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A First-Person Perspective of the Graduate Student Consulting Challenge

02/22/2023 9:04 PM | Anonymous

Author: Shelby Joseph

Hello everyone. My name is Shelby Joseph and I am in my final semester at George Mason’s Master’s of Professional Studies (MPS) program in Industrial and Organizational (I/O) psychology. The following is my reflection regarding the PTCMW Graduate Student Consulting Challenge (GSCC).

While in school, I sought out opportunities to build and develop my I/O competencies through extracurricular activities, which led me to connect with peers through local I/O gatherings. When PTCMW’s Graduate Student Consulting Challenge was first revealed to me through a peer in my program, I knew this would be an opportunity to challenge myself. Unfortunately, I had missed the registration window to participate in the GSCC in 2021. Registration for the GSCC is yearly and begins in October. I waited to apply for the 2022 GSCC and was thrilled when I was accepted to participate because at this point, I had completed most of my core I/O coursework and I knew this was my opportunity to test all I had learned up to that point. I expected the GSCC was going to allow me to experience what it is like to be an I/O consultant.

I knew preparation for the virtual final presentation would be intense based on the prior GSCC experiences of my peers. For example, I was told that preparation would require a lengthy time commitment during the competition as students are only allotted 3 days to respond to a proposal and they would need to come up with a focused plan to complete the response by the deliverable deadline. While this expectation was true of my experience, it was also exhilarating! During the initial GSCC meeting, PTCMW event coordinators and representatives from the sponsoring organization introduced our Request For Proposal (RFP). The RFP served as our guide to responding to stakeholders, who in this situation were judges from the sponsoring organization. Our goal was to address an organization’s needs and outline the resources required to meet this goal. My group consisted of 3 students, all in different phases in our I/O programs. One of us was a Doctoral student, another was a Master’s student preparing to graduate, and myself, who at the time had four more courses to complete before graduation.

What I liked most about the GSCC was my experience collaborating with my teammates. One of the reasons I believe our team succeeded in such a tight timeframe was because our collaboration was quick, efficient, and effortful. My teammates met with me immediately after the initial GSCC meeting to quickly review our approach to the RFP on Microsoft Teams. The RFP for the 2022 GSCC was focused on personnel selection. During the meeting, I created a shared Google Document to begin addressing the RFP. We also reviewed the RFP instructions to plan our tasks. Likewise, we agreed to reserve a large portion of our time in the evenings to collaborate and complete tasks. Our goal at this point was centered on the creation of a detailed report to address the RFP. The first two evenings were dedicated to completing our formal proposal report and appendices with supplemental material, as we agreed this would require the most work.

During the first two evenings of the competition, we stayed on a Microsoft Teams call for 5 to 6 hours with our cameras off as we took on pieces of the RFP. To split up the tasks, we took on work that we felt competent in or had recently completed in our programs. For example, one teammate was teaching a course on a job analysis and took on the material to cover this section, another had completed a job analysis at her job recently and had practice materials we could use. I had just completed my data analytics course and helped to tackle statistics-based questions such as an analysis plan for how we would demonstrate the fairness of our proposed solutions. Throughout the call, we would give updates on our completed tasks.  During moments of  minor disagreement we used rational debates and a group vote to obtain consensus on a way forward.

The day before the presentation we spent 4 to 5 hours curating our presentation slides. We also organized a shared script on a Google Document so that we knew when it was our cue to speak about our assigned portion of the presentation. By the end of the third day, all members had taken on an equal workload, including the speaking portion of slides. On the day of our presentation to the judges, my team members and I conducted a practice presentation one hour ahead of time to build our comfort in presenting all of the material.

Despite the projects I succeeded in while at George Mason, it wasn’t until the GSCC presentation to the judges that I realized the barriers organizations must navigate that are not always explicitly stated in a RFP that we as I/O practitioners must consider. This is where the GSCC allowed me to practice the skill of persuading key decision makers who may not have an I/O background. When presenting in front of a panel of 7 to 10 judges, it was apparent that we needed to deliver a compelling case. The judges’ behaviors mimicked stakeholders and high-level leaders concerned with results that will exceed their organization’s goals.

During the presentation, we did not know the exact questions the judges would have concerning our technical approach. The ability to address the judges’ questions was parallel to what I would expect in an actual consultation with a business leader or stakeholder. My group did our best to anticipate questions by identifying beforehand the advantages and disadvantages of the solution we proposed.

An example of a particularly challenging question was related to budgeting as none of us had experience creating budgets for a business before. One thing that helped us navigate this question was a prior discussion during our preparation that my team had on the disadvantage of proposing a large budget. This required us to determine why the return on investment was likely more beneficial in the long run and not a risk to the organization. While there was no textbook answer to address this, our team explained our decision to the judges by providing our rationale for how we came up with a budget. This included identifying base hourly pay rates for certain positions and estimating the number of subject matter experts needed to implement procedures that would result in the successful implementation of our proposed solution. This experience of providing on the spot responses and present a compelling case to the judges showed me that not all answers are simple or found in a textbook.

After the evaluative portion of the presentation was over, the support and feedback from the judges was encouraging because it helped remind us that this was a learning experience. Once the presentation ended, I recall the moment my team and I reflected on how much we learned through applying the knowledge and skills we gained while in our respective I/O programs. This experience helped to reinforce that learning is more than just explicit knowledge, it requires practice and application. When it was announced that we won the GSCC, I knew it was because of our seamless collaboration with one another.

Since my participation in the GSCC, I now have a clearer understanding about what competencies are necessary to be a successful consultant. While having the foundational I/O knowledge is necessary, I learned it is just as important to explain what we know in a way that can be understood by our stakeholders. I also learned that it is especially important to not only provide solutions, but tailor our solutions in a way that aligns with an organization's business values and mission. This experience helped me to showcase my I/O knowledge in a way that was meaningful and easy to understand for those without an I/O background.

Additionally, I have leveraged the relationships resulting from my participation in the GSCC to expand my professional network within the field. Competing and winning the GSCC helped open internship opportunities that I would not have applied for had I not participated. For example, winners of the GSCC were provided an invitation to the PTCMW Fall Event. Attending this networking event helped me to connect with more experienced colleagues in a welcoming setting and also gave me a chance to familiarize myself with available full-time I/O positions. I have since obtained an internship with an organization that I was able to talk to during the Fall Event.

If you have completed your core I/O coursework and would like a realistic job preview of being an I/O consultant, I urge you to participate in the GSCC! The skillsets you gain from collaborating with peers, defending your decisions to experts in the field, and presenting in a manner that can be understood by your stakeholders will likely assist you as you set forth in your I/O career. No matter where your I/O trajectory leads, I hope you are inspired to participate in the GSCC!

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