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Management Consultancy | Oxford University 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 biggest consultancy firms have several hundred or thousand employees and often offer a full range of services, encompassing all the different roles identified below. However, firms do vary in their relative strengths. There are lots of niche players across the UK with a much smaller number of consultants (between ten and fifty).

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: offer strategic advice to companies on a project-by-project basis, e.g. McKinsey, Boston Consulting Group (BCG), Oliver Wyman, Strategy& (previously Booz & Co and have merged with PwC), and Bain.
  • Human Resource Consulting firms: these offer specialist HR advice on areas such as personnel policy, job evaluation and industrial relations, e.g. 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. Capgemini
  • 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. CHP Consulting.
  • 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. 2020 Delivery (public sector consultancy) and Kinapse (specialises in life sciences industries).

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. 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.
  • A smaller firm will perhaps have more localised opportunities, a more specific scope of expertise and new recruits would possibly be involved in a broader range of tasks in each project.

Remuneration packages can vary enormously depending on the size of the practice, the level and experience of the applicant, the location and so on.  New entrants can earn anything between £25,000-£40,000 – often rising to over £50,000 within a couple of years. The sector is attractive because the most senior partners in firms can achieve seven figure salaries, although few people (the estimate is about 1 in 10) go on to become a partner, or choose to remain in consultancy long enough to do so. Many consultants move on to work in industries where they have gained project experience such as technology or publishing or international development.

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.

Many firms start accepting applications from the 1st of September onwards and closing dates can be as early as the end of October. However, if you are thinking of applying to the ‘Big Four’ (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.

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- thus, again, it is crucial to apply as early as possible if you are interested in these particular choices. Smaller, more niche, firms may well 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)
  • Case study interview(s) / assessment centre.

There is a vast amount of material at the Careers Service on all of these elements as well as, in many cases, interview feedback from previous applicants who have been through the process. You need to be 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. Many firms have examples of case studies -a key element of assessment days- on their websites, so look out for these as well: practice of case studies is known to improve performance. You need to show that you can think about business problems like a consultant. There are many resources at the Careers Service and on our website to help you tackle case studies, including the Case Studies information and employer led case study workshops. The case study workshops are advertised on CareerConnect. Usually the Careers Service hosts up to four workshops in Michaelmas term, two or more in Hilary term and a further workshop in Trinity term. In addition a number of societies and employers will host their own case events across Oxford. So it is worth joining one or more of the consulting societies at Oxford plus this will enable you to find other students to practice with. CapitOx, for example, run a Case Buddy Scheme which is for anyone at any level at Oxford to practice case studies one-to-one. Visit the CapitOx website for more information or contact the President of the society. Lots of other free resources for case study practice are listed in Case Studies information. Casenexus is a useful online practice space but we also have books at the Careers Service, such as Case In Point, that students and alumni are welcome to spend time reading before and after appointments during the working week.

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.
  • 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 is also desirable.
  • Drive and motivation for the sector (sometimes referred to as commercial awareness or 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. Most of the larger firms will advertise their opportunities in Michaelmas and closing dates range from as early as October through to February and March, so it is worth checking CareerConnect 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 most of the internship and work experience opportunities offered by firms that attend the fair.

You should seriously consider taking part in The Student Consultancy run by the Careers Service. The Student Consultancy programme runs each term and usually takes around 110 students to work on a wide variety of local business problems with up to fifty different organisations. The teamwork experience, consultancy training and problem solving skills you can gain on TSC are very relevant to the consulting sector. Furthermore, it gives you the opportunity to test out your interest in this line of work.

If you feel you need to develop your business acumen and commercial awareness considering 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.

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 firms that do it and how you meet their selection criteria. 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.
  • Consider joining a relevant society such as the Oxford Management Society, CapitOx Consulting or The Guild.
  • 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.

Equality & positive action

A number of major graduate recruiters have policies and processes that are proactive in recruiting 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 offer ‘Guaranteed Interview Schemes’ (for disabled applicants) or are recognised for their policy by such indicators as ‘Mindful Employer’ or ‘Stonewall’s Diversity Champion’.

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

Our resources


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

  • WetFeet Press Industry Insider series: Guide to Careers in Management Consulting
  • WetFeet Press Career Management Insider Guides: Ace Your Case! Consulting Interviews and Ace Your Case! II-VI
  • The McKinsey Way, Rasiel
  • Mastering the Case Interview (8th ed), Alexander Chernev
  • Management Consultancy, Joe O’Mahoney
  • The World’s Newest Profession- Management Consultancy in the 20th Century, Christopher D McKenna
  • Teach Yourself Successful Consulting, Anna Hipkiss
  • Specialized Consulting Careers – Health Care, Human Resources & Information Technology, WetFeet Insider Guide
  • Consulting for PhDs, Lawyers and Doctors, WetFeet Insider Guide


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

  • Management Today, monthly e-journal
  • 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
External resources

Consulting websites

Case Nexus

Vacancies and occupational information

This information was last updated on 10 September 2015.
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