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News > Alumni Interviews > Q&A Interview with Taka Hemley (2011-2018)

Q&A Interview with Taka Hemley (2011-2018)

The importance of perseverance throughout life…
Graduation day from the University of Cambridge
Graduation day from the University of Cambridge

What is your job and what does it involve?

From September, I will be joining the world’s oldest management consulting firm McKinsey & Company as a Business Analyst at their London office. Management consulting is a very broad discipline but is essentially problem-solving on a macro-scale. Consultants find solutions to the most important questions that clients can’t solve with their internal resources. At McKinsey, the most common client profiles are multinational corporations, although there are also many opportunities to work with public and social sector institutions – something I’m excited about given my background in politics. Overall, however, working in consulting at McKinsey is highly dynamic. One project may involve advising a global automobile manufacturer to increase its European revenues, with the next project working alongside the UK Treasury to promote digital banking.

How easy was it to get your first job, and any tips for alumni embarking on their career?

There were many travails and hardships on the road to securing my job at McKinsey & Company. At the start of my final year of university, I had no intentions to enter employment straight after my undergraduate. Instead, I had a post-graduate offer to study International Governance and Diplomacy at SciencesPo in Paris. It was something I had aspired to for a long time, and I was incredibly excited to study in Paris. Unfortunately, however, the post-Brexit tuition fees were far too expensive and so I had to turn down the opportunity of a lifetime. Suddenly, I had no backups: no postgraduate study and no job offers.

It was a difficult time in my life, seemingly without existential direction for the foreseeable future. However, feeling sorry for myself would only be unproductive. After graduating from the University of Cambridge in July 2022, I used that sweltering summer to think about what I wanted to do in life. This period of reclusion and self-reflection pushed me towards management consulting. I was really attracted to the “problem-solving on a macro-scale” facet to the industry that I discussed earlier. It was the opportunity to engage in intellectually stimulating work, all whilst (hopefully) making a positive impact to the global economy and national governments.

After deciding on a career in consulting during the summer, I began making job applications in the autumn. I applied to a variety of management consulting firms and public sector institutions. Despite rejections along the way, I was shocked to receive an offer from McKinsey in December after an arduous application process and two rounds of interviews with senior partners.

In traditional consulting style, I have summarised three key tips for embarking on a career:

1. Effort. The labour market is incredibly competitive, and fine margins separate success from rejection. Therefore, you must spend a satisfactory amount of time for every application. In practical terms, write personalised cover letters, succinct CVs, and practice before taking assessments.

2. Networking. Use LinkedIn and reach out for advice from current employees in your desired organisation and role. Afterall, they successfully navigated the difficult process and are a great resource.

3. Perseverance. This is definitely the tip I want to stress most. Rejections and disappointments are almost inevitable. I certainly had a lot of experience in this. But what’s more important? It’s how you react to a rejection and that feeling of disappointment. Use the feedback for future applications, reflect on your strengths and weaknesses, and ultimately you will build a holistically strong candidate profile to land that job. Good luck, and keep persevering.

How was your University experience?

My responses have been quite long up to now, so I shall keep this one concise. Overall, I really enjoyed my time at the University of Cambridge. Academically, it was incredibly rigorous – as was to be expected. The intensity of the environment was great, and I believe it helped maximise my intellectual potential. I also made great friendships along the way, and developed as a person too. I am also grateful to Chipping Campden School. Without the support from my teachers and friends, I wouldn’t have been admitted to Cambridge.

Did you always know what you wanted to do?

Put briefly: absolutely not. As I mentioned earlier, it was through chance and hardship that I ended up in the management consulting industry with McKinsey & Company. In an alternative world, I would have gone on to complete my post-graduate education in Paris and would be eating a baguette right now. Instead, I am currently on the train to London writing this. I am incredibly grateful for these hardships. Without them, I wouldn’t have secured this dream job. If you are reading this, I hope you too could take some confidence from my short story. Maybe you are dealing with personal hardships or uncertainty in life. But life is inevitably filled with ups and downs. It’s how you react to those difficulties which counts. If you react positively, you will end up successful… even if it is a different destination to what you had maybe first imagined.

What are your memories of CCS, any teachers you would like to mention or funny stories?

A personal highlight (and blunder at the time) was the Dress to Impress day in Year 13. After going a bit too liberally at the Vol, I asked Mr Elmes some rather “personal” questions… or so I was told the following day. And as cringey and trite as this answer may be, it’s too difficult to pick specific highlights when there are so many! I know, what a cop out.

I was privileged with the teachers I had throughout my time at Campden. Mr Elmes, as shiny Head of Sixth Form, was an incredibly dedicated mentor. He really pushed me to apply to Cambridge and was an immense support throughout my time at Sixth Form, and beyond. I’d also like to mention my A Level history and politics teachers: Ms Keir, Mrs Kingswood, and Mr Banwell. They helped foster a passion for these subjects which I still hold today. I thank them for helping me push beyond, always willing to spare extra time for me. And through it all, I was very fortunate to have had the guidance from my tutor Mrs Chapman. Thank you to all the staff of CCS.

How about the future, where do you hope to be in ten years’ time?

I wouldn’t be able to hazard a guess as to where I will end up in ten years’ time. If the previous decade is anything to go by, 2023-2033 will provide many unexpected turns along the way. However, at some point in the future, I do hope to pursue a career in international governance. Consulting offers a great variety of exit opportunities, and I aim to use that experience at McKinsey & Company to pursue my passion for politics. However, there are certainly many more important things in life than one’s career. If I can make a positive impact in people’s lives, even on a small scale, I would be very happy with life. And throughout the following ten years, and beyond, I will be wishing everyone at Chipping Campden School the very best.

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