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Consulting jargon: a graduate's guide to jobspeak

21 Jun 2023, 15:37

At your management consulting job interview you won't be expected to know what 'boiling the ocean' means, but being familiar with the business terminology used in the consulting environment could boost your confidence.


They will consider a range of factors in order to undertake detailed analysis on key business issues.

Basic consulting terms...

Management consultancy
Management consultancy is about helping organisations to improve their performance. The scope of management consulting ranges from focusing on a specific area of a business (for example, its human resource capability or a manufacturing process) to developing company-wide IT solutions, to recommending long-term strategic developments.

Strategy consulting
Strategy consultants often work with very senior personnel in the client organisation in order to offer a high-level insight into how to improve the position of the business. They will consider a range of factors, including competitors, the current state of the market and customer behaviour in order to undertake detailed analysis on key business issues. They try to anticipate future developments and help businesses position themselves accordingly.

Consultants work with clients to bring about change in their organisation, taking a strategy that has been recommended and turning it into a reality. A successful implementation will ensure that the technology, people and process elements of the organisation are in harmony. Some consulting firms offer strategy and implementation services.

Information technology consulting
IT consultants offer expertise in the area of technology, providing IT services and solutions to help organisations compete more effectively in the marketplace. Areas of work include improving operations, application development, integration, and business and network strategies.

Human resource consulting
Human resource consultants help organisations to manage their investment in people effectively. Advice can be given on a wide range of issues, including employee benefits, compensation, communication, change management and workforce planning, job evaluation, and industrial relations.

Economics consulting
In this niche area of consulting, specialist economic knowledge is applied to generate business recommendations and provide expert advice in areas such as competition policy, regulation, valuation of intellectual property and businesses, and disputes. Clients can come from all industry sectors, but there is often work on government issues and with regulatory authorities.

And then you graduate to the esoteric stuff...

There are some weird and wonderful phrases you’re bound to come across if you embark on a career in management consulting – here are just a few them.

BLUE SKY THINKING Thinking outside of the box – coming up with unexpected ways of doing something.

B OILING THE OCEAN Doing a huge amount of work when you only need to do a tiny fraction of it.

BUY-IN Support or agreement (this is what you're looking for from clients, stakeholders and colleagues).

CORE COMPETENCES Things a company is good at.

DECK A PowerPoint presentation.


HTD Happy to Discuss – used at the end of informal memos, e-mails etc to make it clear that although the position you have stated may seem unreasonable, you’re not averse to discussing the point.

I MAGINEERING Turning blue sky thinking into reality – ie engineering the outputs of your imagination.

IMPLEMENTATION When consultants stay on a project and actually implement the strategies they have recommended.

INTERVIEW ATTIRE Suit and only suit.

LEVERAGE Use/steal – eg ‘We can leverage X’s expertise in this area’.

LOW-HANGING FRUIT Stuff that’s easy to do – eg ‘I’ve picked the low-hanging fruit – can you finish it off?’.

NICHE/BOUTIQUE CONSULTANCIES Specialised consultancies (ie focusing on particular sectors).

ON THE BENCH/BEACH Not staffed on a billable project.

PLAYING CATCH-UP Joining an existing project and getting up to speed.

RE-INVENTING THE WHEEL Doing something that somebody else has already done on a previous study.

SECTORS Industry sectors (ie fixed telecoms, mobile, media, sports, regulation etc).

SINGING FROM THE SAME HYMN SHEET (MAKING SURE EVERYONE IS) Ensuring everyone is stating the same messages to the client or other stakeholders, or that everyone is doing something by the same method.

SMART CASUAL No jeans – so, trousers with shirt but no tie.

STRATEGY CONSULTING CEO-level strategic advice to clients (normally shorter projects).

S TRAWMAN A first draft of an output, the main value of which is giving people ideas for what the final output should look like (ie it’s meant to be savagely criticised).

SWOT ANALYSIS A popular kind of competitor analysis: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats.

THROW A CURVED BALL Discovering a new element to something you’re trying to do, eg run a project, which changes everything you have done thus far, or are currently doing – normally necessitates radical re-think of approach.

VISIONING WORKSHOP Establishing the client’s ‘vision’, ie where do they see their business/dept in the future, how do they see their staff working, and what is their attitude.

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