The Bartlett School of Sustainable Construction


People: in focus - Sharan Ahluwalia, alumnus, on the challenges of working in industry

21 October 2016


Sharan Ahluwalia, BSc Project Management for Construction alumnus, is now a Consultant at PA Consulting. Last summer, we spoke to her about why she enjoys the challenges of her work and her motivation for studying at C&PM.

What is your current role and what have you been working on?

I started as an Analyst at PA Consulting in 2013 in their graduate intake and am currently a Consultant in the Business Design Practice. I am looking at how organisations operate and how the individual components of it fit together. It has been really fascinating. I have worked on two major projects that have each lasted a year. You get so much exposure because you’re in one company for a year to witness the complete transformation from a concept to reality and be part of that journey. I worked in one of the big six energy and utilities firms, and my other assignment has been in the health care industry.

How has C&PM helped you prepare for your career?

What really helped was doing a Third Year module which involved a presentation to a panel of industry experts. We were given a plot of land and we had to say what we would do with it. We all took different roles and this experience was really good. I think doing a dissertation and modules where you have to work in a group are really good to do because it develops your ability to approach tasks independently. This helped after coming out of university because, at work, you don’t have that safety net of your lecturers and fellow students. You have to perform, do things independently, and have confidence in yourself.

What challenges do you face in your work?

In management consulting, it’s very hard to try to tell a client how to solve their issues. It’s like if someone tells you their family problems and you reply, “I can fix your family for you”. In this sense, it can come across as arrogant, but this is where you need to understand how to be a good consultant. As a PA consultant, the question is what we can offer to overcome this awkwardness. This is where I think PA is particularly strong because, when we go to a client, we don’t claim to know everything about their organisation.

Looking back, whilst I could easily build upon my skills and knowledge, I felt like a major flaw I had was a lack of confidence. In consulting, you need to present yourself in a certain way where you do not come across as arrogant, but don’t come across as insignificant. Also, whilst you may not have the solutions to hand, you have to demonstrate your readiness to find them.

In my work, I am continually outside my comfort zone because I am working on different projects all the time with different teams and clients, and within different industries and locations. Whilst it is the biggest challenge, it is also the biggest opportunity: you only develop once you get out of the comfort zone. Now, I can do things and present myself in ways I would never have imagined before, and for me, that’s a huge achievement.

What motivated you to do the course?

I knew I loved UCL when I visited an open day and wanted to be here. The course sounded very different from traditional university degrees as you have the opportunity to practically apply what you’ve learnt. For a Bachelor’s degree, it was one of the most varied courses that I’ve come across. We studied economics, finance, law, management studies - so many subjects that are fundamental regardless of what career you go into. I find it quite rare for a Bachelor’s programme to offer both management studies, and economics. It is usually one or the other, which is why a lot of people do a postgraduate degree to find out about the other topic. The course is also very good for people who are interested in construction because it helps them explore the sector more than other degrees.

Going forward, do you want to stay in this area?

I think consulting is an amazing career to get into because it gives you so much variety. This enables you to figure out what you want to do in the long term. In the long term, I see myself having my own business, but I’ve only been able to think about that because I’ve had experience in consulting. Due to the skills that I developed through this consulting, I feel like I can go in many different directions. 

We look forward to seeing which direction Sharan takes next!