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Grants for PhD Programs
Grants for School Furniture
PhD programs require years of study and can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Fortunately, these programs are very research-oriented. Many organizations want to encourage doctoral students to conduct research that will change the world. There are many grants available for PhD students.
Government-Funded Dissertation Research Grants
Many organizations provide grants to PhD students conducting dissertation research relevant to their field. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality provides grants for students conducting dissertation research in the health services field. The Department of Housing and Urban Development also provides research grants for PhD students interested in urban planning.
Universities also provide grants for their doctoral students. Students can receive grants if they work as research or teaching assistants. Students may even be eligible for stipends as well. These positions can be very competitive, especially for larger programs. However, students with the desired qualifications and the right area of specialization can apply through their program.
Corporate-Funded Specialty Grants
Many corporations also offer funding opportunities for PhD students as well. Google has created the Google U.S./Canada PhD Student Fellowship Program to help create funding for graduate students at eligible universities. Corporations are looking for students who will create work that will be valuable to their field. PhD students take advantage of these opportunities to further their careers.
Grants for Women and Minorities
Many organizations also provide grants for women and minorities. These grants include the American Indian Graduate Center Fellowships, National Consortium for Graduate Degrees for Minorities in Engineering and Science, Inc. and the American Association of University Women. Every program has its own eligibility requirements, so applicants will need to research what they will need to do to apply.
- College Scholarships.org: Grants for Graduate Students
- Grant Woman.com: Philanthropic, Corporate and Government Grants for Women
Kalen Smith has been been writing business and technology articles since 2008. He is a regular contributor to Young Entrepreneur, Blogtrepreneur and the Small Business Idea Generator. He holds a Bachelor of Science in mechanical engineering from Worcester Polytechnic Institute and a Master of Business Administration from Clark University.
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The Science Careers guide to consulting careers for Ph.D. scientists
- By Vijaysree Venkatraman
Management consulting, a career in which generalist problem solvers help companies solve their business problems, is one of a large handful of alternative careers that scientists with advanced degrees have long considered—and it's still going strong. "We have hired hundreds of Ph.D.s over the years, and we continue to see advanced degrees—those with J.D.s, M.D.s, and Ph.D.s—as a critical talent pool that will account for 20% of our new consultant hires moving forward," says Ryan Bennett, a principal and head of the advanced-degree candidate recruiting team of the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) in Chicago, Illinois.
"Candidates with a Ph.D. have all the skills to be excellent consultants," says Bennett, who earned a Ph.D. in chemical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Consulting is that rare, nontraditional career that doesn't require much additional training—and the additional training that is required is usually provided by the firm that hires you, a rarity in an era of employer cost cutting and pinpoint hiring.
Case-interview questions probe how well candidates think on their feet and whether they can embrace ambiguity—which is what consultants do every day.
Should you be seeking a consulting career, and if you do, are you likely to get an offer? It depends on what you're looking for, and also on what you're good at.
The consulting industry
Many people have heard only about the oldest and largest firms, but there are many firms in the consulting industry, in a wide range of sizes. In Management Consulting: A Complete Guide to the Industry , Sugata Biswas and Daryl Twitchell classify consulting firms in a few different ways. Firms are segmented by the industries they serve: health care, retail, pharmaceutical, or energy, for example. Boutique firms specialize in a particular industry or a small subset of industries, while large firms have broader portfolios. Consultants within larger firms will usually specialize. Entry-level consultants, including at the Ph.D. level, tend to be hired by larger firms, because they have the most resources available for training.
It's common for consultants to move to smaller boutique firms after a few years of work. Large companies sometimes have their own internal consulting teams, which work in the corporate strategic planning division or the business-development group.
Are you qualified?
It doesn't matter all that much what your Ph.D. is in—the important thing is the analytical approach you bring, writes Brian Rolfes , partner and director of global recruiting at McKinsey & Company, in an e-mail. "That said," Rolfes adds, "we are delighted when new hires have specific domain knowledge that is relevant to our clients. People with training in electrical engineering may be suited to serve high-tech clients like the telecom industry. And in our healthcare work we have many people with biology, genetics, bioengineering or organic chemistry backgrounds, including a good number of M.D.s." Quantitative analysis skills are especially desirable. To be a strong candidate for a consultant job, a scientist should also be effective on teams, have great communication skills, and be able to point to a record of making a difference inside and outside the lab.
One thing that isn't required—surprisingly—is business knowledge. Most Ph.D. consultants do need to learn business skills, concepts, and terminology, Bennett says, but that challenge is quickly overcome by the training that consulting firms provide their entry-level recruits.
Consultant salaries span a wide range. Consultants who work in firms that serve nonprofits, for instance, usually make less than those at prestigious global firms. According to the website GlassDoor.com, a junior consultant hired by BCG in the United States—most fresh Ph.D.s enter at this level—can expect to receive a starting salary of $115,000 to $145,000 annually. An entry-level associate with a master's degree can expect to start at $58,000 to $80,000.
One stereotype about management consultants is that they live out of their suitcases. Is it true? Yes, consultants do travel, but the amount of travel varies from project to project and job to job. On-site consultants are likely to be away from home for much of the week when on assignment—spending, say, Monday through Thursday at the client site. Off-site consultants work mainly from their own offices, visiting clients only occasionally.
Hours and intensity
Another stereotype about consultants is that they work long hours. This stereotype is largely true; there's variation here, too, but our sources say that 60-plus-hour weeks are the norm. While that number may leave many graduate students unfazed—they're used to working late and on weekends—consulting work's constant deadlines and culture of constant feedback can make the work more stressful than many graduate laboratories.
Don't assume, though, that consulting careers aren't family-friendly. Many firms have programs in place that aim to assist working parents. Consulting firms are very well represented on the most recent list of 100 best companies to work for from Working Mother magazine. Both BCG and McKinsey & Company made the list.
The selection process at most firms is very competitive. At the heart of the process is the case interview, which has components of a regular interview and aspects of the case-study method used at many business schools. Candidates are asked a question designed to test their ability to break down a problem, think it through in a structured way, and work out a solution. Case questions come in all flavors: "How much does a Boeing 747 weigh?" "Why do the hands of a clock turn clockwise?" "How can a company that is losing money turn things around?" Interviewees are expected to work toward an answer by asking follow-up questions, articulating their assumptions, and reasoning their way to an answer. There is no best approach to answering a case question, and usually there's no single right answer.
Case-interview questions probe how well candidates think on their feet and whether they can embrace ambiguity—which is what consultants do every day. "Consultants are often expected to be experts in everything they work on, but in reality, good consultants know how to ask questions, find and collect data, and synthesize unstructured information into insights that are practical and meaningful to their clients," says Twitchell, who is also managing director of Silver Ridge Advisors, which has offices in New York, Boston, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles.
While graduates with M.B.As—the traditional degree for management consultants—are likely to have used the case method in business school, it may not be as familiar to Ph.D. graduates. It makes sense, then, for them to study the format and practice answering—both to prepare for interviews and to see if they're likely to enjoy the work, because this is the sort of work they'll be doing if they're hired. See below for a list of resources.
Case study: Liza Shoenfeld
Not much more than a year ago, Liza Shoenfeld was writing about nontraditional science careers as the creator of the Branching Points blog. She created the blog when she was a graduate student in neuroscience at the University of Washington in Seattle, weighing her own career options.
CREDIT: Ashley Corbin-Telch Photography
As she tried to decide on her next career move, Shoenfeld took stock of what she liked about working in science. She liked solving problems. She liked asking interesting questions, formulating a plan to find answers. She liked working with smart people. She wanted a career that incorporated those elements.
For close to a year, Shoenfeld worked for a large consulting firm with a health care focus. Her projects were remote from her neuroscience background—she handled projects in urology, dermatology, and other branches of clinical medicine—so she had a lot of reading to do. She pored over business reports, interviewed stakeholders, and synthesized her findings into PowerPoint presentations for clients. Her favorite aspects of the work are the variety of projects, the opportunity to work with smart people from diverse backgrounds, and the intellectual stimulation, Shoenfeld says. Her domain knowledge was less valuable, she says, than her ability to think scientifically.
The transition was challenging. Much of the business terminology was unfamiliar at first. She had to adapt to a pace much faster than what she was used to in academia. Instead of exhaustive searches, she did efficient ones, yielding relevant, actionable points for clients. In presentations, she learned to focus on takeaways and insights and leave out the part about how she arrived at her conclusions.
Shoenfeld didn't have to travel much. Typically, she visited the client site for the kickoff meeting, interim meetings, and the final meeting where she delivered the findings. Occasionally, she worked on a project that required more regular meetings, but in all those cases the client company was close by, requiring nothing more than a short train ride.
Ten-hour days were fairly typical, with 1 to 4 more hours on some weekends, she says. During crunch time, usually the last week of a 2 to 3-month project, longer days—including longer weekend days—were common.
Shoenfeld recently accepted a new position in her hometown—Seattle, Washington—at a boutique strategy-consulting firm serving health care and nonprofit clients.
Case study: Josh Kellar
Courtesy of Josh Kellar and the Boston Consulting Group
Josh Kellar, who currently is a project leader with BCG in Chicago, Illinois, did a Ph.D. and a postdoc in materials science and engineering at Northwestern University. His graduate research on carbon nanotubes was interesting, he says, but the narrow specialization of an academic career didn't suit him. He was looking for a career that would give him new ways to engage with the world, solve problems that matter, and produce a tangible, immediate impact.
Kellar joined BCG in 2011. One basic skill he had developed as a scientist served him well at the new job: formulating hypotheses and testing them against data. But at BCG, he deploys this skill under very different circumstances: As a scientist, he spent his days solving difficult and ambiguous problems. As a consultant, he is doing much the same thing, but now he's doing it under really tight deadlines. Kellar has enjoyed consulting's collegiality, and he finds the work energizing, but the compressed time frame took some getting used to.
To help deal with the time constraints, Kellar learned to delegate—and at BCG there are people to delegate to. He has access to a staff of researchers who scour the literature and track down data. Other BCG employees helped him polish presentations. Staff assistance frees him up to devote most of his time to his core responsibility: understanding and solving clients' problems.
Kellar spent a year working with clients in different industries, something like lab rotations in the business world. Then, despite his materials science background, he settled in to a health care focus. His clients include pharmaceutical companies, health insurers, and academic medical centers. Some of the cases he works are technical and require intensive engagement with scientists and the research literature. He likes that his work keeps him close to science and allows him to impact societal problems—exactly what he was looking for when he left the bench.
Kellar doesn't downplay the demands of his job, the long hours and travel, but he does offer advice on how to cope with those demands. "The most important thing that I've found is to establish clear boundaries and stick to them," he says. "For example, after the birth of my son, I made it a priority to put him to bed whenever I was in Chicago. So I leave the office at 5 p.m., and if there is more work to be done, I pick it back up after 8 p.m." Strategies like that make the job sustainable. "It isn't about the raw number of hours I work, but when and how I work, and ensuring work doesn't interfere with the things I value most."
Finding Consulting Companies
1. LinkedIn Group –PhD to Consulting
2. Vault rankings of consulting firms
3. Inside Consulting
4. List of top management & IT consulting firms
5. Consulting magazine
Preparing for Case Interviews
1. Case in Point : Complete Case Interview Preparation – a book by Marc Cosentino
2. Vault Guide to The Case Interview – a book by Mark Asher and Eric Chung
3. Case Interview Secrets – book and website by Victor Cheng
4. Inside Consulting – from the authors of Management Consulting: A Complete Guide to the Industry.
5. Interview prep advice on the BCG website
6. Interview prep advice on the McKinsey & Company website
About the author
Vijaysree Venkatraman is a Boston-based science journalist.
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Consulting and science
July 7, 2020 Sofia is an engagement manager based in Philadelphia. She primarily serves pharmaceutical and medical device companies in Europe, Africa, and North America. She is Peruvian and moved to the US to pursue a PhD in biochemistry and biophysics. In this article, she shares the questions candidates ask her most frequently, her experience as a Latin woman at the firm, and her approach to staying connected with science.
I was born and raised in Lima, Peru. After finishing undergrad there, I moved to the US to pursue a PhD in the molecular biophysics and biochemistry at Yale. During my PhD, I used multidisciplinary approaches to elucidate key parts of the biochemical pathways that allow cellular motility. As I neared graduation, I had to think about what I wanted to do after my post-graduate studies. Once I started exploring potential career paths, I was immediately intrigued by consulting. I discovered through interviewing that I really enjoyed the intellectual challenge of solving cases. My interest in McKinsey grew the more I talked with consultants about the work they did and heard how enthusiastic they were about their experience at McKinsey.
During my 3 years at the firm, I’ve had the opportunity to participate in multiple recruiting efforts (e.g., Diversity Connect faculty member, was the Mid-Atlantic Women’s recruiting lead for advanced degree professionals to name a few). I wanted to address some common questions I receive from candidates.
1. Why McKinsey?
My response has shifted over the years from why I decided to join to what keeps me here. There are multiple dimensions and here are two main reasons. First, is the ability to make change happen through my work. I've supported multinational companies through procurement transformations, helped global companies through integrations, and supported a US state on its COVID-19 response – increasing PPE and ventilator capacities. Many of these projects have been once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.
Second, are the people and culture. I’ve met impressive and hardworking individuals. I've learned what genuine, caring mentorship means. I've met inspiring leaders I look up to including women with whom I've created connections like I've never really had anywhere else. I've learned to appreciate feedback and embedded it in my way of working.
Ultimately, being able to work with people I admire on content I find interesting keeps me energized and motivated to bring my best self to work.
2) How much flexibility do you have to explore different type of projects?
When joining the firm, I made a conscious decision to explore as much possible. I wanted to try different industries, functions, and geographies. My first year at McKinsey felt like a post-graduate’s first year of rotations. Through that process, I found my interests, strengths, and working style converged in the Pharmaceutical and Medical Products (PMP) practice. I enjoy the types of problems we are trying to solve. I get to leverage my background, and I enjoy working with the people. Exploring hasn’t really ended for me, though, as I am still doing that within PMP. In fact, there is no shortage of diversity in the type of projects we get to support.
Working in a global firm also gave me the flexibility to work in other countries. Throughout my time at McKinsey, I've lived in three different continents. I’ve worked on engagements with a similar focus in four different countries, which showed me how similar companies operated differently across the world. Leveraging this knowledge made me a better client counselor.
My journey at McKinsey has purposely involved a lot of travel. That was one of the reasons I joined. I am grateful my husband is supportive of this, and I am fortunate his commitments give him the flexibility to spend time with me while I’m abroad. Each McKinsey colleague has a different journey and, even for me, this can change based on new priorities as they develop in my life. For example, if I decide to become a parent or to focus on local client projects, I can work with our professional development team and PMP practice leadership to find more local engagements.
3. Do you feel supported as a Latina at McKinsey?
Fostering diversity and inclusion are priorities for us. We strongly believe diverse teams enable us to develop stronger solutions with our clients. As a consultant, I see this manifest in different ways, perhaps most tangibly through our affinity networks . One of these is the Hispanic and Latino Network, a vibrant community of colleagues who identify as Latino and Hispanic. Thanks to this network, I've found amazing role models to whom I could immediately relate and colleagues who helped me get a sense of belonging early in my McKinsey career. The connection I have with the Hispanic and Latino community inspires me to be actively involved in diversity recruiting efforts. For instance, I was recently a faculty for Diversity Connect , an program that supports talented Black, Hispanic/Latino, and Native American candidates working toward an advanced degree. I was particularly energized by the level of engagement and curiosity the participants brought with them. I appreciated the opportunity to give back; not long ago, I was the candidate reaching out to consultants and navigating the application process.
Actually, if I think about every dimension in which I need support, there is a resource or group that exists to help. As an immigrant, I deal with particular challenges, and there is a legal team ready to answer my questions. As a consultant joining without a business background, I was offered specific trainings that helped smooth the transition from academia to consulting. I have access to Women at McKinsey our global, firm-wide network that provides mentoring and women-focused training programs. This list goes on and on.
4. Were you afraid of leaving science?
Science took me to wonderful and unexpected places. Even though I was sure I wanted to pursue a career as a consultant, a part of me was a bit scared to leave science completely.
While at McKinsey, I realized my involvement in science didn't have to go away. On the weekends, and in between client projects, I support two science outreach programs that aim to increase accessibility to the field to minorities: the Research Experience for Peruvian Undergraduate program and the Science Club International .
Mine is not an isolated case. Whether science, volunteering, or learning new skills are your passion, you’ll be encouraged to set time aside for yourself during client engagements and given access to firm-wide programs that help you find a work-life balance that works for you. One of the most popular is Take Time , a program that allows up to 10 weeks of additional unpaid leave during the year. I know colleagues who took a couple of months to travel around the world, spend more time with their families, and even climb Mt. Everest .
Thinking back and reflecting on my journey, I was extremely fortunate as my scientific training gave me tools that make me a better consultant, such as being hypothesis-driven, detail-oriented, and having the ability to communicate complex concepts in simple terms. My time in McKinsey has given me many invaluable skills that are useful inside and outside the firm. For instance, I’ve become a more structured problem solver, a better mentor, and a better listener.
If you are pursuing a PhD, JD, or MD, please apply by July 12
The BenchSci Blog
Alternative careers for stem phds: life science consulting.
With the increasingly competitive job market in academia for STEM PhDs, graduate students across the country are struggling to find employment commitments by the time they graduate. With the exception of computer science majors, the output of STEM PhD graduates far exceed the amount of jobs available . Furthermore, the predominant job opportunity for graduates in life sciences, physics, or chemistry is a post-doc position with a minimal $40K salary. It’s no wonder that so many STEM PhDs are leveraging their credentials toward alternative careers such as consulting .
The fast-growing consulting industry has an estimated global market value of US$250 billion . The consulting industry is segmented into various fields such as pharma, healthcare, or retail and hires at various levels of education including bachelor, MD, and PhD. To better understand the nature of the consulting industry and the mindset of STEM PhDs entering consulting, I spoke with Jesmine Cheung , an associate at DeciBio, and summarized 6 takeaway points at the end of the article. DeciBio is a boutique life science consulting company based in Santa Monica, California. Jesmine is a UCLA Biochemistry PhD graduate who studied mechanisms of mitochondrial protein import in the Carla Koehler laboratory.
When in grad school did you begin to pursue this field? What caused you to change your career path?
I think it was about my second to third year that I really decided I did not want to do bench work for the rest of my life. The end goal would have been to graduate with a PhD and then do a post doc somewhere, or maybe work in industry. Ultimately, I felt research in either an academic or industry setting really isn’t for me. So I asked myself, what else could my PhD be used for? This is when I looked more into alternative careers and consulting was one of them.
What about consulting with a STEM PhD appeals to you?
At first I had no idea what consulting really was. My impression was that it was primarily for people with prior business expertise. But after looking deeper into it, I found that there are a lot of niche-based consulting companies such as in pharma or life sciences. Given my several years in academic research, I thought I would be more suited for those types of consulting jobs.
Do you think it offers a lot of leverage having a STEM PhD?
Absolutely, especially in niche related consulting firms that are science based. But beyond that, earning a PhD really allows you to harness your critical thinking, analytical, and problem-solving skills, which are essential in consulting. Though I wouldn’t say it’s required to have a PhD, because there are a lot of business majors that get into consulting early on. But having a PhD can really help.
Many see consulting as a stepping stone into business-oriented job opportunities. Do you feel consulting is sustainable as a long-term career? What other careers do you think it prepares you for?
Well it really depends on the company. At larger firms like Bain, McKinsey, or LEK, I don't believe the lifestyle is really so sustainable. Consultants tend to work long hours, with an average of 60-70 hours per week, and the turnover for people is around 3 to 4 years. But smaller firms like mine seem to have much more reasonable hours. In terms of careers, a lot of consultants often end up working for one of their clients, which isn’t so surprising. Usually after gaining experience as a consultant you can get a foothold in various markets or research fields. Also, you end up growing your own network considerably because you’re constantly talking to and interviewing people. So consulting can certainly prepare you for a career in managing or marketing as well as lead to those types of opportunities.
What traits—personality or otherwise—do you feel are most suited for a career in consulting?
Having people skills is particularly important because you will be interacting with people all the time. This includes clients, colleagues, and experts in the field to which you are asking questions, emailing, or presenting throughout the day. Communication and teamwork skills are also highly desired because you are typically working on a case together, collecting data, analyzing and finding the best ways to present your findings to clients. This also means you need exceptional managing and analytical skills to apply the data and obtain meaningful outcomes.
I think we may have covered a little of this, but how do you feel having a STEM PhD helps you in this industry, if at all?
Analytical or critical thinking abilities are highly desired and obtaining a PhD, particularly in the science fields, helps to develop those skills. As a PhD student we are faced with challenges every day when things don’t work, or data isn’t reproducible. Then we must step back and find solutions to those problems. At some point it becomes natural to us and those abilities are essential in consulting. Also, presentation skills are important, and we get a lot of experience as PhD students from being TAs or presenting our work at seminars or conferences.
For many fields we don’t always have prior experience or knowledge yet. It’s usually through diligent research, interviews, and data collection that we become well-versed in the field and are able to provide useful advice
Now that you are in this industry, is there anything about it that you didn’t expect or that surprised you? Positive or negative?
No, not really actually. I had a pretty good idea about what it was, especially from doing interviewing and practicing case studies. You have to have a fair bit of understanding of what consulting is before you can be hired.
Is there anything you miss about research or wet lab work?
No, but I’m sure some people would. For me, research is often so focused on a very small area for long periods of time. After a while you start losing interest or motivation to find the answers. For consulting, a project lasts only weeks or months, and you can have a more definitive answer while quickly moving on to something else. I find that much more satisfying.
What does a normal work day look like for you? How has this changed from your days in research in academia?
No pipetting! It’s completely different from research. No experiments or lab work. Rather it’s a very office type of work. You go from meeting to meeting, contacting different experts in the field and emailing experts to gain insight. Ultimately, the output is basically a PowerPoint, which we present to the clients.
How did you prepare yourself for a career in consulting? Specifically, how did you prepare for the interviews?
The interviews are generally split in two parts. The first part is behavioral like most jobs to see if you’re a good match, personality or otherwise. The other half is the case interview, where you are presented with a mini or simplified case you would typically see at the firm, to see how you can think through a problem. For that you will have to practice a lot. But there are plenty of case books out there that you can read. And it’s always best to practice with somebody or in a group. There are usually consulting clubs on campus that meet and do cases that help with those things.
What about other ways to prepare your resume for a consulting job?
Well, any other activity aside from research or science, if you’re getting your STEM PhD to help your resume. Things like participating in case competitions or venture capital activities. Or if you’re able, try to find an internship somewhere in consulting or the biotech industry.
What advice do you have for those with STEM PhD’s and want to pursue a career in consulting?
Think hard if this is something you really want to do toward the beginning of your PhD and make a decision then. It’s very hard to start building your resume and getting ready for a consulting career when you are about to graduate.
- STEM PhDs have an advantage when applying to consulting companies specializing in a market related to their degree.
- Consulting projects are much shorter than research projects, lasting on average weeks to months, as opposed to years.
- Boutique companies offer better work-life balance.
- Unlike research at the bench, a main component of the job requires interactions with stakeholders.
- Taking part in case competitions and practicing case studies are key to a successful interview.
- If you think consulting is for you, build your experience and resume with relevant activities before you graduate.
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Just accepted a job as a consultant. Biology PhD -> postdoc -> strategy consulting AMAA
Hello all! I am leaving academic research for a strategy consulting position. I am happy to answer any questions I can, but with the caveats that (1) I haven't started the position yet, so all information about the day-to-day life of a consultant is second-hand and (2) I will avoid giving identifying details about myself and the firm for which I will be working.
Also to note: there is a previous AMAA on the same topic with excellent answers. Happy to add to or expand upon any of his/her answers.
Congrats! Any idea how much you'll be traveling? I want to follow a similar path and my only reservation with consulting is having to travel so much since I'm just starting a family. Everything else about it is fascinating, though!
Good question. The rule is that consultants travel Monday - Thursday, but there are more exceptions than you may first think. For instance, a pharma consultant in Boston or a federal consultant in DC is likely to have mostly local clients.
Depending on the firm, it may also possible to limit your clients to those that are local. There are some significant tradeoffs, but I have met or heard of several consultants who have done that successfully.
There are quite a few firms that are low or no travel, particular more boutique firms in the sciences. Looks at Campbell Alliance, IMS, ZS Associates, GfK etc. Other companies that do market research like Frost and Sullivan are also somewhat similar.
How do you prepare for a job like this? I am interested, but I have no idea what to expect, what skills I need to have, or how to obtain them.
In general, firms are hiring more and more science PhDs because we have much more experience handling data than MBAs and they can teach us the business aspects more easily than they can teach MBAs the data analysis.
So having good data analysis skills is key, but being able to communicate the results clearly and convincingly to a client is just as important. That is why firms look for experiences outside the lab (do you serve on any committees or volunteer? Were you a captain of an athletic team? etc.) They want to make sure we work well in teams and can communicate well to non-technical audiences.
Here are the basic steps a science PhD should use to think about a career in consulting. (1) Research. There is a lot of resources available on the internet what consultants do, the different types of consulting, and how firms view science PhDs. If you have a consulting club on campus, connect with them. Look out for webinars put on my companies, networking events, etc., but the basic questions you can answer for yourself using Google.
(2) Think about why you want a want a job in consulting. What are your career goals and how does consulting help you meet them?
(3) Think about how to "sell" yourself. You should have a good answer for why you're leaving science. "Because it's too hard to find a tenure track job" is not a good answer. You should also have answers for "Tell me about yourself" and other standard interview questions. Remember that presence and ability to communicate clearly and effectively are key. As a consultant, you will be representing the firm at all times so the overriding question is always "Can I put this person in front of a client?"
(4) Network, network, network. A personal connection at a firm is incredibly important to getting an interview. It can be hard/awkward to connect with consultants, but the saving grace is that it's an expected part of the process and nearly everyone you contact will be gracious with their time. The basic process is a short introductory email with a sentence or two at most about yourself and a sentence explaining that you are interested in the firm. This usually turns into an approximately 30 minute phone call. I found these conversations were best when I had good basic knowledge about the firm: I wanted to ask questions that I couldn't find the answers to on the internet, or at the least, tell them my impression of the firm and ask if it was accurate. If it goes well, it may turn into a referral.
(5) Prep for interviews. This deserves a lot more words than I will give it. There are differences amongst firms in their interview formats, but they basically all have a behavioral/fit portion and case interviews . Most firms have multiple rounds. The format usually stays the same, but the behavioral/fit portions gain in relative importance.
Thanks for the encouraging response in my r/consulting thread. I have a couple of questions.
First, MBB vs boutique/specialized consulting firms. I've read that the bigger firms (especially McKinsey) hire PhDs with little to no business expertise while smaller firms are less likely due to the additional resources required to train a non-MBA. I've also been told that healthcare or bio-specific consulting firms tend to hire those with actual pharma/industry experience. I like the idea of using my knowledge of science and the lighter travel requirements of specialized consulting. Do new PhDs have a fair shot at Huron/Roland Berger/et al. or is my best opportunity to stick to pursuing a generalist position at a MBB?
Secondly, how strict are the hiring cycles pertaining to PhDs at MBB vs boutique firms? I know many of them have recruiting cycles based on undergrad/MBA education, but obviously we can defend at any point in the year. Graduating in a few weeks, I'd rather not face unemployment for the next 8 months.
I think I'd be content working at either MBB or boutique. I guess in my situation, it comes down to two things: which do I have a better shot at securing and which I'd be able to begin interviewing with in the next month or two. Thanks for the time!
In general, your impression of the different types of firms is accurate. MBB is definitely okay with no business/industry experience, though Bain lags behind in that regard (though I've heard the SF, Boston and Atlanta offices are more open to such candidates). Most importantly, it depends on the individual firm: make contacts and ask them how each of their firms view candidates with your background.
You're right that it's getting to the end of recruiting season, but not all firms adhere strictly to schedule (especially when it comes to non-MBA advanced degree candidates). Again, contacts at individual firms will let you know how they view off-cycle recruiting. It's my impression that boutique firms are more open to it but I also know MBB does occasionally hire off cycle.
As you can see, the main theme of my advice is to use your extended social network to make contacts. It's an unfamiliar process for people with a science background, but I've found that nearly everyone I reached out to was generous with their time and gave me solid information in a friendly manner. Networking is expected.
Hey, just noticed this AMA. (I'm the one who posted the other one). I assume you've started your job now. Has it lived up to expectations? Anything surprising? Miss academia?
It has lived up to expectations. It was sold to be as a firm full of bright people who supportive and intellectually engaged in their work and that is what I have found.
It's hard to say if anything is surprising : I expected to have a huge learning curve and that's been the case. The two biggest differences is that what it means to have a client-facing job and the pace of the work - everything moves much faster than in science. That's not to say it's a lot more work, just that you move through a project much more quickly, mostly because you're not doing bench work to generate data.
Do I miss academia? Not really. I now have a job in a healthy industry that I enjoy, that will give me career options and allow me to live where I want to while making much more money. What academic job meets all those criteria? This job does not satisfy my biophilia as much as science did, but I can meet that through spending time outdoors and travel.
I hope I am not too late to ask question. What preparations you did to crack the interviews ? Did you practice cases ? if yes how many ? Which books did you read ? How much knowledge of "management" you had at time of interview ?
I am on case in point book at moment, Having hard time going past things like this, For example, In profit-loss case, I dig into revenue and cost, Suppose its cost problem then I can't dig much deeper as I dont know how to fragment those components due to lack of "management" related knowledge . Any help regarding this?
You're definitely not too late. I believe that case practice and networking/research to understand the non-case part of the interview are of equal importance.
I practiced about 30 cases, but I think most people stop gaining skill at around 20 cases (that was true for me). I used Victor Cheng's book for prep, but the cases came from many sources and I was lucky to have quality case partners.
I had only a basic understanding of "management" in thee business sense, but I had learned how to translate my experiences/accomplishments in the lab into business skills. Examples: have you ever mentored undergrads in basic bench skills? That's both project and team management. Have you ever disagreed with your PI about how to proceed and done the work to prove that your plan of action was better? That's both entrepreneurial and leadership. Those sorts of skills are why consulting firms are interested in science PhDs. It's up to us to effectively communicate those skills during the interview. It requires some "translation" and, in my experience, doing that well is how we sell ourselves.
Regarding your question about case studies: I'm not sure it's lack of management knowledge that is holding you back. The key is common sense and the way you maintain common sense is by being able to step back. If you seem stuck on a particular problem: return to a higher level. What very basic factors have I not considered? If I need to make a random guess, can I clearly communicate a hypothesis to justify it? If so, you'll realize you're not being random, but both creative and structured.
Management and Life Sciences Consulting
The Career Field Resource pages describe the more common fields that employ scientists with advanced training, with a short list of websites which will help you understand the field. Each section has:
- at least one or two articles to provide an overview of the field or career paths;
- resources specific to Berkeley (access to opportunities you can pursue while a student or postdoc);
- more general sources of information including professional associations, sites with industry news and career advice, and fellowship/job listings.
Scientists interested in the business aspects of science often find careers in management and strategic consulting to be a good way to transition from academia to the private sector. Resources below focus on management consulting and life sciences; however “consulting” is a broad term and there are other types of specialized consulting (such as nonprofit , government or healthcare consulting).
- Career Center – hosts multiple events focused on management consulting, including the Consulting Forum. Events generally target undergrads but are open to all. Use the Vault Guides within Handshake (look under the “Resources” tab) to learn about different career paths, companies and industries.
- BCBA – Biotech Connection Bay Area connects trainee scientists from UC Berkeley, UCSF and Stanford with industry professionals “to facilitate life science innovation.” Graduate students and postdocs have the opportunity to do consulting projects and internships with local biotech organizations.
- Berkeley PhD Consulting Club – holds regular events to help with the job search, including preparing for the “case interview” style used by consulting firms.
- Science article, “ The Science Careers guide to consulting careers for Ph.D. scientists ”
- IGotAnOffer article, “ How to transition from PhD to consulting? ” – a good overview of the field (note: not an endorsement of the case prep/coaching offered by the site)
- Many of the biggest management consulting firms recruit advanced degree candidates: look for specific recruiting programs such as those of Bain & Company , BCG , Deloitte , EY , McKinsey & Company (there are many others; to see which companies recruit at Berkeley, use Handshake )
- There are a range of large and small companies that specialize in Life Sciences consulting, for example: Clearview Healthcare Partners , DNA Bridges , Cerner Enviza , LEK Consulting and Guidehouse. You can research companies using websites such as Vault (use the Career Center subscription)
- Consulting Magazine – trends and news in the industry
- Institute of Management Consultants USA
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From STEM PhD to Federal Consulting: An Interview with Josh
How in the world did Josh go from a PhD in cell and molecular biology to a job in federal consulting for The Tauri Group? As you can probably imagine, he had quite a few options on the table. Here at MC, we had the pleasure of recently interviewing Josh and asking him how he’s navigated his interesting career path, and how consulting was a great place for his passions and skills to collide. Read on to find out how Josh found clarity with what he wanted out of a long-term career, while still being able to indulge his varied interests. Whether you’re an undergrad, in an MBA or PhD program, or a savvy experienced hire, Josh’s exciting story will inspire you to take the next step in your career!
Hi Josh, how are you doing today?
I’m doing great, thank you.
Tell me a bit about your background.
Well, I grew up in Bethesda, MD, and attended the University of Vermont in Burlington, VT for – BS (finance), MS (nutritional sciences), and PhD (cell and molecular biology). Once I graduated with my Bachelor’s, I was a financial analyst by day and managed a bar a few nights per week. I also played rugby for the University of Vermont and played for the local Burlington men’s club team.
A year after graduation, my rugby career started to show promise and I quit my analyst job to focus on training and competing. As luck would have it, I was able to take an ownership role at the bar I was managing. This provided me with a steady income, a flexible schedule to travel and train and also helped me tap into my “inner entrepreneur” (I have started three businesses since this experience). For the next few years I played rugby at the national and international levels, while owning this bar.
Once I graduated with my PhD, I was awarded a AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowship and moved to the DC area for two years. After that, I moved to Portland, OR andn worked for the medical device company Medtronic as a field scientist. In this job I managed investigator initiated clinical trials, scientific messaging and key opinion leader development. Most recently, I’m a Program Manager for a government consulting company called The Tauri Group and I have been working in government consulting for the past 7 years.
You didn’t have a traditional career path – how in the world did you decide rationally that it was a good idea to get your Ph.D.?
I often tell people, “You could have put a gun to my head and told me I’d have a PhD one day and I would have said you are crazy.” Even to this day, it is not something that I ever had a strong desire to achieve. A few years after I graduated with my Bachelor’s I felt that I could do more with my life than just play rugby and own a bar.
The University of Vermont had a strong sports nutrition program and I decided to go back to school and learn how to be a better athlete. I applied to the program and was not only accepted, but they offered me a teaching fellowship that covered tuition and provided a stipend.
While I was fully engaged in playing rugby and running my bar at night, I had to give this a shot. My coursework was very informative and my research was in exercise physiology where I compared the fitness benefits of snowshoeing versus running. I was in Vermont and there was lots of snow! It was one of the first studies conducted on the newer, lightweight snowshoes and was cited in over 100 lay journals.
My priorities in life were 1) playing rugby, 2) owning a bar and 3) school. To be honest with you, school was something I did during the day because I had free time. Once I received my MS, I was offered a similar teaching fellowship to study for my PhD and I figured, why not?
My PhD program was in Cell and Molecular biology and I was a fish out of water. I had never taken physics, genetics, microbiology, organic chemistry etc… and I had never touched a pipette, grew cells in a hood or run a gel of any kind. It was a struggle for me. At the end of my second year, the lease expired to my bar and one year later I did my final international rugby tour.
The parts of my life that I enjoyed most were gone and all I had was a degree awaiting me that I never really wanted in the first place. After many chats with my advisor, I agreed to stay and I poured myself into finishing my research and graduating. My determination is strong and I was the first one in my class to graduate. One of my biggest motivators to graduate quickly was that I intended to apply for the AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellowship and I needed to successfully defend my dissertation before the application deadline.
Tell me a bit more about the AAAS fellowship you won, and how that worked. Did you get more than 1 offer? How did you decide?
The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is an international non-profit organization dedicated to advancing science for the benefit of all people. It is frequently recognized as the organization that publishes the journal Science.
Each year the AAAS offer competitive Science & Technology Policy Fellowships that provide opportunities for scientists and engineers to learn first-hand about policymaking while contributing their knowledge and analytical skills in the federal policy realm. “AAAS Fellows” are placed in Congress and Executive Branch agencies and departments.
I applied to work in Congress, the NIH and the Department of Defense (DoD). I was selected to interview at both the NIH and the DoD and subsequently was offered positions in both organizations. I chose to work for the DoD because the projects available were more diverse and interesting to me.
I had a dual appointment and worked for the Undersecretary of Defense for Laboratories and Basic Sciences in the Pentagon and I also worked for the Army Research Office. It was an incredible experience to see how federal policy is created and to play an active role in managing DoD science programs.
When did you first stumble upon the field of government consulting? What did you discover about it?
I learned about government consulting when I started interviewing for jobs near the completion of my AAAS Fellowship. Government contracting and consulting are common career fields for all disciplines of education in the DC/VA/MD region due to its close proximity to the federal government infrastructure.
I had several contingent hire offers from Science & Technology focused consulting companies, but instead took a job with the medical device company, Medtronic. A few years later I was recruited for a position by one of the government consulting companies who had previously made me a contingent offer. At that time, I found it to be a great fit for my skills, experience and interests so I chose to move back to the east coast and take the position.
I gravitated to government consulting because the career rewards candidates who want to apply their technical skills in a business capacity. I have little desire to work in academia or a lab, but I still wanted a career that values my technical training.
Government consulting is a fantastic career path for people who can manage relationships, think strategically, are strong communicators and who enjoy solving challenging problems that will have an impact on federal policy. And, while many jobs are concentrated in the DC region, positions are available all over the country and for all education levels and disciplines.
Tell me about your work as a government consultant.
I work in the area of therapeutic/vaccine development for the Department of Defense (DoD). The warfighter/soldier has different medical needs than the general public and most big pharma companies don’t invest in these types of treatments due to low profit margins. Thus, the DoD will contract with companies to develop novel therapeutics and vaccines specific to the service member’s needs.
Most of my career has been managing teams of scientists, financial and risk analysts, and contracting specialists who work side by side with DoD personnel in their mission of medical product development for our service members. In a nutshell, we help the government manage the risk, cost, schedule and performance of their contracts with drug/vaccine development companies.
What makes this work even more challenging, and exciting, is that many of the medical products under development cannot be tested for efficacy on humans and must seek FDA approval through the FDA Animal Rule.
Presently, I am working with a DoD program that is contracting with a company to build and operate a drug/vaccine manufacturing facility. I never thought I would be going on construction site visits to monitor progress from a green field to a fully operational manufacturing facility, but that is part of what makes this career so interesting.
When was the ah-hah moment – when you realized what a great gig government consulting is?
To my surprise, I experienced rapid career progression once I started working at The Tauri Group. Part of this was luck, but much of it was due to the fact that my skills, experience and interests align quite well with government consulting work. I started out as a technical analyst and progressed to a deputy team leader, team leader, deputy program manager and then to program manager – all within my first three years at the company.
My “ah-hah” moment probably came when I was promoted to team leader and had over 30 direct reports. This was an incredibly challenging position, but also quite rewarding because I was able to incorporate the skills and experiences I had acquired thus far in my career to be successful and help my clients. Government consulting is a fantastic career for job seekers in nearly any degree field who are motivated to solve problems, think strategically, build and manage relationships and work as part of a team.
Tell me about STEM Career Services and what it does.
STEM Career Services specializes in working with science, technology, engineering and math graduates and postdocs who are looking to start a career outside of the academic/laboratory environment. We offer career counselling, workshops and job placement services.
Our most common workshop is titled, “Introduction to Government Consulting” where we do a full-day immersion course about the career field of government consulting. Course graduates have a significant competitive advantage when applying for positions by learning about:
– The importance of STEM-trained candidates in government consulting
– A “day in the life” of a government consultant (no day is ever the same)
– Where to look for government consulting jobs
– Crafting a government consulting resume and preparing for job interviews
– Qualifying for a security clearance
– Transferring academic/industry skills to those of a government consultant
– And, the importance of building relationships and maintaining client trust
Lastly, what makes STEM Career Services unique is that our career counselors are not typical “career coaches” who run a business by telling clients how to find jobs in their desired career field. Instead, our mentors are full-time professionals employed in a variety of STEM professions who have chosen to join our mentoring panel because they want to share their expertise with people looking for career assistance.
We followed the same career path as our clients, earned our BS, MS and PhDs in STEM fields and successfully found jobs outside of academia. Our goal is to share this experience with our clients and help them find the most rewarding, challenging and exciting careers in government consulting; the biotech, pharmaceutical and medical device industries, federal government and nonprofits.
What are 3 key insights you wish every STEM professional could know about government consulting?
1) Be suitable for your audience; the government consulting hiring process is very different than management consulting. There’s no “hiring season” to follow, no case studies to prepare for, and frequently, candidates are hired to fill a specific position for an ongoing contract. Thus, the recruitment-to-hiring phase can often be quite fast.
2) The ability to develop a strong relationship with your client and earn their trust is critical to job success. Most government consulting contracts are long-term (often multi-year), so having a strong relationship with a client can lead to sustained job security and improved performance.
3) Not all government consulting jobs require a security clearance. This career path is suitable for citizens and noncitizens of the USA. Talking with experts who understand the security clearance process can help candidates determine which government consulting jobs they may qualify for and will help them be more strategic in their job search.
Thanks so much for sharing your insights and experiences, Josh!
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Are you looking to transition from a PhD or advanced degree program into management consulting?
This comprehensive article covers which consulting firms hire PhD and advanced degree candidates, how to apply to consulting firms, and how to pass management consulting job interviews.
Why do Consulting Firms Hire PhD and Advanced Degree Candidates?
Consulting firms hire PhD and advanced degree candidates for many reasons.
One, consulting firms want to hire top talent wherever they may be. While consulting firms have traditionally hired from top-tier undergraduate and MBA schools, they have been moving towards also hiring from top-tier medical schools, law schools, and graduate schools. Talented future consultants can be found anywhere and consulting firms want to hire them.
Two, a lot of the skills that PhD and advanced degree candidates have can be transferred to consulting. PhD students gather data, break down problems, write papers, and present their work to others. Analyzing data and presenting your work are critical skills that consultants use every day.
Three, the work that consultants do is increasingly becoming more specialized, requiring specialized expertise. This is where PhD and advanced degree graduates shine. If a consulting firm is helping a pharmaceutical company develop a strategy to launch a new drug, who better to help them than a biochemistry PhD or MD that understands the healthcare space?
Therefore, if you are interested in transitioning to the business world, know that consulting firms do hire PhD and advanced degree candidates that have no business backgrounds.
As a PhD or advanced degree hire, you’ll typically be placed at roughly the same level as an MBA hire. However, if you only have a master’s degree, you may be placed at the same level as an undergraduate hire.
Which Consulting Firms Hire PhD and Advanced Degree Candidates?
All three of the top-tier management consulting firms, McKinsey, BCG, and Bain, hire PhD and advanced degree candidates. In fact, they have special programs that are tailored to helping PhD and advanced degree candidates go through the recruiting process.
In addition, many other top consulting firms hire PhD and advanced degree candidates, including Deloitte, Strategy& (part of PwC), EY-Parthenon, L.E.K., and Roland Berger.
If you have a PhD in life sciences or an MD, there are many consulting firms that specialize in life sciences consulting. These consulting firms include: ClearView Healthcare, Navigant, ZS Associates, Putnam Associates, and Huron Consulting.
Overall, there are many consulting firms that will hire PhD and advanced degree candidates.
What Challenges do PhD and Advanced Degree Candidates Face in Consulting?
Although PhD and advanced degree candidates have some skills that will transfer over to consulting, there are many skills that will not. There are six main challenges that PhD and advanced degree hires will face when they recruit for and enter consulting.
Understanding essential business concepts
PhD and advanced degree candidates spend years studying fields that have nothing to do with business. One of the biggest challenges that these candidates face is ramping up on fundamental business knowledge.
Consulting does not require specialized business knowledge, but candidates should be familiar with fundamental business concepts, such as profitability, market share, and competitive advantage.
Additionally, many PhD and advanced degree candidates will lack the business judgment and acumen that a traditional MBA candidate has. Building up a strong business instinct takes time.
Solving problems quickly
PhD candidates may work on one project for many years, extensively researching the topic and going very deep into the details and nuances of the problem.
In contrast, consulting projects are typically solved in 3 – 6 months. As a new consultant, PhD and advanced degree candidates will need to learn how to solve problems quickly by focusing on the most important issues or areas.
Doing simple math calculations quickly
PhD candidates likely use sophisticated and complex mathematics in their research and work, such as differential equations or linear algebra.
In consulting, only very basic math is used. Surprisingly, during interviews, PhD and advanced degree candidates have a much more difficult time performing basic math calculations than undergraduate candidates. This may be because PhD candidates are used to doing higher level math using statistical software rather than doing simpler math calculations by hand.
Therefore, PhD candidates will likely need to brush up on their basic math skills to perform calculations quickly and accurately during their interviews.
Making things simple and easy to understand
One of the key skills in consulting is to make things simple and easy to understand. This is important in order to make clients understand their business situation and act on the recommendations that the consulting firm has provided.
PhD and advanced degree candidates deal with complex and intricate problems that are often difficult to explain to the average person. To be a successful consultant, PhD and advanced degree hires will need to practice explaining complex things in a simple way.
Not focusing too much on the nitty gritty details
In a PhD program, you go very deep into one particular area or topic. To become an expert in the field, you typically read all of the scientific papers published on the topic and know all of the details.
Consulting is less focused on the nitty gritty details. Consultants will learn just enough about a particular topic or area in order to be able to solve the business problem.
Focusing more on the overall business problem and focusing less on minute details is one skill that PhD and advanced degree hires will need to learn and develop.
What does the PhD and Advanced Degree Recruiting Process Look Like?
Some consulting firms, such as McKinsey, BCG, and Bain, offer programs that specifically help PhD and advanced degree holders apply and transition to consulting. Participating in these programs will help you build connections and increase the likelihood of receiving an interview.
These programs are fairly competitive and require you to submit an application in order to be accepted into the program.
- McKinsey Insight Program : This program provides an overview of management consulting and McKinsey, an opportunity to connect with consultants that share a similar background to you, and a mock case study.
- Bridge to BCG Program : This program provides an overview of consulting and what makes BCG special. You’ll have the opportunity to solve a BCG case in a case team simulation, network with consulting staff, and participate in social activities.
- Bain ADvantage Program : This week-long internship immerses candidates into life at Bain and a career in consulting. You’ll have a full day of training followed by four days of a staffing assignment on a real case team. If accepted into this program, you will receive a guaranteed final-round interview for a full-time Consultant position.
Outside of these programs, the PhD and advanced degree recruiting process looks like the following:
- Submit your consulting job application
- Pass your first-round consulting interviews
- Pass your final-round consulting interviews
- Receive your consulting job offer
Submitting your Consulting Job Application
Consulting firm job applications typically have three components: the resume, cover letter, and the optional referral.
We’ll briefly cover each of these components of the application over the next few sections. Each section has a link to a more comprehensive, in-depth guide that you should read.
Your resume is the single most important factor that decides whether or not you will receive a consulting interview. Consulting resumes are quite different from the type of resumes you would use in a PhD or advanced degree program.
For example, you will not need to list publications you have contributed to or conferences that you have attended. You’ll also need to simplify the topic of your research so that the average recruiter can understand what you have worked on and what you have accomplished. Finally, make sure to focus less on the details of your work and more on the overall accomplishment and impact.
Make sure to tailor your resume so that it follows the structure and format of a consulting resume.
In short, keep your resume to one page and quantify the impact of your accomplishments.
Consulting firms like to see:
- High grades
- Prestigious schools that you have attended
- Brand name companies that you have worked for
- Significant impact in your work experiences
- Meaningful leadership positions in your extracurricular activities
Consulting Cover Letter
The cover letter is less important than your resume, but can make the difference between receiving a consulting interview and not receiving one if your resume is on the borderline.
Your cover letter should be concise and straight to the point. Introduce yourself and then briefly explain why you are interested in consulting. Spend most of the cover letter explaining what qualities you have that would make you a great fit for the firm.
To avoid having a generic cover letter, include specific reasons why you are interested in the consulting firm you are applying to. Mention former or current employees that you have spoken to and what aspects of the firm you find most attractive.
Referrals are not part of the official application process for consulting firms, but they are a quick way to make your application stand out.
If you have a friend or colleague that works at the consulting firm you are applying to, ask if they would be comfortable giving you a referral.
Getting a referral means that someone at the consulting firm will send your name and resume to the recruiter that is in charge of resume reviews. Your application will get a closer look and be viewed a bit more favorably.
Referrals are not required to get interviews, but can help a lot. For the McKinsey Insight Program, Bridge to BCG Program, and Bain ADvantage Program, referrals can make a big difference given how competitive these programs are.
Passing your First-Round Consulting Interviews
A few weeks after the application deadlines, you’ll receive invitations from consulting firms for the first of two rounds of interviews.
At most consulting firms, the first round of interviews consists of two separate 40- to 60-minute interviews. These interviews will mainly focus on case interviews, but you will also get a few other types of questions.
There are three types of consulting interview questions:
- Behavioral Interviews
Why Consulting? / Why this Firm?
We’ll briefly cover each of these types of consulting interview questions over the next few sections. Each section has a link to a more comprehensive, in-depth guide that you should read.
Case interviews are a special type of interview question that consulting firms use to assess a candidate’s potential to be a great consultant. In a case interview, you’ll be placed in a hypothetical business situation and asked to develop a recommendation or answer to a business problem. A case takes about 30- to 60-minutes to complete.
Here are some examples of case interview questions:
- How can Coca-Cola increase its profitability?
- What should Netflix do to increase customer retention?
- Should Facebook enter the smart phone market?
- How should Apple price its new iPhone?
Case interviews begin with the interviewer reading you the background information on the case. You’ll then get the chance to ask clarifying questions to better understand the business situation and case objective.
Next, you’ll develop a framework to help you solve the case. A framework is a tool that helps you structure and break down complex problems into smaller, more manageable components.
You’ll then be asked to answer quantitative and qualitative questions to build support for a recommendation. You may need to calculate expected profitability, interpret charts and graphs, or brainstorm and prioritize different ideas.
At the end of the case interview, the interviewer will ask you to deliver a final recommendation to address or solve the business problem.
Behavioral Interview Questions
Consulting behavioral interview questions ask you to give an example or story of a time when you displayed a particular quality, such as leadership, problem solving, or resilience.
Here are some examples of behavioral interview questions:
- Tell me about a time when you exceeded expectations
- Give me an example of a time when you had to persuade someone
- Describe a situation in which you resolved team conflict
- Give me an example of a time when you failed to meet expectations
- Describe a difficult or complicated problem that you solved
To prepare for these questions, develop a list of five different stories or examples that cover a wide range of positive qualities. You should select stories or experiences that are the most impressive and impactful.
When asked a behavioral interview question, mentally run through your list of prepared stories and select the one that is most relevant to the question that is asked.
You’ll want to share your story or experience by using the STAR method to ensure that you answer the question in a clear and structured way. STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, and Result.
Situation : Provide a brief overview of the situation and any context that is needed to understand the story better. Keep this section as concise as possible because it is less important than the other parts of the story.
Task : Describe what you were asked or required to deliver or achieve. Again, keep this section concise since it is less important than the other parts of the story.
Action : Explain what steps you took to handle the task or meet the goal or objective. This is an important part of the story, so focus on sharing exactly what you did.
Result : Describe the outcome that your actions had, quantifying the impact. Also describe your key takeaways from the experience and how it impacted or influenced you as a person. This is the most important part of the story.
You will almost certainly be asked the “Why Consulting?” question at some point during your interviews. Interviewers want to know why you are interested in consulting to see if you know what you are getting yourself into and whether you are genuinely interested.
As a PhD or advanced degree candidate, you will need to provide compelling reasons why you are choosing to pursue consulting instead of the field that you have spent years studying.
There are many reasons you can give for why you are interested in consulting:
- You want to make a larger impact on the world by working with large companies to solve their most challenging business problems
- You see consulting as the quickest way to develop the skills to transition to the business world and become a business executive
- You enjoy working closely in teams to solve challenging business problems
- You value the mentorship and personal development opportunities that consulting provides
- You want to tackle a wide variety of different problems and consulting allows you to work on projects in many different industries and functions
Use the following structure to answer this question:
- State that consulting is your top career choice
- Provide three reasons to support this
- Reiterate that consulting best fits your professional needs and goals
In addition to the “Why Consulting?” question, you may also be asked “Why this Firm?” This question assesses whether you are genuinely interested in working at the consulting firm that you are interviewing for.
Again, there are many different reasons you could give:
- You have loved the people that you’ve met from the firm and would enjoy working with them
- The firm has an empowering work culture where you feel you would thrive
- The firm has deep expertise in a particular industry or function that you are passionate about
- The firm places a heavy investment in mentorship and personal development, which you value tremendously
- Several of your mentors and role models have worked at the firm and have recommended that you work there
Make sure to structure your answer to this question so that your answer is clear and easy to follow. You can use a similar structure to the “Why Consulting?” question:
- State that the firm you are interviewing for is your top choice consulting firm
- Reiterate that the firm best fits your professional needs and goals
Passing your Final-Round Consulting Interviews
Consulting final round interviews typically consist of two to three separate 40- to 60-minute interviews. You’ll see the same three types of questions that you saw in your first-round interviews.
There are three main distinctions between consulting first-round interviews and consulting final-round interviews.
First, your interviewers will be more senior people. This means that the case interviews you receive may be less structured and feel more like a qualitative discussion. You and the interviewer may just be discussing your opinions and ideas on a business problem.
Second, there is more of an emphasis on assessing your personality and cultural fit with the firm. Interviewers will not only assess whether you can solve case interviews, but they will also assess whether they would want to work with you on a team. Interviewers want to see if you are coachable, collaborative, and easy to work with.
Third, your interviewers may read the notes that your previous interviewers wrote about you. If there is a particular area of the case interview that you struggled with, interviewers may specifically test you on it again to make sure it is not a weakness.
Overall, you should still use the same strategies that you used in your first-round interviews for your second-round interviews.
Receiving your Consulting Job Offer
After finishing all of your interviews, all you have to do is to wait. Consulting firms typically call candidates to tell them whether or not they are being extended a job offer.
Some candidates receive a phone call with good news on the same day of their final-round interview. Other candidates receive calls within a few days.
Be patient while waiting to hear back from consulting firms. If you have not heard back within a week, you can send a polite follow-up email with the recruiter to ask for an update.
When you finally get your call, all that is left to do is sign your offer letter to secure your consulting job!
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According to U.S. Census 2013 data, 1.68 percent of Americans over the age of 25 have a PhD. This equates to approximately 2.5 million people. People with professional degrees such as MD or DDS make up 1.48 percent of the U.S.
In the June issue of Fast Company, Tom Peters returns to the idea of the Brand Called You, updating it for the now with eight tips and tactics. Meanwhile, according t
PhD programs require years of study and can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Fortunately, these programs are very research-oriented. Many organizations want to encourage doctoral students to conduct research that will change the world. Th...
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Management consulting, a career in which generalist problem solvers help ... And in our healthcare work we have many people with biology
Sofia became intrigued by consulting during her PhD. Now, after three years as a consultant, she shares her McKinsey journey as a Latin
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One thing you have to be aware is that all these programs in consulting companies recruit PhDs only from Ivy league and similar top schools.
What about consulting with a STEM PhD appeals to you? ... Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from the University of California Los Angeles.
Biology PhD -> postdoc -> strategy consulting AMAA. Hello all! I am leaving academic research for a strategy consulting position. I
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How in the world did Josh go from a PhD in cell and molecular biology to a job in federal consulting for The Tauri Group?
Two, a lot of the skills that PhD and advanced degree candidates have can be transferred to consulting. PhD students gather data, break down problems
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