With sky-high salaries and strong career progression, consulting is the hottest career path for business school students. But the key question is: what does a management consultant do?
It’s clear to see why. Management consultants are typically among the highest earning business school graduates, with the likes of Deloitte, PwC, Oliver Wyman, Kearney, and the Big Three consulting firms paying starting MBA salaries in excess of $150,000.
Consultants also benefit from working in a field that stretches beyond one single industry. Land a consulting job with a multinational firm and you could work on projects that cross functions, sectors, and borders.
But what does the daily life of a consultant look like? What does a management consultant do?
What is management consulting?
Broadly speaking, consulting refers to the practice of providing expertise for a third party in exchange for a fee. Consultancies range from individuals to multinational firms.
With high demand across the business landscape, you can find consultants working in a plethora of industries.
Management consulting focuses on providing strategy and management expertise to improve business performance and maximize efficiency. Some firms offer this within a specialized field; boutique consultancies operate in areas such as healthcare consulting, operational consulting, and sustainability consulting.
Top multinational management consultancies, including the Big Three firms—Bain & Company, McKinsey & Company, and Boston Consulting Group (BCG)—provide expertise to many of the world’s largest companies, as well as governments and other influential institutions.
What does a management consultant do?
Work as a management consultant revolves around projects. Each client a firm takes on will have a specific objective they aim to achieve or problem they need to solve that requires outside help.
Projects begin with a business proposal. Teams of management consultants identify and evaluate the problem their client faces, often by conducting data analysis and speaking with employees.
The next task is finding a solution. Using their expertise, management consultants suggest changes and deliver presentations to their clients based on their findings. A typical strategy plan can range from optimizing current practices, proposing a new innovation, or simply reducing costs.
“As a consultant, we must be capable of determining how to reach certain objectives by navigating our resources, conveying our findings to the client in the most effective way, but also by bringing fresh ideas,” says Fikri Aulia Akbar, a consultant at McKinsey and graduate from ESCP Business School.
Finally management consultants oversee the implementation of their solutions, before moving on to the next client and project.
The project-led nature of a consulting career means you’ll be required to change your focus very quickly between jobs. In a short space of time you’ll have to become an expert on a new client, its industry position, and the challenges it faces.
Consultants have to learn fast and rely on fundamental knowledge that can be applied across various industries. A desire to solve problems is also key.
“You need to have a certain joy for cracking the challenges ahead of you and problem solving,” says Sarah Schilling, project leader at Boston Consulting Group. “A certain degree of empathy and wanting to work with clients is also very helpful.”
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If you can manage the demands of being a management consultant, the fast pace and solutions-led approach can make it a worthwhile career choice. You’ll get to experience many rewarding moments, particularly at the end of a project when you see the tangible impact you had for a client.
“Most of the time with a client task it’s something they really don’t know how to tackle so there’s always this ‘wow’ moment at the end where they notice the progress you’ve made,” says Sarah.
Consulting firms are highly collaborative. Employees work in teams and the demands of working for high stakes clients typically means consultants are supportive and willing to help one another.
“Whatever issue or question you have, there’s always someone who can help you and support you with it. I’ve never heard no from a colleague when asking for help.” Sarah explains.
There are also a number of unique benefits you can gain from a consulting career.
The compensation packages are no secret. The Big Three increased MBA starting salaries to $190,000 before bonuses in 2023, and many boutique consultancies offer similar levels of compensation.
Top management consultancies often operate across multiple locations, offering consultants the chance to switch offices or move to a new country at various points in their careers. Those who are more advanced in their careers can even embark on sabbaticals or similar extended time-off programs.
Consulting offers extensive opportunities for career progression. Graduate schemes provide in-depth training to kickstart your career, while companies continue to offer training, health and wellbeing programs, and personal development opportunities as you progress.
You’ll also gain the opportunity to specialize in a certain field. Unless working for a specialist firm, consultants generally begin their careers working on projects across a range of industries. However after a few years they gain the opportunity to specialize in an area of their choosing.
Sarah has carved out a niche as a sustainability consultant. Becoming a specialist is a great way to continue your career development as you can become a mentor, she explains.
“A really cool mechanism in consulting is that when you become an expert in a topic, because you’ve done a certain amount of projects, then you can also start giving back.”
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