So you want to be a management consultant? Three important things to tell aspiring students (and two things to get them to ask).

“I want to be a management consultant” is a statement most careers advisors hear a few times a day. I heard it twice today myself. It’s easy to jump to advice about which companies to apply to or the application process. But there a few things students should think about before applying.

First, there is management consultancy, and management consultancy. There’s the jet-setting, corporate credit-card waving, CXO influencing consultants, and then there’s those consultants stuck in a windowless office in Staines doing photocopying. I have been both of these, and both large companies described me as a management consultant. Interestingly, I was paid pretty similar rates for both. So, how to avoid the latter?

A great interview question to ask potential employers for aspiring consultants is ‘what’s your leverage ratio?

A great interview question to ask potential employers is ‘what’s your leverage ratio?’. This not only shows that you know how the consulting industry works, but the answer will give you a great insight into the type of work the firm does. The leverage ratio is the number of consultants for every partner. High leverage ratios (anything over 20) indicate work that is highly routinised, relatively low day rates and moving towards that basement in Staines (think IT implementation). Low leverage ratios indicate high value work, bespoke projects and more flexibility and creativity (think strategy or innovation work).

Second, how much do they like their Significant Other (or alternatively, got any pets?) because they won’t see much of them. Many moons ago, I had to sack a consultant who refused international assignments because she wouldn’t leave her cat overnight. More seriously, the average tenure of a graduate consultant is 7 years. This is because consulting is really hard work. Have a look at the graph below: the least you can expect to work is 10 hours a day, 6 days a week. Out of the fifty or so people I worked with closely in my consulting days, the vast majority had broken marriages and stress-related health problems. On one large assignment, I’d estimate

Another good question to ask in an interview is ‘what’s your utilization rate?’. The utilisation rate is the average percentage of their time that the consultants are charged out to clients. Again, this shows good understanding of the consulting industry, but equally, any answer above 85% means, in my view, there’s a good chance of burn-out in the first three years.

Another great question for interviews is ‘what’s your utilization rate?’

Finally, be clear about what service they want to apply for. It’s a terrible career move to get into an area where supply of consultants exceeds demand. This usually leads to static careers, low pay, and few opportunities for exit. At the moment, the most in-demand services include cyber-security, digital transformation, big data and artificial intelligence. Bear in mind that you DON’T need to be an expert in these areas, just have a keen interest and to have done some research (e.g. a dissertation). The same is true of sector specialisations. These vary across the world but the big growth areas for the last few years in the West have been Financial Services; Healthcare; Telecoms & Media. Decisions about sector and service can make a huge difference to students’ career trajectories: even after they’ve left consulting.

If you want to learn more, head over to www.consultingmastered.comwhere we offer 12 online courses, a monthly live Q&A webinar, and 15 useful downloads for students. University prices start at £2500 (for 100 students) and £4500 (for the whole University).

Prof. Joe O’Mahoney is a Professor of Management Consulting, an ex-management consultant, and the founder of ConsultingMastered Ltd. His textbook on consulting was the best selling in Europe, and he helped over 450 students land jobs in the consulting industry. His courses have won four national and University awards for excellence..

Published by Prof. Joe O'Mahoney PhD.

CEO & Founder, Consulting Mastered Ltd. Professor of Management Consulting at Cardiff University CEO & Founder, Repair Cafe Wales C.I.C. CIO & Founder, StayMobile Technology Ltd.

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