Consulting companies are more and more welcoming towards PhDs and other candidates with advanced degrees. Candidates with advanced degrees have been selected carefully by their institutions, shown a strong commitment to further their studies, and tend to be brilliant and sophisticated minds. Usually the story goes like this: PhDs started their studies with everything else but consulting in mind, but at the end of their long and tiring research experience, they discover consulting and are attracted. After all, it ticks many of the boxes one may want from an ideal job: challenging, intellectually stimulating, paid very well, and one of the best springboards for a successful careers down the road.
The main problem is that being an excellent consultant and an outstanding researcher is completely different. The difference is usually underrated, since, especially in corporate presentations the side of consulting which is highlighted is all about creative thinking and ground breaking problem solving. However in your consulting life won’t be always dealing with market entry strategies in exotic places or visionary product developments. You’ll be also spending days and nights figuring out how to make a plant more productive or how to integrate the claims divisions of two insurance companies. Therefore, while all the projects require you to be a problem solver, it will be equally important to be someone who executes everything well, gets on with the client and knows how and what to prioritize. Not exactly the strengths of the typical PhD. But, if you know your weaknesses, you can turn them in your strengths. More specifically, there are 4 main obstacles PhDs face, both in the admission process and in their everyday life as a consultant:
1. 300/12 IN 3 SECONDS?
It might sound weird, but on average it takes longer to do this easy calculation for a PhD than for an undergrad. Consulting is not about complicated differential equations, it’s about simple calculations and reasonable assumptions. They are simple, but they should be extremely quick. Consultants love quick calculations. And it’s one of the easiest way to impress clients. By the way, 300/12 is 25.
2. SOMETHING TO TALK ABOUT
In academia you don’t have to be a leader. Nor you have to be particular friendly or persuasive. If you are an excellent researcher that can be more than enough to give you a tenured position in one of the world’s leading universities. Consulting is exactly the opposite. It is a relationship business. If the client likes you and the Partner likes you, then you’ll be successful. And personal relationships are often not only based on your brightness or the depth of your analyses, but on your capability of establishing friendship and esteem. Clients especially tend to dismiss the advice of consultants who come across as arrogant or presumptuous. Partners would like to select candidates with whom they would like both to work and spend 3 hours at the airport before a delayed flight.
3. NO TECHNICALITIES HERE, WE ARE CONSULTANTS
When presented with a Power Point deck full of technical jargon, a director in McKinsey used to take the picture of this old auntie from his wallet. Then he used to ask the team: “Would she understand?”. If the answer was no, then the presentation had to be rewritten. Consulting is about making complicated things simple and easy to understand. Academia is about making difficult things more detailed and complex. This is the reason why most PhDs CVs have to be rewritten almost completely with the help of an expert consultant: the way they are trained to explain their experiences and showcase their achievement is often opposite to the consulting way.
4. THE WHAT VS. THE SO-WHAT
Consulting is not about the nitty gritty detail. It is about understanding the big picture, developing simple recommendations and making them happen. While in a PhD you might work for years on a small detail, on consulting what matters is not the fourth decimal of your market estimate, but what the estimate means for your client in terms of growth opportunities, strategic decisions and capabilities. The case interviews are there to make sure that PhDs understood the consulting mindset and started changing their own.
HOW TO BRIDGE THE GAP
As a PhD it is essential for you to practice with an experienced consultant, who will help you build the right consulting mindset and style, that will be tested in all steps of the process, from the CV/Cover Letter submission to the case interview.
At My Consulting Coach we developed a specific programme only for PhDs: the PhD to Consultant pack. It is meant to help you build the right tool kit for every step of the application, from CV and cover letter to case interviews. It also includes and additional session to help you build an efficient study programme combining interviews and self study to bridge the gap between academic and consulting skills. As always, our focus is on empowering candidates by providing them with simple, clear and effective techniques so that no case or interview question will take you by surprise.