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A PhD’s Guide Getting Consulting Jobs

August 1st, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

In this three-part series I’ll give you a how-to for getting an interview, preparing for it, and dazzling the interviewers once you’re across the table. These are the main topics we’ll cover:

Leaving academia and joining consulting firms is a something many PhD students (myself included) are getting interested in. Firms like McKinsey & Company, Boston Consulting Group (BCG), and Bain & Associates once hired mostly MBAs but are now branching out to hire MDs, lawyers, and PhDs.

I wanted to make a big impact with the skill I learned during my PhD. I got excited when I heard about consulting because it promises just that. In the next three parts, I’ll take you through the big lessons I learned while preparing and interviewing: How to get an interview, how to nail the case, and how to dazzle them with your experience.

Part 1: Branding Yourself and Making Making a “Wow” Resume gives you pointers to polish that scruffy science look off your C.V. and generally control your “personal brand” so that interviewers are impressed with you long before you walk in the door.

Part 2: Preparing for Your Case Interview to Get Bulletproof talks about how to approach the case and how to practice so that you can shine while others look dull. I’ll give you some simple exercises that will improve the structure and creativity of the “case” portion of your interview.

Part 3: Talking about Your Experience and Sounding like a Bad-ass covers an important and often overlooked portion of a consulting interview… talking about yourself! I know you have some amazing stories to tell. This sections shows how to make your stories say the right things about you.

Please enjoy!

Disclaimer: I recently went through the application and interview process with a top firm, came out with an offer, and signed it! In this series, I share my experience and give some ideas for people on a similar path. However, at the time of writing (July 2009), I do not have any inside information on how any company conducts their hiring. These are just my thoughts!

  1. Matt
    August 1st, 2009 at 09:51 | #1

    Hey Shawn,

    Congrats on the job! Have you applied to any other of the top-tier consulting firms?
    Looking forward to reading your next posts on the topic!


  2. September 9th, 2009 at 02:40 | #2


    Thanks for writing such an interesting article. It is not easy to take the right employee especially if we don’t have great human resource division inside our company. Special division of human resource usually required but some companies think that is not necessary thing. Trianz is a client-oriented organization that provides an integrated set of Consulting, IT and BPO solutions, each enabled by innovative and proprietary global execution models.

    Trianz firmly believes that the flawless execution of business, technology and operational initiatives is a key ingredient of business success. Their mission is to partner with business leaders, who share the belief that Execution Matters. They understand top management vision and objectives, visualize business results and translate these to the execution of strategy using relevant technology and process outsourcing.


    – Sibley

  3. HY
    June 8th, 2010 at 02:00 | #3

    Dear Shawn
    My career path is almost exactly like yours. I worked on computer vision for many years, got PhD from a top US university and then I got an irressistible offer from a financial services company. After working for 2 years for that company, I got laid off at the peak of the financial turbulence. It was a traumatizing experience. Couldn’t find any positions after that for 8 months. I was going crazy. Then I returned to my home country and I am working at the top university of my country for one tenth of what I used to make.
    I hope you won’t go through what I have gone through. It was like a nightmare.

  4. Mermoz
    September 30th, 2010 at 06:14 | #4

    Hi there,

    Mermoz from Ivory coast
    Iam thinking about going for a PhD in Canada too and when asked what is my career plan after the program i wrote consulting . The Director of the program told me that there are more opportunities in Teaching than in Consulting for a PhD.

    This answer gave me fix feeling that Iwandering whether I should continue with my project or stop it.

    Any comment?

  5. November 4th, 2010 at 09:52 | #5

    When it comes to Business Consulting, there are few things more important than going to the source of the best information. I’d like to compliment the author of this post on providing great information to the reader.

  6. loops like
    September 17th, 2011 at 16:15 | #6

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  7. October 1st, 2011 at 17:21 | #7

    You can use RocketBlocks.me to prepare for your cases – it’s an online web app that specifically helps students prepare for the cases by drilling them on the exact types of questions that come up (from structuring case problems, to doing mental math to anayzing charts)

  8. January 4th, 2012 at 18:41 | #8

    The key here is to understand the consulting firms aren’t necessarily interested in what you know, but how quickly you can learn a specific skill/concept/idea and apply it in a short time-window. Or, if you know you can’t pick something up, knowing where to go to find the answer.

    The other key thing is demonstrating that you know how to work in a team, communicate effectively and be personable. Consulting is all about team work and building both internal and customer relationships.

    It doesn’t matter as much about if you have a PhD or not to land a consulting job (unless the fields just don’t match up at all and its a big stretch); you just need to emphasize your actionable skills and your flexible personality.

    Read more at LaunchYourConsultingCareer.com

  9. January 12th, 2013 at 03:30 | #9

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  10. May 19th, 2013 at 01:02 | #10

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  11. October 6th, 2015 at 07:36 | #11

    In the first two parts of this series we discussed financial options to replace income and provide medical services if you can no longer work full-time due to disability. This final part expands further on how you can continue your career on a more limited basis dictated by the work capacity you still have.

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