Sriram Kalyanaraman graduated from IIT Madras in 2007 with a B.Tech degree in Computer Science. He has been associated with McKinsey since then, with a lot of ‘interesting’ breaks in between. Now he comes back to insti to recruit people for McKinsey. Read on to find out what he has to say about the recruiting process and corporate life in general.
Tell us about your life in insti and how it prepared you for the real world?
My first three years in insti were pretty academically oriented. The first thing insti taught me was that I no longer have to fight my battles on my own, I have this amazing set of people around me to help me, everyone exceptionally brilliant in what they do. My final year was a soft landing into the real world. The real world problems are not that different from our JEE problems, you follow the same steps to solve them, the only difference is that you have to punch them much faster and in the most efficient order.
What does McKinsey look for in its potential employees?
We don’t assess the candidates based on their CGPA or other factors, it’s not numbers that matter but what we actually think of the guy. When we are looking at CVs, we are looking at a couple of things. The first is ‘Drive’, drive is not something that can usually be measured. Drive can be in sports, acads, anything. We want people who will PUSH, because we serve our clients by pushing them. The second thing we are looking for is Leadership, of any form. Again leadership to us is as abstract or as clear as what your drive is. Leadership to us is ‘Have you lead some initiative of change?’. The most important factor in leadership is your accountability to that position. All in all, we are not looking for a lot of different things, we just want people who have done simple things differently. For the first few years in McKinsey you are not evaluated based on your performance but on your intrinsic potential.
Can you tell us about the kind of work you do at McKinsey?
Working at McKinsey as an analyst, I did about 6-7 projects, all of them in different sectors. One such project was where I was doing strategy engagement for an agriculture plant (which is now one of the largest seed producers in India) and our job was to tell them what they had to be 5 years later. To do that I had to go down to the farms of Northern Karnataka, meet farmers and actually see how the seeds were doing, understand the needs of the farmer and then come back to my desk and look at tons of data and research that we had and then talk to my clients and understand what this company was able to do and then sit back and synthesise all this and go back and present to the CEO of the plant. The reason why he listens to a 23-year old (who has absolutely zero experience in the agricultural industry) is because he knows that I went down to the ground and did the research and I am bringing the best of my firm to him.
You have also worked in the social sector for a while with ‘Pratham’. Can you tell us why you took this path?
My biggest reason for doing social sector work was because I had this fear in my head that one day I would wake up, I would be 35 years old and I wouldn’t be able to look back and say I did something good for people. And the second reason was that I was only 24 years old back then, even if something had gone wrong, I could have reset my carrier with an MBA or a new job. ‘Pratham’ is one of the largest Non-Profit organizations that caters to educating rural children all over India. I was a part of the program management team and I was also monitoring some of their programmes .
Can you tell us about the course you did in Harvard Kennedy School of Govt.? And what made you return back to India?
I did my Masters in Public Administration in International Development, Economics and Administration at Harvard-Kennedy. The only reason I took this path was because I knew I didn’t want to do an MBA. My life at Harvard was again very similar to that of IIT. Those two years were “My Time” which I knew would never come again. After Harvard I came back to India, it was only natural for me to make that choice, though some people might think of it as odd. After returning to India I took a full three month break for myself before joining McKinsey again. I highly recommend this for people undergoing transitions.
Any advice for our readers?
The most important thing to remember while sitting for placement interviews – “Don’t worry about who you need to be, you are already who you are”. The only thing that matters is keeping your options open during your final year because life is not black or white, everything is a vast shade of grey. This analogy really helps because if you think of your life as black or white, when you move from one zone to another you feel complete absence of your comfort zone. “New sea, new fish” people who realize this the earliest grow the fastest. The corporate world is all about blending in while retaining the ‘New You’. The one thing between a guy doing well and not doing well in anything is whether he is PRESENT or not, that’s the only difference. This doesn’t mean that you should stop taking risks. My final piece of advice – Be open to change and never stop learning!