Career options: management consultancy

For those that couldn’t make it to last week’s Careers Spotlight talk from Fahd Choudhry at Deloitte, here are the highlights from his talk:

Fahd did a biomed BSc at Aberdeen and on graduating felt ‘I must get a job in biomed’!  This lead him to a graduate placement with a large pharma company, based in Hertfordshire.  He realised he wanted his own research project and so embarked on a PhD here at KCL, based on Alzheimer’s disease.

The move into professional services was progressive: whilst in industry, he began to be interested in how the amount of money the company made actually impacted on the amount of money available for research.  He picked up The Economist rather than New Scientist one day and was fascinated.  He also attended The City Course organised by The Careers Group, opening his eyes to many different City organisations.  He joined Deloitte’s grad scheme in 2009, one of 8 PhDs out of an intake of 150.

What is consulting? Some examples

Providing solutions to problems that clients can’t solve themselves.  For example, in initiating the data systems behind the new Universal Tax Credit, the government can’t possibly employ sufficient staff to be able to do the whole thing themselves.  One Swiss pharma company is looking to merge seven different companies together: the consultants are trying to find standardised processes that link the seven companies so they become more of a single entity.  One investment bank called in consultants to almost literally ‘translate’ their IT guys’ issues with the traders!

Fahd has worked on the Lloyds TSB/HBOS merger.  His specific role was to ensure that customers of each of the previous banks keep the same functionality when the banks are merged.  300 processes had to be mapped!  Now that Lloyds Banking Group is divesting itself of some branches, he is having to do the same thing with the new owner Co-op.

How did his science background help?

Gives him credibility when working with pharmaceutical company clients.  The skills he gained (problem-solving etc) have been helpful.

Why did he leave academia?  What was the transition like?

Fahd couldn’t see himself as an academic in the future.  So, even though he liked the ‘nice vibe’ in the lab and the seriousness of the work, he felt he had to change.  It took him about six months to feel comfortable in the new role: despite his PhD, he started with new graduates so it was like going back to school at the bottom level again.  He had to realise that actually some of the new graduates had a lot to offer and in some cases were more experienced than he was.  In a way it is helpful to start with the graduates: clients don’t have any preconceptions about you, unlike if you were on some special PhD entry route.  If you’re good at what you do, you will progress quickly: he mentioned that some PhDs had got promoted more quickly than some graduates.

The pay is equivalent to a post-docs and he generally works 8.30-7 (though the hours can be much worse, depending on the project!).

Where will he progress to?

He has time now to create his own network within the company which helps him to find the next project.  He can see senior people doing work that he can aspire to within the company; but he also says that he is interested possibly in heading onto the client side, being the person within a bank etc that actually commissions consultants and manages the change projects.

Application top tips?

He applied to several consulting firms before getting the post at Deloitte.  He advises making sure that, at any networking event, whilst it is fine to talk to actual consultants, you should make a point of talking to the recruiters as they are the ones that will remember your name!