Mythbusters: The Management Consultant Edition

So you’re interested in being a management consultant? Great! But what is it that they actually do? If you’re still not sure of the answer then read on, as I bust the myths and reveal the realities of what it truly means to be a “management consultant”.

1. Consulting only pertains to the business sector- MYTH

Consultants can be utilised among a broad range of industries and sectors. After all, no business runs smoothly 100% of the time! You can find consultants working with a broad range of sectors from manufacturing and financial services to charities and government. However, the work that consultants do for each sector is not the same; for instance, consultants may work with banks to implement new technologies whilst adhering to financial regulations but work with the manufacturing sector to streamline its supply chain.

2. Consultants can specialise in a certain type of consulting- REAL

Being a “consultant” may sound like a vague term but it is possible to specialise in a certain type of consulting, either with experience or by working for a smaller, niche firm. At a senior consultant or manager level in a large firm, you can specialise in a certain industry and become an expert in that area. Alternatively, there are specialist firms that provide specific types of services like strategy, human resources, IT, finance and outsourcing. If you’re looking for something different still, there are niche firms that focus on a particular sector, and with enough experience and knowledge you can become a freelancer and offer your services to whomever you wish. With all this choice, you’ll easily be able to find an area of consulting that you’re truly interested in and enjoy!

3. It involves a lot of teamwork – REAL

Identifying and offering solutions to large companies would be a mammoth task if you had to do it all by yourself, so thankfully there will always be a team of people to support you. Teamwork is an essential skill for consultants as they typically find themselves working within a team on projects. That is not to say that the work you do won’t be your own, but the whole team will be working closely with the client to identify problems and analyse the issue thoroughly to ensure the recommendations given are accurate and effective.

4. The work is not varied – MYTH

A consultant’s work is never done, as they jump from project to project, and with each business comes a different set of needs and thus a different set of tasks. As a result, consultants can find themselves doing a variety of work on a day-to-day basis, and it is often the wide range of experiences that most attracts people to the profession. Tasks can range from meeting with clients and carrying out research, to preparing presentations and creating computer models. A lot of the work is centred on collecting and analysing data, so you can expect to be conducting interviews, running focus groups and facilitating workshops to get the information you need. But don’t expect to be bored – many consultants cite the varied work as the reason why their job remains interesting and challenging.

5. Consulting is a degree specific industry – MYTH

This is pretty self-evident since there isn’t really a “consulting” degree, but many people assume you must have a business/economics background to be a consultant. Sure, it may help if you already have some basic business knowledge and some firms do favour candidates with numerical/analytical degrees, but that’s not to say you are barred from the profession if you don’t have this knowledge. Many consultants learn on the job through graduate training schemes and firms welcome a wide range of backgrounds and skills to suit their wide range of specialisms. However, as with any corporate job, commercial experience is helpful and commercial awareness (everyone’s favourite graduate recruitment buzzword) is essential. So although you don’t need to have studied business to be a consultant, you will need to show some understanding of how the business world works.

6. It can be a stressful job – REAL

Sadly, this is a reality that you will have to get used to as a consultant. Depending on the project, the hours can be long (a working week of 50 or more hours is common) and the deadlines tight (a project can run anywhere from one day to several months). There can also be a huge amount of pressure and responsibility put on you to hit deadlines so that the project is completed on time. Therefore, being able to deal with stress is a vital skill if you want to succeed in the profession. However, many consultants actively thrive under the pressure, so don’t be completely put off just because you may have to pull some long nights every now and again.

7. There are opportunities to work abroad – REAL

Consultants go to where the clients are, which means you may have to travel abroad. This will be more likely in bigger firms where the work is more international, as bigger clients may have offices overseas. However, even if the work you do isn’t international, consultants tend to travel a lot in general (since they are often based in clients’ offices), so expect to be moving between client sites all around the country if the client site isn’t local.

8. Career progression is structured – REAL

In most consulting firms, there is a structured ladder for career progression. As a graduate, you’ll start off as an analyst, which mainly involves research, data collection and analysis, before moving on to a full consultancy role after gaining some experience. You can progress to a senior consultant or manager level within about three years (depending on how good you are), at which point you will lead the teams and design and develop solutions and projects. From here, you can become a partner or a director of the firm, where you will be responsible for generating new business, developing client relationships and overseeing the growth of the firm. The progression doesn’t have to stop here: many move on to set up their own consulting firms or go freelance. The great thing about consulting is that there is no set time limit on when you can progress to the next level – you can move up when you’re ready. So if you work hard and are good at your job, you’ll reach the top in no time!

Vivien Zhu is a student studying History at the University of Oxford and is considering a career in Management Consultancy. She currently resides in Hertfordshire, England and is a regular contributor to student publications such as Spoon University and the Cherwell.

Image: Pexels

Commercial Awareness – what is it and how do I get it?

“Commercial awareness” is a buzzword that employers like to toss around a lot nowadays, but what is it and how do you get it?

Thankfully, gaining “commercial awareness” is a lot less scary than you think – all it really means is to have an awareness of what’s going on in the world and in particular, the business world. So, if you know who the US president is and what he’s done recently, you may have more “commercial awareness” than you think (because let’s be honest, who hasn’t heard about Trump’s policies?)!

For those of you who are still puzzled or (slightly worryingly) don’t know who the US president is, here are six easy ways to get “commercially aware” fast!

1. Finimize

When I first discovered Finimize, it was like a godsend – finally, financial and business news in a language I could understand!

For those of you not in the know, Finimize is a free daily email service that summarizes and explains the top financial headlines in a form that is quick and easy to digest – it even states how long it will take to read it (which is never longer than about 3.5 mins).

The email usually contains the two top business headlines of the day, either from around the globe or from your country depending on your preference, and it will recommend things to read if you want to expand your knowledge further. There’s also an inspirational quote thrown in there to get you motivated for the day (the email is usually sent around midnight so it will motivate you for a full 24 hours).

To sign up, all you need is your email and then voila – you’re already halfway there to being commercially aware!

2. The News

This should be a given but watching or reading the news is the easiest way to get an awareness of what’s happening in the world. It doesn’t matter what form you get it in, video, website, print, as long as you get the information. It doesn’t need to be The Financial Times or The Economist either – the Business section on BBC News or any other equivalent news site is equally as sufficient.

If you want to know more about a particular issue or want to see if your potential employer has been involved in anything of note recently, just type the keywords or the name of the company into Google and press the “News” tab – the most recent news will come up first.

If you want to stay ahead of the game and be informed of the news as it happens, you can set up a Google Alert on your mobile devices and your PC so that you’ll always be the first to know of any developments.

3. Social Media

If you didn’t know already, social media can be used for more than sending your friends funny pictures or mildly stalking your crush nowadays.

Major news outlets have their own “stories” on Snapchat for you to flick through, Facebook have trending issues on their sidebar and trending hashtags on Twitter usually means something big has gone down.

Furthermore, you can follow news accounts on Facebook and Twitter and be notified whenever developments occur – simply adjust your settings so that news stories appear first on your Newsfeed or get notifications when there has been breaking news. It has never been easier to be commercially aware, so take advantage of it!

4. Books

If you feel the need to hit the books, there are some very informative and easy to understand books out there that are designed specifically to make the commercially unaware exactly the opposite.

Know the City” by Chris Stoakes has been recommended to me several times by professionals and peers alike, and for good reason – it gives a high level overview of key financial concepts and products in a readable form.

Another book that’s been recommended to me is “The Money Machine” by Phillip Coggan; though I haven’t read it personally, the reviews on Amazon similarly say it was easy to read and it explains the essentials.

If you find these books too tough to crack, maybe it’s time to go back to basics – there’s no shame in revising those A Level Economics textbooks if it means you can actually understand what’s going on when it gets more complicated.

5. YouTube Videos

YouTube has a fantastic selection of videos that explain the basics of the business world, mostly created by people who were in your situation not too long ago.

There are videos that use cartoons to explain how a transaction works, video courses in finance featuring “Fault in Our Stars” author John Green (his series of Crash Courses is both amusing and informative) and there are vloggers dedicated to easing you into the scary world of commerce.

Some films are also good at explaining the complicated stuff– The Big Short explains the Financial Crisis of 2008 really well and in a quirky, breaking the fourth wall kind of way that keeps it interesting (and who doesn’t want to see Margot Robbie in a bathtub explaining mortgage backed securities?)

6. University

By university, I don’t mean you have to do another degree to be commercially aware but rather that you utilise the resources your university has.

For instance, you can join a finance or business related society – not only will it look great on your CV and demonstrate your passion for commerce, but the society will probably host talks and workshops that can help develop your commercial knowledge. Most speakers don’t assume all students have an understanding of business and financial concepts, so they will go over the basics before moving on to the more difficult topics.

Subscriptions to publications like The Economist will also be cheaper for students; if you think you will actually read them, ask around for your university rep and they will be able to offer you a much better deal than if you subscribed normally.

And that’s it!

Six (6) easy steps to become commercially aware even if you know absolutely nothing, and frankly, even by doing just one you’re already in a much better position than most!

Turns out “commercial awareness” is simply another thing employers have made to sound intimidating that in reality means very little. Plus, it’s unlikely they’ll ask you more than one or two questions about it at an interview anyway. So don’t stress – knowing a little will go a long way.

Vivien Zhu is a student studying History at the University of Oxford and is considering a career in Management Consultancy. She currently resides in Hertfordshire, England and is a regular contributor to student publications such as Spoon University and the Cherwell.

Image: Flickr

Management Consultancy 101: How to navigate your first application

So you’ve decided you want to be a management consultant? Congrats, you’re now one of thousands competing for the same job! And there’s your first problem: how do you stand out? The first step is always the hardest and sadly the most important, so here’s my guide on how to tackle your first consultancy job application.

Step 1: Why you?

To be able to convince employers to hire you, first you have to convince yourself to hire you. Understanding what you are good at is vital to answering later questions of why you would be a good consultant and why you want to be one. After all, employers often say they want to hear your passion and enthusiasm for the job – if you don’t really understand why you’re applying, how can you expect them to know? What I did first was research what a consultant actually does and the skills required. The key skills I found are as follows:

  • Problem solving
  • Understanding of businesses/organisations
  • Research and data collection skills
  • Being able to analyse the info collected
  • Presentation skills
  • Being able to manage projects
  • Leadership and teamwork skills

Now you know what you need to do, the next question to ask yourself is: can I do it and what evidence do I have to prove it? Under each skill, write down an example of when you demonstrated said skill. Try to use a variety of examples- you don’t want to seem like you only ever achieved one thing and have done nothing else since then! More recent examples work better too for the same reason. You don’t need to have done loads of work experience or have been the president of 3 different student societies – you just need to show that you have carried out that skill well. If you can find a list of the firm’s values, make sure you can demonstrate that you adhere to these values through your examples too.

Step 2: Why them?

Once you’ve understood what a consultant does and why you would be good at it, next you have to ask why you WANT to do it. You could be the perfect candidate for this job but if you’re not passionate about it, then what’s the point in even trying? The question pertains to both why you want to be a consultant and why you want to be a consultant for that particular firm. First, make a list of all the reasons why you want to be a consultant (aside from the obvious reason of money because that’s TOO obvious). This should be relatively easy – if it’s not, then maybe it’s time to rethink that career choice.

Next it’s time to do research on the consultancy firm you’re applying for. Try to extend your research to more than just the firm’s website – though it’s important to know the firm well, there are many things that the website will say that is a) Convoluted media spiel and b) Not applicable to you. You’re applying for the experience of working there, so talk to current employees at careers fairs, look at online forums for what people have said about their experience and look at profiles for the firm that have been written by someone outside the firm. Plus, all of this will show that you have thoroughly researched the firm and so you must really want to work there! Make sure your reasons for applying pertain to your own priorities and interests – employers are shopping for you too.

Step 3: The CV and cover letter

Writing a good cover letter is essential to make sure you stand out and allows you to bring all the research that you have done together. I tend to structure my cover letter like this:

  1. Short introduction – who are you, what are you studying etc
  2. Why you want to be a consultant
  3. Why you would be a good consultant
  4. Why you want to work for this firm
  5. Thank you and goodbye

Since you already have all the information on hand, all you have to do is turn that information into coherent and grammatically correct sentences. Make sure your sentences aren’t too convoluted and long – graduate recruitment have to read hundreds of these letters, so make sure your writing is succinct and to the point. Remember, your cover letter only needs to be a page long! When you’ve finished, read it out loud to see if it makes sense and that you have got all your points across clearly. Hold it away from you and look at the page – is it just one solid block of text or have you clearly signposted your main points through indentations/your paragraphs? Before you send it off, make sure at least one other person has read it. It’s easy for you to miss spelling and grammar mistakes and it’s useful to get a second opinion from someone who probably has more experience applying for jobs than you.

Usually firms will ask you to send your cover letter along with your CV. The same rules apply here – hold it away from you to make sure your points come across clearly and make sure someone else has read it. CVs pretty much all follow the same set structure, so look online to find out what this is and set it out accordingly. The only thing you can do to stand out here is through your relevant work experience and extra-curricular activities – the same examples you have used in your cover letter but reduced to several bullet points.

Once you’ve sent it off, you’re done! (for now). Now comes the sweet torture of waiting to hear if you’ve progressed to the next stage. What comes next won’t be easy, but that’s another story for another time…

Vivien Zhu is a student studying History at the University of Oxford and is considering a career in Management Consultancy. She currently resides in Hertfordshire, England and is a regular contributor to student publications such as Spoon University and the Cherwell.

(Image Source: Pexels)