If you're looking for a graduate job with instant responsibility, rapid progression opportunities and an impressive starting salary then a career in the business, consulting and management sector could be for you

What areas of business can I work in?

According to the House of Commons Library, Business Statistics Briefing Paper there were more than five million businesses in the UK in 2015. Employment opportunities in this vast sector can generally be split into two main areas: business management and consultancy.

If you choose to work in one of these areas you won't need to restrict yourself solely to the business sector as the majority of organisations across all industries require managers and consultants in order to operate effectively. Because of this, graduates have plenty of job opportunities to choose from.

Business managers typically work in general management or hold specific responsibilities for a particular area of an organisation, such as marketing, strategy planning, human resources (HR) or information technology (IT). Some roles lean towards people management, while others focus on project management, but most managers will need skills in both areas.

Meanwhile, consultants offer advice to organisations to help them to solve problems and enhance performance. They either work in large companies or consultancy firms. Firms can be general, specialise in strategy or offer advice to a specific industry, such as:

  • finance;
  • HR;
  • IT;
  • marketing;
  • media;
  • public relations (PR).

Work in this area is highly competitive, with firms looking for bright, high achievers. An increasing number of graduate consultancy positions are available. However, you may find it useful upon graduation to first move into a role where you can build up your business knowledge and maturity before heading into consultancy.

Alternatively you could consider other areas of work that offer specialist information, advice and support to companies, such as data mining or market research, or specific roles such as economist, risk manager and operational researcher.

For examples of job roles in this sector, see graduate jobs in business and management.

When researching potential areas of work it's likely that you'll discover some overlap with the accountancy, banking and finance sector. Professionals from both sectors work together to ensure the best outcome for the client and the lines between the two industries can sometimes be blurred.

Who are the main graduate employers?

Business management and consultancy are growing areas and the number of graduate vacancies continues to increase; great news if you're looking to enter these careers.

The majority of large companies across all sectors recruit graduates to business management roles. In this capacity you can also work within the public sector, for employers such as the Civil Service, the National Health Service (NHS) - which recruits candidates for its Graduate Management Training Scheme - and local government.

When it comes to consultancy, large companies, particularly those in the financial sector, offer a variety of opportunities. The Times' list of the Top 100 Graduate Employers states that companies such as Accenture, McKinsey & Company, Boston Consulting Group, Newton Europe and Bain & Company are the top consultancy employers in 2015/16. The 'big four' accountancy firms - Deloitte, EY, KPMG and PwC - also feature on the list and recruit many graduates to consulting roles.

Other notable consultancies that recruit graduates include:

  • FTI Consulting;
  • Hymans Robertson;
  • Oliver Wyman;
  • Roland Berger.

Consultants can be found in other sectors too, including healthcare, retail, and energy and utilities. However, these roles are often for those with expertise and experience in the specific industry, rather than entry-level graduates.

Some consultancies specialise in a certain type of work so when choosing which firm to join consider the areas that interest you. Research firms thoroughly to discover what they do and what career options and training are on offer. Target consultancies that work within your sphere of interest and try to talk to employers and employees to gain an idea of what it's like to work there.

What's it like working in the sector?

Graduates entering business, consulting and management can expect:

  • tough targets and tight deadlines;
  • a varied working life that involves a substantial amount of travel. You'll spend time at client sites and periods away from home;
  • high starting salaries of £25,000 to £35,000 excluding bonuses, rising quickly to around £50,000;
  • to work in a high-pressured environment, where quick decision making and confidence in your abilities is essential;
  • long working hours with a focus on meeting deadlines and completing projects;
  • an immediate high-level of responsibility and opportunities for rapid career progression;
  • self-employment or freelance work to be an option within several years.

What are the key issues in the business sector?

The number of business management jobs is expected to increase over the coming years. Decisions by managers may determine whether a company flourishes or folds, which means that the skills to survive during tough economic times - such as innovation, an understanding of change management, and the ability to manage resources and motivate employees - are fairly in-demand. However, the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) believes that the ill-preparedness of graduates and a lack of on-the-job training for first-time managers are challenges currently affecting the business and management industries.

The CMI's 21st Century Leaders report highlights employers' concerns about the workplace readiness of graduates. Four in five recruiters feel that graduates have unrealistic expectations about the world of work, while three quarters believe that more graduates should undertake professional qualifications to improve their practical skills. To find out more about the professional qualifications on offer within management see management training.

Further research by the professional body has found that more than 70% of organisations fail to provide any training to first-time managers. This absence of in-house or on-the-job training is a real issue, which means that graduates must either thoroughly research potential employers and enquire about professional training in advance, or seek out and pay for such qualifications themselves.

A general lack of soft skills (presentation, networking, leadership) has also been identified in the consultancy industry and employers will need to work to address this with new graduates entering this highly competitive and fast-growing field.

More positively the Institute of Consulting (IC) feels that the profession is central to the digital revolution of businesses and that with the development of the digital landscape and the increase in the use of technology, graduate opportunities in digital consulting will rise.

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