This is the first blog in our series on Post-MBA Careers. Stay tuned for more insights in the coming weeks!
The hero of our story is an enthusiastic MBA Aspirant. For the sake of brevity, let’s call him EMA. In this short chat session, he is discussing his career goals.
Qn: What is your short-term career goal?
EMA (confident): I want to be a Management Consultant.
Qn: You want to be a Business Consultant, a Strategy Consultant or a Tech Consultant?
EMA (thinking ‘What’s the difference?’): Er… Strategy Consultant?
Qn: Okay. Which firm do you want to work with?
EMA (sweating): Er… McKinsey…
Qn: Why McKinsey? Why not any of the others? Why not Kurt Salmon?
EMA (thinking ‘Because that’s the only name I’ve heard of!’): Er…
At the end of the tête-à-tête, EMA decides that there’s more to this Consulting business than meets the eye.
EMA is not alone – 7 out of 10 MBA aspirants say that their career goal is Management Consulting. But very few of them have the first clue about what a consultant does or what it really takes to become one. The objective of this blog is to give all the EMAs out there a clearer idea about Management Consulting as a career option.
Who is a Consultant?
Companies often encounter business problems such as new product launches, revamping operations, entering new territories, redesigning the organizational structure etc. While some companies have in-house consulting teams to evaluate such strategic and tactical problems, many others approach external Consulting firms to do this for them.
In a nutshell, a consultant is an external advisor who steps in to study a business problem and make recommendations to help the client solve it.
What are the different types of Consulting?
Answering the question “What Should The Client Do?”, Strategy Consulting is aimed at the general direction an organization should take, its long term plans, its organic and inorganic growth strategy, and increasing profitability. Strategy consultants interact directly with the CEO, President, Country Head or Board of Directors of the client company. They mostly recommend solutions and conduct workshops or sessions to help the client implement them, but are rarely involved in the actual implementation phase.
Top Strategy Consulting firms: McKinsey, BCG, Bain & Co., Booz etc.
Answering the question “What Is The Client Doing Wrong And How Can It Be Done In A Better Way?” The scope of Operations Consulting includes evaluation of the functioning of the client’s business, operations or processes. Projects could range from resource optimization and productivity enhancements to process re-engineering and supply chain design. Operational consultants – particularly at the senior level – would typically require functional or industry expertise and typically engage with the Vice President or Business Head of particular divisions of the client company. Operations Consulting firms often work with their clients in the implementation and post-implementation phases. The 4 strategy consulting firms mentioned above also come out top in the operations consulting category, but are usually uninvolved in the implementation.
Top Operations Consulting firms: Deloitte, Accenture, AT Kearney, IBM, PwC etc.
Focus on how best to leverage technology to help organizations grow. The scope includes IT scalability, security, design and development, analytics, compliance etc. Due to the nature of their work, technology consultants are experts in their field, but do not necessarily have intricate knowledge of the functioning of the client business.
Top Tech Consulting firms: Deloitte, Accenture, Capgemini, IBM etc.
Human Resource Consulting:
The scope ranges from organizational development, HR policy, people strategy, actuary and organizational design and restructuring, to managing human resources (recruitment, engagement etc.)
Top HR Consulting firms: Towers Watson, Mercer, Aon Hewitt, Hay Group etc.
Boutique consulting firms focus on niche industries in which they have expertise. While working with boutique firms can be as challenging as working with strategy/operations firms, some boutiques may have a regional client base. Therefore, travel opportunities to client locations may be fewer. Similarly, the teams tend to be smaller and client interaction more in boutique consulting.
Top Boutique Consulting firms: LEK Consulting (M&A), OC&C and Parthenon (Private Equity), Kurt Salmon (Retail & CPG), Cornerstone Research (Economic Consulting) etc.
What Does It Take To Become A Consultant?
Interpersonal and Communication skills
Ability to deal with uncertainty and change
During recruitment, consulting firms look at spikes in 3 areas of your profile:
(1) Academic potential: Your GPA, the schools you attended and even your GMAT score
(2) Work experience: Your role, performance at work, promotions and pedigree of the companies you worked with
(3) Extracurricular achievements: What outstanding/exceptional accomplishments do you have outside of work?
If they see something they like in these areas, you will be called for an interview. The interviews of most major consulting firms will involve case study analyses. You can look at sample interview case studies from McKinsey and Bain
Career Progression in Consulting
With only a graduate degree, you may be able to work with a consulting firm as an Analyst (the smallest cog in the wheel!), but this is one of the few professions in which you need to have an MBA degree to progress to the next level. i.e. Associate.
This is the typical career progression in a consulting firm:
Management consulting is a field that has cutthroat competition – the motto of most top consulting firms is “Move up, or move out!” There are many Associates who somehow do not manage to make it to the Principal level, and many Principals who are somehow not made Partners. They will be eased out of the door sooner or later.
But here’s the good news – just the fact that they’ve worked with a McKinsey or a BCG is enough for numerous doors to open elsewhere! They will get red carpet treatment from other firms for senior management roles – thus, as an ex-consultant, you will never be out in the job market looking for openings.
A Career In Consulting: The Pros and Cons
Pros: The prestige, the opportunity to work with senior client executives (at Principal levels and above), excellent learning and training opportunities and fancy paychecks
Cons: 70-hour work weeks (Management consultants top the list of professionals with the highest divorce rates!) and crazy travel schedules (often to unheard-of places with no facilities)
Further Reading: To learn more about the world of Consulting, do read The McKinsey Way.
Read our next blog post in this 5 part series on Post MBA careers: Sales & Marketing
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