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Careers Centre

Management consultancy

Sector Overview

This page has been written by Paul Brown, the relevant Careers Adviser for this occupational area. To see how you can meet Paul, or any of our advisers, visit our website.

Are you interested in how a business works – its strategy, structure, management and operations? If so, a career in management consultancy might be for you.

Management consultants help organisations to solve issues, create value, maximise growth and improve business performance. They use their business skills to provide objective advice and expertise and help an organisation to develop any specialist skills that it may be lacking.

Management consultancy is a popular career choice for St Andrews graduates as shown by the growth of the Playfair Project, a student-led consultancy based in St Andrews. The attractions of working in the industry are easy to recognise: varied, challenging, well paid work which offers privileged insights into a range of businesses; and a working culture which is usually genuinely dedicated to the training and development of staff. The downside of consultancy’s attractiveness is the level of competition as well as the very demanding selection criteria which firms apply in order to recruit people of the quality which their work and clients demand. Working long hours are common. Consultancy is not your average 9-5 job: and you can spend a considerable amount of time away from home. Mobility is essential.

There is excellent information on this sector, including current trends and developments, on the following websites:

 

Management consultancy attributes profile

Key attributes/skills needed for the roleWhere you could develop these skills or attributes
Project management skills

Organising roles within societies eg for events. CAPOD offers courses on Project Management within its Professional Skills Curriculum. Also master the use of EXCEL.

The analytical skills to solve complex problems These are most likely to be developed and evidenced from your academic studies, especially any dissertation or research projects.
The ability to communicate with excellence, through listening, speaking and writing, and to persuade Presentations within your course, and mooting or debating experience. A student representative role is also likely to offer opportunities to develop these characteristics. CAPOD also offers courses on Communication Skills regularly within its Professional Skills Curriculum.
Research skills Developed through your academic studies and any relevant work experience
Leadership skills Leadership of societies or sports teams. Professional Skills Curriculum courses on leadership.

Other key attributes/skills demanded for the role: do you possess them?

  • Energy: the working hours and demands are intense
  • Resilience and self-belief: expectations from your managers and peers will be very high
  • Creativity and flexibility: you will be immersed in delivering change processes and novel solutions

 

Nature of sector or roles

Consultancy firms offer services across all areas of business, including:

Generalist consulting Generalist consultancies are large consulting firms that offer a wide range of services, from strategy consulting and human resources to IT and, in some cases, outsourcing on a global basis. They work across a variety of different sectors with a range of different projects. Further details.

Strategy consulting strategy consultancies primarily offer advice on business strategy to companies on a project-by-project basis. Further details.

Economic consulting economic consultancies apply economic thinking and analysis to the business, consumer and regulatory issues facing clients. - See more at: Further details.

IT consulting IT consultancies provide businesses with the tools they need to get the most out of their IT systems. This sometimes involves implementing and administering an IT system on behalf of a company. Further details.

Financial consulting Financial consultancies are made up of licensed professionals who are trained to help others make intelligent financial decisions. Companies requiring expertise in accounting, finance, insurance and other aspects of finance will hire a financial consultancy to advise them. Further details.

HR consulting Human resource (HR) consulting is a broad term which covers the processes of managing an organisation’s workforce. HR consulting focuses on utilising a company’s personnel to achieve the goals set by the organisation. - Further details.

Niche consulting (sometimes called boutique or specialist consultancies) These firms specialise in a particular field rather than general consulting practices and have an in-depth knowledge of their subject area. See Inside Careers and Consultancy Register for further details.


Consultants work on projects or cases where their work may fall discretely into one of the above areas or may span two or three of them. The work is conducted in teams and, typically, the entrant is described as an Analyst: typical tasks are to gather and interpret data, build computer analysis models, support the work of more senior colleagues and to gain a general understanding of different methodologies. Many firms hire Analysts with the expectation that they will work with them for two or three years and then leave to go to a business school, often on a sponsored basis, or to employment elsewhere. The largest consulting firms have strengths in all areas of work, but boutique firms often command the highest fees in their areas of expertise or sector knowledge. Consultancy is a relatively small area of work and it is not hard, using the resources referred to below, to establish the leading players and recruiters in each segment of the market.

The largest consultancy practices would lay claim to offering a full range of services encompassing all the different roles identified above. However, firms do vary in their relative strengths and there are many smaller niche players who predominantly focus on particular market sectors for clients and offer a more limited range of services.

 

Networks - why and how to use them

Networking is particularly important and can help you succeed with your applications. If you have been in contact with someone working for the organisation then you have extra information to back up your case for why they should employ you. Use social media sites such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook (many organisations have their own page) to connect with organisations. Recent St Andrews graduates have gone onto to work for PwC, PA Consulting Group and Deloitte . Alumni can make extremely useful contacts, giving you an "edge" with your applications and interviews. There are several ways to make contact with alumni.

How to gain experience/internships

Recruiters for strategy consultancies may be less concerned that applicants have had relevant work experience, whether directly in consultancy or in relevant industries, than are operations or IT consultants. However, you do need to show business awareness.

Many of the leading professional services firms offer structured summer internship schemes to penultimate year students. Deadlines vary - although the vast majority are in January, some (eg McKinsey & Co) are before Christmas. It's vital that you consult the relevant employer websites for specific deadlines of employers you are interested in.

There are also a good number of consultants who offer a variety of short programmes such as insight days/open days or events. Designed specifically for first or second year students, these generally last one day to a week and provide an introduction to management consultancy to help you decide whether or not it is the right career for you. These schemes also increase your chances of being considered for firms' graduate schemes. It is normal to apply for these schemes in December, January or February, but again, check employer websites for up-to-date application deadlines. Use the companies listed in the How to get a (graduate) job section as a starting point for searching for internship schemes.


Sources of vacancies / further information:

How to get a (graduate) job

Management consultancy is open to graduates from any degree discipline, but a degree which is either numerical or analytical in content can be an advantage for some firms. Most employers will look for a strong academic record and a minimum of a 2.1 degree, particularly for any graduate training schemes.

Many graduate consulting schemes open to receive applications in September and have closing dates in the November or December of your final year. But there are exceptions – McKinsey for example close as early as the end of October. So check the relevant employer websites for closing dates and don’t delay in applying. Smaller practices may advertise at any time of the year.

St Andrews graduates have gone on to work for a variety of companies, including KPMG, Deloitte, McKinsey and Company, Accenture, Sapient and PwC.

Although a postgraduate degree is not necessary for entry into consultancy, it can often be useful - See the Relevant Postgraduate Study section for further details.

 

How to start your job search

Graduate Training Schemes

Here are some examples of Consultancies who have graduate recruitment schemes. It’s important that you carry out some research into the type of consulting employers that suit you best and identify which firms to apply to.

CompanyType of consultancy
2020 Delivery Ltd Public Sector-Specific Management Consultancy
Accenture A world-leading provider of management consulting, technology and outsourcing services
Analysys Mason Global Specialist in Telecoms, Media and Technology
Arthur D Little A leading international management consulting firm
A T Kearney Global Management Consulting Company
Bain & Company Management Consultancy firm
Booz Allen Hamilton A leading provider of management and technology consulting services
Boston Consulting Group A global management consulting firm and the world's leading advisor on business strategy
Capgemini Leader in Consulting, Technology and Outsourcing
CRA International Global consulting firm
Credo Boutique Strategy Consultancy
Deloitte Professional Services
EY Professional Services
Javelin Group Limited Europe's leading firm of retail strategy consultants
Kaiser Associates International An international strategy consulting firm
KPMG A global network of professional services firms
LEK Consulting Strategy Consultancy
Marakon Global Boutique Strategy Consultancy
Mars & Co Strategic Management Consultants
McKinsey & Company Management Consultancy
OC&C Strategy Consultants Strategy Consultancy
Oliver Wyman Global Management Consultancy
PA Consulting Group Consulting, Technology and Innovation Firm
Parthenon Group Strategic Management Consultancy
PwC (Consulting) Professional Services Network
Roland Berger Strategy Consultants Global Consulting Firm
Simon-Kucher & Partners A global consulting firm specializing in strategy, marketing, pricing and sales.
Strategy & A global team of practical strategists

 

Job search websites

The following websites publicise management consulting vacancies:

There are also a number of specialist recruitment agencies for management consultancy jobs: (mostly for experienced hires, but useful to know about)

Applications, interviews and assessment centres

What to expect

The management consultancy selection process can vary from company to company, but is typically in four parts:

You need to be aware of how you are expected to present yourself at each stage and what the recruiters are looking for. Check employer websites and read their brochures and other literature carefully.

During the application process you will be required to demonstrate an aptitude for certain skills including client handling, practice development, strategic planning, business analysis and team building. Prospective employers will also be looking for evidence of creativity, flexibility and interpersonal skills.

A case study is one of the tools management consultancy companies use to better screen candidates, by assessing their analytical skills in a pressured real-time environment. They are open ended questions, designed not to see if you can get the right answer, but how you try to get there. The case interview question is generally either a business problem, estimating exercise, arithmetic or logic problem designed to make you think on your toes, use reason and common sense.

All that has been said above emphasises the demanding standards in all-round abilities which consultancies are looking for. It is sensible, therefore, to consider what possible areas of employment would attract you if your consultancy applications are not successful. You may want to talk this issue through with a careers adviser. Consider making applications to less competitive fields as well. Remember that consultancies recruit experienced hires with three or more years of other sector experience and/or those who have been to Business School, so you can always build towards a job in this sector.

There are many resources to help you with the selection process:

Applications

Interview

Case study

Assessment Centres

Online practice tests/application reference material

Many firms provide online practice tests/case studies and application reference material, eg:

Relevant Postgraduate Study

Although a postgraduate degree is not required for entry into consultancy, it can be useful to the work. In particular the Masters in Business Administration (MBA) is valued by some employers but it is by no means essential. Having a Masters or PhD may allow you to enter the profession at a higher level and it may prove to a potential employer that you are highly committed to advancing your career in consultancy. It will not, however, automatically guarantee entry into consultancy. Read more.

According to the Management Consultancies Association (MCA), 'in recent years the Certified Management Consultant (CMC) qualification provided by the Institute of Consulting has taken on more significance. This enables qualified consultants to demonstrate that they have achieved an internationally accepted standard of skills and experience. However, consultancy remains some distance from the closely regulated professions of accountancy and law.'

 

Key UK links and resources

Careers Centre resources

Books in the Careers Centre Library

1) Guides to firms

2) Case Study preparation

General Management Consultancy Information

Professional Bodies, Trade Organisations & Journals/Magazines

 

USA resources

The USA job market and recruitment timetables, for both internships and graduate jobs, for sectors of employment often differ from the UK.

The Careers Centre subscribes to the reputable independent USA careers information and vacancy provider Vault. The links below will take you directly to Vault subscription resources which cover this sector. You may find further useful and relevant resources linked from there as well.