Sophie Barlow (BSc Business Economics with Industrial Experience)
Business Analyst, McKinsey
I’m from Ireland originally and moved to Bristol with my family when I was six. I went to a state school and didn’t have the best experience because of bullying – I struggled with confidence for a long time.
When I changed schools for sixth form things really improved. I was doing really well in my A levels – especially Business Economics. My Business teachers believed in me and said I should do it at University.
In my first year at Exeter I put 100% into everything. I signed up to way too many societies, applied for internships and worked part time as I needed the money - first life guarding, then in Riley’s snooker bar. My approach was to try everything and work out what I liked.
For my industrial placement in my 3rd year I went to North Highland. They’re a small consultancy firm and I knew it would give me exposure to senior people in the company and get me straight out on the job to see if it was for me. I had a great year.
I had support from Career Zone all the way through my time at Exeter. It was a meeting in my first year with a careers advisor that got me thinking about consulting. In my 2nd year I went to lots of the seminars about CVs, public speaking and interviews and in my 4th year when I was choosing which job to take they gave me sound advice.
‘Upreach’ works with students from less privileged backgrounds and helps partner them with firms they’ll be suited to. They matched me to McKinsey and a mentor Dan Gordon who was from a similar background to me.
It’s a tough recruitment process at McKinsey – numerical tests, CV submission, exam style problem solving tests, interviews and then if you get through, final round case interviews with partners at the firm. They give you a scenario and data and you work out how to solve the problem and then go and solve it. It was actually quite a lot of fun.
As a business analyst I could be working in any industry on any project. They rotate you onto different things so you can find out where your interests and strengths lie. I’m interested in resource productivity and climate change - helping businesses and governments to respond to the challenges we face today.
The most important thing for me at McKinsey is the people – the energy in teams is infectious and it doesn’t feel like work when your colleagues are people who love their jobs and are great at them. Everyone is always happy to help – there’s never a silly question.
Confidence has been my biggest challenge – but through the support I got at University I overcame it. Having the confidence to apply for the kinds of companies I’ve applied to shows how far I’ve come.
My advice is say yes and put your hand up. If you’re given an opportunity take it. If you have a question ask it.
I would love to get to management level at McKinsey– or out in industry. I want to lead my own team.