Career Path: Consulting
Management consulting is one of the more popular career paths in most business schools, particularly as one considers the growth of internal consulting positions within firms. While management consulting firms hire many graduates, of increasing importance are corporate positions in strategic business development, general strategy, and internal consulting. Many MBAs find that consulting skills prepare them for analyst or general management positions. Most firms generally emphasize some combination of consulting in three areas – strategy, operations/supply chain, and information systems.
- · Strategy consulting: Strategic consulting focuses on matching the company’s external environment with internal strengths to decide which paths the company should follow when faced with a wide array of opportunities.
- · Operations/supply chain consulting: Business processes occur in almost any functional area of the firm from accounting, to customer service, to manufacturing. Business process improvement can often yield significant results in cycle times, cost, quality, and customer satisfaction. Supply chain consulting takes the operations process view outside of the firm to focus on the movement of inventory and information across the entire supply chain in order to improve quality, service, inventory, labor, overhead, and transaction costs to the profitability of the entire supply chain. Operations/supply chain consulting requires involves strategic thinking and a good understanding of information systems.
- · Human Resources/Organizational consulting: Human resources professionals can find roles in consulting as well. Many organizations benefit from a consulting firms view on proper structure, efficient communication mechanisms, compensation to support corporate goals, and specific human resources processes.
- · Financial consulting: Financial consultants engage in a variety of projects ranging from helping firms establish more efficient processes for managing financial information to helping companies make better financial decisions with the data they have. Consultants are also utilized by investment banks and other institutions to guide on portfolio management and the hiring of top financial talent.
- · IT Systems and Implementation consulting: IT consultants play a role in designing, developing, and/or implementing information technology systems for financial reporting, inventory control, human resources, customer relationship management, e-commerce, etc. This type of consulting often requires a thorough understanding of the information technologies, the business processes and the strategic context in which the information system is deployed.
Consulting is a very broad term. For many they think of large firms like McKinsey & Company or A.T. Kearney. However, there are many boutique firms that only consulting within a particular function, like supply chain.
Large consulting firms are a typically a collection of functional practices. In these firms there are typically virtual industry-based practices as well. Projects would then happen in an intersection of one or more functional practices with the industry practice. Consultants would typically have their office within the functional group.
The consultant’s job is generally to define the problem facing the client and propose or implement the appropriate solutions. Candidates should be able to quickly take advantage of prior experience, hypothesize solutions, analyze them, find a course of action, and effectively communicate their recommendations. Firms seeking internal or external consultants expect candidates to have a well-developed ability to work in teams, strong communication and presentation skills, financial analysis skills, leadership skills, and strong problem definition and critical thinking skills.
Using the Curriculum at Broad
Functional Consulting – see the relevant “Careers in…” for curricular recommendations if you are focusing on consulting within a function.
Management Consulting – For more broad-based consulting, firms will recruit any major. Any of the four primary concentrations at Broad (Finance, Human Resources, Marketing, and Supply Chain) are a good starting point. As for a choice of secondary concentration:
- Supply Chain. Some firms have a preference for SCM due to it process-orientation.
- Finance. Knowing finance is essential in any business setting.
- Marketing. Additional studies in marketing are useful for positioning.
- Leadership and Change Management. Evaluates how changes are implemented.
- Strategic Management. Focuses on strategic decision making.
- Hospitality. If you are interested in firms with practices serving this industry this would be a good choice.
Consulting resumes may look very much like their functional counterparts. However, constructing the resume so it more closely mirrors the work being performed is a definite advantage.
Specifically, experiences can be listed by project, with the supporting bullet points elaborating on the process used to manage the project. These activities include building a team, collaborating with the client, doing a needs determination, as well as the business aspects of the project itself.
The key here is to focus on a few wide-ranging projects that demonstrate a variety of skills. You wouldn’t want to elaborate on every project.
When interviewing, it is very important to know the practice for which you are being interviewed. Typically at the Broad School you will be interviewing for a specific practice, and not the firm as a whole. When interviewing for a firm more broadly, consultants like it when interviewees have specific practices in mind. So, you need to do your research on the structure of the particular firm.
Case interviews are often used by consulting firms. The MBA Career Services Center at MSU will help you practice your case interviewing. After you have learned how to manage a case interview, it is important to keep practicing with classmates until you have at least ten case practices completed. Case interviewing may constitute several rounds of back-to-back cases. It is not unusually for firms go give up to 17 interviews across four rounds of interviewing.
Etiquette and how you present yourself at dinner meetings will also be assessed. Prepare for very strict dining etiquette before attending interview day on site.
Meeting and getting to know an alumnus in the practice is also a very helpful way to make it into the process. Consulting jobs are highly sought after, so even getting a start can be competitive.
Some firms, like McKinsey, only recruit during a specific period of the year. The process begins with an on-line application. Watch eRecruiting and emails from the CSC to notify you of when to apply. You should keep on top of the websites of target firms as well.
The Lifestyle of a Consultant
The commonly held perception that consultants travel a lot is true. Many consultants live away from “home” for weeks or months at a time. Others fly out on Sunday night and back on Thursday night to spend Friday at the office, though that becomes tedious.
The work-life balance, though, is highly dependent on the practice you are in, where the clients tend to be located, and whether the work can be accomplished remotely. Especially in boutique firms, consultants spend little time at the client site, or have clients located nearby. Occasionally in large firms, though, there are practices that are located near their client base and have less travel.
In general, though, expect a lot of travel. Decide before you apply if you are willing to accept the trade-offs involved in a career in consulting.