Advice from your peers - consulting

Many graduate students and postdocs have gone on to take consulting positions in a variety of different consulting firms. You can explore a handful of Penn alumni profiles that focus on careers in consulting here, and learn from the advice that they, and others, have provided in response to the following questions below:

  1. How important is consulting experience on a resume before applying for consulting jobs, and what counts?
  2. Is there anything that you wiould have done differently at Penn that would have helped you today?
  3. What type of person makes a successful consultant? 
  4. What skill, knowledge, or resource do you use most often in your current role?

How important do you think it is to have some sort of consulting experience on a resume before applying for consulting jobs, and what do you think counts as consulting experience?

I think it's helpful in the sense that it distinguishes your interest level, but I have interacted with many PhDs consulting candidates that did not. Since Penn has so many clubs and groups, I think you're missing out if you don't capitalize on the advantage. You may find that just doing it for a semester or two with some intensity gives you a lot to lean on, so make the experience a quality one rather than a quantity one that you can leverage in interviews. [Consultant from ZS Associates]

It is very important to show that you have at least touched some periphery of the consulting space. Consulting organizations on campus are a great opportunity. Others include consulting for non-profit organizations or strategy/recommendations for non-profit orgs, such as inner-city schools, churches, community programs/centers. In addition, classes on negotiation at Wharton or clubs/student government that includes activities, such as coming up with programs/recommendations to benefit certain groups of stakeholders, are also helpful. [Consultant from L.E.K. Consulting]

It's of utmost importance. If you are coming from Penn and I'm reviewing your resume, I'd expect to see PBG projects on the resume. While the actual experiences themselves aren't critical, it's important to show how serious you are about exploring consulting and determining if it's the proper career path you. [Consultant from L.E.K. Consulting]

Extremely important – if we have a lot of applications, that may be one of our initial screening criteria to even consider speaking with applicants.  Consulting experience includes prior experience at a firm, participating in a consulting project with an organization on campus, taking part in a case competition, or at the least, being involved with a campus consulting club. [Consultant from ClearView Healthcare Partners]

I think it is extremely important and is what distinguishes you from the applicant pool. Good consulting experience will definitely catch recruiters' eyes, and that may include PBG consulting projects you've done, summer internship position with consulting firms, or any other business related experience where you exhibited leadership skills. [Consultant from PriceSpective]

For general management consulting—just the desire to work hard and work well with others is all that is necessary. In fact, I think that prior consulting experience might inhibit your creative juices, although it helps with conforming to the structure.  For some of the more boutique firms, prior experience in consulting or 'real life' experiences might be key. [Consultant from Deloitte]

It is not necessary to have any consulting experience whatsoever. I didn't. You only have to prove that you are capable of quickly absorbing information and cutting through complexity to solve tough problems. [Consultant from McKinsey & Company]

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Now that you have been in a consulting role, is there anything that you wish you had done differently at Penn that would have been helpful to you today?

I definitely wish I had done more networking.  Looking back, I think I had a very limited understanding.  It could have been quite different if I had more perspective from current consultants. [Consultant from ZS Associates]

More networking with my professors! I would have spent more time getting to know my colleagues professional connections and aspirations. But, in college (undergraduate or graduate) you must have some fun too. [Consultant from Deloitte]

I would have taken more leadership roles and applied for summer internship positions (if opportunity allows). I think having that leadership skill is not only beneficial for a consulting role, but also goes a long way for your future career. Penn, especially for PhD programs, provides a good platform for students who want to take on leadership positions. For Bioengineering, we have GABE (the graduate association of bioengineering), and people can easily sit on board if they want to. [Consultant from PriceSpective]

I wish that I would have taken more advantage of Wharton evening classes - even if I was just auditing them. [Consultant from L.E.K. Consulting]

No. Penn provided me with multiple consulting opportunities, such as Penn Biotech Group to practice consulting with peers; Penn also provided me with strong exposure to various industries through info sessions, employer booths, career fairs; Penn also has a strong support staff in Career Services that helped support my search for a good industry fit for me while also helping me with logistics, such as resume, interviews, etc. [Consultant from L.E.K. Consulting]

Skill-wise at my current job, there isn't much I can identify.  However, and I imagine this pertains to a lot of post-graduate students, I would have liked to have published more simply because having more publications under your belt will eternally be beneficial.  Consulting also offers a much more limited opportunity to earn additional publications. [Consultant from ClearView Healthcare Partners]

I only wish I had had more fun. Focus less on schoolwork and more on social life. There is plenty of time for learning on the job. I have realized that you learn more useful knowledge from your peers than you do in a classroom anyway. Having said that, knowing how to use analytical tools (e.g., Microsoft Excel/Access, R) is extremely beneficial and those who are adept at using them generally get more sleep than those who aren't. [Consultant from McKinsey & Company]

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Based on your own perspective, and from working closely with your colleagues, what type of person makes a successful consultant? 

  • Team players: You're always working in teams, so being able to contribute to the team, but also recognizing that others have good contributions as well; knowing which members to leverage for different tasks and content
  • Fast learners: Projects have deadlines and you will not have multiple days / months to learn about a new market or new technology / product / drug; one must be able to quickly extract the most important characteristics / trends / landscape and start running with it and to function proficiently
  • Efficient workers with fast turnaround with attention to details: Deadlines are pressing and it is highly valued that a team member can turn around their work / tasks in an efficient manner; overly perfectionist or procrastination that causes a delay in your workstream and in turn creates a bottleneck for your team is unacceptable
  • Working with what you have: This will never be like academic research where you have multiple samples with a statistically significant N. It's important for one to be able to not "boil the ocean" for the answer and able to take 60-80% of the information and triangulate the rest to come up with a good conclusion. Academia often will accept answers that give error bars or a range. But often, this job requires you to answer "Yes" or "No", and although that makes many scientists cringe because the answer "it depends" often comes up, one must be able to take the limited information gathered, prioritize important / significant information and draw a conclusion that gives a firm recommendation to the clients. [Consultant from L.E.K. Consulting]

A true interest in the questions and issues at hand (late nights are hard without it) and really strong analytical skills packaged in a confident person.  Consulting isn't a cozy corporate world, you are constantly externally-facing and it's important to be able to quickly build relationships and trust.  You need good communication and inter-personal skills to succeed. [Consultant from ZS Associates]

Someone that welcomes and enjoys solving difficult problems and that tends to have an extremely high work ethic. We look for people that want a lot of responsibility.  It's also just as important to have a positive and interactive personality due to the teamwork-based model of consulting work. [Consultant from ClearView Healthcare Partners]

Motivated, self-starters who can think critically often do well. But, equally important, you have to be willing to get your hands dirty and really dive into the data to extract the key insights. [Consultant from L.E.K. Consulting]

People who can think independently, has good problem solving and strong interpersonal skills, and also hard-working. [Consultant from PriceSpective]

A person who shows poise and confidence under pressure, a person who loves a good challenge, and a person who thrives on learning. [Consultant from McKinsey & Company]

Consultants must be flexible, inquisitive, and hard working. While having a solid base in government administration has helped me understand the political aspect of my client's working environment, most of the skills have been learned on the job. I use the knowledge of my network daily and my interpersonal / soft-skills constantly.  Negotiation and appropriate questioning are invaluable. [Consultant from Deloitte]

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What skill, knowledge, or resource do you use most often in your current role?

Negotiation / conversational skills: the ability to extract necessary information from a source, organization, stakeholder in a concise manner, but also in a accurate and precise manner, i.e., you get the exact answer to the exact question you are asking, and not tangential answers that skim the surface or circle on the periphery of the answer / question. [Consultant from L.E.K. Consulting]

The number one skill of a good consultant is knowing how to bring in the right expertise at the right time. So, it doesn't matter how much (or how little) I know as long as I am able to leverage my network appropriately. [Consultant from McKinsey & Company]

Problem solving, teamwork, pulling information out of people, creating cohesive solutions and stories, and presenting. [Consultant from ClearView Healthcare Partners]

Networking – within my company and across my clients.  You learn most from having access to different and unique perspectives. [Consultant from ZS Associates]

Consultants must be flexible, inquisitive, and hard working. While having a solid base in government administration has helped me understand the political aspect of my client's working environment, most of the skills have been learned on the job. I use the knowledge of my network daily and my interpersonal / soft-skills constantly.  Negotiation and appropriate questioning are invaluable. [Consultant from Deloitte]

My extremely talented and brilliant colleagues! [Consultant from L.E.K. Consulting]

I often read analyst reports, such as DataMonitor reports, and also pubmed articles (this is because my clients are pharmaceutical companies and I often refer to journal articles to "get smart" in the disease area). [Consultant from PriceSpective]

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