B.A. North American Studies

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Timur Ohloff, Consultant at McKinsey & Company

Please describe shortly your current profession. How does your typical day at work look like?

As a consultant with a passion for the public sector, I am most interested in the digitization of government services and the future of work. I have engaged with these topics within a variety of settings, serving clients from the federal, state, and municipal level. In other words, the main constant in my work is changing the way we work.

During a typical project, which lasts anywhere from 2-6 months and involves a team of 3-5 consultants, I start work around 8am and try to block 2 hours of deep work in the morning. From 10am through 4pm, my day is filled with client meetings, which serve the purpose of collecting data on the overarching problem the external team was brought in to solve. The evenings are typically spent analyzing and synthesizing the information gathered – often in the form of a presentation or spreadsheet – so that I can communicate the progress the next morning.

Some of the problems and questions I have worked on in the past include: How can the German administration digitize its citizen services fast and user-friendly? Which future skills are lacking in Germany? How can the public sector recruit and retain top talent?

Why did you apply for a BA degree in North American Studies?

In high school, I had most enjoyed learning about the social sciences, and entering university, I didn't want to settle on political science (which I ultimately did in my master's) before also taking classes in sociology, history, and economics. I loved the idea of a U.S.-style liberal arts curriculum in which I could focus on American politics while also being educated on the principles of economics, historical social movements, and the writings of the likes of Thoreau.

I also wanted to spend a year abroad at a U.S. college and elevate my English to a near-native level. Enrolling in North American Studies at FU Berlin made both possible, as the majority of my classes were taught in English and the university's exceptional direct exchange program allowed me to spend my junior year at Duke University without having to worry about funding.

When and how did you choose your current profession? Did you realize your plans from the time of your studies?

I had never heard of consulting until midway through college – when I stumbled upon a recruiting event which I attended for the free food – and later ended up in my profession more or less by accident. Throughout my studies, my goal had always been to become a civil servant or policymaker, and I did my first 3 internships in public administration and parliament. I consider my current job, in which I advise public servants from the private sector, an immense learning opportunity and an interlude before I re-enter the public sector one day.

What in your opinion is the most important thing for your work that you learned during your BA in North American Studies? What do you still profit from?

To this day, I benefit from the broad social scientific and interdisciplinary training I received, paired with the cross-cultural competency one develops at the John F. Kennedy Institute (JFKI). These things help me understand current socio-political trends and work with colleagues from around the globe.

Which additional qualifications should one gain as a student that are crucial or useful for your current profession?

Increasingly, employers view prior work experience through internships and student jobs as a must, and having studied abroad is considered a huge plus – not just in my profession, but in any. So do take advantage of the amazing study abroad opportunities available to JFKI students, and use the additional fourth year to experience different professional sectors. This will ultimately make it easier to find a job that you find interesting and fulfilling down the road.

Is there any event or experience in particular from your studies at the JFKI that evokes strong memories?

The JFKI became my intellectual home in Berlin and still holds a special place in my heart. I fondly remember seminars with Christian Lammert that went deep into the weeds of congressional politics, a brilliant lecture by Mark Blyth on "Austerity – The History of a Dangerous Idea," as well as a gripping cultural studies take on the final episode of The Sopranos in the institute's so-called ring lecture. Social highlights included staff v. students basketball games, our annual summer party, and when we went to see President Obama deliver his Berlin address at the Brandenburg Gate in June 2013.

What advice would you give the students who would like to pursue a similar career?

First and foremost, pick a bachelor's program based on which academic field excites you intellectually, and not based on which career it might lead to. Because if you're intellectually curious about your studies, you will do well, and if you do well, it will be easier to pursue a career in consulting, civil service, or any other professional field requiring critical thinking skills rather than highly technical training. In other words, do what you like, and not what you think others will like.