Consulting is all about making positive change. Management consultants are brought in when an organisation wants to generate a competitive advantage, maximise growth or improve business performance. The role of a consultant is to devise and/or implement a ‘must-do’ list of actions that will improve an organisation’s profit-making ability, business operations and growth margins, while adding brand value. If you’re motivated to improve companies and excited by the idea of problem solving, this could be the career for you.
As a career, consulting offers many benefits, from high starting salaries to opportunities for travel nationally and internationally. The skillset you'll acquire is also comprehensive and transferable, opening up a range of options in the business and management sectors. Projects can differ considerably adding to the range of experience and making for a varied and interesting graduate career.
Do I need to study a specific degree subject to get a job in consulting?
The consultancy profession is open to graduates from any degree subject, appreciating the different perspectives that a range of knowledge and experience can bring. Knowing how to demonstrate commercial awareness, communication, teamwork and analytical skills will give you an edge in applications and assessments.
What are the key competences for consulting careers?
Rather than requiring qualifications in a specific subject, graduate consulting recruiters require applicants to possess a particular range of skills relevant to the sector. Being able to demonstrate these and back them up with examples will improve your chance of selection:
- Analytical skills: consultants need to be able to break down problems and come up with well-reasoned, sensible answers. Case studies and formal examinations will test these skills.
- Commercial awareness: having an understanding of the market a company operates in, as well as an awareness of the competition can help demonstrate your commitment to the industry. Being aware of how current affairs may affect the business environment is also important so keep an eye on the news and trade press.
- Communication: it is important for a consultant to be able to communicate clearly with clients in order to understand their requirements and justify their recommendations. Being clear and concise during your assessment and giving articulate and well structured answers can pay dividends.
- Teamworking: as a consultant you'll be working as part of several teams at once. With distance working and multinational consultancies, you may work with team members that you will never meet. As such, you’ll need to be able to work well as part of a team. You can demonstrate this by asking for the views of others as well as contributing your own.
- Attention to detail: the presentation of information to clients is a vital stage of the commissioning process. Poorly presented data will not impress; similarly, a CV and covering letter with errors in spelling and grammar will have a negative effect on your application.
What are the salaries in consulting?
Salaries for consultancy positions are just above the average starting rates for graduates, coming in at an average starting salary of £28,000 (many firms advertising on this site offer their graduates more than this, however). Perks and benefits are also common, with private healthcare, pension schemes, gym memberships and golden hellos a possibility.
What is the work/life balance like?
The workload of a consultant can be very heavy, with working nights and weekends a possibility when required. It is, however, a very sociable profession with plenty of networking opportunities, as well as more casual social occasions. Many firms have implemented flexible working practices and offer the opportunity for sabbaticals and secondments after a period of service.
What are the main specialisms and areas of work in consulting?
Within consulting there are services and industries. Simply put, services are the type of work a firm does and industries are the fields they work in. Some firms specialise in a particular service – such as strategy – and a variety of industries, while others specialise in one service in one particular area of industry. Other firms incorporate a variety of both. The majority of the larger consultancy firms specialise in a particular function and work across a number of industries, whereas niche firms tend to specialise in one function and one particular industry.
Also known as functions or specialist capabilities:
- corporate finance
- customer-relations management
- operations and supply-chain management
Also known as practices, areas of expertise, sectors:
- financial services: banking and insurance
- healthcare and pharmaceuticals, including biotechnology
- manufacturing: aerospace, automotive, electrical and electronic engineering, industrial components, heavy process industries (including steel)
- media and telecommunications: media and entertainment, telecommunications, internet, computing, electronics, technology
- natural resources: utilities, gas, mining, oil, electricity, chemicals, renewable energy providers
- public sector: central government, local government, public sector bodies, educational institutions, charities and not-for-profit organisations
- retail, consumer goods, transport, hospitality and leisure.
What are the benefits and downsides of working as a consultant?
Management consulting offers an exciting and intellectually challenging role with plenty of variety. With the right role, there are plenty of opportunities for travel and the chance to work with a diverse and like-minded group of people. The hours can be long and may require periods away from home so this needs to be taken into consideration. Convincing clients of the need for change can be another challenge.
What does the application process involve?
The application process for consultancy roles usually involves online application forms, although a few firms still prefer the more traditional CV and covering letter, so always check which method is preferred by your chosen firm. When it comes to online forms, it is important to take your time to ensure you have filled in the form completely and accurately. As this is likely to be your first contact with the firm it is important to make a good impression, so check thoroughly for errors in your spelling and grammar. Many web browsers now have an integrated spell-checker but ensure this is set to British English before you rely on it. If you have the opportunity, it is often better to print off the application and ask a careers adviser, friend or family member to check it over for you. If applying by CV and covering letter you must ensure that you have tailored it specifically to the organisation. Different firms may require a different set of skills and your CV is your opportunity to showcase these. Pay close attention to the job specification and draw out skills from your portfolio to match. Being able to back these up with examples will stand you in good stead.
If your application is accepted, it is likely you will be asked to attend an assessment centre which provides an ideal opportunity for you to learn more about the firm and what working for them will be like, as well as for them to get an idea about you. Many firms also make use of case study interviews. These will test your ability to process information, solve problems and work as part of a team. Some solid preparation beforehand can help improve your chances.
When should I apply?
Some consultancies will recruit year-round but many have closing dates in November and December (some as early as October!) so it is always worth checking. An internship can be a real boost to your application as the sector is highly competitive, so if you're in the penultimate year of your degree it's worth noting that the closing date for many of these programmes is in January.
What's the competition for graduate programmes like?
Competition for vacancies can be fierce. Recruiters will only consider the very best candidates for further assessment so it is important that your application is first-rate.