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A physicist in a consultant role will spend most of their time working with clients, combining their data and analytics skills with business knowledge to find solutions. Typical activities include:
Critically thinking about and finding creative solutions to problems that may arise, from the product development stage all the way to finished products ready for marketing
Effectively communicating and presenting technical findings and/or business concepts to audiences with different levels of expertise
Performing data analysis and visualization
Conducting market research to determine product needs
Assessing products and performing technical evaluations
Translating technical requirements into business solutions
Developing business and marketing strategy
Frequent travel for work
Bachelors, Masters, or PhDs in physics or related fields could all potentially become consultants; great problem-solving ability and excellent verbal and written communication skills are key.
Programming skills, for example in Excel, Python, or R, and a basic understanding of business concepts like cost benefit analysis can also be helpful.
Unlike many academic positions, experience in postdoctoral appointments is not considered a prerequisite for jobs in most private sector companies.
Relevant internship experience and having industry contacts in one’s network are very helpful for getting an industry job. Excellent communication and presentation skills, as well as experience working in collaborations or teams can set candidates apart. While not required for entry level consultant positions, having some training in related fields, e.g. taking a course in accounting or business, can be attractive to employers. Programming experience in Excel, Python, or R, can also help.
To be successful in this job track, one has to be a good problem solver, be able to collaboratively work in multi-disciplinary teams and be a good communicator. Also, being flexible and willing to learn about other fields is an essential strategy for success. One defining characteristic of jobs in industry is that things move quickly; being able to work efficiently on projects and meet deadlines is key.
Some tips that can help you better prepare for a career in consulting:
Work to improve your comfort level using business jargon and improve your general business acumen. You can do so by, for example, listening to Podcasts such as “How I Built This,” or reading Harvard Business Review case studies to learn about the problems businesses face, or reading “Case-In-Point” to develop consulting skills.
Practice and improve the skills that companies value in people with a physics background, such as being a quick learner, the ability to logically break down thought processes, research skills, and working with and processing data.
Have an open mind and be prepared to learn new concepts, such as accounting, business strategy, and using business frameworks.
When applying for a private sector job, understanding the difference between a CV and a resume and being able to write a good resume are very important. For a good tutorial on the difference between CVs and resumes, and for advice on how to write a skills based resume suitable for private sector jobs, please watch our video tutorial.
There are two broad options for the career path of a consultant in a company. After working for a few years, one can choose to focus on the management path. A manager spends most of their time on project, resource and personnel management. High level management positions in companies carry among the highest salaries for physicists in the private sector. Some companies may require an MBA to progress to a manager level position.
Another path is to continue working as a technical and/or business consultant, thereby enhancing one’s skills in this job and establishing oneself as an expert both within and outside the company. A consultant may choose to pursue this path within the same company, or gain experience at different organizations to develop a wide set of skills.
An alternative to working for an organization is to become an independent consultant, contracting work with various companies on your own. This is often easier once a person has an established network and gained relevant experience in the field.
APS Webinar: How I Got a Six Figure Job in the Private Sector
APS Webinar: Making a Difference With Your Physics Degree
Bachelors, Masters, or PhD in physics/STEM field. Business training required for some jobs.
Programming expertise, business knowledge, or relevant internship.
Starting: $58K - $100K
$120K - $160K
The private sector employs about half of PhDs and about 95% of physics Bachelors. There is a broad range of consulting jobs physicists can pursue - some are more technical and require data analytics skills, while others are more focused on business and marketing strategy.