‘A consultant will ask you for your watch, tell you the time, and hand you the bill’. We’ve all heard the joke. And perhaps in the past it may have been more like that. However consulting today is quite different, and from what I’ve seen so far at PwC, we can make a real difference to almost any company, no matter what the industry, region or issues the client is facing, by providing them with years’ worth of experience and insight in a matter of weeks.
Why did you choose a job in consulting?
I left university without too much of an idea about what I wanted to do, other than I wanted to do a job where I could make a difference and try to help people through the work that I did. I worked for a public sector organisation for six months thinking this would tick those boxes, but found it challenging to cut through the bureaucracy and make my voice heard. I felt there were a number of things that could be changed to improve how the organisation worked and enjoyed trying to make it happen, but the culture that existed meant it would take years for anything to come to fruition and I soon became frustrated. I explained this to my old housemate from university when we met up for Christmas, and he suggested I try consulting, as he felt it might offer me the chance to help organisations make improvements as a full time job. He couldn’t have been more right. I looked up management consulting with PwC and immediately realised it was for me, and haven’t looked back since.
What are your main duties?
Despite being an associate and often the most junior member of a team, you’re given significant responsibility from the moment you join, especially in a regional office such as Leeds where the whole consulting team is much smaller. I remember on my first day I was introduced to the main consulting partner who asked me to help her with some jobs – no pressure there then! On projects, duties vary widely, and as you gain experience you’ll be asked to perform more and more important and challenging roles. For example, when you first start many graduates will perform project management, such as organising meetings and capturing the outputs from them. However, soon you’ll be asked to take an active role designing content for major presentations, reports and meeting senior client stakeholders and have the opportunity to work on projects that interest you.
After just six months in, I was stood in front of the board members of a leading baked goods retailer and manufacturer presenting a report that I’d written, and running client workshops about digital technology with seven senior attendees on my own. Now nearly 18 months in, I’ve found myself talking to banking CIOs, local council leaders and taking an active part in key planning sessions with senior clients and partners in PwC around business strategies for the digital age. If you push yourself to take on new challenges and let your colleagues know, they’ll give you the opportunity to prove yourself and support you in doing so. What I’ve found really enjoyable is that in management consulting you’re constantly encouraged to push yourself and try new things, something I find very rewarding. If you show you’re capable of more challenging roles, then those are the roles you’ll be given.
What skills are useful in this profession?
There really is no set answer for this question. The reason consulting teams are successful is because of the different skills and views each team member brings to the table. I’ve worked with colleagues who I regard as maths geniuses, who can make an excel model more complicated than I ever imagined possible, and others who can’t stand excel but are brilliant public speakers. However, when put together, we can offer clients a solution to a complex issue using the model, but can also explain it to them in simple terms that help them plan for the future.
When you join as a graduate, you spend thefirst eight weeks training at PwC’s specialist training centre, and this helps you develop a core set of skills that are vital during your first year. There are no exams during the graduate scheme, so a key part of the consulting mindset is that 70% of your learning is performed whilst on a project, so you really are learning all the time. That said, being prepared to challenge and speak your mind are very useful tools to have, and being good with people is quite important, as you’ll often spend a lot of time talking to clients and working in teams.
Do you have any advice for someone wanting get into consultancy?
I’ve found consulting to be an enjoyable and rewarding career, but it isn’t for everyone. Clients can be demanding, and often days will not follow a standard 9-5 structure. Sometimes days will be short, and you can leave the office early, but others will be tough, and ten hour days and above are not uncommon when the final report is due. Flexibility and being able to travel are also expected, so you can be away from home for a few nights a week which can put some people off. However, the opportunity to travel is also a real bonus for many graduates, with many of my peers working in such glamorous locations as Dubai, New York, Sydney and for the really lucky ones, Macclesfield and Grimsby!
If you decide to apply, you should show you’re passionate about client service, and want to make a positive difference to their business. Make sure you prepare for your interviews carefully and think about the competency questions in particular, but do not lie as it will come out very quickly. Keep up to date with business issues and have a point of view, as this will show that you’ll be able to bring ideas and challenge to your projects. But most importantly, be yourself. Consulting is all about people, and the more approachable you are the better.