes time and 2) it's extremely tough to be an expert partner because the depth of specialization makes selling broadly difficult, given how focused you are on one area. He did say it is very rewarding though.

This means the track could take longer, but that doesn't mean it must be longer just because you're on that side. This also may mean that starting at the Expert level could be more forgiving than starting as a generalist EM, because of the slower up or out process that means you may not be shown the door as quickly if you're not able to adjust.

Ultimately, to progress to AP and above, according to this Expert Partner and the general process at McK, you must specialize and make it clear what you want to be known for, both inside and outside of the company. Because the expert track accelerates and focuses that specialization, it could be helpful for you to jump right into doing what you want (if that's healthcare).

I recommend speaking to people on both tracks and doing some research on LinkedIn to see for yourself which one matches your interest. Ultimately, I was applying as an advanced degree candidate and only had the opportunity to start as a generalist. However, I plan to specialize quickly and I've already built relationships with many people on the expert, solutions, and knowledge/research tracks. Happy to chat more if you're interested, but better to talk with people in the Healthcare practice directly. Good luck!

Thank you Natasha - this is extremely helpful and sheds a lot of clarity on the terminology! I am going to keep investigating as it seems I don't have to make my decision between the two just yet. Congratulations on the job offer - this is a great accomplishment. Fingers crossed I get to follow in your footsteps. — Anonymous A on Mar 19, 2021 (edited)

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