Undertaking postgraduate research means that you develop qualities including strong problem-solving skills, intellectual curiosity and a drive to achieve results.

These skills map across well to careers in consulting, where the emphasis is upon solving complex problems for clients and delivering solutions to these problems. Although business problems are more focused around the making or saving of money than academic problems tend to be, the problem-solving skills developed during postgraduate research are none-the-less transferable to commercial settings.

Consulting also requires effective research to understand client businesses, how they work and what their issues are: another task for which postgraduate research gives a useful grounding. As consulting is such a broad career area spanning different sectors, there are opportunities for PGRs from most subject areas. Whilst management and strategy consultancy are likely to recruit from a wide range of disciplines from humanities to sciences, there are also opportunities to specialise in consulting related to your subject area, for example in environmental consulting, economic consulting or life sciences consulting. There is information on different types of consultancy on the Inside Careers website.

As well as working for commercial consulting firms and services, it is not uncommon for PGRs to set up their own ‘niche’ or ‘boutique’ consultancy business either linked to their research area, or in a field for which they have a particular knowledge and passion.

Skills and qualities required for consulting

Skills and qualities that PGRs are likely to have and which are important across all disciplines of consulting include:

  • An analytical perspective 
  • Critical analysis and the ability to solve complex problems
  • Multitasking and advanced time-management skills
  • Attention to detail
  • Organisation and the ability to meet deadlines under pressure (although in consulting, these deadlines are set by the client rather than the individual)
  • Superior presentation and public speaking
  • Ability to speak as an authority/ expert and influence others
  • Coordinating with stakeholders
  • Ability to communication ideas and results across diverse audiences 

Types of consulting where PGRs’ skills are especially valuable

  • Management Consultancy: providing advice and expertise to help organisations solve issues and improve their business performance. Opportunities are often open to applicants from all academic subject areas, with many larger companies offering entry to the profession via graduate schemes. Some firms especially value PhDs and other higher degrees, such as Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and Bain & Company
  • Strategy Consulting:  reviewing an organisation’s business strategy and making recommendations for improvement or change. Some firms especially value a Masters/ PhD or event state this in their criteria, including McKinseyAT Kearney and OC&C
  • Economic Consulting: the application of economic analysis to help businesses, regulators and policy makers make effective strategic decisions. A strong background in economics or a related subject is usually required. The International Consulting Economists’ Association (ICEA) lists members' CVs on its website, which allow you to see how others have made their way into the profession
  • IT Consulting: working with businesses to develop the IT tools they need to operate effectively. Related to Technical/ Technology Consulting  which focuses of advising businesses on how best to use their technology to enhance their productivity and effectiveness. Requires an academic grounding in a STEM subject; consulting firms with significant technology consulting functions include Accenture and PwC
  • HR Consulting: Advising organisations on how to best manage, develop and recruit their workforce. People management and communication skills are important in this area
  • Engineering Consultancy
  • Life Science Consulting: helping client companies in pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, medical technology, distribution and consumer health to deliver better patient outcomes. This field of consulting especially values a PhD qualification, with a number of firms stating a PhD as a requirement in their eligibility criteria. Firms include IQVIA (Associate Consultant opportunities for Life Sciences and Business PhDs); L.E.K. (Life Sciences Specialist opportunities for PhDs and MDs) and Guidehouse
  • Environmental Consulting: advising clients on matters around the management of environmental issues, often requiring a relevant environmental science background. Companies include large organisations such as ArcadisRSK and Mott Macdonald, as well as smaller local firms like JBA.  ENDS Directory lists over 1000 top environmental consultancies
  • Niche Consulting: As well as working for a larger consultancy firm, PGRs can also use the specialist knowledge and expertise developed during their research to set up their own niche consulting businesses. Former Birmingham PGRs have set up their own consulting businesses in areas as diverse as marketing, parenting education, board game design and performing arts PR. If you have a business idea to set up your own niche consultancy, The B-Enterprising team in Careers Network run schemes and events to help you

Many job opportunities in management consultancy may not specify a postgraduate qualification as a requirement, but the skills and experience gained through undertaking postgraduate research can put you in a good position provided that you understand how to articulate your skills and value to non-academic employers.

A number of consultancy careers working for larger professional services firms can be accessed via graduate schemes, where PGRs apply and are considered alongside Bachelor’s degree candidates. For these opportunities, training is provided on-the-job and previous business experience is not compulsory. An interest in business, commercial awareness of how businesses operate and the key challenges that businesses in relevant areas face is, however, very important.

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