Interview: Yao Jiang’s Path from PhD to Consulting

Q) Can you introduce yourself to the readers please?
My name is Yao, I am a currently the co-president of APDCC at UCSD. I am a 5th PhD Student in Nanoengineering. I got my Bachelor’s Degree in Biology in China.

Q) When and how did you decide on becoming a consultant?
I know that PhD can go into consulting very early on in graduate school because I have friends who work in consulting. I started by exploring in different career center events to figure out what I want to do after grad school. I know I do not want to be academia. After seeing how professors work, I know my personality would not fit with the lifestyle. I then found out about APDCC, got involved in club events since my 3rd year. Through my involvement with the club, I have become more passionate about consulting and made friends with people who were in the club and subsequently became consultants. It became my career goal.

Q) How did you begin your preparation?
The preparation could be defined in different ways. More of my time was used to explore the profession, for over 2 years. I go to club events such as Alumni Panels, Firm Info Sessions. I get to learn about consulting and their lifestyle. I found out having a clear understanding of the profession before jumping into interview prep was very helpful.

For interview prep, I started quite late. I first started through preparing for the summer immersion programs 2020 with most of the application deadlines in April 2020. I started preparing my resume and cover letter around end of February and started case practice in March 2020 (quite late compared to many other people).

I started my preparation in COVID-19 lockdown period. As researchers who do bench works, there were not a lot of lab works to be done. I have a lot of more time to prepare for consulting. Overall, I did 15 life science cases and 25 non-life science cases. I practiced with maybe 20 different people.

With respect to the Immersion programs:

Q) What were the ‘connect’ programs that you applied to?
McKinsey Insight, Bridge to BCG, Bain ADvantage, Connect to Clearview, Link to LEK (canceled due to COVID), Propel at Clarion, CRA PhD Symposium, and IQVIA Insiders.

Q) How many and which all did you qualify for?
McKinsey Insight was rejected but I got a first round interview guaranteed from HR instead. After interviews, I got invited to Bain Advantage, Connect to ClearView, CRA PhD Symposium, Propel at Clarion.

Q) What was your experience at “Insert Immersion Program”? (What was the professional experience and office culture?)
Bain ADvantage: virtual (due to COVID), one-week remote internship with Bain, experienced a consultant’s life at Bain. I actually got staffed to a project for 1 week, and worked with several Bainies remotely. Constant updates and qualitative reseach, went to meetings, etc. Highly recommend.

Connect to ClearView: virtual (due to COVID), one full day webinar, discussion sessions on 3 projects, as well as panels talking about firm’s cultures with leadership, etc. Highly recommend.

Very good experience with both programs. Within its class (life science firm one-day webinar) Connect to ClearView was the best. Bain Advantage was the only program that let you experience the real life (good and bad side) of a consultant.

Q) How do you think the “connect” programs help you in your preparation
Bain ADvantage the last day of the program is the full-time final interview, so it helped me get an full-time offer from Bain.

Q) What would you recommend people to focus on if they want to get into the immersion programs? How much should the focus be on life-sciences, if any, and how should people prepare for that?
Make sure your resume is good, at least 3-5 people with consulting experience to look at your resume. Constantly revise because a lot of people will fail in the resume stage, not the interview itself.
Prepare for both interviewer and interviewee led interviews. Usually people do better at one style. For me, I am much better less structured and more creative casing style (interviewee led). So you need to have a strategy to focus on which style of interviews you will have advantage on. Focus on one style if you have limited time.

With respect to the full-time applications:

Q) What was your recruitment process like for the full-time role?
I got a full-time offer from Bain after participating in the ADvantage program.

Q) How did you practice for case interviews?
See above

Q) How did you practice fit interview questions?
I first generated a list of interview questions.
I am a non-native speaker of English. It is safer for me to write down my answers first. Then I asked my native speaker’s friend to proofread my answers to ensure that they were free of errors.

I only memorized the keywords instead of the whole script, otherwise the delivery will be too rigid.

Need to understand your personal strengths and highlights. They do not care about the story, they care about your characteristics you want to convey through the story.

Always prepare a self-introduction, do not make it too long and with hobbies at the end to make you more humane.

Q) What were the best and worst parts of your entire preparation process?
Best: I made friends who were also preparing for consulting jobs. Fellow PhDs with common life philosophies and became good friends.

Worst: Before you tested yourself in an actual interview, you do not really know if your prep level in a good or bad. It can raise self-doubt. Practicing case with current consultants helped.

Over all general questions:

Q) What was your experience with the different consulting firms? How many and which all firms did you apply to?
I did not submit any full-time applications because I already got a full-time offer from Bain through 7-day internship program.

Q) What were your observations about office culture in big firms vs. smaller, more boutique firms?
N/A due to COVID-19

Q) What was your experience with generalist firms vs. specialist firms?
N/A due to COVID-19

Q) Based on all your experience, what would your recommendations be for future applicants? What are the do’s and the don’ts?
Do: Accumulate your business knowledge, do it early on, it will help with case prep. Endpoint news and STAT news for Life Sciences. For generalist, read Bloomberg and Wall Street Journal. Podcast: After Hours – HBR, 3 HBS professors talking about everything. Snacks Daily – podcast from Robinhood.

Don’t: People who just start case practice, they think they are lame and suck, so they practice with people who are of the same level. Do NOT do that. Instead, you should practice with people who are much better and can teach you how to become really good. Beginners should practice with advanced level people.
Do not fit yourself to a rigid framework. Eventually, you are solving a real-world problem. Thinking it as a conversation with the interviewer to discuss on how to solve the problems.

Q) What were your biggest challenges in the whole process? What were the things you did right and what (in your opinion) did you do wrong? If you were to this again in an alternate universe but could carry the knowledge – what would you do differently?
Biggest challenge is self-doubt, we will face competitions from MIT, Harvard, etc. I worry too much about competing with people with better background. But I found out that once you pass the resume stage, it really does not matter anymore. It is purely your performance. I would not waste my energy in worrying/self-doubting.

Q) Anything else that you would like to add?
Treat a case interview like a fit interview and vice versa. Communication skill is very much tested in a case interview. Problem solving is very much test in a fit interview as well. In addition, treat the interview like a general conversation.

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