I had an opportunity to attend a session held by Dr. Caron King on consulting skills for the academia. Dr. King was a biochemist who after doing a post-doc moved to the pharmaceutical industry and has been consulting for many companies since then. She explained that with a good understanding of processes, she was able to grasp how different companies operate quickly and help them as a consultant.
Dr. King clarified the role of an external consultant. An external consultant is in a unique position because compared to the company employees he/she can have an unbiased big picture of the company system. This helps in identifying issues which the company employees might have ignored in their every day working. With this role, it is important that the consultant should ask many relevant questions to pinpoint problem areas.
Among the various types of consultancies, we were told it is better for academics to opt for knowledge expert positions (at least to start off with) compared to industry or process expert roles. As consultancy is a skill set and involves a problem solving approach, a PhD is good training for taking responsibility and solving problems. A PhD is especially useful if one wants to opt for a knowledge based role compared to a generalist one. I asked Dr. King whether postdoctoral research experience helps. She was of the view that for standard consulting positions, postdoctoral research will not add much additional value and it is better to get into the job market sooner rather than later.