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Management consulting: career FAQs

Your questions answered about graduate careers in management consulting, including getting a job, applications, working life and salaries.

How can I get a job in management consulting?

Most management consulting companies offer graduate programmes with a clearly defined career path. Graduates typically join as analysts and there is normally a very comprehensive induction and ongoing training programme for new recruits. Analysts work in teams alongside more senior, experienced staff so training is both structured and ‘on the job’. MBA graduates may join as associates or consultants, the next step up the ladder.

There is fierce competition for graduate roles so apply early and do plenty of research. Before your interview, practise some case studies. Many consultancy firms have example test studies on their websites, and you will improve with practice. Read business pages for commercial awareness, and keep your eye on successful or innovative advertising campaigns.

What are the different areas of work?

Management consultancy firms may specialise in any or all of the following areas:

A consulting assignment can be in one or a number of these areas and can also focus on any number of different industry sectors. Firms can range in size from very small, one-man operations to large international firms. As a general rule, the bigger firms are more likely to have a broad client base covering more industry sectors. It is this range and variety which makes the job so dynamic and interesting.

What’s involved in the application process?

Most large management consulting firms have structured graduate entry programmes which have been in existence for quite a long time. The firms are quite clear about what they are looking for and the stages of the recruitment process and this is usually explained clearly on their website.

The application process tends to be rigorous and very structured. Application forms are very common and the majority are online. Sometimes a CV can be attached as part of an overall application so you will need to have one up-to-date. Smaller firms may only require a CV and covering letter as the first stage.

Interviews are usually the next stage and can be tough. You have to be extremely well prepared to get through, so read the business press prior to your interview to increase your commercial awareness.

Assessment centres are very common and can take place over two days with activities such as psychometric testing, case studies, group and individual tasks, interviews and social events.

When should I apply?

Large management consulting firms have formal graduate recruitment programmes with closing dates usually in November and December, but some can be as early as October. Smaller, niche firms, may recruit year round. Deadlines for summer internships may be slightly later than for the graduate programme. It is always important to check with each firm as competition is fierce and late applicants are rarely considered.

Many consultancies offer internships for penultimate year students, and if you can get one of these it will give you an edge when you apply for permanent positions.

What qualifications and skills do I need to work in management consulting?

While there is no specific academic qualification to enter management consulting – firms recruit from literally every degree discipline – you are still expected to have performed extremely well academically throughout university.

Key personal qualities required include:

  • Analytical ability: being able to diagnose a problem and see the component parts
  • Being good with numbers and statistics
  • Innovation and creativity, to develop solutions to client problems
  • Interpersonal skills: communicating with clients and co-workers
  • Communication skills: writing reports, making presentations.

Finally, due to the project-based nature of the job, you must be able to stay calm under pressure (you may have competing deadlines) and to have high levels of stamina. In short, management consulting is hard work: consultants are regularly pushed to their physical and intellectual limits to provide the best service to clients.

What are the opportunities for professional development?

Induction training may cover areas relating to finance, project management, IT, presentation skills and networking within the firm. Management consulting firms usually have a very high commitment to staff development, and training continues throughout your career in management consulting. You are likely to have the opportunity to attend off-site courses, e-learning and in-house seminars and to undertake further study in the evenings if you wish.

It is very common for people working in this area to undertake an MBA after a number of years’ work. Usually this involves taking a year out of work and attending college full time (although MBAs are offered on a part-time basis, it is unusual for consultants to choose this option).

What are the salaries in management consulting?

Salaries in management consulting are usually among the highest graduate salaries available, equal to those in investment banking or the top graduate jobs in industry. Starting salaries in Dublin are in the low €30,000s but in the UK/London (where the majority of vacancies are) they are in the region of £28,000–£35,000. Salaries increase significantly after a number of years experience.

Currently none of the large, international management consulting firms have offices in Northern Ireland. As a result, graduate opportunities only exist in smaller, locally focused niche firms and within the larger accountancy practices; this significantly lowers typical starting salaries to the low to mid £20,000s.

What is working life like?

Management consulting is renowned for its long working hours. This is a deadline-driven business and consultants often work weekends and late evenings, particularly when a project is nearing completion or when a report or proposal has to be completed.

International travel is common if you work with the large international firms: these are usually based out of London.

Large firms tend to treat their staff well with in-house facilities such as cafes, restaurants and gyms, and staff also have lots of social and networking opportunities.

Where can I find further information?

Institute of Management Consultants and Advisers 
Institute of Business Consulting 
Management Consultancies Association 
Consultancy Links. UK site with information about consultancy careers
www.acethecase.com US site with examples of case studies from management consulting job interviews.

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