PhDs in consulting: 24 applications, two interviews, one job

James Gillies was another member of the recent panel event.  His PhD research focussed on how eagles fly: despite that, he has started off a successful careering in consulting, with Bain.

Why did you decide to go into consulting?

For James, continuing onto a PhD had been the path of least resistance: it followed naturally from his undergraduate studies.  He determined, though, that he would give more considered thought to his career choice.  Looking at his peer group, some had gone into consulting, others into private equity and another to being an assistant to a senior banker.  He liked the new, different problems that his PhD research had presented him with, and like piecing information together and solving the gaps in knowledge: he wanted a job that would allow him to continue using these skills.  He had thought about doing mergers and acquisitions for a bank but looked at the life style vs money vs interest equation and decided that consulting fulfilled most of these the best.

How did you apply for the job?

James got lots of input to his CV, from friends working in relevant fields.  He described how often at big professional services firms, temps will be used to do CV sifting and that they are looking for particular key words to differentiate CVs.  He worked for an SME whilst making applications and started sending them off as he submitted his thesis.  The interview he had involved doing psychometric testing, case studies as well as a standard interview.  (King’s Careers & Employability can help you with all these elements of an interview.)

Does having a PhD help?

His PhD has proved most helpful in the soft skills it enabled him to develop.  In comparison with the graduates, he has done more presentations and perhaps solved more problems than them.  The PhD makes him stand out when clients ask what he did before becoming a consultant; and recently provided a point of connection with a CEO who also had one.

What do you do day-to-day?

James’ working day can vary – sometimes he is not on a project and so does not need to go into the office.  The night before he spoke at King’s, he was working till 2.30am, and he once worked 12 days straight in a row.  However, he rarely works weekends and a standard working day is much more usual. 

His usual work would be running surveys for client brands; researching and understanding market position and forecasting trends; using Excel or SPSS to analyse data.  On one IT project recently, he acted as a ‘middle-man’ between the IT technicians of the client, and their board members, effectively ‘translating’ what each side was saying by codifying and simplifying the language each used.

How do you see the future?

James could take his experience at Bain in many different directions: either continuing in the firm, or going to work for a client such as a private equity firm that he already currently advises.  Alternatively he could go into project management or strategy roles in client-type employers; or, of course, he could set up as an entrepreneur.   The entrepreneur behind Innocent drinks is ex-Bain.

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