How to become a management consultant

Dominic Claeys-Jackson, Editor
August, 2015

Management consultants provide organisations with objective advice and assistance, helping them to solve issues, create value, maximise growth and improve business performance

Helen Gibson, joint managing director of Agencia Consulting, says that management consultants often share their niche skills and extensive experience on specific projects surrounding the strategy, structure, management and operations of an organisation. This means that they’re often employed on an ad-hoc basis.

‘They help to take organisations further than they would go on their own,’ adds Helen. ‘They do this by solving problems, providing an outside perspective and enhancing business capacity.’

While multinational organisations like Deloitte offer numerous consultancy services, there are many small firms that have niches - for example, IT, health, retail, marketing, economics, environment, human resources (HR) and financial services.

Why choose management consultancy?

Management consultancy boasts numerous attractions, perhaps most notably its varied workload. You’ll work on multiple business projects for many different clients across many different industries.

Kevin Kear, marketing manager at the Management Consultancies Association (MCA), claims that this leads to huge prospects in terms of professional development, adding that there are continuous opportunities to enhance your CV by developing a deeper and broader skillset - including working abroad.

‘No other profession can offer such a variety of challenges and opportunities,’ says Kevin. ‘If you’ve an aptitude for problem solving and want to know how businesses work, then management consulting could be the career for you.’

Dr Giles A. Hindle, director of MSc Business Analytics and Consulting at Hull University Business School, agrees that organisations often offer fantastic scope for career development.

‘Consultancy affords excellent experience for graduates,’ he says. ‘Firms tend to provide superb training for new employees and enable them to work in numerous areas during their early years.’

Starting salaries are very attractive too. Many firms pay entry-level graduate consultants £25,000 to £35,000, rising to around £50,000 within several years. Senior consultants can earn even more, thanks to profit share and performance bonus schemes.

Developing your skillset

Strong skills in analysis, client handling and project management are most sought-after by employers, according to Dr Hindle. ‘Consultancy firms need to know that their employees are making the right sort of impression with their clients and that they can work effectively to tight timescales,’ he explains.

Helen, who recruits graduates, says that she looks for candidates with certain skills, experiences and personality traits, such as:

  • communication skills;
  • confidence;
  • energy;
  • entrepreneurial spirit;
  • interpersonal skills;
  • leadership;
  • passion;
  • reliability and trustworthiness;
  • teamwork.

Employability can be enhanced through part-time work and university societies. Furthermore, many consultancy firms offer internships, summer placements or a year in industry for undergraduate students - all of which can lead to a permanent job or a place on a graduate scheme.

‘Get some work experience on your CV,’ recommends Kevin, who lists his top desired attributes as strategic planning, business analysis, creativity and flexibility. ‘Any work in the business field will be valuable - the more that you know about how a business operates, the better.

‘A number of universities also have student-run consultancy firms where members can volunteer their time to consult for charities or local businesses, while getting a taste for the industry and gaining some valuable experience.’

Finding a job

The MCA has an online directory of firms, encompassing all strands of the profession. Helen claims that it’s worthwhile applying to such firms directly, and speculative applications to companies that appeal to you can prove fruitful. ‘Be proactive in building and utilising your network in the consulting industry, for example through family, friends and LinkedIn,’ she recommends.

Indeed, large consultancy firms have well-advertised, highly competitive schemes that recruit hundreds of graduates each year. Local firms also have openings, with many recruiting up to a dozen graduates annually. Both large and local firms will attend careers fairs, and will expect you to have strong academic credentials.

Dr Hindle says that networking or taking a specialist Masters course will help you to find opportunities. ‘Local consultancy firms will be well-known within business networks and respond well to graduates who show initiative and persistence,’ he adds. ‘Niche consultancy firms can be a sensible choice for graduates with particular skills and interests.’