Management consultants provide businesses with strategic advice to facilitate organizational change, analyzing a company’s strategy, operations, or information technology. To increase the value of their organizations, companies hire consultants to conduct research, develop hypotheses, analyze data, and make recommendations for implementing change. Some firms work with a diverse set of industries, while others focus on areas such as healthcare, nonprofit organizations, or technology.
Consultants at large global firms, such as McKinsey and BCG, generally work in multidisciplinary teams onsite at the client’s location. As such, several days of travel per week is common, especially for analysts and associates in large-firm organizations. The projects here tend to be more diverse, requiring the ability to learn quickly about the trends and opportunities in different sectors. The ability to choose one’s projects or locations varies with each firm.
At smaller, more specialized firms, such as L.E.K. or ZS Associates, there may be less travel, and you would be hired for your particular area of expertise (for example, science or technology).
Besides size, another difference between firms may be focus. Strategy firms (such as McKinsey and Bain) focus on recommendations for change. Implementation firms (such as Accenture or Deloitte) may spend years on a project and work together with the client to put recommendations into motion and evaluate outcomes. Most firms, however, including those listed here, adapt to their clients’ best interests.
Consultants typically start at the analyst or associate level. Eventually, partnerships are available, and consultants are the people in the firm focused on bringing in clients.
The work is intellectually challenging, ever changing, and the schedule can be exceptionally demanding. Individuals in this field are well compensated for their expertise, though there is a positive correlation between compensation and amount of hours worked. The training gained in a management consulting career prepares many people for executive and leadership positions in myriad sectors.
Desired Skills for Consulting
- Analytical: Consultants use clear and logical thinking to assess unrelated data, develop a hypothesis, and discover creative solutions.
- Communication: Listening, understanding, and appropriately responding to people and situations are key communication skills required in this field.
- Flexibility: Consultants move quickly and effortlessly from one project or task to the next, so flexibility is desirable.
- Leadership: Consultants drive the decision-making process by listening to, understanding, and influencing others.
- Interpersonal: The ability to assess people, situations, and motives is helpful, in addition to responding to others in a thoughtful, appropriate manner.
- Teamwork: Consultants work together and put personal priorities aside for the good of the group and the organization.
- Business knowledge: An understanding of general business practices is helpful. However, business knowledge may be acquired on the job or during the orientation program at large firms. Foreign-language skills are valuable in global management consulting firms.