Career: Management Consultant
Companies, to improve efficiency and profitability, hire management consultants to
identify problems and recommend solutions. Consultants’ objectives can be limited to analyzing
such issues as shipping functions and then streamlining procedures. Alternatively,
their goals may be broadly defined and include reorganizing a multinational corporation to
take advantage of the synergies that developed when it acquired new businesses. “Sometimes
you’re asked to solve a particular problem, and you find that the problem is just a symptom
of another problem, so you need to spend a lot of time at the beginning identifying where to
start and what you need to do,” wrote one consultant.
The need to spend time at the beginning
doing research, identifying areas of concern, and
mapping out how the different areas of a business affect one another is often a difficult sell
to clients who want immediate results. “No one wants to hear that you’ve got to look at five
years of data—they want you to tell them how to fix things today,” wrote another.
Management consultants have to be accomplished analysts, attentive listeners, and firm but
tactful communicators. They are thinkers and problem solvers who know how to convince
others that change is needed.
Though even starting management consultants make good money (and income rises
considerably with experience), our surveys indicate that candidates must be willing to sacrifice
time from their personal lives. Nearly all survey respondents say that 60-hour workweeks
are part of the training and education process—some report up to 90-hour workweeks—and
that travel and time spent on-site at clients’ offices can be considerable. Consultants must get
used to leaving home on Sunday for a business trip and not returning until Thursday or
Friday. Individuals who do management consulting in government agencies tend to be more
serene about their lot, citing more regular hours and interesting work. Satisfaction is generally
high in this career, despite its demands.
No specific academic requirements exist for management consultants, but nearly all
employers require at least a college degree in a related field. Employers generally prefer candidates
who majored in one of the following areas: business, economics, statistics, mathematics,
computer science, and logic. An Ivy League education is a distinct plus, and many
employers look extremely favorably on MBAs, which are necessary requirements for upward
mobility in this profession. Very little guidance is available, so candidates should demonstrate
academic, work, or entrepreneurial experience that shows them to be self-starters and
interested in excellence in whatever they do. Most major employers run their own programs
to train junior consultants in accounting, internal policy, research techniques, and how to
work as part of a close-knit, hardworking team. Experience is always valuable, but professional
certification—granted by the Institute of Management Consultants USA, Inc. only
after rigorous review—is often more important when it comes to getting hired and promoted,
especially at smaller firms. The majority of management consultants are self-employed
and work in firms of 10 or fewer people, but the highest-paid ones usually do a significant
stint at a large company, making professional contacts and building a solid reputation.
Management consultants are exposed to a variety of industries to which they frequently
migrate. Manufacturing, banking, and production are areas populated by ex-management
consultants. Other management consultants see their counterparts on the financial side—
investment bankers—making as much or more money than they do and use their financial
skills to emigrate to this field.