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Consulting is one of the hottest fields for top college graduates, but many students do not even know what consulting is. This is partly because the term “consulting” is used broadly to define almost any person that provides advice to organizations.
Corporations, nonprofits (such as universities, foundations, etc), and the government are often faced with issues that require the help of experts. In some cases, consultants are hired because an organization is in trouble (examples include declining revenues, higher costs, increased competition or the need to respond to new government regulations). Consultants may also be hired if a company wants to grow its operations and needs advice on introducing a new product or service, purchasing another company, or expanding internationally. These are just two examples of the type of services that consultants engage in, but they all rely on providing expert advice based on experience working with other organizations in the same area.
Management consulting firms differ based on the industries they specialize in, the services they provide, the length of their engagements, and many other factors. Some firms, like McKinsey or BCG, are present in almost all industries including everything from Banking and Healthcare to Energy and Education. Other consulting firms may specialize in only one industry. Consulting firms also differ with respect to the type of services they provide. For example, some consulting firms may work with all industries but are solely focused on providing services related to financial management, tax, and audit services. Another example is a consulting firm focused solely on providing technology services such as SAP implementation.
One interesting aspect of consulting is that oftentimes consulting firms may work together on an engagement, leveraging their expertise in different areas.
Visit the Meet With a Counselor section to learn more detailed information on career options in consulting.
Depending on the consulting firm, a typical role for a college-hire is “Research Analyst”, “Business Analyst”, or “Associate Consultant”. After two or three years of employment, many consultants pursue MBA programs, are promoted to Senior Consultants, or switch to industry (work for client side).
The consulting process involves problem solving and the various steps include pitching, research, analysis, reporting and implementation.
Remember that this is just a general overview of the consulting process and each firm has its own tailored process. In some cases consulting firms may only be involved in several steps of this process, depending on their area of expertise. To learn more about the consulting process you can read “The McKinsey Mind” by Ethan Rasiel and Paul Friga.
Great consultants have the quantitative ability to analyze data sets (using Microsoft Excel), advanced research skills, and be comfortable with written and verbal communication. Consultants are hired to solve complex business problems, so beyond the general requirements, they must be knowledgeable about business, think quickly on their feet, and be able to work with diverse teams.
Consulting firms look for candidates to show academic achievement (GPA, SAT, difficult coursework), a history of leadership and impacts for organizations (work experience, student club leadership, sports teams, etc), and a passion for solving problems.
The consulting industry is incredibly competitive, especially breaking into the top consulting firms (PDF) that recruit at a select number of schools. If you are interested in an internship or full time job in consulting, you should start preparing as early as possible by researching the firms and developing contacts at the companies. Additionally, a major part of the application process is a case-interview, which will test your ability to solve a business case in an interview setting. Read Case / Structured Interviews (PDF) to learn more.
One thing to keep in mind is that many consultants travel on a weekly basis to their “client site”. The typical schedule is Monday-Thursday at the client site and Friday at the home site. Some consultants travel every single week, and in many cases to different locations depending on the length of the project. However, some consultants may not travel at all depending on the firm or specific engagement. For example, many government consultants in Washington, DC are based in the nation’s capital and work at one of the government agencies locally. Make sure to research the company website to understand how each firm operates.
For additional resources read Case / Structured Interviews (PDF)