As a graduate, your first few years at work should comprise a blend of training, travel and project work that will build skills and give you the experience necessary to tackle greater responsibilities down the line. Consulting is a profession that actively encourages continual learning, innovative thinking and early client contact, but the experience will be different between consultancy firms, so it is important to ask the right questions and understand what experience you can expect.
Consider all your options
Consulting firms differ in the work they do, the sectors and markets they operate in, the packages and opportunities they offer to new recruits, and their culture and people. So your first step should be to reflect on what matters most to you. Do some homework and talk to lots of different people to find out where your priorities lie. Start by considering the following:
What sort of consultancy is it?
The work a firm does will have a big impact on the work you do as a new recruit. Some specialise in particular functions such as IT or HR; others will have a much wider scope. Some are known mainly for operational work; others for broader work on strategy and management. Some consultancies operate across a range of industries, while others are very specialised. Consider whether you want to get a breadth of experience before deciding where to specialise, or if you already know where you want to focus.
What kind of opportunities does it offer?
Look at a firm’s size, growth, international networks and reputation. Size may affect the training you receive and the career development opportunities available. The strength of a company’s international networks will affect your opportunities to work in other countries, while a firm’s growth record and prospects (and approach to periods of economic difficulty in the past) might give some important clues about job security. Think, too, about a company’s reputation in the business world. The best consulting experiences provide opportunities to learn and develop that are unrivalled in any other graduate career. However, these opportunities vary by firm. For example, some firms will provide opportunities for secondments and will pay for you to study for an MBA. Don’t be afraid to ask prospective employers if these sorts of opportunities are available.
The initial training period at a consulting firm is vital. The best organisations ensure that you get an in-depth, overarching understanding of the way projects work and how to carry out your role within case teams. As your career progresses, a good firm will also provide training in project management and leadership, client presentations, financial budgeting and networking.
Time spent at home and away
Most consulting engagements require a mix of junior and senior consultants, and often analysts and associates will spend a lot of time at client sites, working closely with members of client teams. Sometimes this will be domestic, sometimes abroad. While this first-hand experience is one of the great attractions of consultancy, you will need to consider the implications of working away from home, and understand what staffing models different consultancies have established. The approach to travel is likely to vary not only between consultancies, but also by office and sector, so make sure to ask the right questions to allow a rounded, informed decision.
Making your decision
Everyone will place a different emphasis on the criteria listed here so it is up to you to make sure that you find the best fit for you. Employer presentations can give you a better feel for what it’s like to work for one firm compared to another. Do the people you meet seem interesting and engaging? Do you connect with them? Consider where you are most likely to feel at home and issues such as work/ life balance. It’s also worth remembering that new university recruits in all firms can expect to spend time doing research and analysing data. However, in some firms you will be doing this – and not much else – for a longer period of time than in others. Take the time to understand the breadth of experience you are likely to get in your early years.
Be proactive to get ahead
Consulting is an incredibly varied profession and the breadth of experience that a firm is able to provide (as well as the formal training on offer) will affect the skills and capabilities you are able to develop throughout your career. It’s also up to you to be proactive. If you want to make your mark, find out what sort of individual impact you can make – a little bit of research now will go a long way in making sure your future career is all you want it to be.