The Liberal-Arts Advantage in Consulting Careers

Students connected remotely with top professionals in global consulting. The career-info session is one of many industry-focused virtual events staged throughout the academic year.

Students connected remotely with top professionals in global consulting. The career-info session is one of many industry-focused virtual events staged throughout the academic year.

Consultants make case for liberal arts

by MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson

When top business leaders struggle with significant challenges, they turn to professional-services pros for advice. So how do the advisors get to become global consultants? And what does it take to succeed and stay ahead of the curve in this demanding field?

We asked three professionals at the renowned consultancy firm McKinsey & Company. Here's what they shared, during a recent virtual career-information session at Dickinson, about their varied majors, career paths, and how to break in to this high-flying sector.

Cuttlefish to cash flow

As the analytics team leader for McKinsey's people and organizational performance practice, Scott Morello '06 researches challenges in American business and recommends tailored paths forward for his clients. Like the other two experts here, he discovered consultancy after testing the waters in another field.

Morello majored in environmental science and geology, and after graduation, he secured a research position at Mote Marine Laboratory.

Researching sea turtles and fish was rewarding, but the gears of academia moved a little too slowly for his liking, so he moved into environmental consulting and doubled down on his technical skills. Then Morello earned a Ph.D. in quantitative ecology at the University of Massachusetts. That led to his job at McKinsey, where Morello works with data scientists and subject experts to research trends relating to evolving roles and skillsets, employee performance, efficiency and attrition, and other weighty issues.

The interpersonal and written communications skills he sharpened through Dickinson's liberal-arts education help him translate findings to professionals in different roles. And because he has a broad-based educational background, he can follow the research wherever it goes.

“My clients laugh when I tell them that it’s not that different from studying shellfish in that way," Morello explained. "I’m bringing all of these components of what I learned in the past and applying it to the problem at hand. That ability to bring a diversity of education and background to any topic is a fundamental goal of a liberal-arts education, and it’s a fundamental need in this work. It’s useful to have deep experience and specialization, but no matter what you’re doing in a professional services firm, the most critical skills are the ones you build through a liberal-arts education."

Rising to the top

Bernadette McFadden Stout ’07 graduated with a degree in policy management and initially worked at AmeriCorps and as a health-policy analyst with the Institute of Medicine. It was the career she'd been dreaming of, but like Morello, she wanted to see her research implemented more quickly. So Stout pivoted—first to health-care administration, and then to McKinsey, where she found her perfect fit. Now, Stout is a partner at McKinsey’s D.C. office, managing multiple teams and working on hospital-related projects for clients across the nation. 

During the past two years, Stout has spent much of her time diving deep into medical-supply-chain issues faced by government agencies, and how they can best plan for future disruptive events. That requires exceptional analytical and research skills as well as subject expertise. It also requires leadership and high-level communications skills.

“The value liberal-arts graduates bring to this field is the ability to problem solve, think creatively and communicate our thoughts in a structured way,” explained Stout, who also serves as Dickinson's Alumni Council president. “Not everyone has that skill set. And it translates to all other professional-services firms, be they accounting, legal services or other consultancies.”

Software and supply chains

Sean Denson ’12 was an economics major with a minor in American studies. His first job out of college wasn’t his passion, so with the help of the Dickinson alumni network, he secured a job at Accenture, a major professional-services firm, where he worked with project managers on challenges in the U.S. government. Now, he’s on the commercial end of the business—negotiating software purchasing and working on supply-chain issues.

“There’s no shortage of opportunities,” he says, explaining that when COVID-19 hit, he needed to quickly negotiate software purchases so that McKinsey’s more than 30,000 employees around the world could work effectively from home. Given the serious global and national supply issues still afoot, he’s researching new ways to approach this work—and how to best prepare for the next disruptive event, whenever that may arrive. “Having this background as a liberal-arts graduate has really served me well as I jumped from different industries and to different roles."


Published January 24, 2022