Three paths in consulting | Consulting on The Gateway

Three paths in consulting

Lucy Mair gets an introduction to PA Consulting Group from three graduates who've recently joined the firm

PA Consulting Group is a global consulting firm that specialises in management and IT consulting, and technology and innovation. Its work covers a range of sectors, including energy, financial services, healthcare, government, and defence and security. "We're a mid-sized firm with around 2,500 people, so when graduates join us they have a great deal of exposure to senior people at the firm and they'll be in a client-facing role as soon as they start," says graduate recruitment manager Gemma Guy. "We're also an independent, employee-owned firm, so all of our analysts have the opportunity to own company share options."

The firm is structured by sector focus and also by technical practice, and it recruits graduates into both areas. "Analysts can choose to be broad in their focus or they can decide to specialise very early on. Within the firm there's scope for movement between roles and practices, and there are international opportunities in Europe and the US," says Gemma. "We also offer more variety than most management consultancies. Our Cambridge office specialises in technology and innovation, so we have technicians and engineers helping clients to develop products and building prototypes," she adds.

The firm is increasing its intake of graduates each year, with opportunities across its practice areas. We caught up with three graduates who have recently joined the firm to find out more about the area they work in and what they've been getting up to...

Management consulting

Lauren Pye studied maths and philosophy at the University of Manchester, followed by gaining a masters in finance from LSE. After spending a year working for a technology start-up, she joined PA Consulting in June 2012.

What's your current role, and why did it appeal to you?

I'm an analyst in Strategy and Decision Sciences (SDS). In SDS we work to solve our clients' strategic and operational issues by analysing their business, developing strategies and helping them to implement change.

I was attracted to the role because it's both creative and mathematical. The strategy side of what we do involves thinking outside the box and brainstorming ideas for clients, whereas decision sciences is more analytical and involves data analysis and financial modelling.

Why did you decide to apply to PA Consulting Group?

The firm is just the right size: it's big enough to have high-profile clients and a good reputation, but small enough that you can get to know your colleagues and build strong relationships with them. I applied to other firms as well, but the recruitment process was far more personal at PA - they took the time to really get to know me, which impressed me a lot.

What are you working on at the moment?

I'm working on a project with the NHS in Manchester to develop its commercial strategy so it can compete with private sector healthcare providers. I've been involved in producing business plans to make sure the provision of services is aligned with what customers need; developing a partnering strategy to help regional bodies build profitable business relationships; and running workshops to make staff more customer-oriented.

Have you faced any challenges since joining the firm?

You're given a lot of responsibility very quickly, which was daunting at first! I was introduced to our client almost immediately and it was difficult because I didn't know much about the government's health reforms. But I was supported by the rest of my team and quickly found my feet and built a good rapport with the client.

What's the best thing about your job?

The people I work with - my team is fantastic, and across the firm everyone is supportive and willing to sit down and answer my questions, whether they're another analyst or someone senior. It's non-hierarchical, so everyone mucks in together and, although I'm new to the job, I chat to partners every day.

IT consulting

Joshua Fisher studied information technology at the University of Reading. He joined PA Consulting Group's IT practice six months ago.

What's your current role, and why did it appeal to you?

I'm an analyst in IT Delivery (ITD), which is part of the broader IT Group. ITD works collaboratively alongside customers to understand their real business need. We implement tailored solutions that help drive the customer's unique business strategy.

I always knew I wanted to work in a technology-based role when I graduated, but I didn't know what kind of job would suit me best. Consulting appealed to me because there's a huge variety of projects and clients, so your options are never limited.

Why did you decide to apply to PA Consulting Group?

I was reassured that I'd be able to pursue the roles I know I enjoy, but that I'd also have the opportunity to explore unfamiliar areas, such as project management and coding development. The firm is interested in your personal development, so it offers lots of ongoing training courses in addition to the graduate training everyone receives when they join.

What are you working on at the moment?

I've just finished a three-week project to develop an internal iPad application. The app provides an aggregated source of information for PA's Global Partner Meeting 2012. It is designed to promote discussion topics and facilitate interaction between meeting participants. I had a testing role, so it was my responsibility to make sure we met all of the client's requirements and to run test scripts to discover any bugs in the application and remedy them.

Have you faced any challenges since joining the firm?

The hardest adjustment was to working on client sites. In my position it's typical to spend 70 to 90 per cent of your time working with our clients at their offices, which means you're always working in a different place with new people. It was quite intimidating at first, but now I find it enjoyable because it keeps everything fresh and exciting.

What's the best thing about your job?

The variety of the work is what I enjoy most. In six months I've worked for a number of companies in different market sectors, and also in different roles - from project manger to developer. The ability to do something different with each project is very exciting.

Technology and Innovation

Richard Claridge gained a masters in physics from Durham University. He joined PA Consulting Group's Technology and Innovation practice in Cambridge in September 2012.

What's your current role, and why did it appeal to you?

I'm a Technology and Innovation Practice (TIP) analyst. In TIP we work on developing new technology for our clients through a combination of research, data analysis and practical work in the labs.

Above all the role appealed because it sounded like good fun! Consulting is fast-paced and there are lots of different projects to work on. I'm an experimental physicist, but I also find consulting interesting because it's not just about academic theory - you have to think commercially, too.

Why did you decide to apply to PA Consulting Group?

PA Consulting is different to most other consulting firms because it has the ability to develop and test hardware, as well as providing more conventional management and IT consulting. The firm also does a huge variety of work, from developing medical and defence technology to inventing the beer can widget. The labs in Cambridge are fantastic and full of interesting toys, from 3D printers to high-power lasers.

What are you working on at the moment?

I'm involved in a couple of projects at the moment. For one client, I'm performing mechanical tests on a new product to find out when it fails and how it fails, and then analysing the data to work out how it can be improved to reduce the rate of failure. I'm also working with another company that has developed a new product, but is having trouble getting it to work efficiently. So I'm analysing and tweaking it to improve its performance.

Have you faced any challenges since joining the firm?

It's been challenging to adapt to the working environment and the structure of the firm. At university you're told very clearly what you have to do and when by. Here, you have to use your initiative and sell yourself in order to be put onto projects. I've also learnt not to be afraid of asking questions. Regardless of how important someone is, they're always willing to help.

What's the best thing about your job?

My work is extremely cool and interesting from a technical perspective. For example, I've been experimenting with high-power lasers and considering how they can be brought into a commercial environment as a cancer treatment.

Image: Yuma Hoki (

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