If I was no longer going to win a Nobel Prize, what on earth was I going to do with the rest of my life? I was certain after my internship that I wanted to work in consulting (and preferably with Oliver Wyman!).
It’s true: management consulting seems a far cry from cell biology, but it can certainly be just as fascinating and intellectually stimulating. And it is definitely more sociable! As with science, a lot of a consultant’s time is filled with hypothesising, researching and analysing in order to fulfil a curiosity, find an answer, or discover solutions to problems. The rest of the job involves discussing these processes and presenting these findings to the clients.
Why did you choose to do an internship?
Biology had always been a passion of mine, and I had never been very business-minded. However, I quickly learned from my degree that whilst science could satisfy my intellectual curiosity, there were many factors important for my future career that it could never fulfil. Namely, I am very short-term goal orientated, I love learning new and varied things and, most poignantly, I am a social creature. Consulting seemed to contain everything on my wish list and I wanted to test it out.
What was the application process like?
Surprisingly, the application process was very enjoyable. Once I completed the initial application and numerical/verbal reasoning tests, there was a half day of interviews at the Oliver Wyman offices in Baker Street, London, consisting of one CV interview and three case studies.
The interviews were very stimulating, if somewhat eccentric in nature (I was invited to solve the pirate’s dilemma, as seen in the film Pirates of the Caribbean). They were designed to allow you to demonstrate how you think through problems, rather than how much business knowledge you have – perfect for a self-professed business-novice like myself.
The interviewers were a mixture of junior and very senior members of the firm. Everyone made me feel relaxed, helped me work through the problems and were genuinely interested in me and what I had to say. The whole process was very quick and once the offer came through we were invited to attend an ‘offeree’ dinner, where we got the opportunity to meet our potential fellow interns and more members of the firm, as well as ask questions about the job and life working for Oliver Wyman.
What were your main duties?
An intense week of training and socialising kick started the internship. Sessions covered everything from Oliver Wyman itself to the basics of Excel; from how to log onto your laptop to the famed Friday Happy Hour. The evenings were filled with events designed to help us get to know our fellow interns and have the chance to meet as many Oliver Wyman employees as possible. It really was a great introduction to the busy and fast-paced life of a consultant as well as the very social, active and inclusive culture at the firm.
Post-training we went right into the work, each being placed on a project team. This is where each intern’s story will be unique; every team and every project was different. Some teams were very small (as mine was, with only three of us) and some were quite large (think taking over an entire floor of a client’s building!). The content ranged from the future strategy of an investment bank to the pricing and placement of items in supermarkets, or even the safety systems on oil rigs. Everyone I shared my internship with had a completely unique experience and acquired a different set of skills, which illustrated the truly varied and diverse nature of a career in consulting.
Excitingly, I was assigned to a Dublin project where I worked with a team from Zurich from
Monday to Thursday, and spent Fridays in the London office. The project was a rare and interesting intermediation between a large global custodian and the Central Bank of Ireland (CBI) which focused on risk – a hot topic in post-credit-crunch Europe. We evaluated the business plan of our client in order to best advise the CBI on how to regulate the new business.
My role included owning the ‘operations risk’ section and, being the only native English speaker, overseeing the writing of the final report. I had to know the business plan inside out as well as the relevant banking regulations. It was my job to identify and assess the potential operational risks associated with the business and to propose practical solutions that would enable the client and the CBI to monitor these risks (I promise you, it was more engaging than it sounds on paper). I then created slides to communicate this information during our presentations.
I participated in every single client meeting (including with the client CEO and the Head of the CBI) right from the word go. By the end of it, I was even contributing by asking or answering questions. This terrified me at first. And, I’ll admit, I was still pretty terrified at the end!
The learning curve was steep. But the volume and complexity of the knowledge I gained on the project was unbelievable. The sense of achievement that followed was one of the many things that made me sure I wanted to pursue a career in consulting.
Do you have any advice for someone seeking an internship?
If you’re looking for an easy ride, don’t choose consulting. Consulting, and Oliver Wyman, will push you. Push you to learn more than you thought you could, push you to take on responsibility greater than you thought you could, and push you to grow and improve faster than you thought you could. It can be intense at times, and there can be long hours. It can be frustrating or exhausting too. But it could not be more rewarding. If you want a challenging career, and one where you see yourself evolving at warp-speed (the scientist is still buried within me), then consulting is for you.
When applying for an internship I would have a long, hard think about what it is you are really looking for. Are there particular industries that catch your interest? Do you want the greatest breadth of topics? Is travel pivotal for you? Once your wish-list is a little crisper, then start researching.
Use company websites to really dig into the culture of the firm, the sorts of projects they work on, the industries they are particularly strong in, the additional perks they offer. But most importantly, head out to their events and start talking to their employees. This truly is the best way to get a feel for a firm and to get your questions answered first-hand. Ultimately, the people you meet will be the people you work with: you want to make sure you like them!
Oh, and even if you haven’t studied a business or economics degree, you can offer just as many skills and become just as good (I like to think better) of a consultant!