Description of the Field
While many businesses sell products or services, consulting firms primarily sell knowledge. Whether it's management consulting, human resources consulting, marketing consulting, technology consulting or something else, consultants advise corporations and other organizations regarding an infinite array of issues related to business strategy.
Organizations often face questions that they either can't answer or may be too busy to properly address. This is where consultants can help. Consultants are trained to solve problems and develop strategies. Management consultants help clients solve specific, short-term issues, while strategic consultants work with clients to develop long term strategies to achieve company goals. Strategy and management consulting activities may overlap. Organizations hire consultants not only for problem solving abilities, but also because they can be objective. Consultants identify specific problems within a firm, research and analyze data, and prepare reports and presentations based on findings.
Consultants may be employed from within a firm, but most are employed by independent consulting firms and work with clients on a contractual basis. After gaining stature in their field and building strong relationships with clients, some consultants choose to become self-employed. Consultants and consulting firms may specialize in specific areas, such as information technology or healthcare, or may work with clients from various sectors including businesses, government agencies, and nonprofits.
Typically, an organization seeking consulting services solicits proposals from several companies. Those interested in the project must then propose how they will do the work, what the schedule will be, how much it will cost, and why they are the best consultants for the work.
The work environment for a consultant is fast-paced and stimulating. Consulting typically requires travel, as spending time at a client’s work site is essential. Consultants often work long hours under tight deadlines, and many assignments require a consultant to work on-site Monday through Friday, week after week, until the project is finished.
Strategy consulting is a part of the services offered by consulting firms. It is focused on the design and implementation of long-term models and practices in an industry. Strategy consulting may fall under the responsibilities of a management consultant at a “strategy firm” like McKinsey, Bain Consulting or Boston Consulting Group. Some firms offer this type of consulting separately, along with other consulting services. Some firms that operate this way include BearingPoint, Accenture, IBM, and Deloitte.
On the Job
An entry-level employee in a consulting firm is often referred to as an analyst or associate (this language will depend upon the firm). Entry-level employees are typically hired for their analytical, research, and communications skills. They usually work as a part of a team focused on solving a client’s problem, and they may research, document, report, design, and build as part of a comprehensive client’s problem solving strategy. Research may consist of collecting raw data from internal sources, such as the client's computers or employees, and external sources, such as trade associations or government agencies.
Consultants glean some of their most valuable data from surveys and market studies that they devise and implement themselves. The data must then be analyzed in relation to the client's organization, operations, customers, and competitors to locate potential areas for improvement and to form solutions. These solutions are then recommended to the client and—with luck—implemented.
Entry-level analyst or research associate consulting jobs require bachelor’s degrees. New employees typically spend two to three years at a consulting firm before returning to school to get an MBA, though some firms will promote top analysts directly to the senior associate, or consultant, level. From the associate level (post-MBA or graduate school), an individual can work toward a position as manager, managing director, vice president and partner/principal.
To increase competitiveness, a job candidate may work to receive the Certified Management Consultant designation through the Institute of Management Consultants USA, Inc. (IMC USA). To receive certification, candidates must meet minimum levels of education and experience, submit client reviews, and pass an interview and exam on the IMC USA’s Code of Ethics. Generally, students pursuing consulting directly from university do not need this kind of certification, but should be able to demonstrate strong project management, communication, and leadership skills. It’s very important to firms that analysts work well in teams because most projects are team-based.
Some consultants don’t enter consulting directly after college graduation. Companies may hire consultants who have already gained ample experience in their field in other occupations, especially if the field is highly specialized, such as technology services. For example, a seasoned professional who has worked at consumer packaged goods companies implementing a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) platform, may move into a Management Consulting position with either a large management consulting firm or with a boutique firm focused solely on CSR initiatives.
Many companies offer summer internships or summer analyst or associate programs. Recruiting for full-time positions starts in early fall. Networking may play a huge role in obtaining an internship and, later, a job, as hiring can be very competitive. Prior work experience and leadership experience also plays heavily into the recruiting process, as does a high GPA.
Top management consulting firms usually hold two to three rounds of interviews. The first, known as a “fit” interview, is generally a discussion of a candidate’s background and experience. This part of the interview process allows a candidate to demonstrate important characteristics and traits such as leadership, innovation, and creativity.
In the second interview, or “case” interview, a candidate will be presented with a business problem and will be given time to provide a strategy and possible solution. This interview allows candidates to demonstrate analytical and problem-solving skills, along with interpersonal skills and confidence levels. Each firm will have its own process but will likely include these types of interviews.
The consulting industry has expanded in the past few decades, despite the recent global recession, and is expected to continue growing as rising global competitors motivate organizations to improve efficiency and control costs. Growth of international business will increase demand for management consultants, and as U.S. organizations expand abroad, many will hire consultants to help develop effective strategies to enter foreign markets.
Growth is also expected to be particularly strong in small consulting companies that specialize in specific industries. These are often referred to as “boutique” firms.* In addition, the public sector will continue to need consulting services, as federal, state and local government agencies seek to reduce spending and improve efficiency.
Qualifications Necessary to Enter the Field
Besides outstanding academic records, firms want people who can solve problems, think creatively, communicate well, and who understand and are interested in business.
Top candidates will also have previous experience in the business world (consulting internships are impressive but not required) as well as extracurricular achievement. Firms specializing in IT consulting or e-business may require technical skills and experience.
For recent graduates, recruiters look for candidates with a top academic record, paired with highly analytical and good interpersonal skills. Strong problem-solving skills and analytical abilities, including quantitative skills, are crucial for a candidate to demonstrate. However, to get the position, a candidate must also exhibit excellent verbal and written communication skills, proven leadership, high energy and enthusiasm for the work, and a strong ability to work with others.
Sample Group of Employers
2rw Consultants, Inc. – 2rw.com
Allison Partners – allisonpartners.com
Corporate Consulting – rstmm.com
National and International:
Accenture – accenture.com
AT Kearney – atkearney.com
Bain & Company – bain.com
Boston Consulting Group – bcg.com
Ernst & Young – ey.com/US/en/Issues/Managing-finance
Deloitte Consulting LLP – deloitte.com
McKinsey & Company – mckinsey.com
Mercer Management Consulting – mercer.com
Mitchell Madison Group – mmgmc.com
Oliver Wyman – oliverwyman.com
PriceWaterhouseCoopers – pwc.com
Strategy& - http://www.strategyand.pwc.com/
Selected U.Va. Organizations/CIOS
For a full list of organizations at UVA, please see: https://atuva.student.virginia.edu/Organizations
Virginia Case Club
Virginia Consulting Group
Sample UVA Career Programs
Bates White Economic Consulting Information Session
Fall Consulting Symposium
Economic and Litigation Consulting Night
Deloitte Case Competition Kick Off
Introduction to Consulting with Accenture, Bain, and McKinsey
Women’s Networking Reception with Accenture
Resources for Additional Information
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition, Management Analysts, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/management-analysts.htm
- For general information and advice – Managementconsulted.com - U.Va. Alum Jenny Rae Le Roux started this organization to help students like you.
- Institute of Management Consultants USA, Inc. – Imcusa.org
- Big Four Guide (for those interested in accounting-related firms) – http://www.big4guide.net/who-are-the-big-4
- Top Consulting Firms by Industry, Size, and Type – http://www.stormscape.com/inspiration/website-lists/consulting-firms/
- Vault Career Insider Guides, for example: Vault Guide to the Top 50 Management and Strategy Consulting Firms, 2016 Edition
- Vault Career Guide to Consulting
- Briggs, David. Management Consulting: A Guide for Students. Cengage Learning, 2010
For more information on case studies, candidates should read:
- The Ace Your Case! Consulting Series, by Wet Feet Press - http://www.wetfeet.com
- Vault Case Interview Practice Guide 2 – (accessible through MyUCS)
- Vault Guide to the Case Interview by Eric Chung – (accessible through MyUCS)
- Case in Point: Complete Case Interview Preparation, 7th Edition, by Marc P. Cosentino – (available for loan in the ECO)
- Consultants Network
- Charlottesville Consultants
- Worldwide Management Consultants (WMC)
- Harvard Business Review
- Big 4 (Heavy focus on accounting) Deloitte, Ernst & Young, KPMG, PwC, Accenture, Capgemini (also see big4.com)
Source material derived from:
Careers in Management Consulting. Published by WetFeet Press
*Please see the ECO handout titled “Boutique Consulting Firms.”