Management Consultancy - Beyond the Obvious

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.

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Some firms have a great reputation amongst Oxford students and attract a lot of attention – and literally hundreds of applications from Oxford alone. BUT it is a hugely competitive sector and not everyone can get a job in a top consulting firm: at the most sought after firms, success-rates may hover somewhere between 1% to 3% for Oxford applicants, perhaps rising to 3% to 5% across the fuller range of firms.

Assuming you have done the most important careers research already (knowing yourself, including your strengths and weaknesses), we’ve put together some ideas below to get you started. If knowing yourself isn’t something you’ve spent much time on please read our advice on our website ‘Developing Careers Ideas’. Careers Advisers can also help you reflect on your emerging ideas and experience in short discussions.

It can pay big to go small! Look right across the sector as there are outstanding ’boutique firms’ (typically less than 250 employees) gaining recognition for expertise and excellence in many different areas.

For example, the Financial Times’ 2019 Special report into UK Management Consulting confirmed that whilst the large professional services firms achieve top-rank ratings from industry insiders and clients alike, smaller, boutique firms can win ‘gold medal’ recognition in their specialists fields for the quality and value of the services delivered to clients.

Similarly, The MCA stated when writing about The 2019 Management Consultancies Association Annual Awards; “the growing diversity of the consulting sector was again shown by the 22 SMEs who got to the final stages.”

You can find boutique firms by searching the Management Consultancies Association directory by industry or service line. Several boutique firms also advertise throughout the year on CareerConnect.


A more specialist field, economic consultancy firms recruiting at Oxford hire students studying economics and are particularly interested in masters and D.Phil candidates who combine a strong foundation in economic theory with good research skills.

  • Oxford based firms include Oxera (also in London), LMC-International and LMC-Automotive.
  • Specialist firms like Cornerstone Research, Frontier Economics, NERA, RBB Economics.
  • Larger firms with a strong economic consulting practice, such as FTI Consulting, Charles River Associates.

Strategy roles exist internally in almost every ‘blue chip’ company. Working as an internal consultant you might find yourself in a business, general management, procurement or other commercial team. Nearly all graduate schemes in commercial organisations with a rotational element or ‘leadership’ focus will require you to think strategically to grow their business. Read the ‘Other Graduate Jobs in Business and Strategy’ advice below.

Aside from commercial graduate schemes, there are some specific in-house schemes available to graduates. In some cases schemes are only open to MBA candidates from selected schools but if you do your research you will find companies keen to recruit applicants from undergraduate degree programmes or postgraduate courses from outside  You may have to work a bit harder to identify the name of the role (or the stepping stones to get to these positions internally) but examples include:

Read this 2015 but still relevant and useful FT article about in-house consulting.

Consultancy is sometimes described as an ‘apprenticeship in business’. Think about other avenues to gain key business skills – such as rotational graduate schemes across supply chain management/operations, marketing, HR, finance and customer service. Schemes in Fast Moving Consumer Goods companies (FMCGs) such as the Boots Commercial Graduate programme which offer experience across a number of these key areas.

Gain other industry experience before moving into a boutique consultancy or specialist area in a larger consulting firm. Not all consultants have been hired straight from University:

  • Who do you think are the clients that ultimately support the top strategy firms out there? Read the case examples on consultancy websites and you’ll see everything from financial services to retail to healthcare.
  • Look at senior consultant profiles on LinkedIn and talk to alumni to see where people have worked before to map your own career path e.g. Financial Analyst at P&G and now Senior Consultant at BCG, Nokia trainee and now Consultant at McKinsey.

Lots of advertising agencies and brand consultancies look for creative, strategic thinkers. The job titles are usually ‘Account Planner’, ‘Account Manager’ or ‘Strategic Planner’ and a number of ad agencies have their own future leader schemes too e.g. The Value Engineers, Ogilvy Future Talent, Leo Burnett and Karmarama Kadets.

If you are people focused and have strong interpersonal skills, in addition to problem solving skills, you might like to consider HR graduate schemes. You could contribute to a company’s learning and development transformation, resourcing and recruitment strategies, performance management and recognition models. Prospects offers some really good advice on top schemes in these areas and many are based in large businesses and well known organisations. Examples include Nestle and BAE Systems.

Entrepreneurship might suit you if you like being in charge, influencing other people, taking risks and making things happen. If so, consider our ‘Insight into Business’ programme and read our advice on Working for Yourself.

To generate more graduate scheme ideas;

Amélie Bages, Head of Mental Health Delivery- NHS England & NHS Improvement

What: I work at NHS England, the organisation that leads the NHS in England. My role involves defining the strategy for mental health and then supporting planning and delivery across local health systems. I love my current role as it’s very varied and involves strategy, financial modelling, team work, programme management and working with ministers. It feels stretching and meaningful on a daily basis!

Why: I decided early on in my career that I wanted to do something to enhance access to universal healthcare. The NHS is a tremendous place to do this: it’s a great feeling to be part of a team of more than 1 million staff all working to achieve something we really believe in. You can also project yourself working in the NHS for an entire career: you can work anywhere in England, and move across a wide variety of roles ranging from finance and strategy to policy, operations and digital.

Career Path: After graduating, I went travelling, and then applied to management consultancies so I could learn a broad range of skills quickly. I first got a job in a niche consultancy mostly working with the NHS and then joined NHS England.

Getting In: Joining the NHS Graduate Management Training Scheme, but also a more general management consulting experience, can be great ways to fast-track your career in the NHS. The NHS management is also full of people with diverse backgrounds from the public, private and not-for-profit sectors, so you can succeed here with any past experience or start with an entry-level job.

Tom Spearman, House Staff Management Trainee at Swire

What: After a fantastic 4 week induction program in Hong Kong alongside 11 other new starters, I was immediately seconded to the shipping division in Singapore. As a management trainee, my role currently involves learning as much as I can about the organisation, focused mainly on the commercial side of things. My work involves several small projects within the company, such as working closely with executives to monitor the performance of different trade regions, managing relationships with some key partners and as part of our current push to be more digital, I am developing data reports that are being used across the whole organisation. Training also included visiting our largest market, Papua New Guinea, and returning to Singapore by a 2 week sea passage on board a container ship.

Why: It is a unique opportunity to get posted around Asia (and the world) from day one of graduation. I’m developing business and leadership skills on the job, and learning about Asian economies from a unique perspective. As a market leader in several smaller countries, I can see what is going in and out and really understand how these countries work. While there are certainly disadvantages to being so far from home, it is great fun and every minute is a learning opportunity.

During university I thought I wanted to work in management consulting, though once I received a few offers I decided it wasn’t for me. I wanted to work for a company that had a longer term outlook, with a really positive ethos where I am seen as a long term project to nurture, rather than a resource to extract for a few years. I wanted to be in a role that would allow me to have an opinion, and to be a position to influence the company.

As a Chemist, I also wanted to understand how things really work and felt that an in –depth exposure to a particular industry was more satisfactory that scratching the surface in consulting.

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