page title icon What is Management Consulting?

Consultants come in all shapes and sizes. You can do it in huge global companies like the Big 4 or MBB, (McKinsey, Bain and BCG) of which McKinsey is probably the world’s most influential company.

Or you can do it in a smaller, more specialised boutique consultancy. They span across multiple service lines, like industry, IT and retail and carry out a range of different tasks, like strategy and operations.

In general, consultants work on solutions that improve businesses. They “add value“. Those could be in order to answer an existing problem or simply help the business create more revenue, become more profitable, execute a merger etc. For example, if a business owner is making £100/year and they want to get to £110 by the end of next year, then they be willing to pay anything up to the full £10 to get there. Of course, these figures need multiplying up a fair bit.

Typically when people talk about consulting, they are thinking of strategy or management consulting. By and large, they are similar. Strategy is what it says on the tin, it focuses on the different ways a business works. Management certainly requires a large number of strategic elements but focuses more on all building blocks of a company, like operations and supply chains.

Check out Kchoi’s video on what it means to her to be a consultant. Particularly useful for those thinking of starting out in America.

How Consultants do it

Consultants work by going into businesses and examining their problems first hand. This means gathering data and where necessary, speaking to the client’s staff. Typically that includes both the C-suite executives and the sellers on the floor to discover a business’ ins and outs. This takes a lot of sensitive interviewing of employees and Excel skills.

Consultants have a million and one frameworks for analysing a business, but it is also about asking the right questions. You can apply Porter’s 5 Forces all you like, but you won’t get anywhere, if you have the wrong data set!

Once consultants have done the analysis, they spend a lot of time presenting. This is typically done on Powerpoint, but some consultants use more idiosyncratic tools.

Consultants will present at least once a week during a client project and they will always debrief with a presentation back at HQ after a project. Have a look at some of our essentials to boost your presentational skills.

These projects are typically carried out by a team of 5-8 consultants who work on a project for 2-4 months. Of course, depending on the project, this could be very different. A team might just be a partner and analyst working directly for a company’s CEO. Equally, if there are particular technical or digital-integration considerations, it could take much much longer.

Most of the time, the answer is hard to find. Consultancies also help clients when they already kind of know the solution. Maybe they just don’t know how to get there, or the CEO needs help showing his employees the way. This is just one of the reasons why some people feel that consulting is so boring.

One of these boutique consultancies, Stroud International, made a useful short video detailing their take on what consulting really means.

Why do people choose it

Consulting as a career choice has proved incredibly valuable to many people, primarily because of its exit options. After working for a couple of years in a strategy consultancy our of college, many doors are very likely to open up. Either moving straight into business, private equity or other forms of political or communications strategy is common. Indeed, over 30% of Fortune 500 were once MBB consultants, let alone all the executives who worked at other firms.

This value that people see in consultants is because of the rapid learning curve, how competitive the field is and because being a consultant is a stamp that says you know what you are doing!

In addition, its glamourous. Or so people think! There are a lot of free meals, hotels, travel and the wages certainly aren’t bad. This is incredibly exciting as a young consultant, but it can grow frustrating with time.

Why don’t people choose it

Consulting also has a large number of drawbacks. As we mentioned, some of the obvious ones are travel, being away from home, the lifestyle etc. Free food 24/7 isn’t always the best thing for your health!

One thing to note is that salaries are not as big as some people think. Don’t get me wrong. They aren’t small. But if you are after straight cash, then investment banking is where it is at.

How to get there

Getting a job as a management consultant is a pretty hard gig. In fact, it might just be the hardest graduate job to get a hold of.

  1. You need a perfect CV and cover letter. We can help with that. At the best consultancies, about 10% get this far.
  2. You then need to pass the application test. This will be remote. Typically comprising some maths, logical comprehension and psychometric profiling. Some of these are easy. Some are excruciatingly difficult.
  3. Finally, the interview stage. This will be across at least two days. On each day, you will have at least one ‘case interview’ and personal fit interview. For more on these two, check out our case resources.

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Analyzed by Will B

My name is Will. I am a Cambridge graduate and consultant working in London. I started this website to share insights, guides, and more about consulting. Learn more about Will.