Deciding which consulting firm offers you the right graduate career
The differences between consulting firms include the sectors and markets they operate in, the work they do, the packages and opportunities they offer new recruits, and their cultures and people. You should take the time to look into these differences and reflect on what matters most to you. Then you will be able to identify which firms to apply to and, if you are lucky enough to receive several offers, choose between them. At interview, most consulting employers will want to know what it is about their firm that particularly appeals – if you’ve done your homework this should be easy to answer.
What sort of consultancy is it?
Get beneath consulting buzzwords to understand exactly what it is that a firm does because this will have a big impact on the work you do as a new recruit. Some specialise in particular functional areas such as IT or HR; while others have a much wider scope. Some are known mainly for operational work, others for broader work on strategy and general management. Investigate the sectors in which a firm operates. Some consultancies operate across a range of industries; others are very specialised. Do you want to get a breadth of experience before deciding where to specialise, or do you know where you want to focus already? Where a firm claims to work across a range of sectors, ask about the strengths of their different practices and the client base within them.
Size and other matters
Look at a firm’s size, growth, international networks and reputation. There are pros and cons to working in a small, medium or large consultancy. 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 and experience different cultures. Ask about a firm’s growth record and prospects, but also about what happened in previous downturns, as this might give some important clues about job security. Think, too, about a company’s reputation in the business world. Consulting is a great springboard to other careers but different consulting brands have different values in the labour market.
What will I be doing?
Once you have a clearer picture of these differences, there is another set of questions to ask – about the type of work you are likely to be doing. In all firms, new university recruits can expect to spend time in front of a computer doing research and analysing data. But in some firms you will be doing this – and not much else – for a longer period of time than in others. In others, new graduate joiners will find themselves having a much broader role in project teams at an early stage, including working directly with clients. Really probe hard to find out what sort of individual impact you can make.
What opportunities will the firm give me?
You also need to consider what the firm will give you – the best consulting experiences provide opportunities to learn and develop that are unrivalled in any other graduate career. However, these opportunities vary by firm. The breadth of experiences that a firm is able to provide, as well as the formal training, will affect the skills and capabilities you are able to develop through your consulting career – your managerial ‘toolkit’. Some firms will provide opportunities for secondments and pay for you to study for an MBA. Don’t be afraid to ask prospective employers if these sorts of opportunities are available.
Culture, people and ‘fit’
Talk to people who have gone into consulting and use the company presentations to get a better feel for what it’s like to work at one firm compared to another. Do the people you meet seem arrogant, interesting, engaging, fun, boring? A single type or diverse? Think about where you are likely to feel most at home. A particular issue is the balance between work and personal life. Everyone works hard in consulting, but there are firms where people seem to feel obliged to stay late in the office whether they need to be there or not. You want to know this in advance! Ultimately, everyone will have different criteria on which they will make their decisions. No two people will put exactly the same weight on these criteria. The most important thing is to work out what you want and then decide which firm is most likely to meet your expectations. Above all, keep asking searching questions – if nothing else, it’s great training for a career in consulting.
Thanks to Nick South, partner and managing director at The Boston Consulting Group, for his help with this article.