Career Path: Consulting
Consulting is the business of giving expert advice to other professionals,
typically in financial and business matters. Management consulting is one of the more popular career
paths in most business schools, particularly as one considers the growth of
internal consulting positions within firms. While management consulting
firms hire many graduates, of increasing importance are corporate positions
in strategic business development, general strategy, and internal
consulting. Many MBAs find that consulting skills prepare them for analyst
or general management positions. Most firms generally emphasize some
combination of consulting in three areas – strategy, operations/supply
chain, and information systems.
consulting: Strategic consulting focuses on
matching the company’s external environment with internal strengths to
decide which paths the company should follow when faced with a wide array
chain consulting: Business processes occur
in almost any functional area of the firm from accounting, to customer
service, to manufacturing. Business process improvement can often yield
significant results in cycle times, cost, quality, and customer
satisfaction. Supply chain consulting takes the operations process view
outside of the firm to focus on the movement of inventory and information
across the entire supply chain in order to improve quality, service,
inventory, labor, overhead, and transaction costs to the profitability of
the entire supply chain. Operations/supply chain consulting requires
involves strategic thinking and a good understanding of information
Resources/Organizational consulting: Human
resources professionals can find roles in consulting as well. Many
organizations benefit from a consulting firms view on proper structure,
efficient communication mechanisms, compensation to support corporate
goals, and specific human resources processes.
consulting: Financial consultants engage in
a variety of projects ranging from helping firms establish more efficient
processes for managing financial information to helping companies make
better financial decisions with the data they have. Consultants are also
utilized by investment banks and other institutions to guide on portfolio
management and the hiring of top financial talent.
Systems and Implementation consulting: IT
consultants play a role in designing, developing, and/or implementing
information technology systems for financial reporting, inventory control,
human resources, customer relationship management, e-commerce, etc. This
type of consulting often requires a thorough understanding of the
information technologies, the business processes and the strategic context
in which the information system is deployed.
Consulting is a very broad term. For many they think
of large firms like McKinsey & Company or A.T. Kearney. However, there are
many boutique firms that only consulting within a particular function, like
Large consulting firms are a typically a collection of
functional practices. In these firms there are typically virtual
industry-based practices as well. Projects would then happen in an
intersection of one or more functional practices with the industry
practice. Consultants would typically have their office within the
The consultant’s job is generally to define the
problem facing the client and propose or implement the appropriate
solutions. Candidates should be able to quickly take advantage of prior
experience, hypothesize solutions, analyze them, find a course of action,
and effectively communicate their recommendations. Firms seeking internal
or external consultants expect candidates to have a well-developed ability
to work in teams, strong communication and presentation skills, financial
analysis skills, leadership skills, and strong problem definition and
critical thinking skills.
Using the Curriculum at Broad
– see the relevant “Careers in…” for curricular recommendations if you are
focusing on consulting within a function.
– For more broad-based consulting, firms will recruit any major. Any of the
four primary concentrations at Broad (Finance, Human Resources, Marketing,
and Supply Chain) are a good starting point. As for a choice of secondary
- Supply Chain. Some firms have a preference for SCM
due to it process-orientation.
- Finance. Knowing finance is essential in any
- Marketing. Additional studies in marketing are
useful for positioning.
- Leadership and Change Management. Evaluates how
changes are implemented.
- Strategic Management. Focuses on strategic
- Hospitality. If you are interested in firms with
practices serving this industry this would be a good choice.
Consulting resumes may look very much like their
functional counterparts. However, constructing the resume so it more
closely mirrors the work being performed is a definite advantage.
Specifically, experiences can be listed by project,
with the supporting bullet points elaborating on the process used to manage
the project. These activities include building a team, collaborating with
the client, doing a needs determination, as well as the business aspects of
the project itself.
The key here is to focus on a few wide-ranging
projects that demonstrate a variety of skills. You wouldn’t want to
elaborate on every project.
When interviewing, it is very important to know the
practice for which you are being interviewed. Typically at the Broad School
you will be interviewing for a specific practice, and not the firm as a
whole. When interviewing for a firm more broadly, consultants like it when
interviewees have specific practices in mind. So, you need to do your
research on the structure of the particular firm.
Case interviews are often used by consulting firms.
The MBA Career Services Center at MSU will help you practice your case
interviewing. After you have learned how to manage a case interview, it is
important to keep practicing with classmates until you have at least ten
case practices completed. Case interviewing may constitute several rounds
of back-to-back cases. It is not unusually for firms go give up to 17
interviews across four rounds of interviewing.
Etiquette and how you present yourself at dinner
meetings will also be assessed. Prepare for very strict dining etiquette
before attending interview day on site.
Meeting and getting to know an alumnus in the practice
is also a very helpful way to make it into the process. Consulting jobs are
highly sought after, so even getting a start can be competitive.
Some firms, like McKinsey, only recruit during a
specific period of the year. The process begins with an on-line
application. Watch eRecruiting and emails from the CSC to notify you of
when to apply. You should keep on top of the websites of target firms as
The Lifestyle of a Consultant
The commonly held perception that consultants travel a
lot is true. Many consultants live away from “home” for weeks or months at
a time. Others fly out on Sunday night and back on Thursday night to spend
Friday at the office, though that becomes tedious.
The work-life balance, though, is highly dependent on
the practice you are in, where the clients tend to be located, and whether
the work can be accomplished remotely. Especially in boutique firms,
consultants spend little time at the client site, or have clients located
nearby. Occasionally in large firms, though, there are practices that are
located near their client base and have less travel.
In general, though, expect a lot of travel. Decide
before you apply if you are willing to accept the trade-offs involved in a
career in consulting.