(This post written by Julia Gilmore on November 27, 2018, was share by TopMBA.)
Consultancy continues to be one of the most popular career paths for MBA graduates, who are drawn to the exciting diversity of the job, as well as generally high salaries. However, it can be hard to know how to set yourself apart from the crowd when trying to start a career in management consulting. Below, we talk you through the perks (and occasional pitfalls) of life as a consultant and how best to start your career in management consulting.
What is a management consultant?
Management consultants help organizations solve problems, improve business performance, create value and maximize growth. They identify solutions for business troubles and make suggestions for changes to implement. The work taken on by management consultants can be varied, including e-business, marketing, supply chain management, and business strategy.
The day-to-day responsibilities of the job include conducting analysis of company figures, interviewing employees of the client, preparing presentations and business proposals, and managing the team overseeing the implementation of these suggestions.
There is a huge variety of consulting firms, ranging from well-known big firms such as McKinsey, Boston Consulting Group, Bain, Deloitte, PwC and KPMG, to smaller (specialist) ‘boutique’ firms. Boutique firms often deal with more specific industries such as healthcare consulting or design consulting, while big firms cover a broad scope of industries, with top firms offering operating consulting, strategy consulting, and IT consulting (amongst others).
Why become a management consultant?
Management consulting can be an extremely rewarding career, in terms of both job satisfaction and remuneration. According to figures from Indeed.com, the average consultancy salary in the US is US$83,408 per year. However, salaries can be considerably higher, with MBA graduates from Wharton’s MBA class of 2018 reporting a median salary of US$150,000 for consulting jobs.
However, whilst high salaries are a draw for aspiring consultants, they are only a minor element for choosing this career path. Consultancy suits people who thrive off variety, as days can be exciting and unpredictable – for example, you might be needed at client sites at the last minute, there’s a lot of travel, and you will meet a huge range of interesting people.
Whilst the tight deadlines and highly pressurized environment can be off-putting for some, it may enhance the experience for those with a consultant’s mindset. The steep learning curve of life as a junior consultant means you’ll be working with senior clients and given a high level of responsibility early on in your career.
Training and learning are part of the culture, with frequent opportunities for development. If you work at a non-specialized firm, you will also learn a lot about industries you may not have encountered before. The skills you develop in consulting, such as strategy, research, and communication are transferable should you decide to change career in the future.
As it is such a competitive industry to get into, you’ll likely have top-quality colleagues with a similar level of intelligence and way of thinking. Whilst the hours can be infamously long and anti-social, the flipside is you’ll develop close bonds with colleagues, and most consulting firms offer great perks such as company cars, free meals, sabbatical opportunities and gym memberships.
The growth of the consulting industry is closely linked with developments in the global economy, according to consultancy.uk. When the economy is booming, organizations have higher budgets and will spend more on consultants, however, the opposite is true in troubled economic times.
Although the industry faced a downturn in the wake of the 2007-2008 global financial crisis, it has been steadily rising since 2011, valued at US$251 billion globally in 2016. Whilst North America and EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) hold the bulk of the market (40 and 41 percent respectively), Asia-Pacific is the region with the highest growth momentum.
What can you do to become a management consultant?
· You don’t need any specific qualifications to become a management consultant.
· However, competition is fierce, and applicants with MBAs or business master’s degrees will find it considerably easier to get into the field.
· It can also help to have a degree relevant to the industry if you want to go into a specialized consulting field, such as engineering or IT.
· Generally, a UK 2:1 degree (or international equivalent) is required for entry onto a graduate scheme.
There are a wide range of skills valued for a management consultant. Below are some of the most important:
· Quantitative and analytical skills.
· Ability to work under pressure and cope with challenging situations.
· Good teamwork skills.
· Understanding of business environments and commercial awareness.
· Problem-solving skills.
· Good interpersonal and communication skills.
· One thing aspiring consultants can be sure of is a long, multi-stage interview process.
· It usually starts with rounds of ‘personality’ interviews, which assess how well you would fit in with the culture of the firm. These will include your standard interview questions, such as ‘What do you consider your strengths and weaknesses?’
· After this, some firms will have a group interview stage. You will be put in a small group with fellow candidates to solve a problem together to present to the interviewing panel. This tests your ability to work in a team and come up with a solution.
· The final stage is the notorious ‘case interview’. You will be asked a ‘real life’ consulting question such as ‘The CEO of a fast food chain wants to close one of its outlets. Should she do it?’
· In the case interview the interviewer isn’t looking for a perfect response to the question, they just want to see how you think and approach a problem in a logical manner.
· You can gain consultancy qualifications from consulting organizations like the Institute of Consulting in the UK and Institute of Management Consultants in the US.
· Even if you don’t choose to gain a qualification, joining these sorts of organizations can demonstrate your commitment to the field.
How can you find a job as a management consultant?
Most consultants enter the field at graduate level, with a strong academic background. Top firms recruit hundreds of the best and brightest graduates onto their graduate schemes every year. Graduates will be referred to as ‘analysts’ and support senior consultants. Many schemes operate a rotation system, so you get to experience a range of practices and areas of consulting.
MBA graduates will enter at a higher level, like those entering another field with previous work experience. This is commonly referred to as ‘experience hire’ entry level roles. Having an MBA or management master’s degree will boost your chances of being hired as a consultant, but it’s still a very competitive job market.
Consultancy firms are known to be some of the most active recruiters at universities and are a good first stop on your consulting journey. Many big firms offer summer internships and ‘taster’ placements which can help get your foot in the door.
As with most competitive careers, a vital part of getting a job as a management consultant is networking. This is even more applicable in consulting where networking is an integral part of the role.
Most big consulting firms will have several events where interested students can network. These include office hours and corporate presentations, as well as general networking events. Office hours offer one on one time with recruiters, so it’s easier to differentiate yourself.
Information calls with members of the recruiting team are another way to showcase your skills and occur around the end of October/start of November. They’re an opportunity to highlight your skills as well as find out more about the firm.
Once you have networked your way to the interview stages at a big firm, there are some helpful pointers to remember to help you land a role. Even if you have no prior experience with consulting, it’s important to highlight skills that are relevant to the role, such as analytical skills and communication.
You are likely to be asked less about your experience and more about your ‘fit’ for the field, such as willingness to travel and take on long hours. It’s vital to show some of your personality in your interviews, as recruiters will want to know how well you will get on with others at the firm. Be yourself, and it should come naturally!