Management Consultancy - Beyond the Obvious

Some management consulting 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. The Oxford Management Consultancy Fair (combined with Finance) is one of our most popular events, with hundreds of students attending the event, and we receive a high volume of applications each term for our consulting programmes: the Oxford Strategy Challenge and The Student Consultancy.

There are many other options which may also appeal to your strengths and interests even further...

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 thinking about careers beyond consulting but with similar traits. If knowing yourself isn’t something you’ve spent much time on, please read our advice on our website on Developing Careers Ideas. Careers advisers can also help you reflect on your emerging ideas and experience in short discussions and there are countless occupational events and employer-led sessions to help you broaden your career interests.

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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. Oxford alumni work in a variety of boutique firms.

For example, the Financial Times’ annual survey of the UK's Leading Management Consultants confirms 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 specialist fields for the quality and value of the services delivered to clients. Examples of boutique consulting firms hiring graduates include CMG Consulting (focused on change management and technology-led change) and White Space Strategy (an Oxford based consulting firm focused on growth strategies).

The Management Consultancies Association (MCA), when writing about The 2019 Management Consultancies Association Annual Awards, stated: “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 and many attend our Management Consultancy Fair each year. The Careers Service also offers exclusive consulting opportunities with some boutique consulting firms through the Oxford Internship Programme. 



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. 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 FT article about in-house consulting which was written in 2015 but remains highly relevant. 

Consultancy is sometimes described as an ‘apprenticeship in business’. Consider 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) and the TMT sector (technology, media and telecomms), such as the Samsung Rotational Business graduate programme, offer experience across a number of these key areas and, ultimately, these are the clients for consulting bidding for projects! There are lots of examples of these and many offer fast track progression into leadership opportunities, and/or international placements too, such as the Business Strategy Rotational Graduate programme at Sky, the International Management Trainee programme at Kraft Heinz and the Swire Management programme with frequent job rotations and extensive training. 

Consider gaining 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 consultants' profiles on LinkedIn and talk to alumni to see where people have worked before and 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.


Energy consultancy is a significantly growing area and a number of firms do not require specific degree disciplines or experience for their graduate programmes. Read the Energy careers sector page and consider your interests in the global energy transition and renewables sector. Learn more about example energy consulting graduate schemes such as those offered by Aurora Energy Research and EON.

Many advertising agencies and brand consultancies look for creative, strategic thinkers (job titles include ‘Account Planner’, ‘Account Manager’ or ‘Strategic Planner’), and a number of ad agencies have their graduate schemes e.g. Ogilvy, Karmarama (part of Accenture), Wunderman Thompson Catalyst Academy (18 month rotation in UK, German and the Netherlands). Read the Advertising careers sector page for more information about jobs and experience needed for a career in advertising.

If, in addition to having problem-solving skills, you are people focused and have strong interpersonal 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 great advice on top schemes in these areas, many of which are based in large businesses and well-known organisations, e.g. Nestle and BAE Systems.

Entrepreneurship might suit you if you like being in charge, influencing others, taking risks and making things happen. If this is your case, 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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