Management consulting firms provide a broad range of services, from help in defining strategies to implementing large-scale IT and change programmes, and from coaching individuals and teams to 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 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 to 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, as well as the very demanding work load. Consultants are often expected to work long, unsociable hours and to travel to different locations to carry out their work, though many see this as a plus.
What types of jobs are there?
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 between ten and fifty consultants.
The main types of consultancy firms are:
- Generalist firms 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, Booz & Co, and Bain.
- Human Resource Consulting offers specialist HR advice on areas such as personnel policy, job evaluation and industrial relations, e.g. Towers Watson.
- Information Technology firms offer specialist advice on a range of areas, from defining information needs through to implementing computer applications, e.g. Capgemini, IBM.
- Financial consultants 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 an area of expertise e.g. Redshift Strategy.
When deciding on the firm to apply to, consider both the scope and type 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, for the new recruit these might 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, 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.
What skills do I need?
Some typical skills that consultants look for, and which are often identified in their selection criteria, are:
- A high level of academic achievement, usually a 2:1 is the minimum requirement.
- Analytical, problem-solving and quantitative skills.
- 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’ so firms often look for extra-curricular activity and positions of responsibility.
What are the entry points and how do I get experience?
Consultants work on projects in teams; new consultants will be managed by a ‘Job’ or ‘Engagement’ Manager (someone with two to three years experience) and 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 1 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’ (E&Y, Deloitte, PwC, KPMG) then it is worth checking their websites during the summer vacation because some will open their process even earlier.
In some cases firms will open their 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 (strategy) and locations (London & New York) will fill first and so again, it is crucial to apply as early as possible if you are interested in these roles. 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 three 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, which are a key element of assessment days, on their websites. Practice of case studies is known to improve performance. You need to show you can think about business problems like a consultant. There are many resources at the Careers Service to help you tackle case studies, including the Case Studies information leaflet (detailing where to find out more) 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 work experience placements. Internships are becoming more common in the sector but be aware that there are often fewer places for internships than there are graduate positions in consulting. The management consultancy fair booklet shows internship and work experience opportunities offered by firms that attend.
You may also consider taking part in The Student Consultancy run by the Careers Service. If you don’t have a relevant consultancy internship, you will still need to show business awareness and interpersonal skills, and this can often be gained by getting some related commercial experience. The Student Consultancy programme takes places each term and usually takes up to 100 students to work on a wide variety of local business problems.
Demonstrating business or project experience, however acquired, will always increase your appeal. Check CareerConnect for advertised internships as well as the other sites listed in the online resources section below.
How do I get 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 the ‘Thinking about Management Consultancy or Banking’ session on Tuesday 15th October (check CareerConnect for time and venue details)
- Attend the ‘Careers in Consulting: Everything You Need to Know’ conference at Exams Schools on Tuesday 15th October.
- Attend the Management Consultancy Fair on Wednesday 23rd October, 14.30-18.00.
- Attend a ‘How to Tackle a Case Study’ session at the Careers Service (running at least twice a term – check CareerConnect)
- Practise case studies (see info sheet for additional resources)
- Attend firms’ presentations in Michaelmas Term. Talk to their representatives about the work they do.
- Read firms’ own literature and websites.
- Use the Oxford Careers Network, or other means, to identify and speak with alumni mentors.
- Browse The Financial Times and The Economist for commercial context.
The broad advice given in this briefing applies to postgraduate students (and research staff) as well as to undergraduates. Even if job adverts do not ask for a postgraduate qualification, many graduate employers are keen to employ people who have postgraduate qualifications, whether at Master’s or DPhil level, and see them as often offering enhanced maturity and a broad set of transferable skills. Whatever your particular circumstances or career aspirations, the careers advisers here are well equipped to discuss resources relevant to your needs, how best to find jobs and how to market yourself effectively.
Frequent changes to visa rules affect international students and recent graduates wishing to work in the UK. Now, non-EEA graduates are most likely to gain permission to work by being sponsored by an employer under Tier 2 of the Point Based System. DPhil students nearing completion could apply for the Tier 4 Doctorate Extension Scheme - allowing 12 months to remain in the UK to look for and start work or self-employment. For those with entrepreneurial skills and a credible business idea endorsed by Oxford, Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) allows you an initial one-year’s permission to get your business up and running, with the possibility of extending for a further year. There are more limited opportunities in other visa categories. For the most complete and up-to-date information, check Oxford University’s webpages or the UK Council for International Student Affairs’ website. You can also email the Oxford’s Student Information and Advisory Service on email@example.com for specialist visa help.
positive action initiatives
A large proportion of the top consulting firms actively organise diversity initiatives and recognise that the best and brightest graduates come from all walks of life. For example, the McKinsey London office are particularly proud to operate a buddy scheme for the LGBT community (LGBT candidates are paired up with a McKinsey LGBT member) and they hosted an internal global LGBT conference in the UK (February 2013). They also deliver an insight into McKinsey event specifically for black students (Autumn 2013) and they work with Sponsors for Educational Opportunity to help recruit talented black experienced professionals who want a career in management consulting. In addition, McKinsey run at least 3 different women’s only events also during the Autumn.
BCG runs ‘women in consulting’ presentations on campus during the spring and organise drinks from October to January for the LGBT network. They are also planning an event designed for students of African and Afro-Caribbean heritage.
Accenture ran a specific presentation with the Oxford LGBT society last year and members of Accenture’s own LGBT network (who were also alumni) attended. More broadly, Accenture ranked No.9 on the 2013 Top 50 Companies for Diversity list and ranked highly on the Times top 50 list for top employers for women and also the No. 1 Stonewall placing.
For other positive action initiatives have a look at upcoming events for management consultancy on Career Connect. It is also worth visiting consultancy firms’ websites to get in touch with their Graduate Recruitment and/or Human Resources team if you have any questions about their diversity programmes.
EMPLOYMENT RIGHTS AND EQUALITY
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.
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 and to find out where and how you are protected, and what to do if you feel have been discriminated against, visit the Government’s webpages on discrimination.
Your personal circumstances regarding career choices, and whether you should or need to tell a potential employer about your circumstances (e.g. time out from studies owing to depression or health needs) is very personal. Although there is legislation which informs you of your rights and responsibilities, you may find it helpful to see a Careers Adviser. They can help you talk through your particular circumstances, to decide whether you wish to tell someone about your situation and issues, and – if you do decide to inform a recruiter – at what stage in the application process you might do so. Careers Advisers can also help you decide how to present your situation and potential needs effectively (often termed as disclosure). We have Careers Advisers who specialise in matters relating to disability and diversity. To arrange a discussion about your personal circumstances with a Careers Adviser, please contact our Reception Team on firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 01865 274646.
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 as a ‘Stonewall’s Diversity Champion’.
The following books are available to read in our Resource Centre at 56 Banbury Road:
- Management Consulting, Joe O’Mahoney
- WetFeet Press Industry Insider series: Guide to Careers in Management Consulting
- WetFeet Press Company Insider Guides: including Accenture, Bain, BCG, etc, and The Top 25 Consulting Firms.
- 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
The following e-books are available through – SOLO
- Business consulting: a guide to how it works and how to make it work, Gilbert Toppin and Fiona Czerniawska
- Management consultancy: what next? Fiona Czerniawska
We subscribe to the following journals, which are available to read in our Resource Centre:
- Management Today, monthly
- The Economist, weekly
- Financial Times, daily
The following DVD is available to watch in our Resource Centre:
- How to crack case study interviews, Bain & Co
TO TAKE AWAY
Free copies of the following publications are available in our Resource Centre:
- Inside Careers: Management Consultants
- Targetjobs: Management Consulting
The Careers Service has recorded a series of podcasts on various topics.
- Institute of Consulting
- Management Consultancies Association
- Consulting Times – A global magazine for management consultants
- Ask L.E.K. – The recruiting experience section is particularly useful
- The Boston Consulting Group Careers
VACANCIES AND OCCUPATION INFORMATION
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If employers search for your name and university, a LinkedIn page ensures they find what you want them to know. It’s a place to showcase your skills and qualifications, and to get publically recommended by those you’ve worked with. It’s also a phenomenal research tool to find people to contact, and learn about the background of those in your ideal job. We run a regular talk on how to create a profile on LinkedIn, and how to use the site to network. If you already have a profile, join our group here.
16th Apr 2014
The Student Consultancy is a Careers Service programme that trains Oxford teams of Oxford students to solve a real business problem affecting a client organisation. Students have worked with clients including Oxfam, Oxford City Council and the Pegasus Theatre - and there will be a whole new range of clients this term. Apply now via… Continue reading →
15th Apr 2014
Friday 2 May, 15.00-18.00, The Careers Service Considering applying to sectors such as Law, IT, Management Consultancy, Banking or Finance next year? If so, don’t miss this new fair that will help you get a head-start this summer. Many applications for internships and graduate positions in 2015 will open up in the long vacation. As… Continue reading →
Source: Accountancy Age