Starting out in CIL’s first international office
Grace Yiyang Zhou talks about her journey from Analyst to Manager and what it was like joining CIL’s first international office.
What was it like joining CIL as one of its first US-based Analysts?
I joined CIL’s Chicago office in 2019 as part of a cohort of four. It felt entrepreneurial in the sense that the Chicago team was small, and the office was still in the process of being set up. It was a very collaborative team and remains so to this day. We are all very involved in determining its culture and direction.
As CIL was new to the US market, initially, those around me didn’t know much about the company. But, over the past year, the narrative has flipped. I’ve had friends from high school reaching out to me about how they could start their careers at CIL. The past three years have started to pay off and it’s exciting to see the shift from CIL being an unknown entity to people reaching out with questions. I can see how I’ve grown in tandem with the company and it’s great to know I’m helping to shape our presence in the US.
What advice would you give to someone who does not hold a business degree considering a career in consulting?
I’d say that no matter what you study, if you are a curious person who is eager to learn, you will thrive in both consulting and at CIL.
I graduated with a double degree in Biological Sciences and Economics, but I knew I didn’t want to pursue a career purely focused on either area. When I came across consulting, it sounded like the perfect career path for me as it let me use the skills I had developed in both areas of my degree.
When I began the application process, I thought that I was at a disadvantage compared to those who studied business. In hindsight, this wasn’t the case at all – having a different background gives you an edge and makes you stand out.
You rose quickly from Analyst to Manager. What is it about CIL that has made you want to stay at the firm?
It comes back to the fact that CIL is a smaller firm that has grown fast. Not only are you progressing in your career, but you are also progressing alongside the company. This means you get far more opportunities to learn and develop than you would at a more established consultancy, and this has certainly been true in my case.
At CIL, it’s easy to see what others are doing. I can work closely with the Principals and Partners, learning how they interact with clients and how they complete work. This exposure has allowed me to progress much faster than I initially expected to.
I also enjoy working across sectors. When I first started as an Analyst, I never would have thought to explore areas such as Industrials, but now I really enjoy working in this area. The sector-agnostic structure of the company allows you to figure out what you like and try new things.
It surprises me every day how much the office has grown. We are now more than 30 people and have just moved offices to accommodate further growth. It’s great to see people starting in their careers, learning how to make their first slides and how to lead calls. It serves as a constant reminder of how far I’ve come – I especially enjoy seeing the people I once trained, training new joiners.
What has surprised you the most about working as an Analyst in the US?
I’ve been surprised by how well I get on with my co-workers here. During college internships, I tended to get along with colleagues, but there was still some distance. That gap is closed at CIL, and I genuinely feel like I am friends with my team.
My friends at other companies tend not to believe me when I tell them that everyone in the Chicago office has lunch together. They say that they may be able to find one other lunch buddy at work and that’s it. CIL’s culture has surprised me, and I hope it stays that way as we grow.
In your experience, what makes a good Analyst?
Being curious and having a willingness to learn are important qualities for an Analyst. I would also say it’s essential to be open to feedback and display a growth mindset. I have received my fair share of feedback since my first days as an Analyst, but I would not be a Manager today without it. Every year, my advice to our new Analysts is to use your mistakes as a springboard to grow and develop your skill set.
We hire intelligent, capable people. Sometimes, this means there will be an adjustment period from being used to doing everything right to being told that you have all these new things to learn and improve upon. I have found that the people who become the most successful in the industry and happy at CIL are those who are open to learning and who have confidence in their abilities.
What would you say to someone considering applying for an Analyst role at CIL?
Get your application in sooner rather than later and take advantage of the mentorship program that CIL offers. When I applied, my mentor helped me to understand CIL’s culture and the sort of work we do.
Although you don’t need to know everything about the company, I would advise doing some research about the different types of consulting out there and where CIL sits within them. I know that when I was a student, there was a bit of confusion about the difference between operational and strategy consulting. It’s important to figure out what those differences are and how they align with your interests. Career fairs are very useful for that, and we try to attend as many as we can.
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