A strong academic background, to degree level with a minimum of a 2:1 or equivalent, is a standard prerequisite, as are good interpersonal skills. Beyond this there are certain professional benchmarks which will also dictate the route of entry.
Joining management consultancy
The largest practices (e.g. strategy houses and the Big Four) recruit hundreds of graduates on to their training schemes in the UK. The strategy houses, for example, will take the highest fliers of their year – typically candidates who have achieved a good 2:1 or first class degree from one of the most prestigious universities – and usually with a strong numerical grounding 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.
At certain consultancies, notably the strategy houses and the strategy departments of mainstream consultancies, junior entrants will need to complete an MBA (sponsored by their employer) in preparation for promotion to the more senior client facing roles. This is offered after 2–4 years. However, it is certainly the case that many of these graduate recruits do not survive the early years to enjoy this reward – the work is demanding and there is little opportunity at that stage for direct client contact.
Specialising in management consultancy later
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.
Many consultants enter the profession later, typically after having armed themselves with a broad 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 industry and/or functional area.
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, is also attractive to potential employers.
Previous consultancy experience is not a prerequisite at this more advanced 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.
Further study – MBAs
A subsection of this level of entry is the MBA graduate route. The MBA is certainly recognised as a useful springboard into consultancy for someone seeking to transfer from a specialist line background into a more broadly focused business role. Potential employers acknowledge 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 guarantee entry into consultancy.
Job opportunities available
Consultancy firms are hiring aggressively and their recruitment teams are usually very visible on campus. To enhance your chances of being offered a job, it’s worth exploring the summer internship or ‘taster’ placements offered by the larger consultancies. Being able to demonstrate your transferable skills and understanding of business is also very helpful. And if you’re not successful in joining as a graduate entrant, don’t despair. Do something else for a few years, then try again.
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. As a consultant you must be someone who relishes this volatility and the challenges it poses.