Consulting is a promising path, offering good career capital that keeps your options open and your earnings high. However, it’s highly competitive and we have a limited understanding of its potential for direct impact.
Consider a job in consulting if you have strong academic credentials, aren’t sure about your long-term plans and want to experience work in a variety of business environments, don’t have a high-impact alternative immediately available, or you want to earn to give but are not a good fit for quantitative trading or technology entrepreneurship.
- • Experience work in a wide variety of industries
- • Network with impressive colleagues
- • High earnings
- • Highly competitive
- • Long hours
- • Limited direct impact
Key facts on fit
Must be able to put up with 60 hour work weeks, frequent travel, lots of powerpoints. High academic achievement a predictor, but technical knowledge not required.
College students with a strong interest in consulting should apply for a summer internship the year before they complete their studies. It’s also common to enter after graduate programs, especially MBAs. Others should network with consultants and apply if interested.
What is this career path?
Management consultants provide advice to organisations to help improve performance. The industry is divided into the ‘Big 3’ strategy consulting firms (McKinsey, Bain, BCG), the ‘Big 4’ professional services firms (PwC, Ernst & Young, Deloitte, KPMG) who primarily do operations consulting (as well as auditing and accounting), and a large number of small ‘boutique’ companies, who often specialise in a particular type of situation or subject matter.
Consulting is often pursued in order to build career capital while keeping options open, and overall, we think it’s a strong option if that’s your aim.
A substantial fraction of people leave the industry for after 2-3 years. Common exits include: MBA programs, work in an industry you served as a consultant, venture capital, private equity, policy/civil service, work on a “strategy team” for a company.
Consultants usually have graduated from top colleges, and the firms tend to have an intellectual culture compared to elsewhere in business.
Consultants usually work on a series of one to two month projects across a variety of sectors, companies, and divisions within companies (including government and non-profit organizations), making it one of the most attractive options if you want to quickly learn about many different types of work.
The standard route to entry for an analyst position is an undergraduate degree from an elite university, and an MBA from an elite university for an associate position. However, many consulting firms also hire MDs, PhDs, and JDs at the associate level. Consulting jobs at top firms are highly competitive, with acceptance rates around 1-3%.
What does it take to progress?
We think it suits someone with a well-rounded profile of good analytical skills, social skills, teamwork, and the ability to work hard. Compared to the other careers we’ve rated, the verbal and social skills seem particularly important since you need to interact with and persuade clients from the start. This is likely hard to predict in advance.
The work is probably more interesting than many other corporate jobs, including the early years of finance, because it involves more problem solving and variety. Consultants often like the challenge and variety of their work, as well as the people they work with.
Common complaints from consultants include 60-hour work weeks and extensive travel.
Direct impact potential
Consultants affect the organizations they work with by:
- Sharing best practices within and across industries
- Bringing in smart outside perspectives to offer strategic improvements
- Helping to settle strategic disagreements within organizations
On the positive side, each of these changes can increase organizational efficiency. Sometimes, consultants increase efficiency through downsizing. This is controversial due to negative effects on employees, though some would argue that it usually has good long-run consequences.
| Entry level|| $60,000-$90,000|
| Mid-level|| ~$280,000|
| High-level|| Low millions|
Consulting offers opportunities to network with influential business people, as well as peers who will move into the high levels of many different types of organisation in the future.
The full report
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