Top consultancy jobs attract scientists and medics

Written by: Jonathan Moules
Published on: 15 Aug 2018

Source: Financial Times, published on 9 July 2018

When Kevin Sneader, McKinsey’s recently elected global managing partner, told the Financial Times last month that he would like the proportion of its employees who have MBAs to fall — from 37 per cent currently to “less than a third” — he was reflecting a trend for more diverse hiring across the big consultancies.

In McKinsey’s case, Mr Sneader explained, it plans to hire more people from the creative industries.

Five years ago about a third of the staff at Boston Consulting Group had MBAs, but this has fallen to less than a quarter, according to Meldon Wolfgang, managing director.

“We believe in diversity [of hiring] because we will end up with a much better set of answers for clients,” he says. “We recruit the people from industry because they have experience of manufacturing operations. They may have an MBA, but that is not the primary reason we will hire them.”

Both BCG and McKinsey run “mini-MBA” residential courses to help new hires who have not been to business school gain a quick understanding of key business terms, as well as allowing them to get to know colleagues.

One of those who has taken the two-week McKinsey course is Becky Ross, an associate partner in the consultancy’s London office, who has a bachelors degree in natural sciences from Cambridge university and a PhD in plant sciences from the University of Oxford.

“When I joined I felt I was a scientist so I didn’t know whether I would belong,” Ms Ross says. “The mini-MBA helped break down these preconceptions.”

She notes that the discipline of testing ideas in science is similar to the problem-solving methods used by consultants, adding that she has no regrets about moving away from academia. “I do not miss late nights in the lab.”

Reasons to be cheerful

Consultancies’ quest to diversify their intake need not concern MBA graduates too much, as the jobs market is growing overall.

Latest hiring data compiled by the Graduate Management Admission Council, the exam administrator, shows that 81 per cent of the consultancies interviewed plan to increase their headcount in 2018.

This makes it the highest proportion of any industry sector. The hiring outlook has improved for MBA students, with 82 per cent of consultancies interviewed planning to take on graduates this year, compared with a hiring rate of 68 per cent in 2017.

Another attraction is a change of pace. Ms Ross says that, while she spent years growing plants to get data, she can now access data constantly with which to make recommendations to clients.

“I like the culture of feedback and coaching at McKinsey,” she says. In her research career she often received very little feedback from colleagues.

Ms Ross has worked for McKinsey for nearly six years. Returning to full-time study to get an MBA might have provided a route into the company but it did not seem to be the right thing to do at that stage in her career, Ms Ross says.

Most of her current team do not have MBAs. She is one of several with doctorates or non-business masters degrees while a significant number of others have a background in the military.

For Ben Edelshain, 32, a former National Health Service doctor, securing a role at McKinsey was a way of getting the benefits of business school without the expense of an MBA education.

“I had come out of medical school knowing that I did not want to be a clinician,” he says. “I wanted to be in a position to fix the healthcare system, not be a cog in the machine.”

Mr Edelshain was introduced to a group of McKinsey consultants by his administrator in the accident and emergency unit at the University College Hospital, where they were working on a project with medical staff. He sat in on a focus group and was impressed by the way the consultants were able to get to the root cause of problems then find solutions quickly.

“They knew where to gather the facts and how to shake the problem,” Mr Edelshain says, adding that he later learnt the team was using a set of core skills taught to all McKinsey staff.

Mr Edelshain has now been working for McKinsey since the end of last year in its North Carolina offices.

He is employed as a subject expert in the healthcare analytics and delivery team, helping to develop digital ventures to improve patient engagement.

“I have always been a big-picture person, so it feels good to be able to fix things on a big scale,” he says.

The small decrease in the percentage of MBA holders in large consultancies reflects a willingness to encourage new ways into the profession. But employers are keen to stress that there are still plenty of openings for business school graduates.

Bain is this year running its largest-ever summer associate internship programme. Nearly all of the participants are MBA students, according to Keith Bevans, who leads the firm’s global consultant recruiting efforts.

Nine out of 10 of those who complete an internship with Bain are offered a job, and virtually all of them accept that offer, Mr Bevans adds.

But even these students will not be enough to meet Bain’s hiring needs. “Our growth demands that we find additional sources to add to our intake.”

Reassuringly, he adds: “We hire as many great MBAs as we can find.”

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