What is this industry?
“Consulting” is a broad term that describes giving business-related advice to clients. Three broad categories are strategy consulting, economic consulting, and implementation consulting. Strategy consulting involves helping clients make strategic decisions (for example, mergers/acquisitions advisory, new product launch strategy, competitive intelligence gathering). Even within strategy consulting, firms differ based on the industry sectors where they are strongest. Economic consulting involves applying economic analysis to a variety of issues, including to support a company’s position in a legal case. Implementation consulting involves on-the-ground support to help companies implement a strategic decision they’ve made (e.g., helping companies implement a new SAP/Oracle system into their operations, or set up new iPad-based ordering systems throughout a chain of restaurants.) There are many further varieties of consulting, including HR consulting (e.g., executive search firms), engineering consulting (construction projects), government consulting (can include outsourced government projects) and more.
What is a “day in the life”?
At a strategy consulting firm, you will typically work on a variety of different projects (“cases”) throughout the year, which means you won’t have a consistent manager but will rather rotate between different managers and teams. There are three main activities you’ll do as an analyst associate: meetings/interviews, analysis, and slides. Meetings with your client and team will happen every week, and you’ll also likely be responsible for conducting “expert interviews” with individuals in your given client’s industry. These interviews could be with the clients’ competitors, customers/potential customers, or even its own employees. Analysts/Associates typically do a fair amount of analysis, especially in their second and third years. You can expect to use a lot of excel and potentially other tools (e.g., Alterex, Tableau). For example, you might be analyzing the client’s sales data, building a model to estimate the market size for an opportunity. The communication medium of choice in consulting is powerpoint, so expect to do a lot of slides!
How to ace your interview
- Practice cases! You can definitely expect to receive at least one but probably more “case interviews” if applying to a consulting firm. Case interviews are a unique process and they take practice to get the hang of, so be sure to start practicing early. Most case interviews involve some math, and don’t let candidates use calculators, so mental math apps such as Magoosh can be helpful for practice
- Make sure you know how the given consulting firm you’re applying for differs from others – consulting firms know that consulting is a popular post-college path, and they want to know that you’ve taken the time to think about why their firm in particular is interesting to you
- Consulting firms value people with a strong ability to work on teams given the long hours. Make sure you have examples of times you were a team player
Resources for learning about this industry
Typical challenges in this industry – and how to deal with them
- Burnout, high stress, travel schedule/being away from home
- Often it can be difficult to be staffed on the types of projects you’re interested in, particularly if they’re in an industry that isn’t a primary area of focus for the firm. Networking internally with the partners and managers who work on the projects you are most interested in is usually the most effective way to get onto those projects.
Typical industry entry process
It’s easiest to enter consulting directly out of undergrad or an MBA program, although still possible to jump to consulting after working at other companies
Typical career trajectory
Due to the high burnout, it’s common to work in consulting for 2-3 years and then jump ship to another job. For those that decide to stay at the firm, often the path is to spend around 4 years as an Associate (progressing from first year associate/analyst to a senior associate), followed by getting an MBA (not necessary, but most common), followed by a Consultant position (~2-4 years), an Engagement Manager role (~1-4 years), a Principal (~1-5 years), and finally Partner
Exit strategies/opportunities – The most common exit routes for strategy consultants are private equity or corporate strategy at another company. However, some people end up working at startups, in governments, in nonprofit, at other consulting firms, or a variety of other paths. Although consulting is sometimes sold as a way to build such a valuable skillset it’ll be easy to get a job anywhere, this is definitely not the case, and if you’re not shooting for private equity, you’ll need to do a fair bit of reading up on, networking within, and building skills for the new industry you’re interested in.
Companies to know in the industry
- Top tier strategy firms – McKinsey, Bain, BCG
- Second tier strategy firms – AT Kearney, L.E.K. (primarily private equity due diligence projects, shorter cases), EY Parthenon, Accenture Strategy, PwC Strategy&
- “Big Four” Accounting Firms – E&Y, PwC, Deloitte, Ernst & Young
- Other well-known firms: Booz Allen, Kaiser Associates
- Tech-focus consultancies: Accenture
- Nonprofit consulting firms: FSG, Bridgespan
- Boutique firms: There are a tons of boutique firms out there; many focus on a certain industry or type of project
On-Campus resources related to industry
Consulting Club, WWIB