Consulting for PhDs and Postdocs: The Basics

If you are a PhD student or postdoc considering your career options, perhaps you’ve heard someone suggest that “consulting” might be a good fit for you. But what is this “consulting” thing, anyway? And how can an advanced degree candidate or holder like you begin to explore this field?

Here are some resources that can help you understand what consulting is and whether it could be right for you.

Career Services’ Guide to Consulting for PhDs and PostDocs

This guide provides a general introduction to consulting as a career and offers links to a number of resources for doctoral students and postdocs who might want to launch their career in the field. Remember: “Consulting” can refer to a wide variety of services, in a variety of industries, for a variety of clients.  Use this resource to investigate the kind of consulting that might be your best fit.

QuakerNet and LinkedIn 

These networking resources allow you to locate Penn alumni who work in consulting, so that you can ask them questions about their experiences in field and learn more about what opportunities are available. You can also search for specific firms that interest you, and then connect with Penn alumni who work (or have worked) with those firms.

Penn Graduate Consulting Group

The purpose of this group is to serve the members of the Penn graduate and post-doctoral community who share a common interest in learning about careers in management consulting. The group hosts events such as workshops, interview prep, and an annual case competition.

PBG Healthcare Consulting (formerly Penn Biotech Group)

Of interest to those who want to gain “hands-on” experience in the healthcare consulting sector, the Penn Biotech Group is a cross-disciplinary, student-run organization focused on addressing the challenges and obstacles facing the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries today.

Information Sessions on Campus by Consulting Companies

During much of the early fall and early spring, employers present “information sessions” on campus.  If you are signed up for our email listservs or PennLink, you will receive information regarding weekly presentations through On Campus Recruiting (OCR). While OCR is only available to current students and very recent graduates, the information sessions are open to all students and postdocs served by Career Services (unless otherwise specified).


This online resource (accessed via Career Services’ subscription) lets you practice questions related to consulting using your webcam.

More Questions?

Career Services Advisors are happy to discuss your career options and plans at any stage of the process. Schedule an appointment by calling 215-898-7530, or attend our weekly walk-in hours.

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The Power of Networking

By Anne Marie Gercke

Many students who are currently seeking summer internships or full-time jobs often plop down in my office letting out a frustrated sigh. “I’ve applied to 80+ jobs and haven’t gotten ONE interview!” some have exclaimed. “Is it my cover letter? Is it my resume? What am I doing wrong?”

Believe it or not, this can be a fairly common concern for job seekers, and my first question is always the same: “Well, what type of networking have you done?” The blank stares I get in return usually give me my answer.

Networking – as intimidating and overwhelming as the act may seem – is one of the major players in the game of getting a job. Shannon Kelly wrote a nice post on networking a while back. Think you don’t know any connections in the field you’re pursuing? Sure you do. You’re at Penn! Combine that and the age of drastically expanding technology and the opportunity to network is just a click away. Three readily available databases for you are Quakernet, LinkedIn and the Penn Internship Network. All are free, and can be used to reach out to current students and alumni to conduct informational interviews and establish a web of connections in a particular field. Here is how to leverage each database:

  1. Quakernet: This is our alumni database. Use it to conduct searches using filters like industry or geographical location (among others). Each profile will include pertinent information, such as employment history and the alum’s involvement at Penn, but most importantly, the person’s contact information. You can then reach out to the alum by email, being sure to properly introduce yourself and say where you found his/her contact information, and requesting the opportunity to chat either in person, over the phone or by email about his/her professional experience since leaving Penn. Even though you would never come out and say, “So, hey, how ‘bout a job?” by establishing positive rapport, you can add the alum to your network as a potential contact in the future. That alum may also put you in contact with a colleague of his/hers, who may put you in contact with another colleague, and so forth. You get the picture.
  2. LinkedIn: LinkedIn is valuable for many reasons, but the main two are the University of Pennsylvania Alumni Network (under ‘Groups’) and the Find Alumni tool (under the ‘Connections’ tab). The Alumni Network on LinkedIn has well over 32,000 members – that’s a lot of Penn grads, which means you have a lot of connections! The ‘Find Alumni’ tool also helps you run searches using filters like location, industry, organization name, major, etc. Understanding how to navigate this site to make connections (and to possibly cross check them with Quakernet to gain more information) may seem a little challenging at first, but that’s why Career Services is here to help. Come in for a walk-in or schedule an appointment and we can help you through the whole process!
  3. Penn Internship Network: Surprisingly, I find lot of students don’t know about this database, especially those who have yet to visit Career Services. As many of you know, every year we survey Penn students and ask about summer plans. We also ask if they will be willing to be a mentor/contact for other students interested in the same or similar field. Those who check “yes” are entered into the Penn Internship Network. This database is much more simplistic than the aforementioned systems, but we provide valuable information regarding students who had internships last summer. There are many filters to narrow the search – industry, major, location, job function (the list goes on) – and as a result you can learn a lot quickly. Most important, however, is that the students in the network are typically still on campus, so you can contact them (we also provide the email address) and ask for an informational interview, as well. Students you may unknowingly pass on Locust Walk every day could be your connection to your future! Plus, gaining knowledge from your peers can be a very helpful tool to navigating your own job search.

Once you start building your professional network, applying to jobs becomes more meaningful. Instead of just submitting your application into a company’s database and feeling frustrated by waiting weeks and hearing nothing, you may leverage Quakernet to see if any current alumni work at the company and then contact them before you submit your application. “Hi, my name’s __________ and I’m a <<year>> at Penn. I’m currently seeking employment at <<company>> and will be applying for the _________ position soon. I found your information in Quakernet/LinkedIn/Penn Internship Network and saw you worked/currently work there. Do you happen to have any advice for my application?” It’s helpful to include some information about why you are applying – what excites you about the company and why you feel you are a fit – to establish that positive rapport. By connecting with people ahead of time, you improve your chance of getting noticed. Worst case scenario, the person you reach out to won’t reply; best case scenario, he/she will ask for your resume to put on the hiring manager’s desk (you would never ask for this yourself – however, if the offer does come, take it). Most likely, the contact will give some helpful advice about what may be beneficial to include in your cover letter or skills to highlight in your resume that could help move your application to the top of the pile.

Also don’t underestimate the old school form of networking: word of mouth. A few months ago, I attended a Christmas party in my hometown. I ended up chatting with a girl, Priscilla, who graduated high school with my brother – I hadn’t seen her in years. She told me she had graduated in spring 2013 from Thomas Jefferson University with a nursing degree and was still looking for a job in Philadelphia. I put my Career Services knowledge to good use and asked her questions about how she was conducting her search – when I mentioned the networking piece, she admitted she “wasn’t good at that.” I told her she was networking right then – with me! I also told her that I would put her in touch with my college roommate, now a nurse at HUP, since she’s been in the field for years and may have good advice. Once that happened, my roommate, Laura, put Priscilla in touch with her good friend, a hiring manager at Hahnemann University Hospital, and lo and behold, by mid-February Priscilla had a great job at that very hospital! After months of applying online and hearing nothing, she did a little networking and things moved in her favor in a matter of weeks. Even though every networking endeavor will not have that great of an outcome (because you will have to work for it), it does show that the process works when done right.

So start doing some research on Quakernet, LinkedIn and the Penn Internship Network if you haven’t already! Talk to your friends and family, and ask them to talk to theirs! Don’t be afraid to connect with people, because remember – you aren’t asking for help, you are asking for information, the cheapest yet most valuable job search tool out there!

As always, we are here in Career Services to help with your search process – stop in to see us!


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Breathe: The Importance of Self-Care (Revisited)

By Sharon Fleshman

For the most part, Penn is a fast-paced place and it’s easy to pick up even more speed as the finish line (whether graduation or just the end of the semester) draws near.  Slowing down enough just to reflect on the day or think a thought through to completion can be a challenge.   In anticipation of the flurry of activity associated with this time of year – final exams, papers, job search concerns, and preparation for graduation, I have reposted some of my tips for self-care.

Begin with the basics. Eat healthy food. Get sufficient exercise and sleep. Make sure you get regular physical checkups. These steps are obviously important, but often so easy to neglect.

Debrief with others and with yourself. Process your experiences from a given day by speaking with a mentor or peer and journaling your reflections. Such debriefing can allow for shared insight and the closure to put the events of the day behind you, especially if they were stressful.

Turn down the volume. If you are especially busy with interactive classes and activities which involve a lot of conversation, winding down might mean establishing a space where there is less chatter. I’ve heard some students speak of prayer, meditation, yoga, or deep breathing as ways to do this. If you are engaged in lab research or other work that requires intense focus, taking a walk on campus for a change of scenery can replenish you.

Enjoy creativity in its many forms. Whether you are on the giving end or the receiving end, creativity can have an energizing impact. Read a novel or biography and immerse yourself in someone else’s story.  Write some poetry.  Listen to music that inspires you. Learn how to knit, crochet or quilt. Take up pottery, woodwork or photography. Check out an art exhibit at a local museum.

Maintain a solid support system. Don’t hesitate to get additional help from helping professionals, such as counselors, to address stress or any other concerns. Keep in touch with family, friends, mentors, advisors and others who have your best interest at heart. Cultivating a support system is a practice that you will need to continue beyond your time at Penn.

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Tough Interview Questions: Tell Me About A Time When You Failed At Something.

By: S. David Ross, Associate Director

It’s time for another feature on tough interview questions. This time, let’s consider the popular question – tell me about a time when you failed at something. Now, technically this is not a “question” but if you encounter this statement in an interview it can be difficult to share an experience that did not end well. However, with a well-thought out response, you can make a favorable impression on your interviewer.

There are several elements to articulating a strong response to this interview “question.”  First, keep your story fairly succinct – mention relevant details, but try not to get too focused on extraneous information.  Next, choose your example wisely.  Your story should be authentic but try not to give an example that may suggest or imply you will have difficultly performing the tasks required in the job.  The “trap” to this question is just that – describing a failure that is closely related to the duties or responsibilities of the position.  Providing an example of failure that is similar to a task you may be asked to perform on the job may cause great concern for the interviewer.  I would also suggest explicitly stating that you take some level of responsibility for the failure – the more you try to blame the outcome on extraneous factors out of your control, the less likely you will make a favorable impression with your answer.  Finally, be sure to indicate what you have learned from the experience and how that has improved your skill set, approach or thought process moving forward.  This is a sign of maturity which is always a great thing.

At some point in our lives, we all fail at something.  For some people, the instinct may be to simply forget about it and it can certainly be difficult to talk about the situation at a later time.  If you are ever asked to discuss a time you have failed at something during an interview, keep the aforementioned tips in mind so you can be confident in the delivery of your answer.

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By The Book: Two New Resources for the Spring

by Michael DeAngelis, Information Resources Manager

The following resources have been added to the Career Services Library and are available for your perusal! When classes are in session, the Career Services Library is open from 9am-6pm Monday to Wednesday and 9am-5pm on Thursdays and Fridays.

freelanceStarting Your Career as a Freelance Writer (Second Edition) by Mira Allen.  From the publisher: If you’ve always dreamed of making a living as a writer, this book will take you where you want to go. Starting Your Career as a Freelance Writer, Second Edition, demystifies the process of becoming a writer and gives aspiring writers all the tools they need to become successful freelance writers, get their names in print, and start earning a healthy income from writing. Completely revised and updated, the second edition includes an entirely new section on the “online writer,” discussing how to set up your own website, whether you need a blog, how to effectively participate in social networking sites, and information on electronic publishing, POD and more. New chapters provide guidance on writing for international markets and other writing opportunities such as ghostwriting, speech-writing, technical writing, copyediting, teaching, etc. This indispensable resource walks writers through the process of developing marketable ideas and then finding appropriate markets for those ideas. It includes effective tips on how to set writing goals; make time for writing; hone research and interview techniques; create outlines and first drafts, approach editors (online and offline), and prepare and submit material. Writers will also discover the vital business issues of freelancing such as rights and contracts, plus how to manage income, expenses, and taxes. Author Moira Allen has more than 30 years experience both as a freelance writer and as an editor; her tips come from a keen understanding of what works from both sides of the desk. Whether readers are looking to support themselves as full-time freelancers or supplement an existing career, no one wanting to make money as a writer can afford to be without this book.

sorsSORS: Smithsonian Opportunities for Research and Study (2013-2014) by Eric Woodward, Director of Fellowships and Internships.  From the publisher:

The Smithsonian Opportunities for Research and Study (SORS) Guide is meant to help would-be researchers, students, fellows, interns, partnership-builders, and anybody else who is interested better navigate research and study opportunities at the Smithsonian.

SORS is divided into two sections. The first describes various internship and fellowship opportunities at the Smithsonian. The second summarizes a lot of activities and work happening at various Smithsonian units, and current interests of various Smithsonian staff – plus how to get in touch with them (see the email directory at the end). If you’re looking for a mentor, adviser, collection, or other opportunity at the Smithsonian that matches your study and/or research goals – this is a great place to start.

Furthermore, Career Services recently hosted a panel on getting internships at the Smithsonian.  You can check out advice from former interns and Smithsonian employees in the video below.

Smithsonian Internship Advice from Penn Career Services on Vimeo.

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