Sean O'Mealia '09

Associate, McKinsey & Company, a global management consultancy

I began searching for a job within a few weeks of graduating. By the end of August, I had begun working as an entry-level consultant at ICF International, a company headquartered outside Washington, DC, where I worked as a Research Associate. I spent just under two years with ICF before moving to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a government agency that was just getting off the ground at the time. I began my tenure at the CFPB as an Advisor within the External Affairs Division, and eventually transitioned into serving as a Project Manager within the office responsible for credit card policy.

I found that what set me apart in my job search was my honors thesis. Entry-level employers are drawn to honors students; completing the thesis demonstrates your ability to think independently and to execute a long-term project, both of which are highly valued. The experience of editing and defending an honors thesis is remarkably similar to most entry-level jobs. Much like senior employees, your thesis advisor and committee know a lot more than you about the context of your project and the process required to complete it successfully. Learning to balance incorporating their feedback with communicating your strong preferences is the most realistic simulation of beginning a career that I experienced at William & Mary.

I have also come to believe that marshaling facts and figures, a necessity in each position I have held, is ineffective unless those figures are paired with a crisp narrative. I have been surprised by how often professionals barrage their audiences with numbers that lack a unifying thread. The act of marrying a cohesive story with the most relevant supporting information is crucial; through papers and class discussions, English majors become adept at this style of persuasion.

Five years after graduating from William & Mary, I enrolled in an MBA at Columbia University. At business school, I focused on corporate finance, accounting, and computer programming.

This sequencing - English as an undergrad, business administration afterwards - works surprisingly well. My English studies helped me grow confident writing, persuading, and approaching problems critically. These skills have proven invaluable, especially when combined with the workplace tools I've learned while studying for the MBA. My hope is that combining these quite different skill sets will enable me to be effective regardless of the career I eventually pursue.

After your undergraduate degree, there are limited opportunities to acquire the core skills that the study of English helps you develop. Spending several years honing logical thinking, learning to argue persuasively in person and in writing, and developing a historical perspective is a fleeting opportunity. These skills are vital, and require immersive training to cultivate. By contrast, opportunities to acquire more technical skills after graduation abound: most companies offer training programs, free online resources are plentiful, and graduate programs offer countless specializations. Given this sequencing asymmetry, I view majoring in English as one of the smartest and most rewarding decisions I made at William and Mary.

I graduated from Columbia in May of 2016; I am currently an Associate with McKinsey & Company, a global management consultancy.