Careers in Management Consulting

 
The Consulting industry is one of the largest recruiters of MBA graduates, consistently tying up the top spots with Finance, Energy, Health Care and Manufacturing, according to the annual GMAC Corporate Recruiter Survey.

Definition

What is management consulting?

In its simplest form, consulting is the business or act of coming up with solutions to real world business situations or problems.

Businesses often come across issues or targets that require fresh, unbiased, methodical and strategic perspectives to resolve. Consultants play this vital role, often as general experts who are trained to provide solutions to help businesses function and attain their targets successfully.

Such insights into businesses require top notch management chops to build and expand a repertoire of loyal clients. The global consulting industry is estimated to be worth $155 billion. Corporations around the world depend heavily on consulting companies to maintain and sharpen their edge in an increasingly competitive world.

Are you looking for a future within the consulting industry? If you like to solve problems, want to work in a variety of industries, don’t mind raking up the frequent flyer miles, and the nice little perks of a lifestyle lapping up the big luxuries in life, you are probably sniffing in the right quarter here.

Read on as we play tour guide into the career possibilities in the world of consulting and help you peek into what could be in store if you were to choose this career.
 

Why choose a Consulting career?

 

Consulting, besides helping you get a plump bank account and more platinum cards than your wallet can hold, is also a window to other industries. A lot of MBA graduates use a consulting career to work in various industries, intimately, to find out which one suits their calibre the most.

It also provides an excellent opportunity for consultants to network with the movers and shakers in various corporations. The challenges presented by every client’s business provides opportunities to expand a consultant’s knowledge and profile. And unlike other in-house job roles which are probably stronger in depth of knowledge, consulting firms and their employees are blessed with massive breadth of experience.

For more insight, check this article by Fuqua School of Business graduate, and management consultant, on why do companies hire consultants.
 

Types of Consulting careers – What do Consultants do?

Consulting jobs cover many different industries and most consulting firms follow a particular type of business sector. It could be mainstream like strategy and operations consulting to more niche markets like real estate, design, etc.

In your career as a consultant, you would be looking at one these functional areas.
 

Strategy Consulting

The most glamorous of them all, strategy consulting has become popular because of elite firms such as McKinsey, Bain and BCG. These companies help big companies with bigger problems – such as market entry or exit, portfolio management, mergers & acquisitions, and much more.
 

IT/Technology Consulting

IT Consulting deals with technology. A firm might want to have a central repository of data and that might require a whole lot of technological leg work, reviews, possible outcome research, and more.
An IT consultancy can swoop in with solutions to factors such as data volumes, types, size of customer base, details to be captured, integration with upstream and downstream systems, etc.
 

Operations Consulting

This type of consulting mostly applies to manufacturing-type situations like a firm wanting to reduce assembly line defects in a limited period and in limited costs.
 

HR Consulting

Company productivity is obviously tied in with employee performance. HR Consulting helps companies with framing of employee friendly HR policies, guidelines and mandates, employee feedback, rewards, appraisals, and performance improvement initiatives.
 

Marketing & Sales Consulting

Consulting firms, dealing with marketing, assist companies in organizing and promoting their products, across various channels and within a defined budget.
 

Real Estate Consulting

Real Estate Consultants assist firms with valuations, property-related legislation, locating and renovating at a limited cost, etc.
 

Engineering Consulting

A city might need a new bridge or a new factory, for which design and building plans would be required.
Engineering consultants would be employed for such assignments.
 
Other types of popular consulting are Health or Pharma, Software, Sales, Finance, our favourite, Admissions consulting / Career Coaching, and more. There are virtually an infinite number of types of consulting companies specializing in every imaginable area – the list is endless.
 

Salaries and career growth in Consulting

 
Management consulting continues to be a dream career to those looking for challenges as well as rewards.
Its hectic nature hasn’t managed to deter its followers, with its glamour, prestige and perks making it one of the most sought-after career options.

Consulting firms hire some of the best management brains, allows a healthy amount of hobnobbing with experts in various industries, work closely with clients leading to great exposure and powerful networks, and get paid handsomely for all the consulting efforts.

If you can stick around long enough and move into the higher designations, management consulting salaries can progress very rapidly over time.

Entry-level consultants, or Analysts, are required to spend considerable time doing research and data gathering, making PowerPoint presentation or working on Excel spreadsheets.

According to Payscale, the average annual salary for entry level general management consultant is about INR 8 lakhs in India which is reasonably high for an entry level position. Fresh out of college consultants in USA make about $70,000 a year.
 

Country Average annual entry level Consulting salary
India Rs 8,00,000
USA $70,000
UK £40,000
Australia AU$70,000
Germany €50,000

 

Career Growth in Consulting

From To Average Period
Analyst Associate with MBA 2 years
Associate (MBA) Senior Consultant 2 years
Senior Consultant Project Lead 2-3 years
Project Lead Senior Project Lead 4-5 years
Junior Partner Principal 6-8 years
Senior Partner Director 10+ years

 
The career progression from being an Analyst to being a Partner in a consulting firm can take anywhere between 7 to 10 years, depending on the size of the company, the field, and of course your tenacity to achieve your target.

To get to the Associate role and gradually work your way up, Analysts either get an MBA or work exceptionally well.

However, it is easier said than done, as there’d be several hurdles at every single stage, namely the huge competition from other deserving MBA graduates and colleagues.

The usual mantra ‘up or out’ gives rise to a lot of competition and no guarantees. Only a smaller percentage move up but if you do manage to make it to a Partner in a consulting firm, you can be all set for the rest of your career.

The salaries are obviously commensurate with the seniority and position in the firm. While low level analysts can be anywhere around $70,000 or a bit more, an MBA can double it.
 

Salaries at Top Consulting Firm in USA

Designation Base
Salary
Signing
Bonus
Performance Bonus
Analyst (Undergrad) $80,000 $5,000 $12,000
Associate (MBA) $150,000 $25,000 $44,000
Project Leader $190,000-$210,000 $80,000-$120,000
Senior Project Leader $230,000-$300,000 $110,000-$200,000
Junior Partner/Principal $320,000-$400,000 $300,000-$500,000
Senior Partner/Director $400,000-$600,000   $500,000+

Source: Management Consulted
 

Best Consulting Firms

The top firms in the consulting world hire some of the brightest and bravest in the MBA world, from the top business schools across the globe, and pay top dollar in salary while shaping successful careers for their consultants.
 

Big 3 Management Consultancy Firms

McKinsey, Boston Consulting Group and Bain & Co., or MBB in short are considered the Big 3 management consultancies.

Consulting Firm Services Revenue (Approx.) Base Salary
(MBA/PhD)
McKinsey & Co. Strategic, organizational, operational, and technological areas $10 billion+ $85,000
Bain & Co. Corporate strategy, mergers and acquisitions, private equity investments, market analysis, and finance $4.5 billion $165,000
Boston Consulting Group Retail, health, care, and chemicals $8.5 billion $165-$170,000

Salary Source: Management Consulted
 

Big 4 Accounting Consultancy Firms

Ernst & Young (E&Y), Deloitte, KPMG and PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC) are considered the Big 4 accounting consultancy firms that have grown their consulting businesses to compete with MBB.

Consulting Firm Services Revenue (Approx.) Base Salary
(MBA/PhD)
Ernst & Young (EY) Assurance, accounting, tax, risk and performance improvement, transactions 36 billion $145,000
Deloitte Audit, tax, financial advisory, enterprise risk $46 billion $79,000
KPMG Financial audit, advisory and tax $30 billion $75,000
Price Waterhouse Coopers Assurance, financial advisory, tax $41 billion $140,000

Salary Source: Management Consulted
 
Some more information here on the Big 3 vs Big 4 consultancies.

Other names like Accenture, AT Kearney, Booz Allen Hamilton, Gartner, The Parthenon Group, and Mercer, are quite popular as well. A little bit of research on your part can reveal more names. A hint – they will usually have revenues in the billions and employees in the thousands spread across the globe.

Here are some top names in technology, finance, HR and strategy.
 

How to become a Consultant?

Though an MBA is not essential to a consulting career and some have been known to make it in either straight out of school or with a few years of work experience in a related sector, as one of the stories shared in the link below, MBA still does provide one of the most standard paths towards a consulting career. As experts put it, an MBA degree is a silver bullet to help you land a job at a top consulting firm.

The best consulting jobs on the campus go to MBA graduates from the top ranked business schools. If you haven’t worked in the consulting industry before your MBA, a career change can be a big challenge.

There are a few business schools that can increase your chances of becoming a consultant, even if you weren’t already one before the MBA. These are the hot-spots for getting consulting jobs that pay high post MBA salaries.
 

Best MBA for Consulting

Here are the top MBA programs for a consulting career, according to the popular QS MBA Rankings.
 

Business School % Graduates in consulting Top placements
INSEAD ~50% McKinsey, BCG, Bain & Co., Accenture, Kearney, Booz Allen Hamilton, Deloitte, L.E.K., EY, Alvarez & Marsal, Oliver Wyman
Columbia Business School ~30% BCG, McKinsey, Deloitte, Kearney, PwC, EY, L.E.K., Bain & Co.
Harvard Business School ~25% Kearney, Bain & Co., BCG, Deloitte, IBM, Marsh & McLennan, McKinsey, Oliver Wyman
University of Pennsylvania, The Wharton School ~25% Kearney, Accenture, AlixPartners, Alliance Consulting, Bain & Co., BCG, EY-Parthenon, L.E.K., McKinsey, Oliver Wyman, Pace, Strategy& (PwC)
London Business School ~35% BCG, McKinsey, Bain & Co., A.T. Kearney, L.E.K., Strategy&, Accenture, Roland Berger, Deloitte
University of Chicago, Booth ~34% McKinsey, BCG, Bain & Co., Strategy&, A.T. Kearney, EY, Accenture
Northwestern University Kellogg ~31% A.T. Kearney, Accenture Strategy, Alix Partners, Bain & Co. BCG, L.E.K., McKinsey, PwC Strategy&
MIT Sloan ~31% A.T. Kearney, Bain & Co., BCG, Deloitte, EY-Parthenon, L.E.K., McKinsey, PwC Strategy&
Michigan Ross ~32% A.T. Kearney, Accenture, AlixPartners, Bain & Co., BCG, Deloitte, EY, KPMG, PwC Strategy&, Tata Consultancy Services
Yale School of Management ~37% A.T. Kearney, Accenture, AlixPartners, Bain & Co., BCG, Deloitte, EY, L.E.K. Consulting, McKinsey, Mercer, Parthenon, PwC, Synpulse Management Consulting, Fidelity Business Consulting, Salesforce, ZS, etc.

Source: QS Global MBA for Consulting & respective university pages
 

Consulting Resume, Cover Letter and Interview

Consulting selection process is usually preceded by presentations made by consulting firms for placement at various business schools.

Graduates get to network with the recruiters and follow it up with the application process. Cover letters, resume and interviews are the standard steps towards an offer letter.

But for consulting jobs, these can be dash more painful than other job applications. Here’s why.

With a 1% chance of making it into the top consulting firms, the demand to supply ratio of deserving MBA applicants is extremely disproportionate. This becomes progressively better as you hit the top business schools.

To beat the odds you have to do all that is required to stay ahead in the game. Your resume, cover letter, interview preparation and overall inclination for the job itself can take you rest of the way well into the end zone.

Instead of getting into the details, which are in the articles linked below, we will walk you through some of the standard expectations to be consultancy worthy.
 

Cover Letter

If you are applying for the position of consultant at top companies such as McKinsey, Accenture, Deloitte, and KPMG, your application cover letter should indicate your motivation and potential.

A well-written cover letter acts as a perfect introduction for a resume, by not only reflecting your personal traits but also by providing highlights of your education and employment.

It should be able to highlight your career and key features of your personality, namely your professional calibre that would make you an efficient consultant and your personal flexibility that would allow you to work with people from different cultural backgrounds, understand their problems and work on solutions.

Even without prior work experience you should use your previous academic experience to highlight the talents that will make you crucial to the consulting team.

For more information on consulting cover letters, take a quick look at the article on Management Consulting Cover Letter.
 

Consulting Resume

Recruiters have limited time to scan from the massive pool of applicants to big firms like the MBB (Big 3). So, a crucial requirement for the resume is that it be short and stick to what is relevant. Consultants are required to be quick learners.

In fact, it is far more crucial to be able to learn and adapt rather than have a vast repertoire of knowledge. If you have this talent, your resume should indicate it.

Personality, leadership skills, problem-solving and quantitative abilities and the capacity to be enterprising are some of the qualities held dear by consultancies. The ideal resume touches upon these five main skills.
 

Interview

Once you have the academic credentials and work experience and pass the first round, the next step is the case and fit interviews.

Case Interview

In case interviews, candidates are expected to come up with solutions to real business problems. The idea is to assess the applicant’s numerical and verbal reasoning skills, business and commercial knowledge, presentation, and the analytical skills needed for real-life problem solving.

Besides the hard skills, case interviews are also good at judging soft skills like communication, leadership and team working capacity. There are books and online mock interview resources that can prepare you well.

For instance, one of our articles shares the story of an applicant who made it into McKinsey without an MBA. She shares tips on how she prepared for her interviews and the resources she used to ace her case interview.
 
Fit Interview

How does your personality, values, and skills match with the organization’s? In fit interviews, candidates are assessed for their “fit” within the consultancy’s culture.

As for the qualities that are usually assessed, they are leadership and problem solving. Both of these qualities are essential for your success as well as the firm’s in maintaining and growing its client base.

Collaboration is a big part of being a consultant and the ability to work in a team is therefore yet another quality evaluated in a fit interview.
 
More on case and fit interviews in the links given below.

Situational or Behavioral Interviews: What questions can you expect?

Management consulting interview questions

How to answer brain teasers in interviews for Consulting & Investment Banking jobs

How to prepare for case interviews?

How to get an interview at McKinsey, Bain, BCG?

Market sizing questions, examples and answers
 
If you don’t have the advantage of an MBA from a top bschool, an employee reference can also help you get your leg in for consideration for a consultancy job.

Many MBA students consider management consulting as their next big step after graduation. The perks and attractions are a mile long and enough to dazzle most. Recruiting firms take full advantage of what they have to offer to get the cream of the top business schools to join the firms.

But as with most things in life, the promises of a consulting career can also be too good to be true. So, before you commit, ask yourself.
 

Is a Consulting job worth it?

Consulting offers almost countless pluses as a career. But the negatives make a strong case for why one should carefully examine options. Wise people have been heard saying that it pays to go into consultancy with both eyes open.
 
Work life balance suffers

Consultants often encounter stress, working more than 100 hours a week, with any offline hours filled with worries about work, client, competition, deadlines, you name it. Personal life suffers and consequently work as well.
 
Frequent traveling

You can surely rake up your frequent flyer miles on the job. Clients can be anywhere in the world and a jet-set lifestyle is just part of the job description.

Jet lag, loneliness, exhaustion and finally the inevitable gastric problem from all the airline food are some of the side effects firms don’t usually advertise when they recruit new talent.
 
Not right up your street

Management consultants often don’t work on projects in their core area of expertise. You may have a marketing degree but may be called upon to plan the implementation of an engineering project for a client, for example. The exposure may do you good, but to give your A game, you will need to work that much harder when the field is not your forte.
 

Professional competition and stress

Consultants thrive on feedback. From clients, peers and bosses. These decide your paycheck and can be an overall stressful ecosystem. Especially if you have a hard-to-please client or a taskmaster for a boss.

And of course, there can be office politics, fighting for the most challenging or visible project while stepping over another’s shoulders.
 
Burn out, lack of a personal life, and stiff competition faced in making it to partner level, make consultancies have a turnover rate of 15 to 20 percent.
 
They move on to careers in finance, private equity, asset management, entrepreneurship, or even full on functional roles in the industries they had been consulting before.

Dark side of Consulting
McKinsey Strategy Consulting to an Investment Banking career
Life after Consulting Exit Options
 
Life as a consultant has its rewards, obviously, as well manifold challenges. Stepping into the career requires motivation, passion, and most of all a near complete understanding of what will be expected.
Else, the charms fade just as easily as the blood pressures rises.
 
And if your steely determination is still on drive, let us know (info [at] mbacrystalball [dot] com) if you need any professional help with getting into an MBA program for a consulting career after.

And do browse our articles on consulting for general information as well as personal stories from consultants at some of the biggest firms on the planet.