Ever thought of being a management consultant?

Amongst all the traditionally popular graduate careers, a new kid on the block is emerging.  The latest research statistics from High Fliers (the biggest annual survey of the career aspirations of UK undergraduates) shows that consulting is now the second most popular target career destination amongst final year undergraduates.

Whilst these research findings makes it clear that many students are now cottoning on to the opportunities on offer in this relatively new career area it is equally apparent, through the work that we do, that many other students are still struggling to understand exactly what the career is, what the work involves and whether it may represent a good career choice for them.  Let’s run through the basics and provide some information on where to go for further research.

What do management consultants do?

In a career area where there is definitely no ‘normal’, working as a management consultant can be a tricky idea to get your head around.  The huge range of specialisms covered and the number of professional sectors that are intersected means that it can be hard to describe a typical scenario.  But, put in its plainest terms, a management consultant is someone who provides expert advice to other professionals, usually in other organisations.  They help these organisations to solve their business problems, maximise growth and efficiency, and create value. The benefit to the client organisation is that external consultants bring with them both useful industry expertise and a fresh pair of eyes.  It is important to understand that the umbrella term ‘management consultant’ can actually cover a range of skills and specialisms from project management to business analysis to e-commerce, and will operate across a breadth of service areas including operations, strategy, and HR to name but a few.

What skills do management consultants need?

Working frequently from the client site, management consultants need to be adaptable team players. They will need to be able to work with tact and diplomacy when working with any potentially tricky client/consultant relations, and should be analytical in their approach to work and seek to solve problems rather than merely accept things as they are.  Their communication skills should be advanced as they may need to be able to present and sell their solutions to the client whilst remaining mindful of the parameters of the business they are working within. An astute sense of commercial awareness is also required so that they are aware of factors which may affect their clients business potential, and so that they can help place them favourably amongst their immediate competitors. Those interested in this career should bear in mind that opportunities may take them away from home or even overseas so you would need to show a certain amount of flexibility in your personal life.

How do I get into management consultancy?

The opportunities in consulting are diverse. Firms range from large organisations who offer end-to-end solutions to much smaller niche organisations that offer specialist expertise. Alternatively, some consultants also work on a freelance basis (sometimes known as ‘contracting’). A good starting point is to think carefully about the type of employer that you think will suit you best.  Many of the larger organisations in particular will offer graduate training schemes most commonly too applicants with a 2.1 or above (degree discipline is not usually specified although it would be fair to say that such positions attract a large range of graduates from business or management backgrounds).  The training focuses on developing key business exposure whilst working towards professional qualifications.  The TARGET jobs employers hub provides a list of some of the main graduate employers, although recruitment agencies may also provide opportunities within smaller firms.  The good news is that opportunities have remained fairly stable during the economic crisis and with the economy picking up, vacancy numbers are also rising.

Where can I find out more?

As well as the usual suspects like TARGET Jobs and Prospects, the website www.top-consultant.com provides a really useful career forum for people considering starting a career in this area.

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