By Sasha Milam, Gustavson Content Curator

The old adage says we must learn to walk before we can run, but BCom student Stefanie Dickinson seems to have started at a sprint.

Last fall, as she entered her third year at Gustavson, Stefanie took a long shot and applied for a competition she was sure she wouldn’t get into: the prestigious McKinsey Challenge. Not only was she accepted – one of 24 students chosen to compete, from more than 200 applicants – her team ultimately won.

An annual case competition event held by worldwide management consulting firm McKinsey, the event is open to students from UBC, BCIT, SFU and UVic and draws hundreds of applicants for the two dozen or so spots in the competition. Being selected to participate is a big deal, and Stefanie knew it was unlikely she would make the cut.

“It’s not something I would have thought of applying to – at that point in the BCom program we haven’t done a lot of case analysis yet, and I didn’t even know there was a career that would pay you to problem solve,” says Stefanie. “But I know someone who competed last year [UVic economics student Maxwell Nicholson], and he encouraged me to apply. He had an incredible experience in the competition, and later, as an intern at McKinsey.”

So she applied, and was somewhat surprised when she was accepted. “Applicants are evaluated on work experience, grades and extra-curriculars,” she says. “My grades are nothing special, but I was co-captain of our JDC West case competition team last year, and I’m on the UVic synchronized swim team. I coach swimming, and I had my own painting business over the summer. Leadership, teamwork and an entrepreneurial attitude – things which many Gustavson students have – are all important to being selected.”

Stefanie and fellow Gustavson student Timothy Longley were among the 24 students chosen to compete. They were placed on teams and spent the weekend of November 16-17 at McKinsey offices in Vancouver, analyzing and then presenting a solution to a business case.

“There was a real client there, which was the coolest part,” says Stefanie. “The weekend was an incredible, intense opportunity to be a consultant for a couple days – to learn how it works at a top consulting firm like McKinsey, from meeting with a client to problem solving as a team and eventually presenting your proposed solution to the client and senior analysts. There were McKinsey consultants popping in and out of the room all weekend saying ‘have you considered this?’ and commenting. And all the competitors were impressive – you’re surrounded by people with so much knowledge.”

Part of the prestige associated with competitions like McKinsey’s are the potential career opportunities that come from the experience. Getting an internship at a top consulting firm as a student can be next to impossible, but the winners of the McKinsey challenge are granted interviews for summer internships. There’s no guarantee you’ll get a spot, however, even after winning the challenge. Sometimes one or two interns will be hired – and sometimes none.

“I would love to get an internship, of course,” says Stefanie. “But it’s really a win-win for me – even if I don’t get an internship, I do get this great experience. I made incredible connections, and I learned a ton about this career path.”

To other students considering consulting as a career but perhaps feeling a bit intimidated by the chances of getting a foot in the door, Stefanie says, “Don’t be afraid to reach out for advice. Even if it’s a vague connection, ask me or anyone who’s done that kind of thing before. And don’t be afraid to apply. Grades are not everything. I thought I wouldn’t make the cut, and now look!”