Interviews at Consulting Firms

March 18, 2019

Consulting as a general label can feel very vague, especially given that it is a huge and diverse industry. There are many different types of consulting firms and areas of practice within one firm. Some management consulting firms specialize in giving advice on business strategy and operations (downsizing, acquisitions, restructuring) while others are known for their expertise in specific industries like technology.

No matter the firm or the focus area though, consulting firms mainly run on their people and the intellectual capital they possess. Consultants are branded as smart problem-solvers who are expected to deliver results and firms look for candidates with these skills:

Top 5 Consulting Skills

  1. Analytical skills with a keen problem-solving ability
  2. Interpersonal skills and an ability to work well on a team
  3. Strong communication skills – both oral and written – especially presentation skills
  4. Creativity with a leaning toward an entrepreneurial spirit
  5. Ability to cope with pressure while maintaining flexibility

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How These Skills Are Tested in Interviews
Most consulting firms have a standardized and rigid interview process which consists of several stages for an applicant. Generally, you can anticipate an initial phone screen and multiple rounds of in-person interviews, where there will be two areas of focus: case interview and behavioral/fit interview.

Phone Interview – A preliminary phone screen is usually a half-hour conversation with either an HR representative or a consultant/partner. Expect a mix of standard interview and behavioral questions. Sample questions could include:

  • Tell me about yourself.
  • Walk me through your resume.
  • Why Firm X?
  • Why City Y?
  • Why consulting?

Behavioral/Personal Fit Interview – Don’t minimize the importance of your answers during this portion of the interview. You are often being evaluated for your fit with a particular team as well as the overall culture of the firm. Many firms report using the “airplane test”. This is when the manager will ask themselves, “In addition to having the qualifications and technical skills to do the job well, would I want to be stuck on an airplane or in an airport with this person?” Sample questions could include:

  • Tell me about a time when you exhibited leadership.
  • Give me an example of a time when you solved a problem creatively.
  • What is your greatest accomplishment to date?
  • What role do you normally assume within a group/team?
  • Tell me about a mistake that you made recently.
  • What is the last book you read for fun?

Case Interview – This is often an interviewee’s most dreaded part of a consulting interview, but it needn’t be if you remember that there is often no right or wrong answer. In a case interview, the interviewer will present you with an open-ended business problem or issue and ask you to discuss it or solve the problem.

There are two types of case interview methods:

  1. ‘Go With the Flow’ Cases (most common) – Your job is to ask the interviewer logical questions that will enable you to make a suitable recommendation. You are driving the discussion.
  2. Command and Control Cases – The interviewer guides the discussion and the case has a lot of quantitative work and brainstorming components.

Cases can cover any number of topics. It will be important for you to answer using a framework. Familiarize yourself with common frameworks; many samples can be found in books like “Case in Point” or “Crack the Case” as well as fee-based websites like AcetheCase.com. For case interviews, remember to ask questions and clarify any of your assumptions. It is extremely important to externalize your internal thought process as you lay out your strategy for answering the question at hand.

 

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So, What’s a Detail?

March 4, 2019

Post written by Sandra Bonne-Année, former postdoc at NIAID and current detailee at OITE.

If definitions like ‘an individual fact or item, a minor decorative feature, or a meticulous cleaning of a motor vehicle’ come to mind when you hear the word “detail”, you are certainly not alone. As a postdoctoral fellow at NIH, I had a vague understanding of what a detail was and no real understanding of when or how to secure one. The “detail” is a chance to volunteer in another work-space to gain skills and exposure to careers.

Entering the final year of my fellowship, I had reached a point of utter frustration with my research projects, dismay with my job search and confusion about my career path. In commiserating with other fellows during informational interviews, I would be asked, “Why don’t you do a detail?” However, the particulars on where I would find such a position were always left out. I began researching detail opportunities and after several emails and a few interviews I found myself no closer to securing a position.

So, I decided to ask for help on the matter and in doing so I landed my detail in the Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE). I know it sounds a bit serendipitous. It certainly felt that way, but what I found was a person who recognized that my interest in science education and outreach aligned with the work being done in her office. She could also see that I could benefit from the experience of working outside a laboratory setting. While my experience might not be the norm, many postdocs are able to secure detail opportunities simply by doing informational interviews with offices of interest. Don’t be afraid to ask what opportunities might be available within an office.

How do you go about finding a detail experience of your own? The first thing I’ll say is there is no one way to land a detail and no two experiences are the same. Keep in mind a detail experience can be created for you given of course that your interest and the circumstances align. Lastly, detail opportunities can also arise through job openings depending on the needs of the hiring office, your enthusiasm and qualifications. Details can be full or part time experiences, in which the later may encompass a hybrid of research and office time. When negotiating a detail opportunity, try to maintain an open line of communication between your detail supervisor and your PI, whenever possible. This is particularly important for a smooth transition or when crafting a schedule that includes both research and office time.

Explore the OITE Job Board or the Office of Human Resources for more information on detail opportunities at the NIH. The Office of Human Resources website includes opportunities for various levels so be sure to select opportunities that fit your experience level.

So, whether you’re interested in pursuing a different career path or feeling like it’s time to move away from the bench entirely, a detail may be the perfect experience for you to immerse yourself in a new environment and learn new skills. For me, once I was separated from the bench, I was able to spend more time working on myself by implementing more wellness and stress management techniques. By virtue of my detail office, it afforded me more time to devote to working with an OITE Career Counselor and enroll in a Job Search Group that allowed me to work on self-assessments, job search material and creating a realistic plan for my next job search. The experience also allowed me to take on new responsibilities, learning new skills and rediscovering things about myself that I had long forgotten. Ultimately, stepping away from the bench allowed me to rediscover my passion for research and what drives me as a scientist.


Core Competencies & Blog Resources

January 14, 2019

There are four groups of skills that all trainees need to have to help ensure success in their careers. These skills are not only beneficial for success if your current role, but are vital skills to continue to develop in order to excel in future career paths. Below are descriptions of these skills sets and a listing of blog posts on each topic. Check out the posts to delve a bit further into each subject area.

Core competencies include:

COMMUNICATION
We communicate with people everyday:  writing papers, sending emails, giving presentations, or discussing ideas in meetings.  In almost every job, the ability to share thoughts and ideas clearly with others is a necessary competency.

Blog Posts to Check Out:
Difficult Work Conversations
Negotiating Across Cultures
Interviewing with Confidence
Improving Your Writing Skills
Public Speaking for Introverts

CAREER READINESS & EXPLORATION
Starting your career search requires a strong set of skills:  From preparing for job interviews and writing cover letters, to networking and using social media for finding jobs or opportunities for collaborations.

Blog Posts to Check Out:
Best Practices for Resume Writing
Guide to Cover Letters
Five Most Common Networking Excuses
How I Overcame My Fear of Informational Interviewing
Career Options Series

LEADERSHIP & MANAGEMENT
Any position that requires managing people requires effective teamwork skills.  Are you the president of your student group, or supervising others in your lab?  Then you need leadership skills.  Not only do we need strong people management skills, but you also need project management skills, such as being able to set realistic milestones for your research or thesis, and then hitting those deadlines.

Blog Posts to Check Out:
Good Mentoring Guidelines
Identifying Mentors and Getting the Most Out of Your Mentoring Relationships
Manage Your Time with a Tomato
A Tool for Feedback: Situation, Behavior, Impact
There Aren’t Enough Hours in the Day – Time Management Tips

TEACHING & MENTORING
Teaching and mentoring skills help us share knowledge with others, and go beyond the classroom setting.  More experienced employees often share knowledge and information with newer ones, which helps the entire team or organization be more effective.

Blog Posts to Check Out:
Tomorrow’s Professors: Preparing for the Academic Job Market
Getting a Faculty Job, Revisited
Managing Mentoring Relationships – Tips of Mentors and Mentees
Writing the Teaching Statement
Basic Overview: The US Academic System


New Year – New Career?

January 1, 2019

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According to this article, fewer people are making new year’s resolutions to exercise or lose weight. More people (37%, up from 6% in 2018) are focusing on saving money. Others seem to be resolving to make new friends (11%), get a new job (12%), and find love (7%).

If you are among the 12% looking for a new job this new year, here are some career resolutions that can help you stay on track.

  1. Resolve to be more accountable by joining a job search group.
    If you want to make a change in your professional domain, you should start by making SMART resolutions. SMART is an acronym used to describe goals as :

    S
     = Specific
    M = Measurable
    A = Attainable
    R = Realistic
    T = Time-bound

    Many resolutions are too vague and don’t put in the accountability often needed for success. For example, often individuals find that having a workout buddy can help them actually get to the gym because there is now an external source of accountability. If you think you would benefit from having an external support group and you are at the NIH, consider applying for the 2019 Job Search Work Team. This support group will meet weekly for a month in order to promote career-oriented action steps among members. For more details, see the online application here: https://www.training.nih.gov/sas/_20/1558/

    If you are outside the NIH, consider creating one of your own with friends/colleagues. This could be a great way to kick start your new year and stay on track!

  2. Resolve to do one thing.
    This seems like a manageable resolution, right? Too often, people make too many resolutions and then become overwhelmed about where to start. Choose just one thing and follow through. If you need some ideas on what that one thing should be, check out our monthly calendar of suggestions here. Whether it is speaking with your PI about your career or making an appointment with an OITE career counselor, choose one thing and do it.

  3. Commit to your own wellness.
    Job searches and transitions are rife with stress. Not only are you trying to continue to be successful in your current role, but you are actively searching for the next best step for yourself. It can be a struggle to feel calm and centered when your schedule feels chaotic. Try to build activities into your daily routine which can help, whether that is arriving at work a bit earlier to get through emails or spending some time at lunch meditating. If you are at the NIH, there are many resources and activities that focus on wellness. You can see the full listing here.

Designing Your Life

November 27, 2018

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Many of us struggle when it comes to making big life decisions, in part because of a black and white framework that permeates our decision-making mentality.  Have you ever wondered how one decision can lead you down an entirely different life path? Whether it is choosing a city, a job, or even a college major, your decisions add up to help determine your overall trajectory.  Accepting one job offer could lead to satisfaction and success; the other could lead to dissatisfaction and failure.  It’s anyone’s guess as to which is which.

Stanford professors, Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, wrote book called “Designing Your Life” which attempts to apply design thinking to life decisions. They created an “Odyssey Plan” which encourages individuals to map out a variety of different options. The authors believe that we all contain multitudes. Each of us has enough energy and talent to live many different types of lives; all of which could be interesting and productive.

The goal is to realize that there are many different careers and options for you – none of them necessarily better or worse than the other. Here’s how to start:

  1. List three different five-year plans
    Remember there is no right or wrong choice here. Your first plan could be your current life. Your second plan could be something that you have always dreamed about doing. Your third plan could be a practical back-up to your current life, if for some reason you lost your job or some other life event happened.
  2. Give each plan a six-word title and write down three questions about each version of your life.
    The questions are intended to be though-provoking for you, such as: “Would I like owning my own business?” “If I own an art studio in Brooklyn, would I miss living in the Midwest?” “Do I want all the student loans that come with medical school?”
  3. Rank each life plan
    Consider the resources you have to put this plan into place as well as your confidence level about whether you would really like it. The final scales asks you about “coherence” and how much sense this makes overall.

The authors recommend sharing your plans with close family and friends, not necessarily so they can critique each plan, but so that they can reflect and ask you questions. It might even be a shared group activity that they partake in as well.

To start designing your own life options, check out their online worksheet here: http://designingyour.life/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/DYL-Odyssey-Planning-Worksheet-v21.pdf


Advice on Getting Advice

November 13, 2018

clem-onojeghuo-381193-unsplashPeople tend to have a lot of varying opinions — on every topic possible. Just imagine how many different responses you could get when asking what flavor of ice cream you should order or what type of car you should buy. Everyone has their own unique preferences and often their distinct experiences have helped shape their opinions on these topics.

The same is true for advice about career and life choices.

This sounds like common sense, right? However, it is often surprising how many trainees will make major life decisions based on one PI’s opinion or another mentor’s passing advice. At OITE, we often hear trainees say they received conflicting advice/input and need guidance on how to proceed. Here are some basic principles to keep in mind when receiving advice.

Understand that advice should help you to make a decision, not tell you what your decision should be. This is a crucial distinction. Most well-trained career counselors will not share their opinion on what you should do with your life and career; rather, they often ask open-ended questions to help get you thinking about your options and what your preferences might be. The goal in career counseling is to help you develop new ideas and/or to share resources that might eventually help you have that lightbulb moment of clarity.

With that said, advisors, mentors, PIs, parents, partners, and friends all will often share their advice with you. Most are well-meaning and trying to help you. But, just like product reviews on Amazon, you can’t take any one opinion too seriously, unless it really resonates with you. It is important to remember the source for the advice. Often we hear postbacs report advice they received on their medical school application from a PI who never went to medical school nor served on a medical school admission committee. The advice may or may not be sound, so it is important to verify that you are getting accurate advice from a trustworthy person.

Another common mistake alluded to about advice is the tendency to take one opinion as fact. Just like in your experiments, you want to have a broad and diverse sample to pull from as it will only help strengthen you research findings. The same is true with advice. We often recommend doing informational interviews, but are surprised when trainees rule out an entire field because of one bad informational interview. Remember that you might not have the exact same personality or work style as that person and be sure to seek multiple opinions.

Asking for advice and seeking help in making a decision or solving a problem is a great thing to do; just be sure to weigh these opinions properly and don’t let any single advice-giver have more power than you allow yourself.


International Careers

October 15, 2018

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Many people aspire to have an international career and this opportunity is no longer reserved only for career diplomats. Science, medicine, business, and education – to just name a few – are all fields that have more global career mobility than ever. Biomedical research has always had great reputation for being a very diverse and international field.

An international job search, though, can be more difficult and lengthier overall. It is challenging when you are thousands of miles away and most of your initial interviews are over Skype. Additionally, customs and etiquette around networking tend to vary widely by culture. For example, North Americans tend to feel more comfortable with the idea of networking; even more so than their western counterparts in Europe. However, many of the job search engines that you are used to, like Science, Nature, LinkedIn, and Indeed, have an international reach and can be an effective way to seek out positions abroad.

Like anything in life, there will be pros and cons to your decision to work abroad. It will likely have a large impact not only on your professional life but your personal life as well. If you are considering an international job offer, be sure to read this post “Before Accepting an International Job Offer”. A job in a new country can afford you the chance to improve your cross-cultural communication skills and competencies. Although, this learning might come because of “mistakes” you make at your new job. Rapidly replying to an email might be okay in your home country; whereas in you new country, it might be seen as rude and the proper etiquette would have been to reply in person. Other factors like how emotionally expressive and/or confrontational you are in communicating tends to vary widely by region and country. See our post on “Negotiating Across Cultures”. When accepting a job abroad, remember that there will be growing pains and moments when you don’t feel as competent as you did back at home. Having a job abroad also likely means that your job and visa (ability to live in that country) are linked. If for some reason you hate your new job and need to leave, you will have less job flexibility and it might mean heading back home.

The experience in the global market place, your increased professional network, and a chance to see life and work from another perspective is unmatched when you take a job abroad. The challenges can help build your resilience and experiencing a different way of doing reserach can open your mind up to a whole new range of possibilities — exponentially expanding your worldview.

If you are at the NIH, be sure to check out the International Opportunities Expo 2018 this week. You can find out more information about the event here, but this is an excellent chance to meet and network with science and technology representatives in order to explore research, funding, and career opportunities abroad. If this is of interest, you might also be interested in Science Voices From Home, which organizes brown bag series and different webinars on finding international opportunities. These are categorized by country and recent ones have included Brazil, Australia, India, Canada, and Sweden. If you would like to find out more about this series, you can contact OITE.