Engineers and Scientists are probably not the kind of people management consulting companies look for. But I think many of such would be highly qualified and a good fit for management consulting positions, especially where vision and strategy are needed.
What would you suggest for a scientist or an engineer to succeed in getting a job, considering that the hardest part is to even get a phone call?


I'm afraid I've got to say that many of the things that one might consider an asset, are in reality going to be a hindrance.

Rigour, consistency, reason, domain knowledge, ability to describe uncertainty, always prepared to put appropriate caveats on findings: these are all encumbrances in almost all management consulting.

What you need to cultivate is the ability to form strategy on the basis of a fairly superficial understanding of a business; and the ability to persuade people to pay you lots for you to borrow their watch and then tell them the time.

Oh, and do watch House of Lies through, end to end, a couple of times, to get a feel for it.

Having said that, there is a tiny niche in management consulting available for the skilled technician who's prepared to say no to clients who want "regular" management consulting, and only take on clients who want a thorough, rational, informed job done. There aren't many of those clients, whch is why it's a tiny niche. And it's more likely to be a boutique subject-specific consultancy. But if you find one (or found one, i.e. you are the founder), and it gets the right kind of clients, you'll be very happy (and completely exhausted much of the time), and financially very comfortable while the clients are there.

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Your most likely bet is to sell yourself as an operations management specialist. There's an entire field called Industrial Engineering, which is essentially business optimization techniques. There are many aspects of this field that you've likely covered in your coursework, such as optimization methods and probability theory. Emphasizing this in your portfolio can help land you positions in a vast array of fields, ranging from broadly-defined operations management to process engineering to personnel management.

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  • +1. Any form of Operations Research, Financial Engineering and Industrial Engineering fall into that list. – user107 Jul 9 '12 at 12:13
  • I guess the problem is to even get a call from them, since I have no background in business, and it won't be sufficient to say I believe I'm the right person for them. Do you think reading books about management consulting and mentioning them on the CV would help? – Bob Jul 9 '12 at 18:36

Looking at the current set of responses, they seem to be heavily biased. As someone having spoken to several PhDs in management consulting, let me try to clarify some of the nuances.

First, it is not true that you have to let go of rigor, but rather need to be time-sensitive. This is because the management consulting model works on an hourly-basis and therefore, while consulting on a project, your time determines your payment. Most companies, have several reasons to hire external consultants. At times for the expertise, sometimes for an external perspective, and at other times for helping them communicate capabilities and constraints to their superiors. Regardless, one thing is sure that the time-sensitive nature of the field leads to shorter project life-cycles and at times lack of implementation, which is a stark contrast from a PhD experience where the candidate is the sole worker and implementor.

Second, it is completely false that consulting firms consider PhDs as overqualified. In fact, in top-tier management consulting, advanced degree holders (PhDs) enter at the 'associate' level rather than the 'analyst' level, and generally speaking, move up faster.

Third, and logically following the last point, it is a misconception that consulting firms do not entertain advanced degree holders. In fact, the last I checked, ~10%+ of Mckinsey & Co's total employees were PhDs (as listed on their website). Further, most top management consulting firms have a special set of recruiters meant to be hiring advanced degree holders. You may find them on the company websites.

Finally, I admit that as a field, management consulting has its lows such as those mentioned in the answers thus far, but it would be naive to think that other fields (specially academia) do not have their own shortcomings. Overall, I think that the world needs more PhDs and the management consulting world needs more PhDs working to make corporations better, especially since corporations affect several aspects of our lives.

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A management consulting company once tried to recruit me (I have a PhD in computer science). They said they wanted me for my brain and they didn't care so much about my background. That said, I didn't have a PhD at the time, so maybe my brain is now spoiled.

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  • I have a PhD in ECE from an Ivy League school, and yet, noby ever called me for a phone interview... – Bob Jul 9 '12 at 18:50

Other than Sheth's answer, all the responses (including the green checkmarked one) are misleading. 25+ years out of date and written by people hypothesizing versus having experience. I recommend to any students looking into this avenue to talk to your college career center and to just read some recruiting websites (start with McKinsey).

  1. In the late 90s, McKinsey was bringing in 1/3 (real number) of US associates as APDs (alternate professional degree, non MBA). And the global percent was higher. They had a well established recruiting and training process. Other firms were slower but starting to do the same (more the top firms than the lower tiers).

  2. Even for top tier MBA students (HBS, etc.) the odds are hard to get consulting jobs, especially at premier firms. Same applies to Ph.D.s, perhaps made more difficult that they have less option to go to lower rung firms (that just bring in MBAs). Note, there's a 2012 comment about "I had a Ph.D. and no phone interview". So? Just having the union card itself is not distinctive. Most ballplayers don't get a combine invite either. It's just odds, just numbers. If you don't get it, you don't have the case interview solving analytical instinct they are looking for

  3. They're just looking for willing, trainable brains and the ability to do the work. Figure something out from a blank slate. Problem-solve, etc. Specific technical or field training is irrelevant. They will put the English major into a fab or the material scientist into a film studio in a heartbeat. After all most of the MBAs are generalists without specific industry focus also.

  4. Sameness: Job is the exact same gig as what an HBS MBA gets. Same salary and bonus. Same assignments. Same offices. Learning curve is fast so after a gig or two, there's no difference. Plus the case interview selection process has already screened for candidates with qualitative analytical ability within the Ph.D. pool.

  5. Slight differences: They do/did have a 3-week training program to give the MBAs the basic toolkit (learn some micro, learn how to do DCF and what goes into the WACC). Good deal. There's maybe a slight disadvantage in not having the MBA for some post consulting interviewing (just dependent on HR departments), but still plenty of options where they just look at people post consulting, not worrying about the MBA. Also, maybe the MBA students sort of "want it more" as their dream job. That was Marvin Bower's observation. One other small difference is that most MBAs have pre-MBA working experience (often at the sort of client you serve) so at least they've had a "real job". Plus, you can consider the argument that it's a waste of a Ph.D. (the actual subject matter technical training). And that you ought to be "curing cancer", not analyzing merger synergies.

  6. Note that consulting has its good/bad aspects, including for the MBAs. Sure, read House of Lies book. Author was a Booz associate so he'd seen the sausage get made. (He was also the popup video show producer for MTV, which explains the zany writing style.) It's an OK expose and anyone who has been there will read parts that ring true to them. But I also wouldn't assume you know what it's like from a book versus from doing it. Like all the 23 year olds who think they know what an I-bank is like because they read some Michael Lewis. If anything we need a trenchant expose of academia. It's not like it's all daisies there either...

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