How to Leverage Resources on Campus to Secure a Non-Academic Job

 January 16, 2019

Dream job signpost

It is very hard to pin down what made my application to McKinsey successful, but several resources on campus may have helped. Looking back on my process of applying for management consulting jobs, I want to emphasize the wonderful resources and opportunities on campus that we, as Duke students, can access as we begin to sketch out our career paths. Below, I've outlined some of the most important resources and offices on campus that helped me during my career exploration and job-seeking process.

Pre-application Period

Resource 1: Workshops and Drop-in sessions at the Career Center

In the spring semester, I attended several events hosted by the Career Center, covering general topics from résumé writing and job searching to informational interviews. In addition, I attended a few drop-in sessions to revise my own résumé and cover letter. Early preparation helps reduce anxiety during the job search, which can be a difficult process. If you feel overwhelmingly stressed, though, I found it extremely helpful to participate in some of the activities at Duke Wellness Center.

Resource 2: Duke Support for Interdisciplinary Graduate Networks (D-SIGN)

Thanks to D-SIGN, I founded the Riding the Belt and Road Network (2018-2019) and co-led the Global Energy Access Network (GLEAN, 2017-2018). Both opportunities helped me enhance a wide range of interpersonal skills, giving me the opportunity to lead, to take initiative, and to make a positive impact. [Editors' note: D-SIGN grants were last awarded in 2019-20.]

Image of Duke meeting

Resource 3: Professional Development Grant

With the support of Duke's Professional Development Grant, I organized a career panel of professors and researchers who have experience working both within and outside academia.  More than 20 Ph.D. students from across disciplines joined the discussion. This grant, awarded by the Graduate School, also enabled multiple lunch discussions about potential career paths with a Duke alumnus working as a consultant at McKinsey, as well as with researchers from the World Research Institute and the Millennium Challenge Corporation.

Even more campus resources, groups, and organizations

Even if you are not personally able to organize events yourself, you'll find plenty of opportunities for participation in the Careers Beyond Academia Series. At the end of the day, the impact of your interview narratives depends on your experiences. Fortunately, even if you have no formal working experience, there are many opportunities on campus to fill in that gap. In addition to the D-SIGN funding, I know candidates involved in the Duke APD Consulting Club (editors' note: this organization is now called Duke Advanced-degree Consulting Club), Graduate and Professional Student Council (editors' note: now Graduate and Professional Student Government), Emerging Leaders Institute, Duke Toastmasters Club, Duke Interdisciplinary Social Innovators, and the Office of Translation and Commercialization, among others. All of these organizations have proved extremely helpful in preparing students to interact professionally with others and cultivate professional skill sets, whether they were pursuing a career in consulting or a different field.

Post-application Period

Resource 1: Other Candidates at Duke

If I had to list one single factor that helped me the most, I would choose my face-to-face practice sessions with other candidates on campus. Once I had access to the contact information of other candidates through a workshop hosted by McKinsey on campus, I proactively reached out through email, and created a Google sheet for people to list their availability for these sessions. We later naturally formed practice partners and I met some of my best friends at Duke through this process.

As is especially true for consulting jobs, the interview process is interactive. Practicing by oneself is not effective, and practicing over Skype is not ideal either. Sometimes candidates, especially from the same institution, view other students as competitors. However, I see other candidates as comrades fighting a battle together. Once we built trust among ourselves and provided mutual constructive criticism, we made progress as a group on a daily basis. In a wonderful twist, the majority of my practice partners will now become my future colleagues.

Resource 2: Career-Counseling Appointments at the Career Center

After I was notified that I had been selected for a first-round interview, I signed up for interview practice at the Career Center. I used these 45-minute sessions to practice responding to potential behavioral questions using the STAR format. Asking the career counselor to interrupt me and force me to think quickly and react spontaneously gave me some sense of what the actual interview experience would entail. The counselors also helped structure my responses in a more effective way and suggested language revisions. As an international student, I found it especially helpful to be able to receive advice on matters relating to etiquette and protocol, even down to the clothing I wore to interviews.

Whether you are preparing for a career in consulting or considering another non-academic path, Duke provides both formal and informal opportunities to turn your job search into a communal, supportive process that will leave you feeling confident and well-practiced. By following your passions and cultivating your interests throughout graduate school, you can ensure that you will establish yourself as a compelling candidate when you appear—fully prepared thanks to Duke!— before hiring committees.


Headshot of Yating Li
Yating Li

Ph.D. Candidate, Environmental Policy

Yating Li is a Ph.D. student in environmental policy, an Energy Ph.D. Fellow at the Energy Initiative, and the founder of Riding the Belt and Road Network. Her research looks at the environmental impact of the overseas coal-fired power plants China financed and residential electricity consumption in China using micro-data.