By Lidia Kazakova
When I first heard the term “consulting” in the context of career options about a year into my graduate studies, it did not elicit any particular excitement. On the contrary, it seemed decidedly vague – whom do you consult? What are you consulting them on? And why are so many graduate students choosing this path as opposed to academia? It was these and many other questions that were addressed in last Friday’s event hosted by the GMCA (Graduate Management Consulting Association). The panel, aptly named “What’s consulting?” included speakers from prominent consulting firms such as BCG, Deloitte, Ernst & Young, KPMG, McKinsey, and QuintilesIMS. Although having come from remarkably diverse backgrounds (law, life sciences, and marketing to name a few), the speakers had at least two things in common: consulting was not part of their original plan, and they have no regrets about pursuing it as a career.
So what is consulting? Put very simply, it is all about solving complex business problems. And if this definition seems overtly open-ended, it’s because it is – the nature and scale of problems in question varies immensely, depending on the firm, the department, and the project at hand. The types of consulting can be grouped into several broad categories: strategy, IT, operations, human resources, and financial. Moreover, some smaller (“boutique”) consulting firms might focus only on one or two specialized streams, such as healthcare. No two days working as a consultant are the same, as mentioned by one of the speakers and corroborated by the rest – constant learning is an integral part of this field. From one project to the next, you may be expected to become an expert in vastly diverse and sometimes unrelated fields. But fear not – as one of the speakers explained, once you develop a logical way to assess a problem, this framework can be applied to practically any issue, although the specifics obviously vary. This is also where so many of the skills you acquire as a graduate student prove to be useful: research, critical thinking, data analysis, and communication, just some of the skills that become second nature to anyone working in research, are sought after by any consulting firm. It is these “soft” skills rather than technical knowledge that are most valuable when pursuing a career in consulting. As mentioned by one of the speakers, “Nobody hires consultants just for their expertise, consulting firms already have enough experts. Rather, they need people for solving problems.” And while it may be intimidating to try to outcompete a sea of MBA-possessing candidates, there is a reason why consulting firms have turned their attention to graduate students (or “advanced-degree candidates” as they call them) in the recent years. Coming from a research background brings a different perspective to a team already full of business school graduates, and it is this fresh perspective that can be instrumental in solving multifaceted problems.
If it sounds like consulting might be for you, there is a wealth of resources out there, and it is best to start preparing long before you plan to apply. Consulting interviews are bipartite, consisting of a case study and a behavioural portion. Finding a group of friends to practice cases with, or attending case competitions are some of the things recommended by Friday’s panelists as ways of getting yourself ready for the interviews. Consider checking out some of GMCA’s events – it regularly hosts case competitions, in addition to a multitude of networking sessions. As with most professions, connections are key – so get out there and get networking! Furthermore, most large consulting firms offer various volunteering and internship opportunities – great for getting your foot in the door.
Consulting is just one of the many options available for graduate students in life sciences, and with the recent increase in demand for advanced degree candidates, it is definitely worth looking into.
Some websites to check out:
Endeavour volunteer consulting:
Written by LSCDS Exec Member Lidia Kazakova