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.