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Career Overview | Requirements | Job Outlook | Career Tracks | Compensation
In the world of business, management consultants are jacks-of-all-trades. Working through consulting firms or as independent contractors, they advise corporations and other organizations regarding an infinite array of issues related to business strategy—from reengineering to e-commerce, change management to systems integration. From billion-dollar mergers and acquisitions to corporate reorganizations in which thousands of jobs are at stake, they are the directors behind the scenes of nearly every major event in the marketplace. A career in consulting can encompass a wide variety of industries. One word of clarification: “Consulting” is a big, one-size-fits-all term that includes virtually any form of advice-giving. Pretty much anyone with a specialty in a field can offer consulting service; to keep this profile specific, we’ve focused on management consulting, a broad category in its own right. Often called strategy consulting, this segment of the industry includes firms that specialize in providing advice about strategic and core operational issues. Most management consultants hold salaried positions at firms that cater to a clientele of mostly large corporations. They are assigned on a project basis to their firm's clients, who are billed by the hour for their services. Depending on the client's needs and the firm's functional specialty (or core competency, as it's often called), consultants conduct objective research and analysis on behalf of their client, and make recommendations based on their findings. Ultimately, management consultants take on the responsibility of improving their clients’ businesses by effecting change through their recommendations. Although some of the highest-profile firms populate this segment, they’re not the only ones doing consulting. Thousands of other organizations and individuals call themselves consultants, make money by selling their advisory services, and offer plenty of opportunities for employment. If you like the idea of giving advice to other businesses, and you have a particular interest in computers, human resources, corporate communications, mobile communications, health care, financial services, real estate, e-commerce, or some other specialized field, there’s a good chance you can find a position with an organization doing precisely that. What You'll Do Research and analysis are the main tools of the trade for management consultants. They analyze a business problem from various angles by conducting research and forming and testing hypotheses. 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 get 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 form solutions. These solutions are then recommended to the client and—hopefully—implemented. (Sometimes convincing a client to accept a consultant’s recommendations can be the most difficult aspect of the job, and there is always a chance that the client will choose not to accept the consultant’s recommendation at all.) Consultants often must travel to where their clients are located, sometimes spending days—even weeks— conducting research or implementing solutions. Long hours are common. But the pay is great, not to mention the bonuses. Who Does Well For those who enjoy problem solving and thinking about business strategy, consulting can be a very fulfilling career as well as an excellent jumping-off point for a management career or a future as an entrepreneur. On the flip side, frequent travel and long hours can make a consultant's schedule very demanding. While consulting is great for people who like variety in their work, it is not for those allergic to structure and hierarchy. The large and elite firms tend to have a culture that mirrors that of their corporate clients, complete with a steep career ladder: Only a select few make it to partner-level, and that's with an MBA and 6 to 8 years at the firm.
Although the competition at top firms is intense, the qualities that recruiters look for are similar across the board.
the analyst program lasts 2 or 3 years.Besides outstanding academic records. Firms have increasingly begun to promote analysts into positions they hire MBAs into or else into an interim role between the undergraduate and MBA position. although their titles vary.” another insider says. many firms will pay your tuition. Traditionally. and who have a keen understanding of and interest in business. firms want people who are problem solvers. Candidates with experience in industry are much sought after. “We see a movement upward in the number of hiring. they’re putting themselves at a disadvantage. The management team absolutely thinks the work will continue.” As a consequence. creative thinkers. provided you return to the firm when you’re done. good communicators. According to insiders. However. “We moved through the early 2000s on cost reduction. and they want to work in a post-MBA position in a field different than their summer position. Firms specializing in IT consulting or ebusiness may require technical skills and experience. I think those initiatives are going to drive the opportunities for growth in the consulting industry. Now the focus is on growth of the bottom line. Job Outlook After several down years.” says an insider. “For the pre-MBA experience. and client meetings. most consulting interviewers are looking for the following: • • • • • • • • High energy and enthusiasm Team orientation Integrity Excitement about consulting Knowledge about what makes the interviewing firm different Success on the airplane test—do you want to sit next to this person on a long overseas flight? Interpersonal skills Industry experience Finally. It often includes field research. customer and competitor interviews.” Career Tracks Undergraduates Undergraduates generally join a consulting firm as analysts. “I don’t think we’ll see the spiking growth that we saw in the late ’90s. which means a period of renewed growth for recruiting as well. analysts might do heavy-duty programming. In IT. Most new MBA hires . and is expected to drive single-digit growth for the consulting industry through 2006. The work itself—as well as the hours—can be quite demanding. substantial experience—industry experience for the type of client engagements they want to work in post-MBA. most recruiters pay close attention to a candidate’s experience and background.” The growth that appears to have begun won’t mirror that of the go-go 1990s. The economic recovery kicked in around August to September 2003. But if they’re trying something for variety. this system has been changing over the past several years. data analysis. We’re seeing a lot more deals. Top candidates will also have previous experience in the business world (consulting internships are impressive but not required) as well as a record of extracurricular achievement. it would be advantageous to make sure they’re getting some serious. Firms are reporting more contract wins and utilization rates well above the norm. all management consulting hopefuls must clear the dreaded case-interview hurdle to land a consulting position. but how can I improve my productivity. “The outlook is positive.” one insider says. firms began recruiting again in 2004. “Some MBAs will look at the summer associate program as an opportunity to try something completely different. If you choose to go to business school. firms are looking for more experience in those they hire. In the interview. Consult firms' websites directly or contact firms' human resources departments or local graduate schools for schedules and eligibility. Several firms hold specialized information sessions for experienced candidates as well as PhDs and JDs. “I think  is a year of renewed growth for the consulting industry. MBAs Consulting firms hire MBAs and other postgraduates right out of school or from industry. after which you’re encouraged to go to business school. and our capacity is at the highest mark that it’s been in a couple of years.” an insider says. particularly by firms that have industry practices that correspond to candidates' backgrounds. The focus isn’t so much on how fast I can grow my top line or how I can cut my costs.
and client meetings. At the margins. In IT. Undergrads . or experienced hires. after 6 to 8 years with a firm. bankers stand to make lots more— as much as 100 percent of their base—in their year-end bonuses. you should ask about the type of support you’ll receive once you join the firm. where they’ll manage case teams. They are also known for offering excellent perks and benefits. Career Tracks Undergraduates Undergraduates generally join a consulting firm as analysts. Also. the analyst program lasts 2 or 3 years. consulting firms have increasingly tapped nontraditional candidate pools. That’s why some junior partners on Wall Street make more money than senior partners at consulting firms. data analysis. provided you return to the firm when you’re done. or experienced hires. Finally. whereupon the focus shifts to more intensive client work and the selling of services. The work itself—as well as the hours—can be quite demanding. a consultant might be promoted to partner. and MDs. Traditionally. MBAs In 2005. after which you’re encouraged to go to business school. It often includes field research. we estimate MBAs hired into elite firms will start somewhere in the range of $100. you should ask about the type of support you’ll receive once you join the firm. a consultant might be promoted to partner. where they’ll manage case teams. customer and competitor interviews. The benefits of partnership are big increases in salary and responsibility.000 to $130.will come into a firm as associates. after 2 or 3 years they’ll move to the next level. Compensation The major consulting firms are among the best-paying employers for new graduates. find out which level you’ll come in at—the same level as undergrads. such as annual off-site meetings at posh resorts and reimbursements of school expenses. If you choose to go to business school. PhDs. If you are one of these candidates. analysts might do heavy-duty programming. while others rely more heavily on mentorship. Firms have increasingly begun to promote analysts into positions they hire MBAs into or else into an interim role between the undergraduate and MBA position. The key function of partners at most firms is to cultivate clients and sell them new business. PhDs. Some organizations offer a mini-MBA training program. Also. and MDs. find out which level you’ll come in at—the same level as undergrads. many firms will pay your tuition. consultants may be promoted to principal. After managing projects for a couple of years. including JDs. After managing projects for a couple of years. and some organizations have different ways of splitting up the bonus pie (for instance. this system has been changing over the past several years. The benefits of partnership are big increases in salary and responsibility. Advanced-Degree Candidates Over the past 5 years. after 2 or 3 years they’ll move to the next level. MBAs. Most new MBA hires will come into a firm as associates.000. while others rely more heavily on mentorship. after 6 to 8 years with a firm. Finally. since these firms usually compete for the same pool of candidates. linking a portion of the bonus to the firm’s annual performance). There’s less of an emphasis on signing bonuses than in the past.000. The key function of partners at most firms is to cultivate clients and sell them new business. MBAs. there are slight differences in compensation: Lesser-known firms may offer slightly higher salaries or bonuses to attract top candidates. whereupon the focus shifts to more intensive client work and the selling of services. although their titles vary. consulting firms have increasingly tapped nontraditional candidate pools. these can run up to $30. MBAs Consulting firms hire MBAs and other postgraduates right out of school or from industry. Some organizations offer a mini-MBA training program. Although consultants often have higher base salaries than investment bankers. If you are one of these candidates. Advanced-Degree Candidates Over the past 5 years. Salaries and bonus packages at the top firms are generally in close range of each other. including JDs. However. consultants may be promoted to principal.
Again.In the 2005 recruiting season.000 to $65.000.000 to $55.000. Undergrads joining a large IT services firm will likely be in the $35. signing bonuses are not across the board the way they once were. we estimate the elite firms will offer starting salaries in the range of $50.000 range to start. . and can range up to $10.