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Management Consulting

Career description

Overall career description

What is it?

Strategy consultants advise organizations on high-level decisions, using deep industry knowledge and an analytical approach to deliver the best results. It generally implies advising at the highest-level of a company. Strategy consultants work across every industry, with private and public sector bodies on a wide range of issues. Working in strategy consulting requires excellent analytical abilities and communication skills. Much of your time as a consultant will involve analyzing data and pulling together a story, and ultimately recommendations, for the client. However, a huge chunk of the project will involve interviewing employees, presenting information to a group of executives, and convincing the key players that your recommendations are sound. A strategy consulting career is very demanding with associates/ business analysts frequently working in excess of 60 hours per week, with peaks of 100. The competition for advancement is fairly intense, compensation is very high, and the work is very high profile. The tradeoff, however, is a demanding job requiring long hours and frequent/long travel to client sites.

Why interesting?

Many people are drawn to strategy consulting for the nature of the work, dealing with issues that are top priority for CEOs and their direct reports, and for the exposure from early days to senior management. Many are attracted by the possibility of diving into a variety of industries and functions before focusing their expertise, and many others for the exit opportunities that are available especially to junior levels- associates, consultants and project leaders/ engagement managers. Strategy consulting also offers high salaries, quick career advancements and a chance to be sponsored to gain an MBA from a top business school.

What are the advantages?
Benefits / Advantages:

High salaries at all levels.

Potential for quick advancement up the ladder if you perform well.

Access to top-notch exit opportunities.

Industry is unlikely to be disrupted by technology.

Exposure to many different companies, industries, and management teams

You gain useful skills that apply broadly to different industries and companies.

Advancement is directly linked to your performance and contributions, especially as you move up.

Career path tracks

Entry points

General entry points

There are two main entry points into strategy consulting: associate or consultant.

Associates usually have max 2 years work experience, or can come directly from undergraduate (B.Com or B.A.) programs at target schools or other highly regarded universities. In the latter case they will join as visiting associates and will be promoted to associate after 6 months-1 year. Usually they have an economics or engineering/ science degree, but other kinds of degree are considered as well as long as candidates are top performers in top schools.

Internships are increasingly common for undergrads, and for those who perform well they usually translate into an offer.

An associate is typically expected to stay in position for two years, at which point they will either be sponsored through business school or move on to something else. Occasionally they may be directly promoted to consultant.

Consultants are recruited from MBA and/or other graduate student programs (PhD). Consultants have similar responsibilities as Associates but take on more responsibility quickly. Both roles require extensive presentation skills (structuring and communication), as well as business judgment, creativity, synthesis, rigor.

Other entry points for “Lateral hires” - experienced professionals coming from competitors or occasionally from industry or banking, and joining at the project leader level or above- are a less common occurrence.

Exit points

General exit points

Associates typically go on to work in in-house at a corporation, pursue an MBA, join a smaller consulting firm, or do something entirely different- like working for start-ups.

The choice of employment after leaving a strategy consulting firm is often determined in part by work-life balance desires. For those who want to continue to burn the midnight oil, there are plenty of opportunities in private equity firms and investment banks. For those with more of a desire to work client-side in a large corporation, positions in internal corporate strategy teams are common transition points. If you have an MBA and political or public policy aspirations, you may be well placed to secure a position in a think tank, a management position in a government department, or, via the connections of the firm, to work more directly in the political scene. Technology firms and other start-ups are also often full of ex-consultants.

More broadly, one of the most attractive things that come along with a job in consulting, is the impact it has on your resume and future opportunities. A few years in the consulting industry, can give you a long-term reputation as a high-performer. In addition, top consulting firms can serve as a spring-board that launches you down the path to your dream job or lifestyle. Whether you want to be a CEO, a politician, or have something unique in-mind, there’s probably a consulting alumni who’s made it where you want to go.

After spending several years in the consulting industry, strategy consultants possess expertise in functional practices across several industries and have built a strong network with reputable business leaders. Therefore, many exit options are available for qualified consultants, some of which include:

Corporate Roles

This is probably the most common exit option. A number of large corporations have internal consulting groups, which are supervised by ex-consultants. Outside of strategy, the pace is generally slower. Consultants are a good fit for corporate roles that demand analytics, research, project coordination, and staff management. Some of the advantages of opting for corporate roles include a more stable work environment, shorter hours, and the opportunity to develop an operating skillset. However, there are also cons associated with this option such as reduced pay and benefits and less flexibility when it comes to choosing projects and team members.

Graduate School

Many consultants who hit the two year mark apply to graduate programs. Experience in the consulting industry looks great on a resume and can help you get into top graduate programs at the best universities. A lot of undergraduate consultants pursue graduate school to figure out their next career move. It also gives them a break from the stress of daily consulting work.

The majority of consultants choose business school, while others pursue law school or opt to enroll in a Masters or PhD program. If you’re interested in a Masters or PhD program, conduct research on the companies that concentrate in your area. For example, Cornerstone is focused on economics research, which is a great fit for a future economics PhD.

Finance Roles

One of the more challenging exit options to consider is a career in finance. Let’s just say that an investment banker would break into these roles more easily than a strategy consultant. However, if you are the product of a top-tier consultancy firm and the company needs some operational experience, you could have an advantage over experienced bankers.

Private Equity

Strategy consultants are very much suited for private equity posts but they need to research potential employers. Larger shops, such as CVC, Bain and Blackstone, favor consultants who have handled corporate finance projects or those with prior investment banking experience.

One of the benefits of this exit option is that PE offers better compensation as well as greater prestige and the opportunity to handle industry-shaping deals

Hedge Funds

Consultants can also break into the hedge fund sector; however, the opportunities are quite limited. You can only target those that demand the skills of an experienced consultant. For example, macroeconomic funds place a lot of emphasis on market research, so this would be a good fit, whereas specialized funds would not. In terms of salary, hedge funds can offer better compensation, and like PE, can open the door to industry-changing opportunities.

Asset Management / Equity Research

The skill set of a management consultant is a great fit for asset management or equity research. Aim for positions at top firms and target modeling-heavy assignments.

Startup

Building a business is probably one of the least chosen exit options. However, consulting experience does serve as an advantage as consultants are constantly exposed to diverse industries, complex business problems, and great networks of business professionals, they are equipped with the elements required to start a successful business. You can either start your own company or join a startup. The consulting industry generally has strong startup communities.

Public Sector and Government Roles

This is typically the least chosen path out of consulting. Only a few consultants are inclined to government service and politics.

Of course, the most visible benefit of opting for this career is the opportunity to take on government positions. On the other hand, the cons include reduced pay, longer working hours, and an indefinite career path.

The exit options listed above include only a few roles to consider. With a powerful skill set and expert credentials, a good consultant could break into any industry.

Generic personality fit

What are the typical traits of a Management Consultant?

The personality of someone suited to work as a successful strategy consultant has the following character traits:

  • Problem solving
  • Discipline
  • Flexibility
  • Critical thinking
  • Big picture vision
  • Social
  • Team play
  • Detail orientation
  • Quantitative skills
  • Polished and presentable

What are the magnets to a Management Consulting career?

The strategy consulting career path attracts people who are:

High achievers who are willing to work long hours and travel frequently.

Curious, looking for variety in their work

Keen to work with a wide range of people, switching team mates (internal and client) every few months

Eager to find original solutions to C-level issues in different industries and functions

Looking for exposure to senior management from early stages in their career

Interested in being sponsored through an MBA and / or exit opportunities in the corporate world at much more senior levels than internal careers would allow.

Generic role

Typical Strategy consulting role

Consultants are generally brought in on the important decisions that are vital to the future of the company, to make sure that every angle is looked after. They can devote themselves entirely to the question at hand, while executives are normally busy with the day to day management of the company. Consultants also offer deep expertise in a particular industry or subject, such as market positioning or restructuring. Their role is to identify the best solution for a problem at hand, avoiding internal politics, and following an analytical and methodical approach. In implementation projects, consultants act as project managers: they ensure that each part of the plan is properly and timely executed, they coordinate work across different units, they solve problems as they arise and ensure that adequate communication is kept with top management There are also occasions when consultants fulfill a legal purpose. During a merger, before the transaction is completed, it is illegal to share information between the two companies. Consultants can operate independently, sourcing information from both parties to have a strategy ready for the moment the last document is signed.


High level compensation

Below is a guideline of how much you can earn in Strategy consulting. It should be noted that there can be a wide range based on the country, the company, the year, and the city you’re working in.

Intern/ Visiting Associate

$30,000- 40,000

Analyst/ Associate:

$45,000 to $90,000 (base salary plus bonus)

Associate:

$100,000 to $200,000 (base salary plus bonus)

Project Leader/ Case team leader/ Engagement manager:

$170,000- $300,000

Principal/ Manager:

$350,000 to $800,000+

Partner:

$1,000,000+

Here’s a summary of what to expect at each level:

Intern

Typical Age Range: 21-23

Base Salary (USD): $30-40K

Total Compensation (USD): $30-40K

Timeframe for Promotion: 1 year

Associate

Typical Age Range: 24-30

Base Salary (USD): $50-$90K

Total Compensation (USD): $70-$110K

Timeframe for Promotion: 2 years+ MBA

Consultant

Typical Age Range: 27-35

Base Salary (USD): $100-$170K

Total Compensation (USD): $130-$200K

Timeframe for Promotion: 2 years

PL

Typical Age Range: 30-37

Base Salary (USD): $170-$220K

Total Compensation (USD): $230-350K

Timeframe for Promotion: 2-3 years

Manager

Typical Age Range: 32-40

Base Salary (USD): $280-$400K

Total Compensation (USD): $500-800K

Timeframe for Promotion: 2-3 years

Partner

Typical Age Range: 35-40

Base Salary (USD): Base + bonus

Total Compensation (USD): $1,000K+

Specific roles & responsibilities

Visiting (or “summer”) associate
Responsibility:

Specific assigned tasks

Role:

Learning role to understand organization and validate potential

Analyst (Entry level)
Responsibility:

Responsible for specific components of a project, such as analyzing a client’s performance or conducting interviews with key market players or industry specialists.

Role:

Learning role to understand organization and validate potential

Consultant (Amber level)
Responsibility:

Define the storyline in a section of a presentation and fill in the slides

Client and customer interviews- design and execute

Present section of a presentation to client (depending on type of meeting)

Project management- coordinate client teams on a specific project

Role:

Main interface with client team- complex analyses, interviews, client team project management, some presentation to senior client. Individual contributor role, working on a project at a time, sometimes 2, as part of a team, starts focusing on specific functions, businesses and/or industries.

Manager/ Principal (Bronze level)
Responsibility:

Prepare blank flow for a presentation

Allocate work to team (associates, consultants)

Liaise with project sponsors on client side on a day to day basis

Present to client (all levels)

Lead/ contribute to internal activities (practice development, recruiting, employer branding)

Role:

Lead the consultants’ team: plan their work, supervise work quality.

Main interface for senior client roles: overall project management, present to client.

Manage client long term relationsghip, identify & sell follow on projects.

Sales role, mainly developing new and existing clients, supervising many projects, focusing on specific functions, businesses and/or industries, taking lead in internal activities and doing PR for the firm

Junior partner (Silver level)
Responsibility:

Sales

Quality assurance for projects

Thought leader in a practice/ function

Cultivate client relationship

Cultivate potential clients

Develop and mentor internal staff

PR

Lead internal activities (practice development, office management, recruiting, employer branding etc)

Role:

Own the relationship with the client at the most senior level (CEO/ Board), quality vetting for all work, internal roles- manage practices and internal functions.

Sales role, mainly developing existing clients and supervising many projects, focusing on specific functions, businesses and/or industries, starts acquiring new clients, taking lead in internal activities

Managing director & Senior partner (Gold level)
Responsibility:

Sales

Quality assurance for projects

Thought leader in a practice/ function

Cultivate client relationship

Cultivate potential clients

Develop and mentor internal staff

PR

Lead internal activities (practice development, office management, recruiting, employer branding etc)

Role:

Own the relationship with the client at the most senior level (CEO/ Board), quality vetting for all work, internal roles- manage practices and internal functions.

Sales role, mainly developing new and existing clients, supervising many projects, focusing on specific functions, businesses and/or industries, taking lead in internal activities and doing PR for the firm


Typical sacrifices

Specific sacrifices required in a management consulting career

Drawbacks / Disadvantages:

Difficult work/life balance, lots of travel and long hours; even at the top levels the lifestyle is better- expect 50+ hrs per week, and you’ll still have to travel.

Little visibility on the impact of recommendations- and on whether they are implemented at all

Work under pressure, on tight deadlines

Up or out culture still pervasive- most will not be good enough to advance to the top.

Extremely tough to get in if you get a late start, or you attend a non-target school.


Typical skills

Typical skills required to work in Management consulting

The strategy consulting career path fits people who are:

  • Extremely attentive to detail and rigor
  • Solid in terms of reading/writing and math
  • Able to identify key points and summarize them (elevator speech)- structure, synthesis
  • Able to work as part of a team
  • Excellent interpersonal and communication skills, both oral and written
  • Creativity and innovation
  • Business judgement
  • Problem solving and problem structuring skills
  • Analytical skills
  • Flexibility
  • Able to cope with pressure and challenges
  • Commercially aware and understanding of business environments

Start your journey

Understand what career path best fits you.
Be honest, be thorough.