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Management Consultancy | The Careers Service Management Consultancy – Oxford University Careers Service
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About this sector

Management consulting firms provide a broad range of services. This ranges from help in defining strategies to implementing large-scale IT and change programmes, coaching individuals and teams and providing expert advice in specialised fields.

What do management consultants do?

Management consultants can be engaged by an organisation for a wide range of activities. Broadly, a management consultant may be brought in when an organisation wants to:

  • Generate a competitive advantage
  • Maximise growth
  • Improve business performance

Typical tasks for graduates who join at ‘entry level’ involve:

  • Gathering and interpreting data
  • Conducting Excel analysis and building computer analysis models
  • Gaining an understanding of different methodologies
  • Interviewing client’s employees, management team and other stakeholders
  • Running focus groups and facilitating workshops
  • Communicating with clients
  • Preparing business proposals/presentations
  • Extensive travel to clients across the UK and abroad (depending on the firm’s reach)

Example consulting projects:

  • A UK retailer wants to develop its business in India – what are the cost implications for its UK business?
  • A financial services company wants to set-up a new division. How can it do this and how many staff will they need?
  • Two major international consumer goods companies want to merge. How can they do this successfully?

Many students consider a career in consulting because of the fast pace, wide variety of projects, and high performance clients and teams with whom you can work. Consultants can gain unique insights into a wide range of sectors and organisations and work with staff at all levels. Consultants work long hours, travel extensively and, at the start of your career, will likely spend more time conducting Excel analyses rather than strategizing with the CEO in the Board Room.

Types of job

The main types of consultancy firms are:

  • Generalist firms: these offer a wide range of services from strategy consulting and human resources to IT and outsourcing on a global basis. Many of these firms grew out of audit firms or IT companies, e.g. Accenture, PwC, KPMG, EY and Deloitte.
  • Strategy Consultancy firms: these offer strategic advice to companies on a project-by-project basis, e.g. Bain, McKinsey, Boston Consulting Group (BCG), Oliver Wyman and strategy firms embedded in Big 4 firms such as Strategy& at PwC and Monitor Deloitte and Parthenon-EY. There are lots more strategy firms out there than the ‘big 3’ so it’s crucial that you think carefully about applying to a range of firms if you want to be successful. Read our advice on Consulting Beyond the Obvious for more ideas about working in strategy.
  • Human Resource Consultancy firms: these offer specialist HR advice on areas such as personnel policy, job evaluation and industrial relations, e.g. Mercer and Willis Towers Watson.
  • Information Technology firms: these offer specialist advice on a range of areas, from defining information needs through to implementing computer applications, e.g. Alfa or PA Consulting.
  • Financial consultancy firms: these offer specialist advice in areas such as the installation of budgetary control systems to office reorganisation and administrative arrangements, e.g. CapCo.
  • Economic consultancy firms: evaluate, model and forecast market trends, and advise clients on the impact of government policy and regulatory issues, including in the fields of international development, e.g. Oxera, NERA.
  • Niche firms are smaller practices with up to 100 consultants, specialising in certain industry or business sectors. Often set up by an experienced consultant with a particular area of expertise, e.g. Plural Strategy (events, media, agribusiness, education, industrial technology and private equity); and Teneo Consulting (from engineering to public sector to telecoms).

When deciding on the firm to apply to, consider not only the type and scope of their practice but also the culture and working style. The size of the firm may matter too:

  • A large, global firm might offer a broader range of opportunities in terms of projects, team size, and location. The biggest consultancy firms may have hundreds or thousand of employees and offer a range of services, often encompassing all the different roles identified above. You may also get to rotate around a variety of client areas. This is not always the case, however, and in some instances new recruits may be constrained to one area for some time.
  • There are lots of niche players across the UK with a much smaller number of consultants (between ten and fifty). These smaller firms will perhaps have more localised opportunities, a more specific scope of expertise, and new recruits are usually involved in a broader range of tasks in each project.

The sector is often considered attractive because new graduates can expect to work on varied projects, learn quickly and rapidly gain experience in a range of industries. Within a few years, many consultants choose to step across into one of the industries where they have gained project experience, sometimes joining a client they have worked with.

Remuneration can vary enormously depending on the size of the practice, the level and experience of the applicant, the location and so on. However, new entrants can earn anything between £25,000-£40,000 – often rising to over £50,000 within a few years.  For those that choose to stay in consultancy long enough to become a partner (the estimate is about 1 in 10) pay can be expected to rise to six figures, and the most senior partners can achieve seven figure salaries.

Entry points

Consultants work on projects in teams; new consultants will usually be managed by a ‘Job’ or ‘Engagement’ Manager (someone with two to three years experience). A partner (7+ years experience) will have overall responsibility for the project and client relationship. 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 (perhaps on the client side or in a different area altogether).

Many firms start accepting applications from the 1st of September onwards and closing dates can be as early mid October. However, if you are thinking of applying to strategy roles within professional service firms (Accenture, EY, Deloitte, PwC, KPMG) then it is worth checking their websites early during the summer vacation because some will begin their application process much earlier and they tend to fill positions on a rolling basis.

In some cases, firms will open their application process for a short period and review all applicants together, while others will start to assess applicants as they apply, on a ‘rolling basis’. In the case of a rolling process, it is prudent to apply early. Some firms keep their application process open all year round. However, it is likely that the most popular roles (such as strategy roles) and locations (London & New York) will fill first – again, it is crucial to apply as early as possible if you are interested in these particular choices. Smaller, more niche, firms sometimes recruit on a speculative basis. It is important to check individual firms’ websites so that you can apply accordingly.

The selection process

This typically consists of:

  • Written application (CV and cover letter and/or application form)
  • Online tests (for many but not all firms)
  • First interview(s) via telephone, video and/or in person
  • Case study interview(s) possibly more than 3 so practice is essential!
  • Assessment centre (which may include case studies, behaviour/fit interviews, virtual reality exercises, group tasks, written tests, presentations etc)

There is a vast amount of material at the Careers Service on all of these elements. We also hold interview feedback from previous applicants who have been through the process. Make sure you are aware of how you are expected to present yourself at each stage, and what the recruiters are looking for.

Firms try hard to explain their procedures to you: they genuinely want candidates to show themselves in the best possible light, so read their brochures and online information carefully.

Case Studies webpage

Practising case studies is particularly important and the good news is that everyone can learn how to do a case study. It is crucial to practice with other people instead of just relying on reading about case interviews. Ways to get practice, as well as useful books and e-books, are listed on our Case Studies page.

Skills & experience

Skills needed

Often identified in their selection criteria, some typical skills that consultants look for are:

  • A high level of academic achievement, usually a 2:1 is the minimum requirement.
  • Achievements (academic and extra-curricular examples of leadership or success).
  • Analytical, problem-solving and quantitative skills.
  • Numeracy: you need to be comfortable with numbers, mental arithmetic and statistical analysis- but note that a numerate background/degree subject is not necessary.
  • Excellent communication and interpersonal skills, the capacity to work effectively in teams and to get on with a wide range of people both internally and on the client side.
  • Ability to think in a logical, structured way but also open to new knowledge and interpretations.
  • Entrepreneurial business sense.
  • Drive and motivation for the sector.
  • Commercial awareness and business acumen.
  • ‘Impact’ or being ‘Active’, as firms often look for extra-curricular activities and positions of responsibility.

Getting experience

Not all consultancies offer insight days, work experience or internships, so there tend to be relatively few ‘work experience’ opportunities compared to the overall number of full-time positions. Most of the larger firms will advertise their insight and internship opportunities later in Michaelmas and early in the new year. Closing dates range from as early as October through to February and March, so it is worth checking individual company websites early. Internships are becoming more common in the sector, but it is not a prerequisite for a graduate position in consulting. Any business-related or commercial experience can be useful, as your projects could span a wide variety of industries, from retail to banking to healthcare. The Management Consultancy Fair booklet shows many of the internship and work experience opportunities offered by firms that attend the fair.

You should take part in The Student Consultancy or The Researcher Consultancy run by the Careers Service. These programmes run throughout the year to offer students and researchers the opportunity to work on a wide variety of real local business problems. The teamwork experience, consultancy training and problem solving skills you can gain are very relevant to the consulting sector. Furthermore, it gives you the opportunity to test out your interest in this line of work.

MANAGEMENT CONSULTING: OXFORD STUDENT SOCIETIES

In the last few years, some of the student-led societies have also started to undertake consultancy type projects for external firms and organisations, and these can be an opportunity to further develop you skills. For example, the Oxford Development Consultancy, the Oxford Consulting Initiative, the Oxford Strategy Group and the Oxbridge Biotech Roundtable (for post-graduates and researchers especially) offer the chance to gain hands-on consulting experience.

If you feel you need to develop your business acumen and commercial awareness consider signing up for the Careers Service Insight in to Business programme. The programme consists of three interactive workshops and will help to demystify business, as well as highlighting and explaining key aspects of professional life. You will become ready, willing and able to tackle recruitment questions and will feel prepared to transition from your studies into work.

In addition to work experience, it is important to build up your leadership, teamwork and communication skills for consulting. There are hundreds of roles to consider applying for in student societies and possibly new societies for you to start from scratch. Think about extra-curricular activities that you enjoy and how you could get more involved. Perhaps you could improve a society’s marketing strategy, streamline a process or find a way to make a profit? Examples like this can also provide great evidence of your commercial awareness and drive for results. Be sure to demonstrate the impact you’ve had in these roles on your CV. For more advice on finding other activities to engage with to improve your skills, visit our guidance about employability skills.

There is often confusion about whether you should be paid to do an internship or work experience: it will depend on your arrangement with the employer and also the status of the employer. To find out if you are entitled to be paid when undertaking work experience or an internship, visit the Government’s webpages on the National Minimum Wage.

Getting a job

You will need to show that you understand the nature of the work, the industries that the firm works with, and demonstrate you are comfortable working with numbers. If your degree studies have no business element, the interviewer will not expect much sophistication, but it is important to show a degree of commercial awareness by understanding some of the main terminology that you may come across in a business context (e.g. Profit or Loss = Revenue – Costs). In addition to the reference resources below, make sure that you:

  • Attend a ‘How to Tackle a Case Study’ session at the Careers Service, which run up to four times a term – check CareerConnect.
  • Practice case studies.
  • Attend careers fairs and firms’ presentations in Michaelmas Term. Talk to their representatives about the work they do and the type of clients they work with.
  • Join a relevant society such as the Oxford Management Society, CapitOx Consulting or The Guild to find case buddy partners and to attend their case study training sessions.
  • Read the firms’ own literature and websites.
  • Use the Oxford Careers Network or your college/department alumni to identify and speak with alumni mentors.
  • Browse The Financial Times and The Economist for commercial context.

Beyond the top consultancies

It’s safe to say Oxford students LOVE the idea of a career in consulting. Close to 1,000 students come to our annual Management Consultancy Fair, and we receive well over 200 applications every term for The Student Consultancy Programme. Read our advice about applying for strategy related roles in our ‘Consulting Beyond the Obvious’ section online.

Our resources

Books

The following books are available to read in our Resource Centre at 56 Banbury Road:

  • Case In Point, Marc Cosentino
  • Management Consultancy, Joe O’Mahoney
  • Teach Yourself Successful Consulting, Anna Hipkiss
  • The Vault (Career Library) Guide to Consulting
  • WetFeet Press Industry Insider series: Guide to Careers in Management Consulting
  • WetFeet Press Industry Insider series: Consulting for PhDs, Lawyers and Doctors
  • WetFeet Press Insider Guide: Specialized Consulting Careers – Health Care, Human Resources & Information Technology
  • WetFeet Press Career Management Insider Guides: Ace Your Case!, Consulting Interviews / Ace Your Case II-V

Journals

We subscribe to the following journal in our Resource Centre at 56 Banbury Road:

  • The Economist, weekly

Take-away material

Collect the following material from our Resource Centre at 56 Banbury Road:

  • Target Jobs – Management Consulting booklet
  • Inside Careers – Management Consulting booklet
  • Take a copy of our guidance about tackling case studies
Equality, diversity & positive action

A number of major graduate recruiters have policies and processes that are proactive in recruiting students and graduates from diverse backgrounds. To find out the policies and attitudes of employers that you are interested in, explore their equality and diversity policies and see if they are a Disability Confident employer or are recognised for their policy by such indicators as ‘Mindful Employer’ or as a ‘Stonewall’s Diversity Champion’.

The UK law protects you from discrimination due to your age, gender, race, religion or beliefs, disability or sexual orientation. For further information on the Equality Act 2010 and to find out where and how you are protected, and what to do if you feel you have been discriminated against, visit the Government’s website on discrimination.

This information was last updated on 31 January 2019.
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