Working as a management consultant is a popular career track for talented, competitive people looking for a rewarding and challenging career. Management consultants maintain a high status in the marketplace and are frequently in demand, regardless of broader economic conditions. This makes the career path especially attractive. That’s true now more than ever, as the field of management consulting becomes increasingly competitive. There are more consulting firms than ever, and salaries for management consultants continue to rise. But before you get ahead of yourself, you’ll want to be sure you understand the basics. That means first asking yourself: what does a management consultant do?
What A Management Consultant Does
In short, management consultants are usually external parties who work on a contractual basis to help public and private companies, both large and small, improve their performance. Sometimes they address very specific problems. Yet, often they offer advice about overall strategy or improvement in business procedures and operations. Management consultants are hired to help companies enter or remain competitive in the marketplace. Management consultants often work for larger consulting firms. Though some consultants are self-employed and others are employed in-house at specific companies. Management consultants often combine a broader expertise in business principles with industry- or sector-specific knowledge. They advise on providing new solutions to existing problems, on optimizing specific projects, and on creating or sustaining innovative practices. Consultants take into account large amounts of company- and project-specific information and offer guidance to company management in the form of presentations and written reports. They also continue to advise companies through the implementation of the consultants’ advice.
Those are the basics of what a management consultant does. Read on for more info about how to get into management consulting.
Steps to Become a Management Consultant
It’s true that management consulting attracts people from many walks of life and many kinds of experience. Top management consulting firms are looking for people with high levels of motivation and the ability to think critically and creatively. They want individuals who can deal with uncertainty and ambiguity well. Contrary to popular belief, any specific college major or background is valid to firms. But still, if you’re interested in how to get a job in management consulting, there are a lot of things you can do to maximize your profile as a job applicant and help kickstart your career.
Tailor Your Education
Perhaps the easiest way to get into management consulting begins with taking specific steps to tailor your education to the field. Management consultants tend to be highly competitive, entrepreneurially minded self-starters. If you’re still in college, take advantage of this time to make yourself into an ideal candidate. Having a high-grade point average and good test scores do go a long way, as does studying at a prestigious institution. (Though many successful consultants have blazed their own unique paths into the field.) In addition to getting good grades, you should tailor your course selection to demonstrate an ability to be analytical and think critically. Majoring or minoring in business or quant fields can be an advantage on your resume but isn’t always as necessary as it might seem.
You’ll also want to demonstrate your skills, interests, and work ethic beyond the classroom. Many schools have consulting clubs you can join even as an undergrad. These offer the opportunity to polish and show off your range of consulting skills and experience. It’s also good to have some form of business-adjacent employment, even at an entry level, as you go through school.
If you’ve already graduated and are working in a different field, getting a master’s degree, especially a Master of Business Administration, will definitely help you break into consulting. It’s not just that this degree helps broaden your range of skills and experience. It’s also very helpful for networking, and many MBA programs entertain dozens of large and small consulting firms on campus to interview each year. Other jobs and interviews come directly through alumni networks and the relationships they foster. Further, meeting other peers interested in management consulting can offer significant advantages. You can help share information and practice together as you prepare for the interview process.
Case Interview Prep
Preparing for the interview process is one of the most important steps as you learn how to get a job in management consulting. Applicants who get hired as management consultants don’t just have a range of business and quant knowledge. They also demonstrate the right communication and analytical skills in the job interview. Many of the top firms have a rigorous interview process that involves a difficult step called a case interview. This involves being given a sample problem or project borrowed from real-life consulting scenarios. You will have to analyze an array of information and synthesize your findings into a proposal you present to your interviewers. Studying with your peers—and better yet, a professional interview prep service—will go a long way in helping you ace this part of the process.
Pros & Cons of a Management Consultant Career
As you begin to think about how to get into management consulting, you’ll want to know more than just the basic answer to what a management consultant does. You’ll also want to know the pros and cons of a management consulting career.
Some of the pros are obvious, including the lucrative financial rewards of being a management consultant (explored further in the next section). Beyond just their base salary and bonuses, management consultants often earn significant benefits. At competitive firms, this can include comprehensive health care coverage, flexible work arrangements, and many intra-office benefits (free meals, workout facilities, etc.). People who do well in the management consultant industry are motivated by a consistently challenging work environment.
Your job description is also constantly changing, as you move from project to project. This can involve lots of travel, which may be a pro or a con depending on your perspective. Likewise, management consultants consistently work long hours. Some management consultants like this consistent sense of challenge. Others find the work-life balance difficult to manage. An overburdened schedule is one of the significant cons for those unsuited to the management consultant position. Similarly, not everyone responds well to a job that involves a competitive atmosphere. You also generally have to deal with a lot of ambiguity and shifting priorities on a client project.
How Much Do Management Consultants Make?
Of course, one of the most well known pros of a job in management consulting is that it can be lucrative. Management consultants tend to earn high salaries that increase with experience and education. At the three best known firms—McKinsey, Bain, and Boston Consulting Group—consultants with an MBA or Ph.D earned base salaries averaging $165,000, which doesn’t include other benefits and bonuses. New hires with just undergrad degrees also earned highly competitive salaries starting around $90,000 per year. For a more detailed breakdown of management consulting salaries by company and degrees of experience, see our annual consulting salaries report.
Even as the world heads toward unprecedented and uncertain times, the role of management consultant will continue to be highly valued. Businesses will always seek the best available advice for solving problems, meeting new challenges, and optimizing their operations. This may be even more true now as companies will have to work harder than ever to survive. After reading this article you should have a better idea of what exactly a management consultant does, as well as how to get a job in management consulting.
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