Getting a graduate job in business, consulting and management

Jemma Smith, Editor
August, 2016

Increase your chances of finding a graduate job in the business, consulting and management sector by gaining sought-after skills and experience

Degrees of any discipline are accepted for many graduate schemes and jobs in the sector. In fact, employers are usually more interested in specific personality traits and will commonly use assessment centres and psychometric tests to find their desired candidates. However, a numerical or business-related degree, such as economics, business studies or business and management may be advantageous.

If you have your sights set on a particular area of business management, for example, HR, IT or marketing, some employers may seek skills and/or qualifications in these areas. If this is the case undergraduate courses and Masters degrees in human resource management, computing or marketing management could be useful.

If you plan to move into consultancy there is no typical entry route in to the profession but most employers expect you to be educated to degree level. Business consultancy is a growing area and management consulting in particular is a popular choice among graduates.

Management consultancy is open to graduates of any degree discipline. While not essential, a business-related degree, postgraduate qualification or MBA study may be valued by some employers.

Large consultancies generally want graduates with at least a 2:1 - and sometimes also 300+ UCAS points. Some, however, such as PwC, have talent programmes to identify potential recruits who don't have these grades. Applicants can attend a workshop and, if successful, gain a fast-track to an internship. PwC also offers a higher apprenticeship in management consulting for school and college leavers.

What skills do employers want?

Employers in the sector value skills just as much, and sometimes more, than qualifications. They place a high level of importance on:

  • interpersonal skills - it's essential that managers are able to get along with people at all levels of an organisation. You will need to be diplomatic, flexible, open-minded and emotionally intelligent;
  • soft skills - such as communication and listening. In management and consulting roles you need to be able to listen to colleagues and clients, communicate confidently and effectively and then act on any decisions made. Strong leadership, presentation and teamwork skills, along with the ability to motivate others are also crucial;
  • a high degree of commercial awareness and a sound knowledge of business environments - business managers and consultants have the opportunity to work in a variety of sectors and organisations. In order to carry out your role successfully it's important that you have an in depth knowledge of different business environments and how they operate and a good understanding of the industry in which you work;
  • analytical, problem-solving and strategic thinking skills - no matter your area of work you'll have to analyse and overcome numerous obstacles, from managing staff to anticipating change, and this requires quick, logical thinking;
  • numerical skills as it's likely that you'll manage or work with budgets in some capacity;
  • IT literacy - technology is ever-advancing and increasingly important in the business sphere. If you're worried that your IT skills aren't up to scratch many large companies will train employees in their own particular systems. There are also numerous short courses on offer which aim to improve general IT literacy, from courses in Microsoft packages and word processing to website creation, programming and cloud computing;
  • creativity and attention to detail - as a manager or consultant it's your job to identify issues and problems and come up with innovative solutions to improve performance and you'll need a good eye for detail in order to do this;
  • strong organisation and time management ability - whether in a management or consulting role its likely that you'll be working on multiple projects, involving a variety of colleagues, at any one time. Deadlines will be tight so you'll need to possess organisational skills and the ability to prioritise in order to manage your workload effectively.

In the world of business, knowledge of a second language can also be incredibly useful. International travel is a key feature of many business management and consulting careers, especially if you work for a large organisation.

Where can I get work experience?

Because graduates can enter the sector with any degree subject many employers place a strong emphasis on industry-specific experience.

Work experience, either paid or voluntary, can significantly increase your chances of success as it demonstrates your commitment to the industry and your desire to do the job; both attractive attributes in the competitive field of business. Internships and work placements also increase your commercial awareness and develop highly sought-after skills.

Business managers are needed in the majority of organisations so internship opportunities shouldn't be hard to find. Many large organisations offer summer or industrial placements for undergraduates, which can lead to permanent employment or a place on a graduate scheme.

For example, Lloyds Banking Group run the IT Business Management Internship, while Enterprise Rent-a-Car offers a Management Training Internship, which covers sales, marketing, customer service and business and administrative management. BAE Systems, the UK's largest defence and security company, also run internships in business and consulting areas.

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) may also offer work experience, but a speculative approach - sending them a CV and cover letter - is often required.

When it comes to gaining consulting experience the 'big four' accountancy firms - EY, PwC, KPMG and Deloitte - and large consultancies such as Bain & Company and FTI Consulting all offer summer placements and year-long industrial placements. These opportunities include experience in all parts of consultancy including business, technical and financial areas. Entry requirements are similar to those required for graduate schemes.

To find work placements and internships in the business, consulting and management sector, search for work experience.

How do I find a graduate job in business and management?

Large employers across all sectors offer graduate schemes in business and management. Big employers are present at university careers fairs, but you can also find details of their graduate schemes and application processes online. The speculative approach is best for smaller companies.

If you don't have a particular employer in mind or you're unsure of what sector you'd like to work in, a conversation with a careers adviser is a good place to start to narrow down your options.

Researching opportunities online via search engines can also provide useful results. For example, Network Rail offers business management graduate schemes in areas such as business technology, general management and project management. You'll need at least a 2:2 in a business subject to get onto the general management scheme. At Unilever you'll need 300 UCAS points and a 2:1 degree to gain a place on their Future Leaders Programme, which aims to train graduates into business managers within two to three years.

Within consultancy some smaller firms prefer to take on experienced management consultants, with several years of experience; however the larger consultancies regularly recruit graduates and it is these larger firms that provide plenty of opportunities in the form of schemes. The 'big four' accountancy firms, large consultancies and some large companies - such as Accenture, ATOS, IBM, Fujitsu and HP - all offer consulting graduate schemes in a range of areas. In most cases you'll need at least a 2:1 degree.

Bear in mind that becoming a consultant can be a lengthy process, with several rounds of interviews and assessment centres and then on-the-job-training once in post.

Specialist recruitment agencies and websites can also be valuable sources of information for finding vacancies as well as keeping up-to-date with key sector issues. Some examples include:

Gaining student membership of professional bodies such as the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) or the Institute of Consulting (IC) can also provide graduate opportunities. As a member you'll have access to industry news and networking events and you'll be able to build up your list of professional contacts, which could prove useful in your job hunt.

To find jobs and graduate schemes in the sector, search graduate jobs in business, consulting and management.