‘Raw Intellectual Horsepower’ – Five lessons for PhDs on Management Consultancy careers

The King’s Careers “Beyond Academia” panels bring together PhD graduates who have ‘Raw Intellectual Horsepower’transitioned out of academia into a range of different industries, to give expert insight into life beyond the academy and the skills and strategy required to make the move. 

The first event of King’s Careers “Beyond Academia” panel season kicked off by looking at the perennially-popular field of management consulting. We were joined by four PhD graduates from a wide range of research disciplines, working in top consultancy firms, who touched on a range of subjects, from applications and adapting to a new work culture, to imposter syndrome and moving past perfectionism. 

Here are the 5 things we learned from the event:

1) Research skills = consulting skills  

Consulting uses many of the skills inherent in working on a PhD: Elinor talked about the analytical skills PhDs and other researchers use to answer complex questions; the resilience required to keep going through a difficult project; and the communication skills needed to be able to talk through tricky solutions. Like academia, consulting is full of cosmopolitan people who are all seeking innovative solutions.

2) Time is of the essence

On the other hand, the pace and variety of consultancy is probably the major difference from working on an academic research project. Chris described the need to not get a 90-95% perfect solution, but having to be content with an 80% correct solution; Nick said that one of the main shifts he got used to at the start was not having a week to work on something, but being expected to have an answer by the afternoon.  The transition from one to the other is hard: it is a very structured profession with people often checking your work

3)  Imposter syndrome cuts both ways

Dealing with the imposter syndrome inherent in coming in to advise long-established business professionals can be challenging; Elinor talked about the internal feedback often being more searching than from the clients. Firms won’t let their consultants go out unless they are very well prepared. See here for an article about how management consultancy started. Nick talked about the advantage of arriving at a client company, as an outsider, and being able to draw together the right people to have the difficult conversations; often these conversations are enough to help the company move on.

4) Know your numbers

Firms like the ‘raw intellectual horsepower’ that PhDs bring, but don’t be surprised if you are hired on a graduate scheme along with undergraduates. While humanities and social science researchers are valued for their ability to be generalists rather than the specialists needed for, for example, healthcare consultancy (Georgie), you have to be aware that it is a numerate discipline (Elinor): practice your mental arithmetic before all interviews!

5) Try, try, and try again

Applications will be unlikely to be successful first time around. One of our panel applied to 30 firms and had one interview. Find a list of firms, come to events to meet with them, tailor your applications and get help from Careers & Employability.

If you would like to attend one of King’s Careers “Beyond Academia” panels, check out the list of future panels here.

The next event looks at moving beyond academia into Pharma Research and takes place on the 8th of November. To book this, or any other panel, click here.

Panel Information:

Christopher Croke – McKinsey

Christopher Croke is an Associate in McKinsey’s London office. He did his undergraduate degree in History and Law at University of Sydney and Masters in International Relations at Oxford University before obtaining a PhD in International relations also at Oxford. He joined McKinsey as a Junior Associate in August 2015 and is currently working primarily on investor due diligences evaluating the attractiveness of assets. During his time at McKinsey, Chris has done projects spanning digital strategy for a London theatre, collective training effectiveness for a military client and revenue growth for a telecommunications client.

Elinor Godfrey – Oliver Wyman

Elinor Godfrey is an Engagement Manager at Oliver Wyman’s London Office. She joined in January 2013 after completing her DPhil in Zoology from the University of Oxford, focusing on the disparate factors that can influence infectious disease, including economic wellbeing. During her consulting career, she has worked on ~20 projects in banking, healthcare, energy and insurance industries across Europe. Elinor has subsequently aligned to the Financial Services practice and now runs projects focusing on strategy within Corporate and Institutional Banks, Retail Banks and Insurance firms. For the last year, she has been on secondment to the UK government.

Nick Faull – Marsh
Nick is currently Head of Client Proposition for Marsh’s Client Advisory Services business. Prior to this he spent nine years as a management consultant with Oliver Wyman working in Financial Services on a range of projects ranging from large regulatory change projects to business transformation projects. Nick has a DPhil in Atmospheric Physics and a Masters in Physics from the University of Oxford.

Georgina Royle – Carnall Farrar

Georgina is an analyst at the health and care consultancy firm Carnall Farrar and had worked there for the past year. She graduated from Oxford University with a Masters in Engineering and a D.Phil in Radiation Oncology & Biology. Over the past year she has worked on projects in pathway redesign for stroke and urgent and emergency care and has helped developed a mental health strategic framework.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>