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

Travel, Training and Mentorship

Travel, Training and Mentorship

Three significant aspects in the life of a management consultant: travel, training and mentorship.

Travel

When it comes to travel, different consulting firms have different policies. McKinsey consultants often spend Monday to Thursday at the client site with Fridays in the office. Bain and BCG often spend a lot of time with the client at the beginning and end of the project but less time in between.

Training

Consultants are the primary asset of a consulting firm, and top consulting firms invest a considerable amount on formal training and development programs.

Consultants may spend as much as eight weeks per year attending formal training sessions and conferences.

Since university courses are often overly theoretical and academic, the focus on training and development can serve as an invaluable bridge into the corporate world. This can lay a solid foundation for a career in the consulting industry, as well as open up attractive exit opportunities.

Mentorship

Consulting firms will typically assign new recruits with a formal mentor.

A mentor is responsible for overseeing professional development and can be an invaluable source of career guidance, an advocate to help you get staffed on projects and a person to champion your promotion within the firm.

In addition to having a formal mentor, junior consultants should also develop relationships with consultants throughout the firm, particularly with people who share a common area of interest or with whom they have developed a good rapport.

[For more information on the management consulting industry, download our “Guide to Management Consulting“.]

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