Graduate careers in consulting

Jemma Smith, Editor
August, 2016

Business consulting is a growing industry and with high starting salaries, immediate responsibility and the potential to travel it's unsurprisingly a popular choice among graduates

Graduates have plenty of opportunities to choose from in this competitive field, no matter their area of interest, for example you could get involved in management consulting, digital/IT consulting, financial consulting, HR consulting or risk consulting.

What is business consulting?

A business consultant analyses an organisation and works closely with clients on strategy, planning and problem solving in order to improve business performance.

'Consulting can be a very rewarding career,' says Mark Baker, UKI Consulting by Degrees (CbD) graduate programme manager at IBM. 'If you want an opportunity to make a difference, often working with the most high-profile client organisations, then consulting should be high on your list of careers.

'If you like the idea of no two days being the same, plenty of travel and work that delivers a sense of achievement then this is the job for you.'

Consultants also get the unique opportunity to gain access-all-areas insight into how different organisations operate on a day-to-day basis, providing a depth of knowledge and experience.

'Consulting is a great area for business graduates to get into,' agrees Sarah Paul, HR business partner, emerging talent recruitment, Atos. 'With Atos our diverse portfolio of clients and businesses mean that graduates will rapidly broaden their skill set and progress their consultancy career. There is also plenty of scope to contribute fresh ideas and make a measurable difference.'

Candidates will really stand out if they can show that they understand what they have applied for and can demonstrate a particular interest based on their research

What graduate schemes are on offer?

Formal consulting graduate schemes tend to be provided by large companies and there are plenty of available opportunities.

As a graduate consultant at IBM you'll join their CbD scheme - a two year leadership and development programme designed to provide the training, development and practical experience needed to successfully launch your consulting career.

'Entrants are typically in the early stages of their career, and come either directly from university or after gaining a few years of work experience,' explains Mark.

As an IBM graduate business consultant you'll start on a salary of £30,000 and receive training in a range of consulting and technical skill areas, from communications skills and conducting client conversations, to mobile development and data analytics. Training can be in the form of classroom learning, via virtual methods or self tuition.

'After an initial four week residential induction graduates are immediately trusted and expected to work with clients. You'll have the chance to get involved in varied and interesting projects and really make a difference to our client organisations.

'For example, CbD graduates have helped a major government department deliver transformation to citizen support services, refined and personalised sales and service channels for a well-known airline and helped a large bank define and implement its online banking strategy and applications.'

At Atos an IT service management company, graduate business consultants sit within various disciplines including;

  • analytics and information management;
  • business performance improvement;
  • digital transformation;
  • governance;
  • IT strategy and transformation;
  • risk and compliance.

'Our business consultants are among the best in the world and we provide graduates with all the training, mentoring and exposure they need to join them,' says Sarah. 'As part of the business consulting scheme graduates will quickly gain the skills needed to help make client organisations more profitable and sustainable.'

On the 18-month programme you'll be rotated around the different consulting business areas, which will give you experience on live projects and business development. You'll also receive 'core consulting skills' training to fully equip you with the skills you need to succeed.

'We have a supportive and encouraging graduate community, both in work and in our extracurricular activities; whether that's sports or social meet ups or giving back the local community,' adds Sarah.

If you're interested in digital technology the business consultant scheme at Fujitsu might be for you. 'In this role you'll help our clients exploit digital technology so that they can grow and succeed. You will be at the heart of our most important customer projects, developing client strategy, helping clients use new technology, deriving insight from data, driving business change and optimising business processes,' says Mark Jackson EMEIA lead, internal mobility and junior talent acquisition, Fujitsu.

Alongside your business consultant role you'll also embark on a two year development programme covering key skills such as self-awareness, leadership, business awareness and business knowledge.

Other organisations which offer graduate opportunities in consulting include:

  • Accenture;
  • Deloitte;
  • EY;
  • FTI Consulting;
  • KPMG;
  • PwC.

Search graduate jobs in business, consulting and management.

What qualifications do I need?

The majority of consulting graduate schemes aim to attract high academic achievers. In the majority of cases you will need:

  • a 2:1 in a relevant subject - this is not always the case, IBM welcome applications from graduates of any degree discipline but are particularly interested in science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) qualifications;
  • the right combination of soft skills - Atos look for graduates with excellent written and verbal communication skills, teamwork ability and strong planning and organisational skills. Sarah also highlights a friendly personality, initiative, motivation and commercial awareness as essential;
  • a strong and demonstrable interest in your chosen sector/organisation;
  • language skills - due to the international nature of many large companies knowledge of a second language can be an advantage but is by no means essential;
  • a willingness to travel - consulting careers usually require a fair amount of travel it’s possible that you'll need to relocate and work from home for extended periods.

Application processes can vary but the majority of applications are made online. Following initial application it's likely that you'll have to attend an assessment centre and undergo several rounds of interviews before being offered a position. Depending on your preferred area of consulting and your employer you may also need to pass numerical or psychometric tests.

How can I stand out from the crowd?

With the rising popularity of consulting as a graduate career, competition for places on graduate schemes is fierce.

'Candidates will really stand out if they can show that they understand what they have applied for and can demonstrate a particular interest based on their research,' advises Sarah. 'This may seem time consuming but sending out a generic application is unlikely to prove successful.'

A high degree of commercial awareness is a must so research the sector and know the current trends and issues which are affecting the industry, the organisation that you're applying to and their clients.

Also include any extracurricular activities and relevant work experience in your application. 'Think about transferable skills e.g. are you part of a sports team showing long term commitment and teamwork? Have you organised a charity event, showing creativity, leadership and responsibility? All of these skills are of interest to employers,' says Sarah.

What are my options on completion of a scheme?

Gaining a place on such a graduate scheme usually opens the door to permanent employment.

Completion of the Atos graduate scheme is just the start of your career in consulting. 'Graduates will start to develop their own propositions for clients and head up their own work streams. We have a defined career framework within consulting so graduates can plan out their future with us. We believe it’s important to continue to develop our internal talent throughout their careers,' states Sarah.

At IBM you'll aim for a promotion after your first year on the scheme and be ready for the next step up on completion of the CbD programme. 'Graduates and alumni of the programme are some of IBM's top performers, with the majority consistently achieving the highest performance ratings,' explains Mark.

'There are a huge range of career paths on offer with IBM and any who join us are expected and enabled to be masters of their own career direction.'

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