Basic requirements for becoming a consultant
A strong academic background, to degree level with a minimum of a 2.1 or equivalent, is a standard prerequisite to becoming a consultant, as are good interpersonal skills. Beyond this there are certain professional benchmarks which will also dictate the route of entry.
Becoming a consultant at graduate level
At the mid-senior level consultancy is typically the ‘second step’ in a fast-track career. The reason for this is one of commercial credibility. That is to say, in order to be marketable as a business adviser an individual’s background must show direct, first-hand experience of commercial issues. Additionally, the often sensitive or ‘political’ nature of a consultancy assignment requires a certain maturity.
There are, however, exceptions to this general rule. Some of the largest practices (e.g. Strategy Houses and the ‘Big Four’ like Deloitte, Ernst & Young, KPMG and PwC) will recruit graduates onto their training schemes. The strategy houses, for example, will take a few of the highest fliers of their year – typically candidates who have achieved a 2.1 or first class degree from one of the most prestigious universities – and usually with a strong numerical basis to their academic background.
Bright, high-achievers will be recruited into the most junior consultancy grade, generally described as ‘analyst’ and, as the title suggests, carrying a remit that concentrates on the research and analysis of technical information to support more senior consultants in the provision of their services. On some schemes this is done through a rotation system allowing graduates to experience a range of practices and work areas.
Qualifications to help become a consultant
In some companies after a period of 4-6 years, junior entrants will need to complete an MBA (sponsored by their employer) in preparation for promotion to the more senior client facing roles. However, it is certainly the case that many of these graduate recruits do not survive the early years – the work is demanding and there is little opportunity for direct client contact.
Becoming a consultant later on
Many professionals will choose to become a consultant later in their careers, typically after having armed themselves with a broad-based background of commercial experience and often a professional qualification (for example ACA, ACMA, IPD). Most often this is achieved as a result of completing a graduate training programme with a blue-chip employer. Described as being at the ‘experienced hire’ entry level, it is likely that such candidates will have acquired, to a greater or lesser extent, skills and expertise in one or more functional and/or industry-facing areas.
For example, skills in strategic planning and analysis, Business Process Re-engineering (BPR), organisational change, financial or IT systems and marketing are valuable; and exposure to any of the key consultancy markets, such as financial services, fast moving consumer goods (FMCG), technology, telecoms or public sector.
Previous consultancy experience is not a prerequisite at this level, but only one or two practices will take candidates who have no relevant commercial experience – and where this does happen, the successful applicants will be of the highest academic calibre.
A subsection of this level of entry is the MBA graduate route. The MBA is certainly recognised as a useful springboard into becoming a consultant for someone seeking to transfer from a specialist line background into a more broadly focused business role. Potential employers recognise that an MBA qualified candidate is usually highly committed to advancing their career; however, in what is an extremely competitive recruitment market, an MBA does not automatically enable one to become a consultant.
Job opportunities available
Becoming a consultant has been made difficult with the recession. Consultancy was hit very hard during the downturn and we are only now seeing the market slowly gathering momentum. As such the market is currently employer driven for many roles and consultancies tend to have very specific requirements for roles. Being able to demonstrate your transferable skills and industry expertise is very helpful and can pave the way to becoming a consultant.
In summary, it is possible, in principle, to move into consultancy at various stages in a career. However, it is also true to say that the profession is very dynamic, and is constantly changing in response to economic climates and market forces. Becoming a consultant requires you to be someone who relishes the volatility and the challenges it imposes.