PhD or Advanced Degree to Consulting

To the uninitiated, the world of management consulting can seem mysterious. It also may seem like a career choice meant for those who have majored in business administration, finance, or economics. But in fact, management consulting firms are generally not all that concerned with finding candidates with an academic background in business. In fact, moving from a PhD or Advanced Degree to consulting is a very well-respected career path in the world of top-tier management consulting. Bain, McKinsey, and BCG are looking for the best and the brightest. They want to build a talent pool of sharp problem-solving critical thinkers.

In this article, we’ll first explore why consulting firms value candidates with non-traditional backgrounds. Next, if consulting firms are aiming to expand their teams with disparate backgrounds and expertise, we’ll discuss how someone currently pursuing an advanced degree (PhD, JD, MD) of any kind can investigate some of the non-traditional paths sponsored by top-tier firms such as Bain, BCG, PwC, and McKinsey.

PhD or Advanced Degree to Consulting

Why Do Top-Tier Firms Value The PhD or Advanced Degree To Consulting Path?

Consultants with non-traditional backgrounds tend to be very good at diagnosing and defining problems. They know how to develop and test hypothetical solutions using data and advanced analytical methods. MDs, for example, tend to be particularly good at viewing problems from a “systems” perspective to see how an issue here can lead to a symptom there. In fact, assessing a sick patient can in many ways be similar to assessing a “sick” business or business model. JDs are good at defining terms and bringing transparency, clarity, and logic to a discussion of a complex situation. These types of skills are incredibly valuable in a management consulting context, where situations are multi-faceted and many different potential solutions could theoretically be explored by the team.

The Non-Traditional Paths To Consulting

If you navigate to and click on careers, you’re taken to a page that encourages you to click on one of the following buttons to be provided with information most relevant to your situation:

  • Bachelor’s candidate
  • MBA candidate
  • Master’s (non-MBA) candidate
  • MD candidate
  • JD candidate
  • PhD/DPhil candidate
  • Postdoctoral scholar
  • Working professional

Five of the eight “paths” in that list (numbers 3 through 7) are what you might call “non-traditional”. Why would Bain place so much emphasis on these nontraditional candidates? Well, a few things matter a lot to a firm like Bain, McKinsey, or BCG: intellectual horsepower and problem-solving ability, natural curiosity, and independent thinking. It just so happens that folks pursuing PhD or JDs tend to possess these traits.

Additional Skills Firms Are Looking For

Sticking with the focus on Bain’s view of non-traditional candidates, however, you’ll notice that when looking for individuals to join their core team of generalist consultants, they look for applicants who have some additional skills and attributes. Effective consulting teams must be composed of team players who are deadline driven and organized, able to multitask, have a robust analytical skill set, and possess strong verbal, written, and communication skills.

Not all PhDs scientist-types are highly effective communicators or comfortable in an environment that requires near constant teamwork, even if they are extremely intelligent and intellectually curious. That’s OK. Many non-traditional candidates do have this well-rounded skill set, and they become excellent core Bain consultants. But even if you aren’t a great fit for Bain’s core consulting team (perhaps working independently in a research setting didn’t build your teamwork skills), Bain offers other options for you.

Bain Has Two Other Groups That Are A Great Landing Spot For Non-Traditional Candidates:

Advanced Analytics – these folks are not core consulting team members, but they help clients across industries using expertise in data science, customer insights, statistics, machine learning, and data engineering.

Digital Product Team – these individuals include specialists in product management, UX/UI product design and software engineering. They help Bain’s clients execute their strategies in the digital marketplace.

We’ve focused a lot on Bain in this article, but the other top management consulting firms also clearly value non-traditional consulting backgrounds. BCG focuses on how consultants with non-traditional backgrounds help bring innovative solutions to clients.

How Do You Find Consulting Jobs As A Current MD, PhD, or JD Student?

So you have a PhD, JD, or MD, and want to pursue a career in management consulting. That’s great. You’ll learn a lot, solve problems, and build an exciting career. But where do you start? Many of the larger firms offer links on their websites with more information and information on how to apply, and that’s generally a great first step.

We’ve already provided links to Bain and BCG above. But other firms also specifically mention opportunities for folks with PhDs, MDs, or JDs. For example, LEK consulting talks about specific positions in its life sciences practice. Deloitte also clearly references advanced degree opportunities in its careers section. Do your research to discover opportunities you might be interested in.

That said, the most interesting program for PhDs, MD, or JDs, considering careers in management consulting is offered by McKinsey & Company.

What Is The McKinsey Insight Program?

The McKinsey Insight program invites students pursuing PhD or MD degrees to participate in a weekend for prospective consultants where they partner with other accomplished graduate students and active consultant mentors to experience management consulting. The program is for individuals with academic backgrounds in STEM or healthcare.

You have to apply to get accepted, and the process is very selective. In fact, McKinsey notes that many current employees applied to this program but were not accepted. They later interviewed with the firm and were offered positions. However, if you do get accepted, you are automatically guaranteed a first-round interview invite later that summer.

The weekend begins with an introduction to the dynamics of consulting, and allows McKinsey to explain why the field should be interesting to people in academia who may not have considered it previously.  Learning modules introduce McKinsey’s problem-solving approach. Attendees explore the various ways in which “big” and traditional data analysis drives the modern consulting industry.

Of course, the McKinsey Insight program involves a case study, where attendees get the invaluable experience of working with current McKinsey consultants to test skills they learn throughout the weekend. A hypothetical project is presented to the team, which is then tasked with analyzing the situation, developing a recommendation, and then preparing a written and verbal summary.

McKinsey Insight Application Process

There were some strict requirements in the last round of applications. Visit the McKinsey Insight program website for specific application guidelines. The next year’s program details should be released by the fall of the current year. To be eligible, you will need to be:

  • In a PhD or postdoc program in a STEM or healthcare-related field OR
  • Completing an MD, medical residency, internship or fellowship
  • Currently residing in the United States
  • Available to attend the entire three-day event
  • A first-time interviewee at McKinsey & Company
  • NOT enrolled in an MBA program or hold an MBA degree

You do NOT need any prior business experience and if accepted, your travel and accommodations are paid for. There is no application fee either.

The next McKinsey Insight application deadline has not yet been officially announced. However, it can be reasonably expected that the deadline will fall on the same date or a similar date as past deadlines of March 31.

How To Ace The McKinsey Insight Interview Process

The first part of standing out is to highlight everything that makes you a unique candidate in the CV / resume you submit as part of your initial application. Feel free to keep your CV / resume in an academic format as the recruiters have extensive experience reading such CVs / resumes, but be sure to include things like:

  • Relevant teamwork
  • Leadership experiences
  • Distinctive awards
  • Meaningful work experience
  • Non-academic interest

Limit your CV to 1 page in length. That generally means that you should leave out personal references, research paper summaries or copies of any journal publications.  If your CV / resume is chosen you will be invited to participate in an approximately 30-minute McKinsey Insight interview phone call. This discussion will consist of a brief fit interview and a short case interview. To learn more about case interviews, click here.

If you are selected as a finalist, make sure to at least prepare answers to basic questions regarding your interest in consulting and the McKinsey Insight program specifically. Any focus on healthcare consulting in particular could be beneficial since that is a particular focus of the program. However, previous participants stress that this interview process is generally very candid and open and focused on

a) ensuring you’d be a good fit for the McKinsey team in a broader, personality-fit sense and
b) that you can ask questions to begin to learn more about consulting an McKinsey.

What Is The McKinsey Insight Weekend Like?

If accepted, you’ll make a lot of connections during the weekend. McKinsey Insight participants generally walk away with a large number of new contacts, including both other program participants and current McKinsey employees.  If you are invited to the Insight weekend, don’t treat the experience as an extended personal job interview.  McKinsey is not evaluating you directly. It is truly about helping you learn more about the firm. Of course, stay focused and take an active role in the case study discussions, but there is no need to be competitive with your fellow participants. That can probably do more harm than good as it relates to impressing the McKinsey consultants you’ll be interacting with.

Obviously, remain professional at all times, but also be yourself. McKinsey is highly diverse and trying to act a certain way is highly unlikely to be helpful. Some McKinsey consultants may seem like “jocks” and others like true “nerds.” You can be either and have a great experience. But you should engage in your natural curiosity. Ultimately, that curiosity is what McKinsey is looking to tap in to.

Summarizing The PhD Or Advanced Degree To Consulting Path

If you have or are about to get a PhD or MD but have decided becoming a scientist, professor, or medical doctor is actually not for you, a career in management consulting can be an excellent fit. Whether that leads to a long consulting career or an eventual transition to industry, consulting can be a logical next step that builds on and leverages the skills you have been developing in academia.

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Filed Under: consulting recruiting, management consulting, Where do I Start?