Wanted: Hybrid economist/ natural scientist with an integrated view on consulting

Interview with Dr. Michael Müller, Director at KPMG

Good day, Dr. Müller. What kind of company is KPMG exactly?

We are a large consulting and auditing firm with more than 170 000 employees worldwide. KPMG delivers a whole range of consulting services beyond auditing and tax counselling, services in deal advisory and within that segment also strategy, to name but a few.

You are a physicist, how did you as natural scientist get into such a company?

Ever since, I was interested to see the bigger picture and to connect a broad range of expertise and backgrounds in order to get to an integrated solution to a problem. At first I studied mathematics, physics and computer science, followed by a PhD in physics.

I started my career at Bayer in the technological section, eventually leading a business unit with 600 staff. My tasks at the time were extremely multi-faceted: technology, sales, economics. I was working on the strategy development of Bayer´s business units. During all these years, I always had a high staff responsibility and had to conduct a whole range of exit interviews in the context of the sale of a company.

“Networking is everything!”

I subsequently founded my own consulting company, which was specialised in headhunting, coaching and strategy consulting for medium-sized enterprises. By word of mouth, the business quickly took hold. Six years later, I engaged with Stratley, a consulting boutique, which was specialised in the chemical industry and managed to win the Hidden Champion Award 2012. Three years ago, Stratley was bought by KPMG, which brought me into the position as Director at KPMG.

So you managed to reach your goal and get around a lot. How did you get into contact with the companies, did it all go via “normal” job applications?

Networking is everything! At Stratley I knew the company founders, who contacted me. Others I knew from my active time at companies or from my self-employed phase. Based on that, I gained more contacts.

We often hear that multinationals in particular prefer to see very straight CVs. How do you judge yourself in this respect and what is KPMG´s take on this?

You should rather speak about a red line, which should be visible in your documents. It´s totally fine if you diverge from a straight line, if this leads to development and enrichment of your competences.

Do many scientists work at KPMG?

Within KPMG, which is essentially an accounting firm, we as strategy group do certainly take a special role. We solve economic problems, which have a technical background. This is why a technical background is relevant in our department- next to the classical training in economics. We like scientists especially because of their structured approach. Studies like Business Chemistry are very popular with us.

Do I need training in economics in order to work for you?

It´s clearly a big advantage, no doubt. We have to be able to recognise a basic economic understanding and the ability for structured problem solving when screening the applicants.

What can I do during studies or PhD research, so that I am in a good position for an application at KPMG later on?

You can take courses in economics or management at the university, these are also offered in the form of summer schools if that suits you better. Consulting firms offer such courses as well, KPMG is no exception. You have to apply to get a place and will be able to work on a realistic case study. Of course, this is also a good chance to get to know each other and to build on your network. So, apart from giving you orientation, such courses can be seen as an Assessment Centre “light”.

What about internships, do you offer these as well?

Yes, this is an interesting option. You would work on projects like any other Junior Consultant, doing research, project work and activities in the realm of business development. As long as you haven´t finished your PhD yet, you are welcome to try this route as well. Those with a PhD have to try to get in directly.

Is it difficult to obtain such an internship?

We invite about 10% of the applicants for an interview, of which a high number will eventually receive an internship. The advantage for you would be that you could go through an abbreviated interview process in case you want to apply for a full position after your internship. This gives you a very good chance to succeed.

What should applicants bear in mind when writing their applications?

Natural scientists typically have less internships and company contacts than applicants from other subjects. However, even if getting in touch is harder next to all the lab classes in science, you should nonetheless definitely try to get that done.

“In any case, we always look out for affinity with economics and consulting.”

Which value does a PhD have for the application?

A PhD as such has no advantage, as it usually means that there is a lack of consulting experience. However, there are also applicants, who manage to get some consulting experience during their PhD. In these cases, the PhD is certainly an advantage. In any case, we always look out for affinity with economics and consulting.

What about certificates? Do I have to show my lifelong training activities in that way or is it about the pure knowledge, which I can also obtain via self-study?

Certificates are of course easier to evaluate. Furthermore, it shows interest, if you have taken the effort to obtain a certificate. However, in exceptional cases, it´s also possible for the applicant to give credible proof of their self-studies and show their skills during an interview.

Which avenues can I use for my application at KPMG?

There are no secret routes to enter KPMG. Of course, networking is always helpful during application processes, in order to get information about future employers. You could ask your professor or in your network, if someone knows someone who works for KPMG. However, even if you can directly address your application to an individual at KPMG, the application will go through the normal process along with all the other applicants. I will get those applications onto my desk, which have managed to cross all other hurdles.

Thank you very much for these valuable insights into the world of consultancies.  

Written by Philipp Gramlich

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