In any organisation, decisions must be made about the most critical issues. Perhaps this is deciding which market to enter or product to launch. Maybe it’s figuring out how to stave off competition through increased research spending. Or maybe it’s simply how to leverage the skills of employees and the structure of the organisation in the best way possible.
With so many decisions to make at any point in time, it’s easy for management to become overwhelmed – they may not have the resources, time, people or even objective lens, to figure out the priorities. Helping the most senior levels of management make these decisions is why management consulting exists.
Management consultants are essentially trusted advisers, typically hired by the CEO, on the basis that they are highly capable of wrapping their head around an organisation’s predicament and applying their expertise and knowledge. In other words, management consultants are business problem solvers. They look at the most pertinent issues facing an organisation, form an initial hypothesis about how to solve it, and then go about gathering the evidence to support (or disprove) it.
Management consultants are typically generalists – they work across multiple industries and functions and are comfortable operating in an ambiguous environment. Their speciality is in business strategy at the highest level.
The first couple of years as a graduate are a steep learning curve. As the most junior person on the team, you will be expected to perform much of the financial modelling and analysis. It is critical you understand the implications of your analysis or what consultants like to call the ‘so what?’. Communicating this in an articulate manner to your team – and eventually clients – is a required skill.
Over time, you will have more exposure to clients and their organisations – whether that’s by interviewing their employees, or presenting your findings, you will hone your interpersonal skills.
The lifestyle of a management consultant can be intense. While there may be some downtime between projects, most projects will demand that you work at least 60 hours a week. Being in professional services also means that you are often expected to put your clients’ needs ahead of any personal commitments.
Most management consultants are also expected to travel, or at the very least work from their clients’ offices throughout a project. It is common to be ‘on-site’ from Monday to Thursday and back in your office on Fridays.
The path to becoming a career consultant is well-documented and requires dedication, commitment to learning and excellent performance.
After two to three years’ experience, it is common – and typically encouraged – for consultants to pursue further study such an MBA. Most large organisations provide financial compensation and study leave on the condition that you return upon graduation.
As you become more senior, you will begin to manage larger projects on your own and will be expected to contribute to winning new business.
If you decide not to become a career consultant, many other doors will be open to you. It is common for consultants to go ‘in-house’ and join a corporate, often an old client, and to work in their strategy team. Alternatively, you may decide to join a startup or start your own business.
An increasing trend is the use of contract consultants to plug resource gaps within organisations or provide discrete analysis. With freelance consulting becoming increasingly popular, this may be another path to consider in the future.
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