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 Excel analysis and building computer analysis models
  • Gaining an understanding of different methodologies
  • Communicating with clients, interviewing employees, managers and other stakeholders
  • Running focus groups and facilitating workshops
  • Preparing business proposals/presentations

Example consulting projects:

  • UK retailer planning 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 will consider a career in consulting because the fast pace and variety of projects offers scope to gain experience quickly across a wide range of sectors and organisations. You may also work with high profile clients and interact with staff at all levels.  Consultants also frequently mention that working in high performance teams alongside intelligent and dynamic colleagues is another big attraction for them.

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. When working on site with clients, 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 strategizing with the CEO in the Board Room.

Expand All

In January 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. Pw.
  • Strategy Consultancy firms: these offer strategic advice to companies on a project-by-project basis, e.g. Bain, Boston Consulting Group (BCG), McKinsey, Oliver Wyman and strategy firms embedded in Big 4 firms such as EY-Parthenon, Monitor Deloitte and Strategy& at PwC.
  • 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.
  • Information Technology firms: these offer specialist advice on a range of areas, from defining information needs through to implementing computer applications, e.g. Accenture, IBM Business Consulting, Infosys and 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.
  • 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. Plural Strategy (events, media, agribusiness, education, industrial technology and private equity); Teneo Consulting (from engineering to public sector to telecoms); Chatwell Consulting Ltd (Operational performance); 2020 Delivery (public services, including helathcare).

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.

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 £25,000-£40,000 – 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 most senior partners may 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 (7+ 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. For full-time entry-level positions firms will start accepting applications from the 1st of September or earlier. We recommend that students start their research and preparations at the beginning of the summer vacation, to get ahead of the curve in order to make strong applications in the autumn in order to start work the following year.

  • 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, PwC, KPMG), 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 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)

See our wide ranging advice on Job Search and Application via the main menu on the Careers Service website.

The Careers Service also provides a wide range of other opportunities where you can learn more. These include our Management Consulting Career Fair each October, and the many workshops, skill and case study sessions and individual company presentationswe available are listed in the events calendar on CareerConnect. Students need to plan ahead in order to apply in good time for these sessions, particularly in the first 2 or 3 weeks every Michaelmas Term when the calendar is very crowded.

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 leaderships;
  • project 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. Start with our Case Study Interview Advice, and follow our suggestions on getting started, the books and resources you can use and the 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

Often identified in their selection criteria, some typical skills that consultancy firms look for are:

  • A high level of academic achievement, usually a 2:1 is the minimum requirement.
  • Evidence of your achievements and the impact you make, including academic success and extra-curricular leadership and impact.
  • 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.

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. The Management Consultancy Fair booklet indicates which firms attending offered internships last year. Check dates for applications early and get on top of each individual company’s timeline for applications: expect deadlines for full-time positions to fall in October, and for development programmes, these may also close during Michaelmas term or January or February at the latest.

You should also seek to broaden your experience in other ways because consulting is a very wide field and experience in any business-related or commercial experience can be beneficial. Micro-internships, longer term work experience, leadership roles in student societies, volunteering and Oxford employability programmes can all offer valuable and relevant personal development opportunities.

Consider starting with the Careers Services’s own programmes: The Student Consultancy or The Researcher Strategy Consultancy. These programmes run throughout the year to offer students and researchers the opportunity to work on a wide variety of real local business problems. The teamwork experience, consultancy training and problem solving skills you can gain are very relevant to the consulting sector. Furthermore, it gives you the opportunity to test out your interest in this line of work.

There are many student-led societies at Oxford with an active interest in the management consultancy sector and these are introduced in the key resource attached here. As well as company events and training opportunties, a good number of the societies also undertake consultancy type projects for external firms and organisations, and these offer a further opportunity to gain hands-on consulting experience. It’s worth reviewing each society to understand the kind of consultancy work you can hope to be involved with as most societies have developed a particular niche or focus for their work.

The Careers Service also runs its termly Insight in to Business programme. This consists of three interactive workshops and offers an accessible introduction to help you develop your business acumen and commercial awareness – relevant for all fields of work, not only consultancy! The aim is to demystify business for participants so they better understand key aspects of commercial life and be more ready to tackle recruitment questions and case study style interviews. 

In addition to work experience, firms often look for extra-curricular activities where you can demonstrate that you have taken on a positions of responsibility, developed your leadership style and demonstrated the teamwork and communication skills needed 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. For more advice on finding other activities to engage with to improve your skills, visit our guidance about employability skills.

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.

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 (e.g. Profit or Loss = Revenue – Costs). 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.
  • 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 My Oxford Network, LinkedIN and your college/department networks to identify and speak with alumni mentors.
  • Browse The Financial Times and The Economist for commercial context.

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 200 applications every term for The Student Consultancy 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.

Books

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

  • Case In Point, Marc Cosentino
  • Management Consultancy, Joe O’Mahoney
  • Teach Yourself Successful Consulting, Anna Hipkiss
  • The Vault (Career Library) Guide to Consulting
  • WetFeet Press Industry Insider series: Guide to Careers in Management Consulting
  • WetFeet Press Industry Insider series: Consulting for PhDs, Lawyers and Doctors
  • WetFeet Press Insider Guide: Specialized Consulting Careers – Health Care, Human Resources & Information Technology
  • WetFeet Press Career Management Insider Guides: Ace Your Case!, Consulting Interviews / Ace Your Case II-V

Journals

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

  • 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
  • Take a copy of our guidance about tackling case studies

Vacancies and occupational information

Consulting websites

Vacancies and occupational information

A number of major graduate recruiters have policies and processes that are proactive in recruiting students and 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 are a Disability Confident employer or are recognised for their policy by such indicators as ‘Mindful Employer’ or as a ‘Stonewall’s Diversity Champion’.

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 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 website on discrimination.

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