Propel Careers

Event Writeup: February 19, 2013 Futures in Life Sciences:Consulting Career Paths Event by Ana Bozas 

March 5, 2013 
by Ana Bozas 

Each month Propel Careers, MassBio, and the MassBioEd organize a networking event and panel presentation to discuss a specific subset of potential careers for graduate students, medical residents, and postdoctoral fellows in the life sciences field. To see the event schedule, click here:

The topic of this month's panel talk, sponsored by MASS AWIS, was the pursuit of a career in the field of consulting. To see a picture video of the event, click here: To register for the upcoming event focusing on business development, product management and marketing roles in life sciences, click here:

The firms represented a broad spectrum of the consulting field: they ranged from small, specialized boutique life sciences-oriented firms to megalithic, large conglomerate consulting entities. The panel moderator was Rob Lowrance, Sr. Consultant/Sr. Business Analyst at Collaborative Consulting. Panel speakers included Matthew Winton, Engagement Manager at the Campbell Alliance, Emily Walsh, Principal Consultant at the Halloran Consulting Group, Inc., Jessica Yecies, Consultant at ClearView Healthcare Partners, and Bill Chiodetti, Senior Consultant at Deloitte Consulting.

For the most part, this seminar series' speakers were professionals in the early phase of their careers. The consulting profession tends to bracket a life science professional's career; there are two typical tracks: one for associates/junior consultants just starting a professional career, and one for partners/principal consultants, capping a long and successful industry career with a consultant role. For the early career immersion track, candidates start at the level of junior consultant right after a PhD/MBA or postdoctoral training period (people without graduate degrees may start at the associate level, and are usually recruited at career fairs on campus.) Though this wasn't discussed during the seminar, early career consultants typically stay in their first job for 2-5 years, and then move up the career ladder at their firm or into managerial roles within companies in the industry. For some of the insights on the consulting profession that FILS invitees have shared with the audience, please see the Question & Answer session below.

1. What is the focus of your firm?

The Halloran Consulting Group and ClearView Healthcare Partners are boutique life sciences-oriented firms, located in Boston. The Halloran Consulting Group typically focuses on client companies that are developing novel therapeutics or devices and they support clients with project management, developing quality systems and helping with the efficient running of clinical trials. ClearView Healthcare Partners is mostly a life sciences (pharmaceutical, biotechnology, some medical device industry involvement) and strategy-focused boutique firm; it provides a full spectrum of services, from due diligence to launch strategy to indication prioritization.

The Campbell Alliance and Collaborative Consulting are mid-size companies, with offices in multiple locations across the US (and Europe for Campbell Alliance.) While Campbell Alliance specializes exclusively in the life sciences sector, providing a continuum of services for the pharmaceutical, biotechnology and medical device industries, Collaborative Consulting specializes in management and Informational Technology consulting services, providing not only engineering and software expertise, but also focused services targeted at the life sciences sector, such as commercial analytics and data management services. Consultants working for this firm are technologists, with deep industry knowledge.

Finally, Deloitte Consulting is the second biggest consulting firm (after IBM) at 193,000 people (and first among the Big Four Accounting firms), with offices all over the world. Deloitte is known for its human capital, strategy & operations, technology and financial consulting service offerings, but it presents many other specialized industry services, including for the life sciences sector. In recent "local" news, Deloitte has just acquired the strategy consulting firm Monitor Group's holdings (whose headquarters were located in Cambridge.) Deloitte is a highly matrixed organization, arranged in industry verticals - consumer industrial products, healthcare and life sciences, Department of Defense contract work - and across those verticals they have specific service lines: strategy, service operations, supply chain and logistics, technology consulting and large HR management.

2. What does your day-to-day work look like?

The consulting experience is different at each company: while some consultants rarely leave the home office and only deal with clients remotely (teleconferencing) or in rare on-site visits , others spend 4 out of 5 working days traveling to the client's site , with the fifth day devoted to corporate responsibility and leadership projects (volunteering, teaching, serving on committees and networking.) Yet others manage a combination of both: i.e. embedding a senior member of their team into the client's site, so they can better observe local operations and help fine-tune the process. When candidates consider firms, they should consider what type of client engagement / working relationship the firm has, to ensure this aligns with their expectations and preferences.


3. Was there a defining moment that brought this field to your mind as a good fit for you?

Most of the panelists found their passion for consulting early in their careers: some had a PI that founded biotechnology start-ups or recommended consulting based on the student's proven ability in class, another speaker participated in consulting seminars and case study training sessions on campus, and finally another panelist discovered that she liked managing multiple projects and lab agendas during her postdoctoral training period.


4. Aside from a specific functional skill or expertise, what skills help you succeed in the consulting world?

Regardless of the company's size, the skills required to be a great consultant are the ability to communicate effectively, to mange projects and time efficiently, to have a service oriented personality, ability e network well and often and to show flexibility. Also, an important skill is the ability to take in large amounts of information in a short amount of time and to be able to distill that information to a few key points. (The famous 80/20 rule of consulting states that you need to focus on the 20% that's the most important part of your information intake and be able to skip or let go of the other "irrelevant" 80%.)

5. Give us an example of a good and a bad experience on the job

Though the life experiences and the consulting companies' focuses were different, the good versus bad project experiences were surprisingly similar for most of the panel speakers: a good project was one where the client had realistic expectations of a consultant's role in their business and could openly discuss the issues to be tackled, while a bad project usually became so only when a client proved difficult in the sense that the consultant had to justify the need to be brought in at all, or where the consultant was caught between warring factions at the client site. In terms of technical difficulty, a good project was one where it addressed the consultant's area of expertise or personal passion, while a worse-off project would be one where the general background was in a completely unfamiliar field and it happened to be one which was of no great interest to the consultant.

6. What would your advice be to people interested in joining the consulting field?

There were two types of advice for newcomers to the field: prior to choosing a future employer and career trajectory, do your research! Graduate students are very good at researching their thesis thoroughly – do the same for a potential employer: look up details on the company (company's focus and scope, size, employee types, degrees, pay, culture, business news, history, clients of the firm, interesting cases, areas of expansion for the company, areas of strength.) Figure out where you'd fit in this scheme. Here comes in handy the second type of advice: know who you are, what your "brand" is and what strong assets you bring to a potential employer. This is something you should keep an eye on not just at the beginning of a career, but throughout, as you add new skills and build an expert persona. Maximize the opportunities that come along, focus on building your career, and always have a good reason for doing projects and making decisions - build a narrative of your career. Practice your pitch and your accomplishments narrative.

7. How important has networking been to your career trajectory? All panelists agree: networking is critical to your job and your career. Three out of four panelists got their jobs through networking. Here are a few tips they shared with the audience regarding how to network effectively:

Don't just network generically, i.e. passing business cards to as many people as you can meet. Rather, make genuine connections with people; talk to them, learn about their company and job needs and think about what value you can add for those connections...

In the small-world life sciences community of Boston, people move around in the same circles, paths will cross again, future clients may be job seekers today etc. Treat everybody with courtesy and generosity.

Always use the opportunity to meet somebody new and build bridges: never ignore potential connections, even people you met on interviews for jobs you didn't take...

8. From the audience - about your company:

How do PhD's fit in? Do MBA's need a life sciences background? All five companies hire PhDs, though some will provide a training period to acquaint them with the company's policies and business models, while others expect them to hit the ground running. For MBA graduates without a life sciences background, a larger firm can be a better fit because the majority of their operations are in other fields. The boutique consulting companies either hire only life sciences graduates because that's the focus of the company and a background understanding of the material is crucial to the day-to-day work, or they hire mostly industry experts, at which point possessing an MBA straight out of school is insufficient to perform the job adequately.

Is the business jargon necessary for hiring and can it be easily acquired after joining the company? Mastering the business language is not necessary for being offered the job, but it does help both in making the points more clearly across a broad audience, as well as establishing credibility in the business world. For those who do not have some level of familiarity with common business terms, the learning curve is reasonable; specific terms get picked up quickly during the course of the first couple of months. The panelists suggest that the candidates familiarize themselves with business terminology before applying to the job, not to impress potential interviewers, but in order to gain a better understanding of the business world and the company they're targeting for employment. An effective way of accomplishing this strategy is by taking short seminars on consulting or business, and by participating in case study workshops on campus and online.

How much travel is required/expected in your area? While larger global firms tend to expect their consultants to travel quite a lot during the course of the job (an average of 4 days per week), other companies, such as the boutique life sciences consulting firms , are mostly home office-based, and a consultant can expect to travel 1-2 days per month. Some companies do not have a clearly spelled out statement on the issue of travel, as it happens on a case-by-case basis, so there it's important to either show a lot of flexibility in your scheduling needs and expectations, or to thoroughly discuss both the company's and the candidate's travel prospects during the interview process.

What the take-home message for an aspiring consultant? Do your homework before the job interview – methodically research the company's culture and needs, as well as its expectations of the candidate for the role - and, on the job, be a good communicator and very adaptable to new and unexpected situations.


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