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 to both think in a logical, structured way and be 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.
Management consultants with a minimum of 5 years' experience can now earn Chartered status by applying for the Chartered Management Consultant (ChMC) award. The ChMC was formally launched in 2021 by the Management Consultancies Association (MCA) and the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) with the aim of enhancing professional standards in the sector. The award is not currently compulsory, but given its popularity, with leading firms such as EY, KPMG and PwC signing up to get their programmes accredited and committing to offering it to all their staff, it looks likely that it will become increasingly important in the sector.
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 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, which runs nearly every month and opens up the possibility to work on our longer programme, The Student Consultancy 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 relevant to all work areas, such as communication, teamwork, analysis, 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 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. Active societies include:
- Oxford Consulting Initiative
- Oxford Development Consulting
- 180 degrees (social enterprises and non-profits consulting)
- Oxford Guild
- Six Degrees (sustainability)
- Oxford Strategy Group (OSG) and OSG (Digital)
You may also consider undertaking a ‘virtual internship’ posted by leading companies in law, consulting and finance on The Forage. These are free, short (6-8 hours), virtual programmes that allow students to develop skills and test their interest in the industry. They typically involve working through in-depth case studies that reflect that company's industry and work. Forage experience is a really helpful way to test out your interest and motivation for a sector or an area of work and is also useful for demonstrating motivation in application processes.
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, 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.