Careers in Consulting
Consulting Industry Overview
Consulting firms are engaged in the work of observing, analyzing and assessing various aspects of a business and giving expert advice on how to increase profit, improve efficiency, enter into a market or other various aspects of business. Common areas of need are information technology, business strategy, marketing, operational improvement, and general efficiency.
Most often when people think of consulting, they think management consulting—McKinsey, Bain, BCG, Deloitte, Booz Allen Hamilton, KPMG, etc. Management consulting firms are hired to help companies improve their performance—profit, people management, IT solutions, processes, etc. When you hire on with these big management consulting firms, generally you start out as a junior consultant/analyst, working as a generalist for a few years, then move up and into more specialized roles as you progress and gain experience. However, if you start out in a smaller, “boutique” firm, you may be more likely to specialize in healthcare, IT, or some other smaller facet of business.
For more information on the different types of consulting, this article from Consulting.com can give you a decent overview.
Consulting roles can be great starting positions, as they give you a good foundation of business knowledge, a broad range of experience in different companies and organizational structures, and great practice on those soft skills (see below). You’ll most likely travel quite a bit (but not necessarily to glamorous locations)—usually being on-site at your current project Monday (sometimes Sunday pm) through at least Thursday (sometimes Friday). You’ll work pretty rigorous hours, and often with the same team of people, so it’s important to be able to work with diverse people, resolve conflicts productively, and communicate well. Projects can run from a couple of months to a year or more, and may be across a range of business aspects, so again, you’ll get a nice broad experience. These positions also pay well, especially for an entry-level role, and are usually based in major cities (New York, Boston, San Francisco, Atlanta, Chicago) which gives you options for where you might like to live.
Recruiters and hiring managers in consulting look for business knowledge, and the following “soft skills”
- Quantitative and analytical abilities
- Ability to work under pressure and cope with challenging situations
- Understanding of business environments and commercial awareness
- Problem-solving/critical thinking
- Good interpersonal and communication skills
Licensing and Certifications
While no certifications are required, they can signify expertise and accomplishment in the field, and help recruiters and potential employers contextualize your skills and experience.
- CMC® (Certified Management Consultant) certification is awarded by IMC USA to consultants who have achieved a superior level of performance that includes professional standards in technical competency and ethics, global standards in consulting competencies, professional behavior, client and project management, and personal conduct.
- Strategic Management Professional certification-- Strategic Management Professional (SMP) certification ,through the Association for Strategic Planning, is designed for more experienced professionals who work with C-level executives and their teams.
Professional associations are groups of professionals dedicated to topics in specific fields. Professional associations provide a wealth of online resources, some of which are geared specifically towards students. These organizations typically also host conferences and events, providing great opportunities for learning and networking across your field of interest.
- Association of Management Consulting Firms
- International Association of Registered Financial Consultants
- Institute of Management Consultants
- International Council of Management Consulting Institutes
- Professional and Technical Consultants Association
- Data & Marketing Association
- The Society of Professional Consultants
- Association of Consulting Engineering Companies (ACEC)
- Association of Accredited Small Business Consultants (AASBC)
- Association of Safety & Health Consultants and Trainers, Inc. (ASHCAT)
- Association for Consulting Expertise
- Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA)
- American Association of Political Consultants (AAPC)
- American Society of Trial Consultants (ASTC)
- American Association of Legal Nurse Consultants (AALNC)
- Association of Internal Management Consultants (AIMC)
Many of the large strategic consulting companies publish newsletters and research reports.
Majors and Concentrations
A bachelor’s degree, at a minimum, will be required for consulting roles, while for some, a master’s degree or PhD might be necessary. There is no one major that consulting firms look for, although a breadth of experiences and some business knowledge can be an asset. Majors which give you communications skills (interpersonal, written, and verbal), help you identify and solve complex problems, encourage research and data analysis/synthesis, and teach foundational business skills will be looked on favorably when applying for consulting roles. Particularly:
- Physical Sciences
- Political Science
- Business Administration
Jobs and Experiences
Again, you don’t have to have a business background, or even a bunch of consulting internships to be hired into a full-time consulting role. Particularly if you go into one of the more focused “boutique” consulting companies, knowledge in healthcare, IT, education, etc. can be a benefit, but a breadth of experience and knowledge, leadership, teamwork and critical thinking skills can all help to get you into your first role. Check out the following major companies represented in various areas of consulting.
While in college, join a consulting student organization, work on a research project or within a research lab, stay up to date on business trends through the Wall Street Journal, industry websites and business publications.
Management Consulting Firms
- Boston Consulting Group
- Ernst & Young
- IBM Global Technology Services
- Booz Allen Hamilton
Life Science Consulting
- Accenture Life Sciences
- Bates White Lifesciences
- Kantar Life Sciences
- GE Healthcare
- Propellant Media
- Precision Strategies
- Global Strategy Group
- Capitol City Research
- Brabender Cox
- Clean Harbors, Inc.
- Tetra Tech, Inc.