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What else can I do?

#1 What else can I do?
31/08/2005 03:29

I've been trying to make inroads into consulting for some time now. I've got an excellent academic record (BA, MSc, PhD) and currently working for one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the industry. I've also done some freelance work writing reports for a couple of biopharm consultancies/market research agencies. If that wasn't enough I've just signed up to do an ACCA accounting qualification in my spare time to get some financial analysis skills under my belt.

But, I haven't got a single invitation to interview with some of the consultancies that work in the life sciences market (i.e., McK, Bain, BCG, Arthur Little). Where am I going wrong?

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#2 Re: What else can I do?
31/08/2005 11:21


Hello to you all - I have been out of SAP for three yrs now but have 5 yrs of experience from PwC in MM (BW) EBP.

What are my chances of getting back into a top consultancy firm or end user and any recommendations other than PA by the sounds?

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#3 Re: What else can I do?
31/08/2005 12:17


I would having an informal chat with current employees and HR for these companies to see what skills they are looking for. You sound as though you have good skills but maybe you are not marketing yourself in the right way

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#4 Re: What else can I do?
31/08/2005 12:57


You're too much of an academic

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#5 Re: What else can I do?
31/08/2005 15:27


Nah, no such thing.... Loads of PhD's at McK, LEK, BCG, etc. It could be a question of how good the relevant universities were? Or possibly a lack of commercial experience? You would certainly need to describe your commercial experience as fully as possible in your CV. If you could get permission (perhaps they are a bit dated now and therefore less confidential?), could you enclose sections of any market reports you've written as supporting evidence? A final lingering concern would be how well you might adapt to the very different environment of a consultancy (cf. university and big pharma), which you could consider addressing directly in your covering letter. If that doesn't work, and you still want to pursue that kind of consulting, you could consider an MBA (more useful than ACCA) or a move internally to a more commercial role as a next step. Good luck.

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#6 Re: What else can I do?
31/08/2005 17:43

I've faced the "Your too much of an academic" (i.e. John Boy's remark) so many times before. And the "will you adjust to life in consulting as it's SO different to academia". Really these are not valid reasons at all, and upon closer analysis of why these 'stereotypes' and preconceptions exist, most of the people I have met who offer them fall over under the pressure of a more structured arguement which I can put forward. If by academic you mean smart, well then yes I consider myself smart.

But I also consider myself street smart and have done well in commercial positions within the pharmaceutical industry as a freelance analyst (sorry but I can't disclose the specifics of the type of work I did except to say that I have written a number of reports which are used by business development/licensing execs in all of the top Pharma companies). There are many successful consultants who come from an 'academic' background...couldn't one say that having an MBA gives you an 'academic background'? I'm just not sure what that term means, and in most cases as I said earlier those who offer it do not seem to understand this either under closer scrutiny.

There are many PhDs who succeed in consulting, there are probably those who fail also. There are also many individuals who go straight to consulting from undergrad degrees that both fail and succeed.

What I have to offer is an analytical mind that I have applied in the past (successfully) in academic science, then freelance consulting, and currently in a 'commercial' role within industry. My commitment to further training is evident, I mentioned the ACCA qualification, all I'm looking for is a challenging role to apply my ability as an analytical introspective thinker to business issues.

One last comment, how good the universitites were? I've never chosen a university because of the name or some spurious hope that being associated with Oxford/Cambridge would send me straight to a top spot at McK. Many people go to both universities and fail every year. I went to a great university in the UK and worked with some of the most talented scientists in my field and held my own. Of course these individuals tend to end up at the better academic institutions due to survivorship bias. Maybe I've got it wrong about consulting, I thought it was for the hardworking, curious, and dilligent.

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#7 Re: What else can I do?
31/08/2005 17:59


Do you think your defenciveness or long windedness might also be contributing factors to your inability to get a job ?

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#8 Re: What else can I do?
31/08/2005 18:01

Are you expecting/hoping for me to reply so we can start a back and forth round of bitching on this site? Get a life.

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#9 Re: What else can I do?
31/08/2005 18:21


I can only sympathise with you about your current situation. I cannot see why you have not been offered at least an interview. It can only be a question of whether you sell your credentials in the right manner. I did however notice that you didnt specify your university. While i respect what you say about university choice and that most firms, even if they dont overtly admit it are more interested/attracted to oxbridge, I do feel that your choice of university may be hampering your advancement. I attended UCL which i consider a top 6 university, some consider it 3rd in the country as a multi faculty university. May i ask what university you went to? Other than this i really cannot see what is stopping you. I know people, both graduates and experienced who have less experience and academic achievments than you, but are in consulting - SO ITS IS POSSIBLE! Maybe you need to apply to more firms and not just seek those big in pharma. If results improve, then you have a bone of contention to grind, if it doesnt, well im sorry to say, it must be down to your personality or background (i dont mean this in a rude way). I really do hope your luck changes. All the best!

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#10 Re: What else can I do?
31/08/2005 18:21


I see that interpersonal skills aren't one of your fortés either !!!

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#11 Re: What else can I do?
31/08/2005 18:34


You asked where you were going wrong.... If you don't like any of my (intended to be helpful) suggestions, why do YOU think you're not being invited to interviews? If it's not your experience, the way you present it on your CV, or the points you make (or don't) in the cover letter, what else could it be? It's hard to see. -- As to the Oxbridge thing (and you can pretty much include Imperial in that bracket from a recruiting perspective now), of course some of their grads fail. Just fewer, on average, than from other places, and that matters to a busy recruiter with a limited amount of interview time available to schedule. (Sorry, but that's how it often works.) So if you were at a department that excels in your field but is part of a university that maybe isn't recognised as part of the 'elite', then (if you haven't) you could mention its 5* research rating and/or the Nobel prizes, Fields/Copley/Gabor/etc. medals, and FRS's of your department and supervisor. Anything to give someone a reason to look more closely at your application. -- A final, perhaps obvious, thought: have you tried to follow up any applications to get feedback on why your application wasn't taken forward? You shouldn't get any of that "too academic" nonsense from the good firms (at least not unless it's a polite way of really saying "not commercial enough", but you seem sure that that isn't the case). HTH

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#12 Re: What else can I do?
31/08/2005 18:58


anon, I think youve perfectly hit the nail on the head. You include imperial...what about my uni, UCL ;). I cant help but feel the persons lack of wanting to state their uni speaks volumes. I think your spot on about universities etc, I dont agree with it, but it is how it appears to be in practice. I do think the person is question appears a little bitter but out of dissappointment. To they guy/girl, why not take this offline and contact RecruitGal. I did notice that most of the firms you applied to demand a covering letter, so maybe as stated already this is your weak link. I too found them hard. Ive got a consulting job and had a few offers, but didnt get one interview with those that demand covering letters...not really sure what thats means...except my covering letters stink ;)

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#13 Re: What else can I do?
31/08/2005 19:29

John P

I could not agree more with JohnBoy.

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#14 Re: What else can I do?
31/08/2005 19:38

John P

Apart from question marks that originate about an individual's analytical ability when he/she refuses to recognise that there is academic institution elitism in every country in the world in such a manner that those that attend certain institutions have a better chances in career such as consulting, I could not agree more with JohnBoy on this second point as well.

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#15 Re: What else can I do?
31/08/2005 21:58


I come from a commercial background and would consider myself 'street smart' as I've progressed through quite senior positions. Yet, I had a fantastic opportunity on a consulting project a few month ago and unfortunately it didn't work out... it was just so different from the environment I was familiar with (even though the industry content was exactly the same), and the clients were constantly judging you, testing you as they needed to make sure they got good value out of the huge amount they're paying... so I suggest to take every opportunity you have to get in front of a client and practice.

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#16 Re: What else can I do?
31/08/2005 23:08

Who are the John's in this conversation? Anyway, I went to Oxford for my undergraduate degree, then the University of Edinburgh for my MSc and PhD. During my PhD I spent time in Harvard and MIT in Boston. Following this I did post-doctoral work at Kings College London and then at Pfizer. During this time I consulted on a freelance basis to a number of niche biopharm consultancies based in the UK and US. And as I said I'm in a 'commercial' position (business analyst) at a major pharmaceutical company at the moment, with offers from two other companies in the US and France due to my 'academic' and 'commercial' credentials...oh and I was provisionally accepted at the Sloan School for an MBA which I have deferred for a year.

I'm not bitter, I was seeking some perspective from recruiters and consultants in the trenches. I appreciate the constructive criticism offered by one or two people, and only hope that the John's out there relax a little.

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#17 Re: What else can I do?
31/08/2005 23:25

Anon-it wasn't your helpful (which indeed they were) suggestions I was being critical of at all. I didn't say that in my last reply, apologies. I appreciate what you say about the university thing (my supervisor is a Royal Soc. Fellow both in Edinburgh and the UK, a unique thing actually. And he's also an advisor to the Labour Party on policies governing funding of UK research). I tend not to overemphasise these factors as I don't want to just be seen to be trying to ride these kind of coat tails. I feel that my credentials stand up well in their own right. Many of the people I work with at the company I work for, and others in similar positions, always bemoan the attitude of SOME (certainly not all) consultants who come in supposedly to help out on projects and have an air of superiority about them just because they went to Oxbridge and are working for BCG. I've experienced this a lot less with the guys/girls I've had dealings with in the US...who come from more diverse and interesting backgrounds, not just Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, Columbia MBA's (don't get me wrong these are all amazing places). Thanks for your helpful comments.

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#18 Re: What else can I do?
31/08/2005 23:27


Ah, now we are getting somewhere. I re-read your first post again just to clarify a few things and have some ideas. Firstly, congratulations on such fantastic academic achievement. Im in no doubt that you are not getting interviews because of a lack of intellectual achievement and capacity. Your universities are great, the ones you have attended. However, there are some important points i think you should consider. I mean well so dont take them offensively. Firstly, as stated your academic background is very impressive, unfortunately, this is not enough to land you an interview. Many people have good academic backgrounds, mayb not as extensive as yours but still good ones nevertheless, they may have more commercial experience too. The firms you applied for are top top firms that recruit the best, so mayb while you have commercial experience, relative to others it is not as deep. Secondly, and im making a judgement here, you seem to have spent alot of time in academia, more and more firms these days are looking for well rounded people, who have achieved outside the classroom, how do you do in this area? interests? hobbies? achievements in these? Thirdly, you have not mentioned yet why you want to go into consulting, perhaps the reasons you give in your cover letter are not attractive to the firms you want to go to. Perhaps also in your cover letter you have not shown enough knowledge about the industry. With your academic achhievement, you would be expected to come in at above analyst level, however, if your knowledge of the industry (that you demonstrate in your covering letter) is not eqvuivalent to the position, oned would expect you to be hired in then this may be a problem. More over, you state you have significant commercial experience, but i find it hard to measure this, since you have spent a considerable amount of time studying. I havent asked how old you are? Its not right or fair but some firms may discriminate i dont know. This is not a strong point but just a thought. As i previously said, why not branch out and start applying to other firms, rather than the pure strat, that also have phara/life science practices and see how you get on. I do however, feel you are unlucky, but sadly someone with your academic pedigree, should def be securing at least interviews. I think it must be down to your covering letter having weighed everything up. Why not try getting help with it, or better still review it and try and find out what it doesnt tell about you? Seek to find out what it tells about you apart from your academic achievements. These are only my ideas, you may disagree or agree. Best of luck in the future. One last point, is the level you want to enter these firms equivalent to your level of actual commercial experience? this is an important factor, as if it is not, your application would most likely be discarded straight away. Academic achievement doesnt guarantee you to join a firm at a high level. Once again, all the best

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#19 Re: What else can I do?
01/09/2005 10:28


Some fantastic advice has been offered in this thread, including the preceding post.

I'd like to just emphasise one or two small matters that have been mentioned already, specifically the need to spend a LOT of time on your covering letters; the importance of pre-empting and covering "objections" (e.g. "what business problems have you solved for your employers?"); and the need to market yourself effectively.

Take a look at, for example:


- "Brand Yourself - How to Create an Identity for a Brilliant Career” by David Andrusia and Rick Haskins. New York: Ballentine Books. 2000

- "101 Ways to Promote Yourself” by Raleigh Pinskey. New York: Avon. 1997

A final comment: In my humble opinion you've obviously got a brilliant mind.

But you're gonna have to work on how to express disagreement with others without being insulting (even when you strongly feel that they deserve to be insulted).

A consultant never, ever tells a client, colleague, critic, opponent, whatever, to piss off, not unless he/she wants to instantly develop a reputation as "not being a team player" or being "hard to get along with" -- both of which are a kiss of death for your career as consultant ...

A 180 degree career change is hard for everyone, even the brigthest. All the best.

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#20 Re: What else can I do?
01/09/2005 14:27


OK. That's a good CV, no question. Modesty is a great quality in a consultant, but you might be hiding your light a little too far under the bushel! If you presented this CV, with the usual details, and a decent cover letter to me, I'm sure I'd interview you. (I don't feel it's 'playing fair' on an open board to name the company, but if you do your research into the companies you would be attractive to, you'll find us. And you should do that research anyway - if you haven't already - as you have to be prepared for that old chestnut "Why are you applying to *us*?") Don't let the process grind you down - you should make it, with or without the time at Sloan. If it is the way you are presenting your 'creds' that's the problem, can you get the Oxford careers service to review your last few applications and give you feedback? They're not the best (just my opinion), but they do have some idea of what works and what doesn't. HTH

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#21 Re: What else can I do?
01/09/2005 15:21

anon 2

Who are the best/good careers services in your opinion?

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