There's no better way to get an idea of what a career path is like than by listening to those that work day in and day out in that field; particularly in the case of consulting, where clients’ needs and wants are uniquely diverse. Companies that utilise consultants seek different skills and backgrounds depending on their size, or whether they focus on niche markets or target wider customer bases. All of these factors create a myriad of opportunities for consultants.
To delve further in depth into the nuts and bolts of consultancy, and to get students excited for the Northern Biotech Consulting Case Competition (coming up on the 25th of June), on the 6th of May 2016 NBI invited four current and former consultants to share their experiences about their own careers in consulting. Our audience had the opportunity to hear from:
Dr Alastair Selby: Alastair has been working as a Regulatory Affairs Consultant in the Medical Device, Pharmaceutical and Biotechnology industries since leaving academia in 2012.
Dr Mark Powell: With over twenty-five years’ experience as an analytical chemist, he is currently Honorary Treasurer of the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Analytical Division leading a working group on continuing professional development.
Mr Adam Levy: As an experienced biotechnology executive, and initially a transplantation scientist within a VC-funded start-up, he led post-merger integration upon sale to Novartis, where he worked for a further 2 years before completing his MBA at INSEAD, Paris.
Dr Mike Arundale: an alumnus of Alliance Manchester Business School who joined the academic staff in December 2013 as a lecturer in Management Strategy; prior to joining Alliance MBS, he worked for nearly 20 years in management, project management and consultancy in the public, private and charitable sectors.
The speaker presentations demonstrated the diversity of skills and knowledge that each speaker had cultivated throughout his career. As a young consultant gaining traction with his recently created consultancy firm, Alastair Selby introduced the audience to the potential for an early career PhD holder to become an independent consultant. He revealed that the knowledge one acquires as a PhD researcher is of value to those who are in need of and willing to pay for such knowledge. Alastair also pointed out the importance of first gaining experience upon finishing a postgraduate degree. It is particularly beneficial to work for well-established companies at the outset in order to gain the necessary tools to become independent as well as to start forming a network of potential clients.
Mark Powell then told his story of a long career in analytical chemistry including working as a university professor for a number of years, and joining a contract research organisation at its inception before finally starting his own technical consultancy firm. In his experience as a consultant, he highlighted the importance of building rapport and engaging with the client so as to show a competent knowledge of the field in which the customer is embedded. From there, the challenge is to understand the context in which that knowledge is relevant so that it can be effectively put into practice. Dr Powell’s practical advice included: be firm about fees, don’t sell yourself short, and use all of the power of online resources for marketing, whilst not forgetting that a face-to-face approach is still highly effective in a modern world.
Mr. Adam Levy established his own company after working for a number of different consultancy firms. This experience allowed him to gain wider and more comprehensive knowledge about the clients in his sector. This familiarity proved to be pivotal to starting his own company and to defining the fit between what services he could offer and the demand in the sector. Mr Levy contended that consulting can be thought of as a route to somewhere else rather than a destination in itself, where professionals can encounter a rich learning environment and tap into valuable professional networks.
From a more technical perspective, Dr. Mike Arundale described the reasons why the relationship between a company and a consultant is generally stable: 1) because the companies look for expertise that they don’t already have, 2) companies are keen to utilise this expertise quickly, and 3) because everything is a bit political. To aid those in the process of choosing a career to go into, as well as those considering to enter consulting in particular, Dr. Arundale offered some recommended reading:
Altogether, the speakers emphasised that consulting, whether in the context of a large firm or an independent technical service, is both intellectually enriching and incredibly challenging. Being a consultant can offer handsome benefits in terms of earnings, and independent consulting in particular can provide an additional degree of work flexibility. However, these benefits come at a price; there are huge time constraints imposed by the nature of a consultant’s relationship with the client, and clients are usually in a hurry and in need of high quality information to make business decisions as soon as possible.
Another unifying point from our speakers was the importance of knowing how to properly engage with the client. Through their stories, our speakers expressed that trust-building, a focus on detail, integrity, and the ability to communicate change and identify the client’s needs (particularly those that the client isn’t even aware of) were crucial in gaining the most from a career in consulting.
Curious to know what it would be like to work as a consultant yourself? Form a team and register for the Northern Biotech Consulting Case Competition today. Participating teams will compete for a £1,000 cash prize sponsored by Adelphi and gain individual feedback from a panel of experienced judges and mentors.
You have nothing to lose!