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From History Major to Management Consultant: One Year In

Contributed by Sydney-based Oliver Wyman Consultant Alexandra Biggs
A year and a half ago, I was furiously working on my Honours thesis in history as part of my Bachelor of Arts, navigating the complex narrative of migration and multiculturalism in Australia.
Eleven months ago, I was travelling in the Middle East, enjoying time off after university visiting mosques, synagogues and churches, as well as archaeological sites and some recreational skiing in spectacular conditions in Iran.
Ten months ago, I began working as a consultant with Oliver Wyman, a job that, in addition to my home office in Australia, has already taken me to Singapore, the Philippines, and Indonesia.
It has been an extraordinary transition from history student to management consultant and has required wrapping my head around entirely new ways of working – not to mention learning a seemingly whole new vocabulary of terminology and a never-ending multitude of acronyms!
Within two days of completing my training in Singapore, I was asked to fly to the Philippines to support a project in Manila identifying digital transformation opportunities for a major bank. Since then, I’ve covered a multitude of topics for a variety of clients, with an enormous learning curve to match.
But how did I end up in consulting in the first place?
Like many Arts students, I never knew much about the world of professional services, and until my final year at university would never have considered pursuing management consulting. During my Honours year, I was fortunate to have a research opportunity with a consulting firm open up, as well as friends and mentors who pointed me in that direction. On reflection, it seems a pretty comfortable and compatible fit: I enjoyed (and continue to enjoy) research and analysis, and liked the idea of applying these skills to tangible problem-solving scenarios.
While the basic principles of consulting were familiar and appealed to my interests, coming from a humanities background necessitated a steep learning curve: in addition to the acronyms, I’ve spent the last year building up my quantitative analytical skills and familiarising myself with new industries and sectors. To date, none of my colleagues seem to mind when I have a million questions or need to take some extra time to read up on unfamiliar areas.
Absolutely critical to the culture at Oliver Wyman are the people. I’m usually quite cynical about recruiting jargon, but there’s one thing I remember reading on the OW website as an applicant that has continued to resonate with me as being authentically true: “inspired people with interesting lives make better consultants.” All of my colleagues are both inspiring and interesting, and I have learnt so much from them in less than a year.
I think that the academic discipline you study matters far less than many think: diversity of background is part of what makes this company tick. Curiosity and drive are just as important as any undergraduate degree. In under a year with Oliver Wyman, I am now armed with knowledge and experiences of sectors and industries that I knew nothing about.
The past year has introduced me to topics and fields that were entirely foreign to me as a university student. Having learnt so much so quickly, I’m looking forward to seeing where the next couple of years will take me.
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