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.
Management consultants are primarily concerned with the strategy, structure, management and operations of an organisation. They will identify options for the organisation and suggest recommendations for change, as well as advising on additional resources to implement solutions.
Consultants operate across a wide variety of services such as:
- business strategy;
- financial and management controls;
- human resources;
- information technology;
- supply-chain management.
Consultancy firms range from larger firms that offer end-to-end solutions, to smaller or niche firms that offer specialist expertise and skills in certain industry areas.
The day-to-day activities of management consultants are often complex and will vary depending on the client and type of project. You may work alone on some projects, while others will involve a large team and could be based in one location or across various sites.
Typical tasks, particularly for new graduate recruits, involve:
- carrying out research and data collection to understand the organisation;
- conducting analysis;
- interviewing the client's employees, management team and other stakeholders;
- running focus groups and facilitating workshops;
- preparing business proposals and presentations.
New recruits tend to spend most of their time at the client's site.
In addition to the above, tasks for more experienced and senior consultants involve:
- identifying issues and forming hypotheses and solutions;
- presenting findings and recommendations to clients;
- implementing recommendations/solutions and ensuring the client receives the necessary assistance to carry it all out;
- managing projects and programmes;
- leading and managing those within the team, including analysts;
- liaising with the client to keep them informed of progress and to make relevant decisions.
- 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 a few years' experience, it is possible for management consultants to earn up to £50,000. Salaries go higher than this at a senior level, with significant experience, especially if profit share and performance bonus schemes are available.
Other benefits may include car allowances, private health insurance, pension scheme, life insurance, on-site gyms, childcare vouchers and interest-free season ticket loans.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
Consultancy work can be demanding and involve long hours beyond 9am to 5pm, with extra work having to be carried out for large projects and to meet deadlines. However, length of hours will depend on the firm and type of project.
The majority of time is spent at the client's site, which may also involve travelling if they are based across more than one location.
Firms are paying increasing attention to work/life balance by offering family-friendly benefits, for example, flexible working, part-time working, working from home, enhanced maternity/paternity leave. Some encourage career breaks or secondments in another role or outside the company.
What to expect
- 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.
- 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.
- Key firms have head offices based in London and the South East, however some have regional offices across the UK and many have offices overseas.
- Smart professional dress is expected.
- 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.
Management consultancy is open to graduates from any degree discipline, but a degree which is either numerical or analytical in content can be an advantage for some firms.
In particular the following subjects are helpful:
Management consultants work in a variety of sectors, e.g. banking, healthcare, engineering, retail, etc. so if you have a degree that relates to one of these areas it could prove useful.
It is likely that employers will be looking for a strong academic record more than the subject of study. Often a 2:1 at degree level or equivalent is required, particularly for any graduate training schemes.
A postgraduate degree is not necessary for entry into 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.
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.
You will need to show:
- the ability to work in a team;
- interpersonal and communication (both oral and written) skills;
- creativity and innovation;
- problem-solving and strategic planning ability;
- analytical skills;
- the ability to cope with pressure and challenges;
- commercial awareness and understanding of business environments.
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.
Consultancy firms can be divided into the following areas:
- Generalist: which are the larger firms, such as Deloitte, Ernst & Young, KPMG, PwC and Accenture. They offer a wide range of services from strategy consulting and human resources, to IT and outsourcing on a global basis.
- Strategy consultants: who offer strategic advice to companies on a project-by-project basis e.g. new market entry, long-range planning and rationalisation of goods/services.
- Human resource consultants: who offer specialist HR advice, e.g. in organisational restructuring, talent and rewards strategies.
- Information technology consultancy firms: which offer specialist IT advice such as defining information needs, systems analysis and design, as well as applications consulting, which involves the implementation of large scale data software applications such as SAP and Oracle.
- Financial consultants: who offer specialist advice including the installation of budgetary control systems, profit planning and capital and revenue budgeting.
- Outsourcing consultancies: which manage the outsourcing of projects such as IT, Finance and HR.
- Niche firms: which are often the result of 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:
- financial services;
- media and telecommunications;
- public sector and government;
- charities and educational institutions;
- hospitality and leisure.
Look for job vacancies at:
- Personnel Today
- Top Consultant
- Companies' own websites.
- Your own university careers service vacancy listings.
Some large organisations attend universities and careers fairs to advertise their vacancies. There are also a number of specialist recruitment agencies for management consultancy jobs:
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 Institute of Consulting (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.
There are many short courses and training events available that will help to keep your knowledge up to date. The IC runs training workshops that cover topics such as:
- moving into consultancy;
- implementing strategic change;
- engagement, influence and communications.
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.
Many firms offer other development opportunities such as:
- mentoring programmes;
- resource libraries;
- networking opportunities;
- lectures and presentations given by experts.
Continuing professional development (CPD) is important and the IC runs a scheme for its members to record CPD activities and highlight development needs.
As a new graduate, you will tend to 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 relatively quickly within about three years. At this level you will lead teams, and design and develop solutions and projects.
It is 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 would have responsibility for generating new business, developing client relationships and overseeing the strategic growth of the firm.
You may choose to work freelance or to set up your own consultancy firm but this is usually only achieved with substantial experience and good contacts.
Progression within firms can be rapid for those who show initiative and who develop opportunities for the business.