Consulting - The Fundamentals

In addition to each Alumni Career Paths panel discussion, we ask our panelists several fundamental questions about their fields so you don't have to! Use the answers they've provided below to get a quick take on whether you want to further investigate this career path, learn about the differences between roles and organizations in this field, and as a starting point for informational interviews if you want to learn more:

  1. What are the responsibilities of someone in your role?
  2. Is a postdoc required, recommended, useful, or unnecessary to enter or excel in this field?
  3. What types of experience are important to highlight in your resume and interview?
  4. What characteristics make someone good at this position?
  5. What do the typical application and interview processes entail?
  6. What possibilities do international folks have to work at your company/organization?

Consulting questions answered in March 2021 by:

Etosha McGee, CPC
Vice President, McGee and Associates, LLC

Deb Dauber, PhD, MPH
Consultant, Dauber Consulting (UCSF PhD in Chemistry and Chemical Biology, 2001)

Karen Hill, PhD
Senior Consultant, Health Management Associates (UCSF PhD in Nursing, 2014)

JD Mclaurin, PhD
Consultant, ZS (UCSF PhD in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, 2018)

Aaron Dolor, PhD
Consultant, Putnam Associates (UCSF PhD in Pharmaceutical Sciences and Pharmacogenomics, 2018)


What are the responsibilities of someone in your role?

Etosha McGee

As an independent consultant and small business owner, my responsibilities consist of direct client work, sales, and administrative responsibilities. I work on a variety of projects and not every day is exactly the same, but on any given day I can be having a sales call with a potential client, working on deliverables such as educational presentations for existing clients, or handling administrative tasks such as compiling the annual budget for my company.

 

Deb Dauber

As a self-employed, solo consultant, I am responsible for the entirety of each of my projects from start to finish. This includes: talking to clients about potential projects, designing a project with scope and costs that meet the clients’ needs and resources, doing the research/drafting the report(s), and of course any administration (reviewing/signing contracts, invoicing, etc). The bulk of my time is spent on the projects themselves and depending on the project may involve many client meetings (or none), research (primarily online), occasionally travel (though not since COVID hit), and drafting all reports. Most of my work is computer-based – I find my data on the internet through a variety of free and paid sources.

 

Karen Hill

First it is important to know that there are a range of roles and titles at Health Management Associates: Principal, Consultant, Associate, and others. As a Senior Consultant for a national consulting firm that operates primarily in publicly funded spaces, my job is to procure, participate and execute projects that advance the lives of Medicaid, Medicare and vulnerable populations. However, there is wide latitude and freedom in projects and work, i.e. business and opportunities that I can bring into the firm.

 

JD Mclaurin

  • Project delivery - Overseeing project timelines, analysis / "cracking the case", deliverable creation, internal / client meeting facilitation, and presentations
  • Client management - Day-to-day client point of contact (PoC) on project updates, internal PoC (to management/leadership) on individual client focus areas, key responsibilities, and potential project opportunities
  • Mentorship - Guiding more junior team members (Associates, Associate Consultants) on project delivery, identifying areas for growth

 

Aaron Dolor

I am responsible for leading a small team which utilizes a combination of qualitative (e.g., phone interviews) and quantitative (e.g., web surveys) research with physicians and payers along with secondary research (e.g., publications, market reports) to address strategic business questions for biopharma clients. We are involved in all aspects of the project including designing and executing the market research, analyzing the results, and synthesizing findings around client questions.


Is a postdoc required, recommended, useful, or unnecessary to enter or excel in this field?

Etosha McGee

A postdoc is not required to enter or excel in consulting but depending on your desired niche and area of consulting, a postdoc would be very useful and potentially necessary for advancement.

 

Deb Dauber

No - I have worked with many scientists who turned to consulting and I have never encountered a situation when having completed a postdoc gave someone a competitive advantage in salary, role, or non-research capabilities. I suspect my answer would be different if I were in a more technical role or worked more closely with groups doing basic research.

 

Karen Hill

A postdoc is absolutely not required. Yet, depending on the work YOU want to do engaging in additional training may advance your appeal and the number of projects you able to contribute to and/or work on.

 

JD Mclaurin

A postdoc is not required and is unnecessary to succeed in this role.

 

Aaron Dolor

Unnecessary!

The post-doc provides more scientific expertise which might not directly translate into consulting. With a PhD, regardless of postdoc experience, one enters at the same level therefore, years spent in a postdoc could be better spent moving up in consulting.


What types of experience are important to highlight in your resume and interview?

Etosha McGee

Proven results are always great to highlight when seeking a role in consulting. Stats such as dollars captured or saved for a client or as an internal employee within an organization are great to highlight. Also putting emphasis on the diverse skill set you possess. Strong technical skills coupled with soft skills are incredibly important in consulting. This can be highlighted on your resume by including any certifications you might hold, software systems you have experience with, or previous speaking engagements you have participated in.

 

Deb Dauber

When you’re applying to your first consulting position out of a Ph.D. program or postdoc, the hiring manager knows that you will need to learn the business concepts but they value you for your transferable skills. I recommend highlighting communications skills (especially translating between technical and non-technical audiences), an ability to work independently or as part of a team, comfort with large datasets as well as with pulling up and seeing the “big picture”, and any other skills that make you unique or that you are particularly good at. If you have experience leading teams or managing/training junior team members, that is always worth highlighting. I will note that I have heard complaints that “PhDs can’t pull up out of the weeds to see the big picture” so any evidence you can give to the contrary will help. (Obviously I disagree with this assessment!!)

What consulting types tend not to care about – how much you’ve published or where you’ve published. They also don’t typically care about your technical skills.

 

Karen Hill

It is important to describe a) describe your education, b) your experiences, c) abilities, d) commitment and passion and finally what you can bring to the field, how you intend to contribute and grow your business. It always helps to let people see who you are, a glimpse into your world; do you love theater, movies, hiking for example.

 

JD Mclaurin

  • Leadership
  • Collaboration / Teamwork
  • Business / Consulting / VC experience

 

Aaron Dolor

Business of science

  • Volunteer consulting
  • Tech transfer
  • Case competitions
  • VC/investing
  • Internships

Teamwork

  • Lab management
  • Student organizations

What characteristics make someone good at this position?

Etosha McGee

Being flexible and not easily ruffled is important in the consulting space. Circumstances on a project can change quickly and generally the decision maker that has engaged you as a consultant is not the individual that you work with on a daily basis. This can often result in needing to navigate a less than ideal interpersonal dynamic.

 

Deb Dauber

Consulting in general is a balancing act between giving your client what they ask for (i.e. what they think they want) and giving them what they need. A good consultant does the former while gently guiding their clients towards the latter. Strong listening skills, patience, clear communication skills, and the ability to multi-task (i.e. juggle multiple unrelated projects at once) are all really helpful.

If you’re interested in my Competitive Intelligence (CI) work, then it’s also helpful to be comfortable with ambiguity (both in the available data and in an uncertain future), be resilient to ever-changing data, and be good at pattern recognition. If you stay in biopharma and want to move towards a commercial (i.e., sales / marketing / patient access) role, CI is unusual in that your comfort with technical / scientific data will be quite helpful.

Another way to think about this question is “what are the characteristics of someone who loves this work?” In my experience, people who love consulting are innately curious people who love to learn new things and who feel the most job satisfaction when helping other people. The most common reason people leave consulting is because they are tired of sending advice off into the ether and want to be able to make business decisions directly rather than advising the decision-makers.

 

Karen Hill

You have to be able to network, sell your skills, be a self-starter, collaborate, jump in when you really don’t always know what you are doing and flexible. Finally, accept no’s when you are pitching a project.

 

JD Mclaurin

  • Willingness to try new things
  • Ability to solve unstructured problems
  • Humility / patience

 

Aaron Dolor

  • Problem solving/structuring
  • Information synthesis
  • Teamwork
  • Humility
  • Time management

What do the typical application and interview processes entail?

Etosha McGee

Because I have my own small consultancy, I don’t normally participate in a formal interview process that might apply to an internal candidate. Instead, I typically have an introductory call with the decision maker at my potential client to assess their needs and the scope of the project. Once I have a clear idea of what they are looking for, I’ll draft a formal proposal that contains project timeline, expected deliverables, and pricing. From there we negotiate what’s to be included in the final contract and proceed to a signed agreement.

 

Deb Dauber

Currently I’m a one-person company so I’ll answer this from the perspective of my last job at a big company, Genentech, and my prior job at a small consulting firm. In both of those positions, applicants would submit resumes which first went to either the internal HR staffing team (Genentech) or the hiring manager (WWMR). All resumes would be reviewed and those with the most promise would be chosen for a phone interview. Depending on the situation, there would be 1-3 phone interviews followed by in person interviews (4-10 depending on the company and the situation). Typically, there will be only one day of in-person interviews, but it’s not unusual to be asked to do a follow up quick visit or phone interview with one or two more people. If the interviews go well, the hiring manager will then call the applicant to inform them that the process is moving forward and get permission to call references and run a background check. When I was a hiring manager, I never did a reference check/background check unless I was pretty much ready to extend an offer. Finally, when all of that was done, I would call the applicant to discuss a verbal offer, do any negotiation around salary/role/hiring bonus/etc at that time, and then HR would issue a formal written offer based on what I had agreed to with the applicant.

 

Karen Hill

The process was a bit different for me. I was recruited. However, I met with VP’s, Managing Principles, and was flown to the corporate office to be interviewed with key staff. No real format very different than any job I have ever had.

Currently, the process is more formalized and there is an application, interviews, you must submit a formal business plan detailing how you bring in work and make your way-a bit of a job talk and similar to an academic role.

 

JD Mclaurin

Open positions are posted on our website

We have a standard recruitment cycle similar to other firms, but for Advanced Degree Candidates (ADCs) applications are accepted on a rolling - as-needed basis.

A step by step look at our interview process

Applicants typically go through a three-step interview process:

  • Round 0: Resume Screen with recruiter
  • Round 1: Case Interview - Behavior interview with Manager - Principal
  • Round 2: On-Site - Virtual Onsite that includes a "written case" - presentation, behavioral interview, quant case interview, project demo (likely with someone with similar background as candidate), lunch (also likely with someone with similar background as candidate)

 

Aaron Dolor

Standard consulting format consisting of:

Behavioral portion

  • Rationale for transitioning into consulting
  • Team-based conflict stories

Life science business case

  • Focus on problem structuring

What possibilities do international folks have to work at your company/organization?

Etosha McGee

There are a variety of opportunities for international professionals to work with a company such as mine. Specifically, I’ve frequently used contractors located overseas to handle technical aspects of my business that exceed my skill set such as programming or to provide subject matter expertise in an area I may not be as familiar with. While my company doesn’t sponsor work visas for international employees, many larger firms both employ international professionals in the US as well as have operations based overseas that present opportunities for international professionals with the right skill set.

 

Deb Dauber

Currently, none because I have no employees! When I was at Genentech, we regularly hired international employees as the company was open to sponsoring work visas. Only once did I hire someone who was living overseas – the relocation package took a little time to figure out, but we made it happen. We never had any international applicants at my smaller consulting firm so it’s harder to answer for that situation, but my guess is that we would have welcomed someone who was a permanent resident, but we would not have been able to cover the costs of sponsoring a work visa because we were a much smaller operation.

 

Karen Hill

Frankly, I am not sure. I do believe if the individual could bring in reliable business and/or expand work for the firm they might be interested.

 

JD Mclaurin

I'll need to follow up with our recruitment team on this question, however, my understanding is that visa sponsorship is quite limited for applicants to our US offices.

 

Aaron Dolor

Sponsorship support is available to international students.

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