Operations and management consultants are hired by companies to help them identify problems and recommend solutions in order to be as efficient and profitable as possible. These careers pay very well – and if you possess the right qualities – can be very rewarding in other ways too.
Consultants analyze the issues of a company from the very specific (i.e., figuring out how to streamline one function, such as shipping) to the broad, such as looking at an entire client organization and suggesting ideas for overhaul and/or reorganization. Sometimes the need for overhaul occurs when companies are expanding or looking for additional revenue. Consultants must do in-depth research to find out everything there is to know about a client organization and possible sources of problems. They must excel at listening, communicating, and problem solving.
Consultants may work on any particular project for anywhere from six weeks to eighteen months. Management consulting is a growing profession with increasing opportunities, but at extremely competitive entry. “Management organization” and analysis of efficiency has come out of business schools and economics departments, and the role of the consultant has grown from small firms with specific expertise to general management consultants who are used by large companies.
A college degree is required, preferably in a relevant field such as business, economics, statistics, computer science, organizational psychology, logic or mathematics. Ivy League schools hold a big advantage for undergraduate candidates. Some universities with operations and management-focused programs include University of Pennsylvania (also known for the strategic consulting program in the Wharton school) Washington University, New York University, and Cornell. Cornell is well known for its Industrial Labor Relations program. These different programs can be advantageous for background and connections into human capital consulting work.
Companies recruit undergraduates on campus for summer internships, which often result in job opportunities. Interview processes involve individual as well as group case studies where candidates work as a team to complete the simulated client experience.
Top tier schools have an advantage with more opportunities for on campus recruiting spots, but candidates that stand out or have connections can also get into a highly valued position with a top firm. “Connections can help…an internal reference or referral can get you at least an initial interview,” says one Senior Consultant, who works at a Big 4 consulting firm in New York City. Internal referrals are common, so knowing someone within the company is helpful.
Applicants that apply online and really stand out are invited for interview, and many Teach for America candidates are recruited to consulting because they are often “bright, personable, outgoing, and adaptable”. To stand out, the consultant recommends “being realistic about your experience and your skill is much more valuable than trying to over-represent yourself.”
Showing you are team focused and have the personality to fit into the culture of a particular firm is key, and showing a track record of success, initiative and excellence in whatever you have done so far is important.
Those getting into consulting must show adaptability and be able to pick up concepts and deal with constant change: “You have to have a passion for that type of environment.”
MBA students are also recruited for internship programs and jobs; they enter firms at a higher pay band than non-MBAs. For employees already in the door, the MBA offers both pros and cons: It’s “time spent away from the company and the industry, but you come back with ideas and innovation.” While some firms advise that an MBA is necessary to move up, many indicate that “you don’t have to get it [to advance], but if you get it and come back, you’ll get more money,” says one Senior Consultant. In general, MBAs give more “exit options” for consultants who may want to change companies, move up and increase their pay, and for Strategic Management Consulting, it’s a definite requirement. Professional certification is also important to moving up and getting promotions, and is sometimes offered through the employee’s firm.
For more experienced hires looking to move into new management consulting roles, contacts and internal referrals can be helpful. Candidates who have credentials that speak for themselves can directly contact HR departments of companies, but knowing someone within the firm is always an advantage.
For those new to consulting, most firms run programs to train junior consultants, who work closely in teams. Long hours and lots of travel are part of the job, and while income starts out high it will increase with bonuses after a few years. Consultants move up the ladder from analyst to consultant to senior consultant positions, and after years of experience take on managerial positions, overseeing multiple projects and accounts. At this point employees can take a track towards firm operational roles or partner (for partnership firms) roles, where they own accounts, sell work (recruit business) and do operations, and manage employee groups.
Some consulting firms are LLPs, so employees that rise to partnership get a financial stake in the company. Others are corporations run by shareholders, and leaders here fulfill Chief Executive jobs and Chief Financial Officer roles, tucking in enormous salaries.
Some people with industry experience move into consulting because they have strong knowledge of particular industries. Consultants also frequently move into positions with industries that they have gained a strong knowledge of through their consulting work.
Big locations for consulting are relevant to the industry you consult in: New York is top for finance (insurance, banking, securities); California, technology, and New Jersey, pharmaceuticals.
Average starting salary $61,496, after 5 years $78,932, after 10-15 years $112,716 plus bonuses (www.princetonreview.com). Here’s a little more salary information:
American Management Association
Address: 1601 Broadway, New York NY 10019
Institute of Management Consultants
Address: 2025 M Street, NW, Suite 800, Washington DC 20036-3309