If you’ve been around the business world, you may have heard stories about consultants who are hopping on planes, going from city to city, and starting new projects every couple of months. It sounds exciting, but you still might be wondering, ‘What is management consulting, exactly?”
Well, it’s certainly more than heading to airports, going out for business dinners, and checking in and out of hotels.
When companies have problems that they can’t seem to figure out, who do they turn to? The answer is simple — management consultants.
Management consultants give companies an outsider’s perspective and provide tremendous value to organizations.
In this guide, we’ll talk about what management consultants do, what it’s like as a career, and how you can get a consulting job. By the time we’re finished, you’ll have everything you need to know to land a job as a management consultant.
What Is Management Consulting?
Management consultants find solutions to complex problems for businesses and organizations. Consultants offer valuable outside perspective to help companies improve their business processes.
When companies are stuck in a rut, they turn to management consultants to step in and provide guidance. This could be when a company is entering a new market, launching a new product, or expanding the scope of its operations.
Consultants are unbiased problem solvers that work with high-level decision-makers — such as C-level executives — to improve their processes, organizational structure, and overall business operations.
Management consultant companies can either focus on one particular industry or provide services to a broad range of industries and issues. This could be in healthcare, information technology, human resources, or marketing.
By specializing in one area, consultants can provide greater value to complex issues their customers are facing.
What It’s Like Being a Management Consultant
For the most part, consultant work is conducted on a project-by-project basis. When a new project starts, an employee will work on that particular enterprise until it’s complete.
Since consultants provide guidance for their clients, they’re frequently required to travel for in-person interactions. This consists of traveling all around the United States — and even outside the country — to get face-to-face time with clients.
A typical consultant schedule can be Monday to Thursday at the client’s offices, wherever that may be. The hours can be quite long and hectic when on the road.
You’ll need to be one of the first people in the office to get ahead of the busy day ahead. When your client gets in, you can expect to conduct interviews and pick their brains to get to the root of their problems.
After a long day’s work, you can expect to either grab dinner with your client or work after hours to catch up on your assignment. If you end up taking your client out on the town, you should be prepared to continue working after the night is over.
Working on the road can be chaotic and jam-packed, but the work can be incredibly fun, fulfilling, and stimulating.
Responsibilities of a Management Consultant
As a management consultant, your job will be to fully understand your client’s business to properly understand their problems. From there, you’ll take a structured approach, collect and analyze data, and give recommendations for your client to improve their business. The consulting process can be described in the five steps below.
1. Determine the Problem
Figuring out the exact scope of your client’s issues will be the first step of the entire process. In some cases, identifying the problem can be fairly obvious. In other cases, it may be difficult to put a finger on the issues you have at hand.
When you first start a project, you’ll meet with clients and interview them to get to the bottom of things. This can sometimes be challenging if they unintentionally provide you with biased information. They may deliver information that can be skewed or leans toward solutions that they’ve tried to execute in the past.
Since you’re an outsider, you’ll be providing an unbiased point of view that your client can explore. It will be your job to sift through the information they’ve provided and accurately lay out the true underlying issues. After all, that’s why they hired you in the first place.
After you clearly define your client’s challenges, you can move on to choosing the best approach to take.
2. Choose a Structured Approach and Collect Data
Consultants are excellent problem solvers. They also deal with many different projects that may parallel one another. Over time, you’ll develop several structured approaches to resolving your clients’ issues.
We’re not necessarily saying that consulting is a rinse and repeat job — far from it. However, you’ll find commonalities from client to client and will be able to pinpoint the best means to provide the greatest value.
After you determine how you’ll go about your work, you’ll begin collecting data surrounding the issue. Consultants are data-driven and have concrete evidence supporting their proposed solutions.
You’ll collect both qualitative and quantitative data to show your clients why they should take your recommendations. This can include interviews with employees, financial data, specific industry insights, or information on your clients’ competitors.
Once you collect all of this data, you can give your client recommendations on how to improve their business.
3. Give Recommendations
This step is the culmination of all your hard work put into your project. At this point, you’ll present your findings to your client and show them exactly what they should do to move their business forward.
Most presentations will consist of walking clients through Excel spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations. It will be crucial for you to have excellent presentation skills to adequately explain how you reached the recommendations you’re providing.
You’ll need to simplify all of the data and research you gathered so your clients can easily understand your recommendations. Your solutions should be crystal clear and actionable so clients can take the necessary steps forward.
4. Follow Up With Your Client
Following up with your clients will help you determine the success of your given recommendations. Success should always be quantifiable and supported by concrete data.
At the beginning of your project, you should determine certain criteria that will help you determine success. This can be a range of key performance indicators like revenue, inventory turnover, website traffic, or profit margin, depending on what type of project you’re working on.
When you follow up with your client, it also shows that you’re engaged with their issues and are there to support them. This can help secure future work with that specific client.
This also provides a way for your consulting firm to build a portfolio of case studies to gain future clients. If you knock a project out of the park, your company can approach other potential clients and use your project as an example to lock in more work.
If management consulting seems like a good fit for you, let’s look at how you can get a management consulting job.
How to Get a Management Consultant Job
Management consultants are well-educated and have a knack for problem-solving. To pursue this career path, you’ll need to obtain the necessary education and then apply to a management consulting firm.
Consultants can have a diverse range of experience and education. First, you’ll need an undergraduate degree to land a job at a reputable consulting firm.
The types of degrees you can pursue can range from information technology, finance, marketing, business administration, accounting, or data science. There are many other fields you can study as consulting spans many industries and different types of problems.
You’ll need to show that you have the necessary skill set that can provide value to your firm and the projects they work on. This includes having an analytical mindset, being a natural problem solver, and having sound decision-making skills.
Once you’ve completed the required education and have built up your resume, you can apply at one of these top firms:
- McKinsey & Company
- PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC)
- Boston Consulting Group (BCG)
These firms are leaders in the consulting industry and are known for being cream-of-the-crop institutions. If you can land a job at one of these firms, you’ll be in good company with some of the smartest minds around.
Become a Consultant
Now that you we’ve answered the question, “What is management consulting?” you can decide if it’s the right career for you.
Providing consulting services with a top consulting firm can be incredibly rewarding. You’ll likely never get bored as you’ll always encounter new projects and problems to solve.
If you think management consulting is right for you, explore the firms mentioned above for details. For more options, be sure to check out this guide on consulting and learn how to get paid to share your expertise.