Management Consultancy

What do management consultants do?

Clients may bring in a management consultant to help create and define strategic direction, to provide specialist knowledge and advice, or to support in planning and implementation of a specific project. Examples of consulting engagements include firms being brought in to:

  • Review a business’s positioning and seek to create a competitive advantage
  • Maximise growth, increase sales and build market share
  • Improve business performance, perhaps by securing efficiencies and cost reductions
  • Identify and advise on potential take-over targets or strategic alliances
  • Develop and support a change management project, or to coach individuals and teams
  • Plan and deliver a large-scale IT project.

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

  • Gathering and interpreting data
  • Conducting analysis, using Excel and building computer analysis models
  • Learning and applying different methodologies to evaluate a business, its markets and positioning, and internal capabilities needed for success  
  • Communicating with clients, interviewing employees, managers and other stakeholders
  • Running focus groups and facilitating workshops
  • Preparing business proposals/presentations.

Example consulting projects:

  • The UK retailer that plans to expand its business to India – what are the cost implications for its UK business?
  • A financial services company that 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 which want to merge. How can they do this successfully?

Many students will consider a career in consulting because the fast pace of the work and variety of projects they will work on offers scope to gain experience quickly across a wide range of sectors and organisations. Graduates may work with high profile clients and interact with staff at all levels, including senior management.  Consultants also frequently mention that working with intelligent and dynamic colleagues in high performance teams is a significant benefit of working in this sector.

If that sounds exciting, consider some of the possible downsides. You can expect to work long hours. Travel can be extensive within the UK, and abroad with many firms, so you can spend a lot of time transiting airports and in business hotels. Many consultants will spend a lot of time working on the client's site, and their offices may be in provincial towns and cities rather than glamorous-sounding destinations such as New York, Paris or Munich. Last but not least, at the start of your career, expect to spend a lot of your time on research, Excel analysis and modelling and building presentation decks rather than strategising with the CEO in the Board Room.

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At the start of each each year the FT publishes an annual rating of the UK’s leading management consultants. This defines 29 different consultancy service lines: 15 industry sectors and 14 type of consultancy service. The largest firms will offer services in all 29 categories, whilst smaller boutique consultancies will specialise in only one or a limited number of specific areas.

The main types of consultancy firms are:

  • Large, generalist firms: these offer a wide range of services from strategy consulting and human resources to IT and outsourcing on a global basis. The biggest firms have grown out of audit firms or IT companies and include Accenture, Deloitte, EY, KPMG and PwC.
  • Strategy Consultancy firms: these offer strategic advice to companies on a project-by-project basis. 'Strategy consulting' includes global firms (e.g. Bain, Boston Consulting Group (BCG), Kearney, McKinsey, Oliver Wyman, Roland Berger), strategy firms within the Big 4 firms (EY-Parthenon, Monitor Deloitte and Strategy& at PwC), and smaller strategy firms (e.g. Eden McCallum, Elixirr, Mars & Co, OC&C, White Space Strategy) 
  • Human Resource Consultancy firms: these offer specialist HR advice on areas such as personnel policy, job evaluation and industrial relations, e.g. Korn Ferry, Mercer, Gallup and Willis Towers Watson.
  • TMT (Telecoms, Media and Technology) firms: these offer specialist advice on a range of areas, from defining information needs through to implementing computer applications, e.g. Accenture, Altman Solon, Capgemini, IBM Business Consulting, Infosys, PA Consulting.
  • Financial consultancy firms: these offer specialist advice in areas such as private equity, M&A or investment markets (e.g. CIL Management Consultants, NMG Consulting) or the installation of budgetary control systems to office reorganisation and administrative arrangements, e.g. advisory groups within the Big 4 accountancy firms, CapCo and more.
  • 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. Compass Lexecon, Oxera, NERA, RBB Economics.
  • Niche - or boutique - firms specialising in certain industry or business sectors, usually set up by experienced consultants with a particular area of expertise. These firms may continue to work primarily in a single field, such as life sciences and healthcare (Carnall Farrar, IQVIA); operations (Charwell Consulting) or retail (Javelin), or have expanded to work across a range of sectors: firms such as Newton Europe, Plural Strategy (events, media, agribusiness, education, industrial technology and private equity); Teneo Consulting (from engineering to public sector to telecoms); The PSC (i.e. The Public Sector Consultants, formerly 2020 Delivery, including healthcare).

When deciding which firms to apply to, consider not only the type and scope of their practice but also the size, culture and working style.

  • A large, global firm might offer a broader range of opportunities in terms of projects, team size, and location. The biggest consultancy firms will have thousand of employees across multiple offices 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 field of expertise, and new recruits are usually involved in a broader range of tasks in each project and may get to work closely with senior consultants from the start.

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 £28,000-£45,000 – 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 senior partners can earn a seven figure salary.

Consultants work on projects in small teams. New entrants will usually work as analysts and be managed through each project by a ‘Job’ or ‘Engagement’ Manager (someone with two to three years' experience). A partner (7seven+ years' experience) will have overall responsibility for the project and client relationship.

Many firms hire analysts with the expectation that after an initial two or three years, the analyst will take a break either to go to business school (perhaps sponsored by the firm), or to work outside consulting, perhaps on secondment with a client or in the voluntary sector, whilst many will move on a full-time basis to work on the client side or a different field altogether.

The selection process

It is important to review each individual firm’s website to understand their recruitment process and timelines. We recommend that students start their research and preparations at the beginning of the summer vacation, to get ahead of the curve and be ready to make strong applications in the autumn in order to start work the following year.

For full-time entry-level positions firms will start accepting applications from the 1st of September or earlier, and deadlines will fall in October for many firms - as early as 2nd week in Michaelmas term. 

  • In some cases, firms will open their application process for a short period with a fixed deadline, after which they review all applicants together. Deadlines can be as early mid October.
  • Other firms, particularly the Big 4 professional service firms (EY, Deloitte, KPMG, and PwC), assess applications as they are received, on a ‘rolling basis’. In this situation, it is a good idea to apply early as positions may fill before the final deadline is even reached – especially for the most popular locations, such as London.
  • Some firms keep their application process open all year round. However, as with ‘rolling recruitment’, the most popular roles (such as strategy roles) and locations (London & New York) will fill first – and so it is advisable to apply early.
  • Smaller firms may sometimes respond to a speculative approach so this can be worth trying, particularly if you have a strong interest in their niche or a good lead into the organisation.

As part of your research make sure you know what recruiters are looking for and be aware of how you are expected to present yourself at each stage. Firms genuinely want candidates to show themselves at their best and so they work hard to explain their procedures and provide a lot of additional information about their roles and the experiences of recent graduate hires. Make time to read their brochures and online information carefully, and attend autumn events to meet their consultants.  A typical selection process may consist 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 3 or more at an assessment event – so practice is essential!
  • Assessment centre (which may include case studies, behaviour/fit interviews, virtual reality exercises, group tasks, written tests, presentations etc)

Refer to the Job Search and Applications advice on the Careers Service website to underpin your preparation. In addition, the Careers Service runs skill sessions and workshops to help you. We recommend that students plan ahead and apply for a place in good time for these sessions, particularly in the first 2 or 3 weeks every Michaelmas Term when the calendar is very crowded. Look out for:

  • The Management Consulting Career Fair in 1st Week of Michaelmas term
  • Information and panel sessions - to better support finalists and to fit with the early application deadlines, we offer some sessions in September as well as running a full schedule of events right from the beginning of Michaelmas term
  • Skill and case study sessions to help you understand the sector and learn the requirements for better applications.
  • Company led events targetting Oxford students, usually listed on the events calendar on CareerConnect or run in collaboration with student societies. Where places are limited, expect to need to apply a week or more before the event for a place.

Consulting Interviews

As for all applications, it is important to prepare for the interviewing process. For consultancy roles, this requires you to be thoroughly prepared. Strong candidates will:

  • have good and well evidenced employability skills especially in teamwork, communications, analysis and problem solving, and also in leadership;
  • demonstrate a high level of interest, enthusiasm and motivation for consultancy work, the consulting lifestyle and the specific firm they are interviewing for; and
  • perform well in business related case interviews.

It is particularly important to prepare for and practice consultancy style case study interviews. The good news is that everyone can learn how to do case studies well, but it does take practice in order to approach these discussions with confidence.

Start with our Case Study Interview Advice, and follow our suggestions on getting started, the books and resources you can use and our advice on how to practice. It is particularly important to practice out loud with an audience, so that you become more comfortable working through cases in front of someone else, so link up with others who have some experience and those who are also preparing to interview.

Skills needed

Consultancy firms are looking for applicants who provide evidence of their achievements and how their contribution makes a positive impact on the processes, people and outcomes related to their work. Often identified in their selection criteria, the typical skills that consultancy firms look for are:

  • A high level of academic achievement, usually a 2:1 is the minimum requirement
  • Leadership, often displayed through extra-curricular activities such as volunteering or taking responsibility within student societies
  • 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 both to think in a logical, structured way and also being open to new knowledge and interpretations
  • Creativity to generate ideas and options and show an entrepreneurial business sense
  • Drive and motivation for the sector
  • Commercial awareness and business acumen.

Students interested in an accessible introduction to the language of business, what strategy is and insights into how it is developed and applied can join the Careers Service's Insight in Strategy & Management programme. This programme is relevant for all fields of work, not only consultancy, and aims to demystify business for participants and should be an excellent starting point for students who want to understand key aspects of the commercial world. Run most months, it consists of six short interactive workshops over three consecutive weeks. It can help you develop your business acumen and commercial awareness, and will support your preparation for tackling recruitment questions and case study style interviews. 

Getting experience

Although internships are becoming more common in the sector, it is certainly not essential for securing a graduate consulting role. Compared to some sectors, the number of ‘work experience’ opportunities and insight programmes is low compared to the overall number of full-time positions. If you are looking for paid work experience with consulting firms you need to be well organised and get on top of each individual company’s recruitment timeline: expect to be making applications for internships during Michaelmas term, although some firms will have deadlines that fall in late January/early February.

Because consulting is a very wide field you can broaden your experience in many ways, and experience in any field can be beneficial - especially if it has a business-related or commercial element. Micro-internships, longer term work experience, leadership roles in student societies, volunteering and Oxford employability programmes all offer valuable and relevant personal development opportunities.

Consider starting with the Careers Service’s own employability programmes: TOSCA: The Oxford Strategy Challenge, will run nearly every month and opens up the possibility to work on our longer programmes, The Student Consultancy or The Researcher Strategy Consultancy. All these programmes will give you experience of working on a real life business problem for an external client and allow you to test out your interest in this line of work. In addition to consultancy training, you will also be building skills that are relevant to all areas of work, such as communication, teamwork, analysis and problem solving, and delivering a service. 

There are also many student-led societies at Oxford with an active interest in the management consultancy sector. As well as company events and training opportunities, many societies also undertake consultancy type projects for external firms and organisations, providing more hands-on consulting experience. Review the work of each society to understand the kind of consultancy work you can expect as most have a particular focus for their work. The active societies include: 360Degrees (Oxford); CapitOx; Enactus (Oxford); Oxford Consulting Initiative; Oxford Development Consulting; Oxford Guild; Oxford Strategy Group (OSG) and OSG(Digital); ShAre (Oxford).

In addition to work experience, firms will be interested in extra-curricular activities where you have taken a position of responsibility, developed your leadership style or demonstrated the teamwork and communication skills needed for consulting. There are hundreds of possible roles. Start by thinking about extra-curricular activities that you enjoy and how you could get more involved, or consider starting a new one from scratch if necessary. 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.

Will I get paid?

Company based internships and summer jobs are governed in the UK by National Minimum Wage law, which means that if you are carrying out activities that class you as a “worker” by the employer, then you should be paid. Full details of Employment Rights and Pay for Interns are published by the government.

If you are undertaking a learning and development opportunity such as a micro-internship, or volunteering for a charity or statutory body, or shadowing or observing, then you may not be eligible for the National Minimum Wage. The organisation may reimburse you for your travel and/or lunch expenses, but they aren’t obliged to do so.

You will need to show that you understand the nature of the work, the industries that a 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. Consider attending the Careers Service's Insight in Strategy & Management programme if want an accessible introduction to the language of business, what strategy is and insights into how it is developed and applied. 

In addition to the referenced resources below, make sure that you:

  • Attend a ‘How to Tackle a Case Study’ session at the Careers Service, which run up to three times a term – check CareerConnect.
  • Practice case studies.
  • Attend careers fairs and company 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 Strategy Group, CapitOx Consulting, the Oxford Consulting Initiative, the Oxford Development Consultancy or The Guild to seek consulting roles, find training and case study partners and meet representatives from the firms.
  • Read each firm's own literature and careers pages, follow them on social media and sign up for email alerts to be sure you hear about events they will be running at Oxford and beyond.
  • See our advice on networking and use LinkedIn, My Oxford Network (from the University Alumni Office), and your college/department networks to identify to connect with alumni.
  • Keep abreast of current events and their commercial impact through the business pages of newspapers like The Financial Times and The Economist.

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 100 applications every month for our Oxford Strategy Challenge emploaybility programme. However, consultants are not the only people who get to create and implement strategy!

Strategy formulation is an integral element of management and leadership in any field, and a wide variety of other organisations recruit graduates into strategic advisory roles. These may be called general management or leadership development programmes, or more specifically a business analyst or internal consultancy role. Read our advice about applying for strategy related roles in our 'Consulting Beyond the Obvious' section online.

Further Reading

Find information on firms, relevant sector advice and job profiles online:

Some students use books to help them prepare for Case Interviews. Popular titles include:

  • Cracking Case Interviews, Max Serrano & Jonathon Yarde
  • Case In Point, Marc Cosentino
  • Case Interview Secrets, Victor Cheng
  • Interview Math, Lewis C. Lin
  • Management Consultancy, Joe O’Mahoney
  • Mastering the Case Interview, Alexander Chernev

Consulting websites

Vacancies and occupational information

Recruiters are keen to have a diverse workforce and many will have policies and processes that are proactive in recruiting students and graduates from diverse backgrounds. An increasing number of recruiters are offering traineeships, internships and Insight events and many are being recognized for their approach to being inclusive employers. To find out the policies and attitudes of the recruiters that you are interested in, explore their equality, diversity and inclusion policy. Search their website to see if they have any specific staff networks, look out for external accreditation such as whether they are a Disability Confident employer, a Stonewall Diversity Champion or part of the Mindful Employer charter promoting mental health at work. Check to see if they are partnering with organisations such as Rare Recruitment, SEO London, MyPlus Students' Club (disability), EmployAbility (disability and neurodifference) and there are many more that are working for specific communities. A key place to look is to see what they do to celebrate diversity on their Facebook and Twitter pages.

The UK Equality Act 2010 has a number of protected characteristics to prevent discrimination due to your age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or beliefs, sex 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 webpages on discrimination.

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