Two junior consultants on working at PA Consulting

13 September 2019 Consultancy.uk

As the professional services industry prepares for its latest intake of new talent, two Netherlands-based consultants explain what life in the sector has done for them so far. Having both spent the last year with PA Consulting Group at the Dutch office, Maureen Xu and Machiel Hermans sat with Consultancy.uk to discuss the benefits of life at the firm.

Thanks to high employment figures and ageing populations, companies in most leading economies are competing for a shrinking talent pool, meaning workers with digital skills are in keen demand across Europe, particularly in the consulting industry. Maureen Xu is one person who has experienced this first hand, having arrived just over a year ago at PA Consulting following an extensive career in data science.

Before moving into consulting Xu spent time in data analysis roles with the Austrian Institute of Technology and the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. After more than five years as a professional in the sector, however, Xu decided the time was right for a change, and took a position with PA Consulting as a Data Science Consultant. She clearly feels she has benefitted from the shift in gears, and has become a champion of the firm in recently months, telling her LinkedIn followers last month that there was an intern intake at the firm, and people should “come join PA, you will have a lot of fun here.”

Elaborating on her post, Xu told Consultancy.uk, “I think PA is a perfect place for people who like challenge and diversity in their work. PA runs on a fast-moving pace, so I’m almost never short of excitements when I’m working on a project.”

two junior consultants on working at PA Consulting

In the year since arriving at PA, Xu has been impressed by the variety and complexity of the work on offer at the firm. During her stay with PA, she has used AI and data science to solve job-scheduling problem for a top global pharmaceutical company, applied text mining to reveal root causes for operational risk for one of the world's biggest insurance companies, and built a deep learning model that can give guidance to the best trading strategy for a Dutch pension fund.

The firm has also provided Xu with plenty of opportunities to keep learning and developing her skill-set – something essential for workers in the constantly changing digital age. Data analytics is a very fast evolving field, but PA has helped her stay on top of development in the field with both formal and informal techniques. In terms of internal learning in particular, Xu said there has been “a very good knowledge exchange scheme in PA.”

Xu expanded, “Within our data science team, we have bi-weekly community meetings where we review our work together and share stories about cutting-edge AI technologies. In addition, PA also provides opportunities of getting job-related certifications. [We also learn on the job so] I have been lucky enough to get involved in various challenging projects in different sectors where I have sharpened my skills in applying data science and data analytics to solve real-life problems.”

The best of two worlds

Another recent addition to PA’s talent pool is Machiel Hermans, a Consultant Analyst who joined the firm 18 months ago. Prior to arriving at PA, Hermans graduated cum laude from Tilburg University in Public Governance – but he actually started his career in the consulting sector as a Graduate Intern with KPMG. While PA is significantly smaller than the Big Four giant though, Hermans has also come to champion the firm as the ideal place to put down roots in the consulting sector.

“At PA, responsibilities come thick and fast. And the senior team is also keen to celebrate results and foster a positive workplace environment.”

He explained, “After doing an internship at a Big Four firm, I had chosen to work for a smaller consultancy firm with still a big international backbone since it offers the best of two worlds. On the one hand it gives the opportunity to starters to explore multiple sectors and practices easier. On the other hand, starters still benefit from international facilities, working abroad, receiving training in our Cambridge Technology Centre and gaining an international network.”

Hermans elaborated that joining a firm like PA also means that major responsibilities come thick and fast, helping new consultants quickly gain important experiences to help them progress their careers. Early in his career with PA, Hermans has been tasked with leading client teams, facilitating workshops, and independently working on deliverables. On top of this, “from day one, you are put on the client site”, something which significantly enhances the learning curve a consultant encounters with the firm, while allowing for more rewarding work, as it is “great to experience by yourself the impact you made for the client.”

Focusing primarily on clients in the public sector, Hermans has already been involved in a range of transformation projects. The biggest of these was a process transformation of a public sector client. PA was tasked with both harmonising and improving the client’s primary process, overseeing process (re-)designs, process automation and change management. After the design phase, the consulting firm also helped the client in execution by coaching around 10 implementation teams.

Hermans added that while the hard work itself is a reward, PA is also keen to celebrate results and foster a positive workplace environment. He concluded, “We work a lot on our client site and therefore it is very important to stay in close contact with our colleagues. Besides our bi-weekly drink at our office where we share best practices that we have discovered at our clients, we have regularly off sites (also with our international colleagues). And last year we went skiing with our colleagues from the Dutch office in Kirchberg!”


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