Consulting is right for you if you have leadership skills and a business-oriented, independent, flexible, factual, data-driven, and analytical mindset. Alternatively, engineering is for you if you are curious, innovative, design and detail-oriented, logical, and are proficient in math and science.
Both consulting and engineering are lucrative professions that draw in countless students every year. Consultants guide companies through their business processes while engineers design systems that solve problems.
Keep reading to find out whether consulting or engineering is the right career for you.
What do consultants do?
A job in consulting broadly involves advising organizations on their business strategies and helping them improve operations. A consultant may be asked to provide expert advice on any aspect of running a company including marketing, finance, human resources, strategy, technology, operations, and so on. They can also offer guidance on improving processes within organizations.
Consultants are hired for their in-depth knowledge and experience in a particular field and to offer an unbiased third-party perspective on a given issue.
This career is a good fit for you if you enjoy problem-solving and have strong analytical skills. You will need excellent communication, leadership, and business skills, the ability to think critically about complex issues, and a flexible outlook. This profession requires extensive travel which means long hours spent away from home.
How can you get into consulting?
As a student, the two most common paths into a consulting career are with an undergraduate degree in a business-related field or to enter as an MBA-hire which also offers a higher salary slab.
You’ll usually be hired as a business analyst or an associate consultant at the entry-level. This role entails analyzing data and presenting recommendations based on findings using tools such as Excel and PowerPoint presentations.
The next step would involve becoming a consultant, and then later down the line, a manager, and eventually, you could even become a partner at the firm.
How much does a consultant earn?
A consultant’s salary varies widely according to the country you work in. let’s take a look at the average salary in the US. According to Glassdoor, the average salary earned by a consultant is $90,490 per year.
This number rises steadily as you move up the ranks. According to MConsultingPrep, at top consulting firms such as McKinsey, BCG, Bain, Deloitte, KPMG, Accenture, and Oliver Wyman, senior consultants might make as much as $200,000 while managers earn around $250,000 annually. Partners and directors can rake in over a million dollars every year.
What do engineers do?
You don’t hear much about engineers these days because today many engineering jobs involve computers in some form or the other. But right from the pre-Industrial Revolution days, engineers were responsible for designing machines like steam engines, water pumps, mills, bridges, buildings, ships, trains, planes, and cars. These inventions changed everything from transportation to communication to food production.
A career in engineering entails developing new products and services through research and development. Engineers use scientific principles to solve problems related to manufacturing, construction, energy, health care, communications, transport, agriculture, environment, education, defense, and so on.
Engineers design solutions to real-world challenges. Their expertise lies in applying science and mathematics to create innovative ideas and develop practical applications.
An engineer with over 20 patents to his name narrates an interesting example on Quora highlighting the importance of engineering, “Einstein was a brilliant physicist, but it was engineers who applied his theory of relativity to make GPS work.”
This career requires technical competence in your chosen niche, curiosity, creativity, attention to detail and quality, a knack for problem-solving, logical thinking, design capabilities, and an affinity for math and science.
How can you get into engineering?
Engineering is a vast field so it’s important to first determine the niche you’d like to work in such as mechanical, civil, electric, computer, chemical, aeronautical, environmental, and biomedical engineering to name a few.
In the US, the most popular engineering major is mechanical engineering followed by electrical.
Once you’ve decided which area you want to specialize in, you can enroll yourself in one of the undergraduate programs offered by universities across the world. A strong base in math and science is key to becoming an engineer, so pursue related subjects in high school. At university, spend your summers pursuing internships as well as network with alumni at companies you’d like to work for.
A Master’s degree is not essential to an engineering career although it does make you stand out from other applicants.
How much does an engineer earn?
Engineering salaries largely depend on the specialization you work in. According to Indeed, the average base salary drawn by an entry-level engineer in the US is $68,286 annually.
The median salary of an engineer in the US is $97,474 per year while those with experience make up to $140,000, according to talent.com.
Consulting vs Engineering: Which has the best prospects?
Which one offers more opportunities for personal and financial growth? And which career is the right fit for you? Let’s take a closer look.
Consulting offers exposure to diverse aspects of running a business, better opportunities to climb up the corporate ladder, higher pay, a chance to network with industry bigwigs and CEOs, and room to develop interpersonal skills and take up leadership roles. If you work in a top consulting firm, you get to live a jet-setting flexible life without much micromanagement.
However, this job comes with long hours (60+ hour workweeks are the norm) and a high-stress and high-competition work environment which can lead to burnout. You might also not always see the fruits of your labor as a client might simply decide to not implement the recommendations you worked tirelessly on.
As an engineer, the world is your playground. You get the ability to create, design, innovate and develop practical solutions to real-world problems. You’ll also get the satisfaction of seeing your ideas come to fruition, acquiring technical skills and expertise, and taking responsibility for your work. An engineering career also offers better hours and a work-life balance. However, the pay plateaus at the upper levels and there’s not as much scope for growth when compared to consulting. Work in some engineering fields might also be repetitive.
There’s also a general trend of engineers transitioning into a consulting career as ‘engineering consultants’ after a few years to diversify and break into a newer field with higher pay. A former partner of Booz Allen Hamilton lists certain characteristics of engineers that enable them to succeed as consultants in a Quora thread.
Watch the YouTube video below where a software engineer and a consultant break down their career choices to help you decide which might be the right one for you!
It’s also no secret that the ‘Big Three’ consulting firms draw in the upper echelons of talent. A Forbes article says, “the best CEO launchpad is McKinsey & Company” and a 2015 article on the McKinsey blog says that at the time “about 450 former McKinsey consultants were running billion-dollar-plus organizations around the world.”
Here are just a few McKinsey alum:
- Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook;
- Robert Hass, Chairman of Levi Strauss & Co;
- Tidjane Thiam, former CEO of Credit Suisse;
- Jørgen Vig Knudstorp, former CEO of the Lego Group;
- Margo Georgiadis, former CEO of Mattel Inc. and Ancestry.com .
Other former consultants who have made their mark include:
- Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube;
- Meg Whitman, former CEO of Hewlett Packard and eBay and a board member of P&G and General Motors;
- Indra Nooyi, CEO of Pepsi;
- and even famous musician and singer John Legend.
So how do you choose between consulting vs engineering?
Both careers require technical expertise but it comes down to how well you can adapt to different situations. If you’re more comfortable working independently and taking up leadership roles, consulting may suit you better than engineering. On the flip side, if you thrive when given direction and structure, engineering will probably appeal to you more. The bottom line is that either way, you’ll get paid very well for doing something you love.