The UK consulting industry is worth £8.5 billion and employs more than 80,000 consultants. Despite being affected by the global recession the sector is returning to health; the industry grew 5% in 2011, which was mainly driven by private sector growth.
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 selection criteria. Consultants are often expected to work long, sometimes unsociable hours and to travel to different locations to carry out their work, though many see this as a plus.
Large consultancy firms will offer a full range of services encompassing all the different roles identified below, however, firms do vary in their relative strengths. There are many smaller niche players, who predominantly focus on particular market sectors for clients and offer a more limited range of services.
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, 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 Perrin.
- Information Technology firms offer specialist advice on a range of areas, from defining information needs through to implementing computer applications, e.g. CAP Gemini, 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.
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-£35,000 (some in the region of £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.
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.
- Drive and motivation for the sector.
- ‘Impact’ or being ‘Active’ so firms often look for extra-curricular activity
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.
Typical tasks are to gather and interpret data, build computer analysis models, support the work of more senior colleagues and gain a general understanding of different methodologies. 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.
Most firms advertise in Michaelmas Term and select in the period October to January. Many firms start accepting applications from 1 September onwards and closing dates can be as early as the end of October. Some firms will open their process for a short period and review all applicants together where as 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 prudent 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, first interview(s) and the case study interview / assessment centre. Again there is much written material at the Careers Service on all of these elements as well as, in many cases, feedback forms in individual firms’ files 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, employer led case study skills sessions and case study mock interviews with employers.
Not all consultancies offer work experience placements. However, internships are becoming more common in the sector. 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 this can often be gained by getting some related commercial experience. 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.
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 9th October, 14.15 – 15.45, Exam Schools
- Attend the Management Consultancy Fair on Wednesday 17th October, 14.30-18.00.
- Attend a ‘How to Tackle a Case Study’ session at the Careers Service
- Practice 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.
- 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, and how best to find jobs and market yourself effectively.
There are frequent changes to the rules affecting international students and recent graduates wishing to work in the UK. Non-EU graduates are most likely to gain permission to work under Tier 2 of the Point Based System which will require a job offer, support from an employer, a minimum salary and you will usually need to apply from within the UK. There are also more limited opportunities in other immigration categories. It is recommended that, for the most complete and up-to-date information, you check the UKCISA: UK Council for International Student Affairs website which offers independent information and advice about immigration, finance and working in the UK, and also the UK Border Agency website. Please refer to our Diversity files at the Careers Service for more information, or consult the University’s Student Information and Advisory Service which can provide specialist immigration advice.
positive action initiatives
McKinsey run a 3 day ‘Next Generation Women Leaders’ programme annually, see: www.next-generation-women.mckinsey.com
BCG runs ‘women in consulting’ presentations on campus during the spring and organises drinks from October to January for the LGBT network.
EMPLOYMENT RIGHTS AND EQUALITY
The law protects you from discrimination due to your age, gender, race, religion or beliefs, disability or sexual orientation. Find out where and how you are protected, and what to do if you feel have been discriminated against by visiting:
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 highly individual. Although there is legislation, you may find it helpful to see a Careers Adviser to talk through your particular circumstances and to decide whether to tell someone about xxx, if yes, when and how to disclose. To arrange to see a Careers Advisor regarding this, please contact our Reception team on firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 01865 274646.
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 the National Minimum Wage (NMW) when undertaking work experience or an internship visit: http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/Employment/Employees/TheNationalMinimumWage/DG_198089.
- Careers Boot Camp, 1st & 4th October, All day, Careers Service
- Thinking about Management Consultancy or Investment Banking? 9th October, Exam Schools, 14.15 – 15.30
- CV’s for Management Consultancy and Banking 15th October, Exam Schools, 13.00-14.00
- Management Consultancy Fair, 17th October, Oxford Town Hall, 14.30-18.00
- Talk: Entry Routes to Management Consultancy, 17th October, Oxford Town Hall 14.00 – 14.30 (immediately prior to the start of the Management Consultancy Fair)
- Case Study Mock Interviews – throughout Michaelmas, see career connect for details
- Employer led case study skills sessions – 23rd October, 13.45 – 15.00 & 20th November 15.00 – 16.30, The Careers Service
- What is The Student Consultancy, 14th November, 14.00 – 14.30, Town Hall
OXFORD CAREERS NETWORK (OCN)
The OCN is a database of Oxford alumni 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 volunteers for more advice and information via CareerConnect.
ONLINE INTERVIEW FEEDBACK
The careers website includes access to online interview feedback forms completed by Oxford students; https://internal.careers.ox.ac.uk/interview-feedback-database/
The Careers Service also has an extensive resource centre at 56 Banbury Road, Oxford, where you can drop in to browse during opening hours.
You can also read our information sheet on Case Studies.
- Employer Files: Management Consultants A-Z
- Occupational Files: O1 Management Consultancy
- Management Consulting, Biswas and Twitchell
- WetFeet Press Industry Insider series: Guide to Careers in Management Consulting and Careers in Specialized Consulting: Healthcare, Human Resources and Information Technology
- 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 Loyalty Effect, Reichheld
- The World’s Newest Profession, Christopher D McKenna
The following e-books are available through SOLO (Search Oxford Libraries Online) – http://solo.bodleian.ox.ac.uk
- Beyond strategy: the leader’s role in successful implementation, Robin Speculand
- 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
- Management Today, monthly
- The Economist, weekly
- Financial Times, daily
- How to crack case study interviews, Bain & Co
TO TAKE AWAY
- Inside Careers: Management Consultants
- Targetjobs: Management Consulting
The Careers Service has recorded a series of podcasts. Subscribe in iTunes or find a full list here: http://podcasts.ox.ac.uk/#career-unit
In addition to the websites listed below, all companies and organisations mentioned throughout this Briefing can be found via a web search.
- www.iconsulting.org.uk Institute of Consulting
- http://www.mca.org.uk The Management Consultancies Association
- http://www.consulting-times.com global magazine for management consultants
- http://ask.lek.com especially the recruiting experience section
VACANCIES AND OCCUPATION INFORMATION
An Oxford student spent two weeks with an employer in this sector, making a short film as part of the Career Capture programme. We hope it helps to provide an insight into what life is like inside one example of the sector:
Twitter is a quick way to develop your knowledge about the sector and find opportunities. You can read and search it without an account. We’ve made 20 handy lists, so that you can see at a glance information tailored to your interests. See http://twitter.com/#!/OxfordCareers/lists
If you’d like to join Twitter, remember to ‘follow’ us (www.twitter.com/OxfordCareers) as well as your chosen lists to keep receiving useful information to help your career.
2nd May 2013
Can’t wait for the next employer-led case workshops or want access to more resources in preparation for consulting interviews? CapitOx and the University Careers Service present the Case Study Buddy scheme - a tool to find and interact with students around Oxford who are also interested in consulting and want to practice case study interviews.… Continue reading →
26th Apr 2013
The Department of Social Policy and Intervention, Green Templeton College and the research charity RESEC, have organised an interactive case study - on 14th May - which will encompass issues in health & social care, management, finance, ethics and politics. There will be a panel of speakers (including a doctor, care home manager, commissioner… Continue reading →
Source: Accountancy Age