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 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
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?
Overall, the attractions of consultancy are readily identifiable: varied, challenging, well-paid work, which offers privileged insights into a range of businesses; the chance to travel; working at all levels in organisations, on issues that can be critical to their survival; and working cultures which are usually genuinely dedicated to the training and development of their staff.
The downside is the level of competition during the application process; very demanding work load; lack of man-management experience; long, unsociable hours and extensive travel, often to different locations to carry out their work, though many see this as a plus.
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 a growing number 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 and Deloitte.
- Strategy Consultancy firms: the majority of these organisations are American, and 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 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, IBM.
- 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).
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 £25,000-£40,000 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.
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.
- Ability to think in a logical, structured way but also open to new knowledge and interpretations.
- Entrepreneurial business sense is also desirable.
- 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.
- 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 activity and positions of responsibility.
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 four parts:
- The written application
- 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 forms 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 the brochures and other literature 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 skills sessions. It is also worth joining one or more of the consulting societies at Oxford as 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.
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 can download last year’s Fair booklet from the Careers Service website.
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 thirty 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.
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 college and university 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.
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 at least twice a term – check CareerConnect.
- Practise case studies
- Attend careers fairs and firms’ presentations in Michaelmas Term. Talk to their representatives about the work they do.
- 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.
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
- The World’s Newest Profession, Christopher D McKenna
- Successful Consulting, Teach yourself
We subscribe to the following journals in our Resource Centre at 56 Banbury Road:
- Management Today, monthly e-journal
- The Economist, weekly
- Financial Times, daily
Collect the following material from our Resource Centre at 56 Banbury Road:
- Target Jobs –Management Consulting booklet
- Inside Careers –Management Consulting booklet
ONLINE INTERVIEW FEEDBACK
Interview Feedback Database contains hundreds of accounts of interviews, submitted by Oxford students and graduates. The database can be searched by sector and by organisation.
OXFORD CAREERS NETWORK (OCN)
The OCN on CareerConnect is a database of over 1000 Oxford alumni volunteer mentors who are willing to be contacted about their career. Read their case studies for behind-the-scenes insights into an organisation or occupation, and contact them for more advice and information.
- Institute of Consulting
- Management Consultancies Association
- www.consulting-times.com – A global magazine for management consultants
- ask.lek.com – A blog run by L.E.K Consulting -the recruiting experience section is particularly useful
- Case Nexus – Specifically for Oxford and Cambridge students, this is a platform for live case interview practice and includes a library of case studies to choose from
- What is Consulting?
VACANCIES AND OCCUPATION INFORMATION
20th Nov 2014
You can apply from ANY degree discipline to work as a Policy Adviser at HM Treasury. Why? Because everything that the government does goes through HM Treasury at some point. From deciding the annual budget of the NHS, to the devolution of power to Scotland, or how much Oxford City Council spends on recycling –… Continue reading →
18th Nov 2014
As you'll know if you've been applying to consulting firms, or plan to apply for consulting internships, case study preparation is a key part of the process. If you are still looking to improve your skills come along to our last case workshop of Michaelmas term on Monday 24 November from 13.00 to 14.30 at the Careers… Continue reading →
Source: Accountancy Age