Trying to decide on a career as a consultant
I went to a top b-school, which is the least risky and most straightforward way of getting into consulting. However, everyone else has that idea and there are only so many internship and FT seats in any given year for b-school students.
Another option is going to a well-regarded engineering program (of any kind) and getting great grades/experience. Engineers with good soft skills are more attractive to consulting firms than b-school students because of their better quantitative and general problem solving skills.
Lastly, if you don’t get into consulting right out of undergrad, many firms have a robust referral program for early career professionals. Essentially if you’re about a year or so removed from grad school or undergrad, you can leverage an internal referral from a friend or former classmate to recruit on an off-cycle basis. I helped a couple friends through this process while at IBM, but it’s quite competitive and there’s no guarantees.
You can also consider taking a support role at a consulting company (think finance, HR, Ops, sales, etc.) and network your way into consulting roles. Some firms are more amenable to this type of internal movement than others.
Best of luck!
B-school is an option but not required. Networking through campus recruiting is also a good way to get to know the people and culture of each firm you are interested in, and hear about different experiences across lines of service. An internship in consulting or in a relevant industry is also great to have hands on experience outside of the classroom. Consulting is about learning to become comfortable with being uncomfortable because you are constantly changing environments, teams, subject matter, etc. at an accelerated pace. Find a few mentors in the field who can also give you honest, unfiltered opinions about the pros and cons. Working with mentors, interning, and networking will also help you learn to talk "consulting speak" which is key to navigating different client scenarios. Getting involved in recruiting early, not just waiting until spring semester of senior year is also key. I had to network most of my sophomore year in order to land the Big Four internship for junior year.
Or, if you're like me, you have a diverse background, are doing something totally unrelated to business in both your undergrad and experience. I made that work for me.
Once I decided that I wanted to move into business and consulting, I went back to get an MBA and focused on technology. Importantly, I focused on exactly what companies I wanted to go work for and then did everything I could to make myself more attractive to them. For example, I worked with a professor who had companies who came to him for help, getting consulting experience while at school; I took a job working in the computer lab helping students with their work and learning more about other areas of technology in the process; I worked part-time for the dean of the business school, crunching numbers for the dean's office to use to better understand their students. Most importantly, I built a network. That network got me several jobs after my first consulting job, bringing me to where I am now. So really focus on your network.
When I built my resume and went for interviews, I didn't minimize my background (a Special Ed teacher who had worked in a lot of restaurants), but I explained how that background in addition to my MBA experience made me a strong candidate for their company as it helped me build my interpersonal skills and get to understand and know people better.
It's amazing the number of pathways that will get you to where you want to go. Some take longer than others, which isn't always a bad thing. But first, you have to know where you want to go and then focus on the activities you need to do to get there.
Although a business degree is relevant in consulting, there are many different types of consulting and industries you can consult for. For example, you could do management or tech consulting. Within that, you could be aligned to industries such as technology, healthcare, consumer markets, deals, financial services, industrial products and services, media, etc. That being said, I have many colleagues who studied things like biology, engineering, psychology, and law who landed in consulting roles. At PwC (and most of the other big 4), they recruit for diverse perspectives so a business degree is not always needed!
Another focus area, that may be more important than your degree type, is your network. Use LinkedIn, campus resources, and your personal network to find a mentor or someone to talk to in the company/role that you want. This way you can discuss alignment to the role and understand the process of what the job entails. In consulting, there is never a dull moment and endless learning opportunities for something you specialize in or something new!
Gabby recommends the following next steps:
1- They look for a strong pool of candidates: Strong schools, referrals of existing employees, etc. Getting a degree from the best school possible and achieving a high GPA would be a great door-opener. Ideally an analytical field - like engineering, business, econ would make your case stronger.
2- Within that strong pool, they look for some metrics to see if you are capable of doing the job: Anything quantitative on your resume that shows some measurement of your analytical skills (high SAT, high GPA, etc.) would be great. Resumes are reviewed in the hundreds, very quickly, and it will really help to have some of those metrics look impressive. Jobs you have held that show business experience would also help, but not as much as those quant scores being high.
3- They will look if you are interested: This one doesn't need to be over-engineered. Joining the consulting club in your university will already strongly help. Doing some internships in consulting, or a consulting project for a non-profit, etc. would also help.
Additionally, having a bachelor’s degree in business or related field is expected if you want to join one of the big consulting firms: KPMG, PWC, Accenture, etc. Usually, you would then be working in pair with an experienced Senior Consultant and be exposed to a wide variety of the consulting Firm's Client' salient issues and needs. That will give a much broader exposure. The more projects you are part of over the months (or years), the more choice you will get for your career.
Then you could specialize in one of these areas:
- Strategy consultant
- Management consultant
- Operations consultant
- Compliance consultant
- Communication / PR Consultant
- Financial advisory consultant
- Human Resource consultant
- IT consultant, etc. etc.
Another way to get into consulting is to specialize in one area of your choice. Choose something that drives you, that interests you so you will never get bored learning more about the topic. Once you have gained a level of expertise, you could 'sell' your expertise to other businesses or individuals (eg: Card Payment specialist consultant offering services to Banks and any Credit or Debit Card issuer to help them minimize customer attrition, maximize their profit margin by cross selling other value added services, exploiting better their data analytics, etc.).
Nicolas recommends the following next steps:
One thing worth mentioning is that there are many paths to consulting, and having a diverse background/skillset can make you an incredible addition to a team. For example, I studied international relations / Latin American studies in undergrad, interned at a range of international organizations and think tanks, and started out my career at a joint ventures consulting firm. After that, I worked in education consulting and like several other folks on this thread, then attended b-school. Having strong quantitative skills are certainly helpful, but so are your ability to build strong working relationships with your clients, a natural curiosity to learn new things, and a willingness to roll up your sleeves to get the job done.
Long story short, consulting is a great career and you have a lot of flexibility in terms of combining your skillset with your interest areas and then leveraging them in consulting. Hope this helps!
There may be some paths to consulting that are more common than others, but as long as you are a personable problem solver (which case interviews evaluate for), it doesn't matter what you did before.
Consultants tend to know a little about a lot of different areas that a potential business or client will need help in. It is good to research about the different types of consulting that is out there (e.g. technology consulting, management consulting, strategy consulting) which can help narrow down the path you need to take to start a career in consulting.
B-school (especially top tier) is a natural pipeline into the Consultant-level at major strategy consulting firms which sits in between Manager - who manages a client engagement and Senior Analyst/Analyst. Undergraduate degree (especially quantitative, CS, etc.) with a relevant internship is the typical entry point for the Analyst role.
Smaller consulting firms (Tier 2/3 generalist or industry specialist strategy consulting firms) are often more open to atypical backgrounds and could be a good entry point if you are concerned about the expense of B-school. There are tons of them out there. In some cases, you could use non-consulting experience in a particular industry to move into a consulting role at an industry specialist consulting firm.
Analytics backgrounds are also becoming increasingly important in consulting compared to 10-15 years ago. So you could also consider augmenting your experience with statistical and analytical tools (e.g. Alteryx, SPSS, etc.) to help improve your chances.
Hope this helps,
Even if you don't intend to focus on information technology consulting, building experience in data analytics will give you a solid foundation for a career in consulting.
*MBB = McKinsey & Co, Boston Consulting Group, and Bain
It's hard to know what "standard" consulting career tracks will look like post-pandemic . I think the economy will have a prolonged recession.
Hope that helps.
Elana recommends the following next steps:
*MBB = McKinsey & Co, Boston Consulting Group, and Bain
Here are a few to think about, just to give an idea of how broad the term consulting is
- Human Resources
- Supply Chain
- IT Strategy
Once you know where you want to end up, if you can start solving problems in that area for projects, part-time jobs, volunteer work or however else you can, it makes for a more compelling story when you're applying for jobs.
Pursuing a business course in one of the top business schools could be another option. This will also provide you with an opportunity to enhance your communication skills and soft skills and put you in good stead during your placements.
1. Which domain or segment would you like to be a consultant?
2. What is your technical expertise related to - which field or segment - is it financial, industrial, mechanical?
3. Why do you want to be a consultant?
The key things for being a successful consultant is - knowing your subject very well (deep and broad), know the adjacencies which will help you have broad knowledge, good to work in a company or organization related to your field to get experience and exposure. Work for a good period of time say 7-10 years before you can operate independently.
Going to a B-school surely helps to gain management knowledge, gain educational knowledge and broader connect with folks in the Industry. Connect with Alumni of that Univ.
Kasturi recommends the following next steps:
My first job out of undergrad was in consulting. I majored in Finance & Economics. But many people I know that went into consulting have very diverse background, so I don't think there is any limitation on what your major is.
Here are some of the things I found helpful during my school years! Hope this helps a little.
1. Explore opportunities to participate in case competitions. Normally, there are many student-run case competitions sponsored big management consulting firms (Bain, McKinsey, BCG, Accenture etc.). It's a great way for you to showcase your problem-solving, teamwork, and communication skills. This can help you to think whether you enjoying working on cases (and working in excel & powerpoint)! It's also a good networking opportunity!
2. Join consulting clubs on camps (if available). These organizations hosts workshops/networking sessions regularly. It's a great way to get to know more about consulting and build network!
3. Practice case interviews! I would say the most important part is case interview. This helps you to practice skills to breakdown ambiguous problems, learn frameworks and solve business problems with structured thought-process. There is a ton of resources of case interview prep online (Case in Point, Victor Chang etc.). Make sure you practice with friends/classmates and do mock case interviews!
I got my career as a consultant started right after graduating undergraduate college. I think there are three helpful ways to prepare to becoming a consultant:
1: Take classes that you enjoy that also apply to the field. I studied Finance, Information Systems, & English while at school, and I find myself using the lessons I learned in a lot of my day-to-day activities. Being able to read a Profit & Loss statement, understand a balance sheet, and interpret financial ratios (RoI, RoA) are valuable financial skills. There is a general trend toward understanding coding languages and knowing digital skills, so getting your hands on courses that can teach you basics in Python, SQL, or R will all be valuable. And, finally, you need to be able to communicate your findings, communicate to your teammates, and write concisely, because having strong analysis is great, but if you can't explain why it's important you might lose your point.
2: Try talking to consultants in your network or reach out to them on LinkedIn or your school's alumni network. Not only will these conversations give you an idea of what work interests you, but also you can find out a lot about a firm's culture and where you think you'll shine.
3: Read up on current events and know generally what's happening in the business world. Especially today, there are some fascinating developments in business. How are companies responding to the rapid shift to e-commerce in consumer markets? What technology is reshaping the automobile industry? Make sure you can identify some of these big market shifts so you can add a lot of value to your work and clients.
I hope this helps! Good luck with your journey of becoming a consultant!