If you're motivated, enjoy problem solving and have an interest in helping organisations operate better, then management consultancy is the career for you

Management consultants help organisations to solve issues, create value, maximise growth and improve business performance. They use their business skills to provide objective advice and expertise and help an organisation to develop any specialist skills that it may be lacking.

You will primarily be concerned with the strategy, structure, management and operations of a company. Your role is to identify options for the organisation and suggest recommendations for change, as well as advising on additional resources to implement solutions.

Types of work can include:

  • business strategy;
  • e-business;
  • financial and management controls;
  • human resources;
  • information technology;
  • marketing;
  • supply-chain management.

Consultancy firms range from large firms that offer end-to-end solutions, to smaller or niche firms that offer specialist expertise and skills in certain industry areas.

Responsibilities

As a management consultant, you'll need to:

  • carry out research and data collection to understand the organisation;
  • conduct analysis;
  • interview the client's employees, management team and other stakeholders;
  • run focus groups and facilitate workshops;
  • prepare business proposals and presentations;
  • identify issues and form hypotheses and solutions;
  • present findings and recommendations to clients;
  • implement recommendations/solutions and ensure the client receives the necessary assistance to carry it all out;
  • manage projects and programmes;
  • lead and manage those within the team, including analysts;
  • liaise with the client to keep them informed of progress and to make relevant decisions.

Salary

  • Starting salaries for junior consultants can be in the region of £25,000 to £30,000 with large firms. However, smaller consultancies may offer lower levels of pay and salaries do vary greatly depending on the location, type and size of consultancy.
  • With around three to five years' experience, it's possible for management consultants to earn up to £50,000.
  • At senior level, with significant experience, it's possible to earn up to £125,000. This is especially true if profit share and performance bonus schemes are available.

Other benefits may include car allowances, private health insurance, pension schemes, life insurance, on-site gyms, childcare vouchers and interest-free season ticket loans.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Consultancy work can be demanding and involves long hours beyond 9am to 5pm, with extra work having to be carried out for large projects and to meet deadlines. However, your hours will depend on the firm and type of project.

Firms are paying increasing attention to work/life balance by offering family-friendly benefits, for example, flexible working, part-time working, working from home and enhanced maternity and paternity leave. Some encourage career breaks or secondments in another role or outside the company.

Freelance work is also possible, with substantial experience and good contacts.

What to expect

  • Consultancy involves a high level of responsibility and pressure. There can be some stress as there will be tough targets and tight deadlines to meet.
  • Consultants can spend considerable time travelling between client sites in the UK. As they need to be based in clients' offices, considerable time away from home may be required if the client site is not local.
  • Consulting work can be carried out on an international level, with many client organisations having offices overseas. This can provide opportunities for travel and work abroad.
  • Consultancy firms have a strong commitment to diversity. Initiatives such as targeted graduate recruitment; internal mentoring and diversity networks to support people from under-represented groups have been established.
  • Self-employment is an option after you have spent a long time in a conventional, corporate, salaried position and have acquired significant knowledge of the market place and/or industry.

Qualifications

Management consultancy is open to graduates from any degree discipline, but a degree which is numerical or analytical in nature can be an advantage for some firms.

In particular the following subjects are helpful:

  • business;
  • economics;
  • engineering;
  • finance;
  • mathematics;
  • science.

It may also help if you have a degree relevant to the industry in which you wish to work, e.g. banking, healthcare or engineering. A 2:1 at degree level or equivalent is required, particularly for any graduate training schemes. Some commercial experience may also help your application.

You don't need a postgraduate degree for a career in consultancy; however it can be useful to the work. In particular the Masters in Business Administration (MBA) is valued by some employers but it is by no means essential. Having a Masters or PhD may allow you to enter the profession at a higher level.

Search for MBA courses.

Many consultants enter the profession with a background of commercial experience and in some cases a professional qualification relevant to a certain industry. However some firms, particularly the larger ones, do take on new graduates for entrance to their training schemes.

Competition is extremely intense with high entry standards and requirements. Some consultancy firms have several rounds of interviews and assessment centres that candidates must go through. If you wish to get into consultancy work immediately after university you should start applying for positions at the beginning of your final year and try to establish some relevant experience.

Demonstrate to employers your commitment to the profession by gaining membership of the Institute of Consulting (IC). Keeping up to date with industry news through organisations such as the Management Consultancies Association (MCA) will also help to strengthen applications.

Skills

You will need to show:

  • the ability to work as part of a team;
  • interpersonal and communication (both oral and written) skills;
  • creativity and innovation;
  • problem-solving and strategic planning ability;
  • analytical skills;
  • flexibility;
  • the ability to cope with pressure and challenges;
  • commercial awareness and understanding of business environments.

Work experience

Employers often value experience and skills as much as qualifications and so it is useful to gain relevant work experience before you enter the profession.

As well as part-time or voluntary work, this could include extracurricular activities such as club membership, team sports, or society work that involves team building skills, business or finance knowledge and organisation skills.

Employers

Management consultancy firms are the main employers; ranging from large firms that offer end-to-end solutions, to smaller or niche firms that offer specialist expertise and skills in certain industry areas.

Consultancy firms can be divided into the following areas:

  • Generalist: are the larger firms, such as Deloitte, EY, KPMG, PwC and Accenture. They offer a range of services from strategy consulting and human resources, to IT and outsourcing on a global basis.
  • Strategy consultants: offer strategic advice to companies on a project-by-project basis e.g. new market entry, long-range planning and rationalisation of goods and services.
  • Human resource consultants: offer specialist HR advice, e.g. in organisational restructuring, talent and rewards strategies.
  • Information technology consultancy firms: offer specialist IT advice such as defining information needs, systems analysis and design, as well as applications consulting.
  • Financial consultants: offer specialist advice including the installation of budgetary control systems, profit planning and capital and revenue budgeting.
  • Outsourcing consultancies: manage the outsourcing of projects such as IT, Finance and HR.
  • Niche firms: often set up by consultants leaving the larger firms to set up their own consultancies in a particular sector or specialist service.

Consultants operate across a whole range of industries and sectors, including:

  • charities and educational institutions;
  • financial services;
  • healthcare;
  • hospitality and leisure;
  • manufacturing;
  • media and telecommunications;
  • public sector and government;
  • retail;
  • utilities.

Look for job vacancies at:

Specialist recruitment agencies also handle vacancies, these include:

Professional development

The type of training offered can depend on the type of consultancy firm and its size. Large firms typically have a structured training programme with a detailed induction process that covers an overview of the organisation, structure and specific roles. You will usually be under the guidance of an experienced consultant. In smaller firms a lot of the training may be carried out on the job and you will be expected to pick things up as you go along.

Professional qualifications can be carried out while working and relevant awards are offered by the IC. This includes the Level 7 qualification in Professional Consulting, which is available at three levels - award, certificate and diploma. It is aimed at those who want to develop strategic skills within consulting.

Beyond this you may choose to progress to the qualification for Certified Management Consultant (CMC). It is achieved through a competency-based assessment process and provides evidence that you have reached an accepted standard. You must be a member or fellow of the IC to complete the award. Find out more at IC: Training and Qualifications.

Postgraduate qualifications that are relevant to management consultants are also available and could potentially be taken while working with the support of your employer. The Masters in Business Administration (MBA) is popular with management consultants but other Masters programmes in relevant business subjects are available.

The Management Consultancies Association (MCA) offers courses, workshops and seminars for consultants at all levels, from writing a business proposal for junior consultants, to high-level presentation skills for partners. Get more information at MCA: Career Development.

Career prospects

As a new graduate, you will usually begin your management consultancy career in an analyst role, mainly carrying out research, data collection and analysis. Once you have gained some experience you will move on to the full consultancy role.

From here you will typically progress to senior consultant or manager level, and this is usually achieved within about three years. At this level you will lead teams, and design and develop solutions and projects.

It's also possible to take on project management roles, perhaps specialising in a certain industry to become an expert in that area.

Once you reach senior consultant or manager level, you can go on to become a partner or director of a firm where you will have responsibility for generating new business, developing client relationships and overseeing the strategic growth of the firm.