A Day in the Life of a 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.
Paying Your Dues
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.
Present and Future
Management consulting is a relatively new occupation and one that took off in the 1960s
with the growth of management sciences as a valid academic course of study. Business
schools and economics departments across the nation produced a spate of literature on the
subject of “management organization” and analysis of worker and company efficiency. To
support this purely theoretical science, they began collecting and distributing data on organization,
productivity, and capacity, giving companies a greater understanding of the forces
affecting their organizations. Small consulting firms with specific areas of expertise developed
in the 1970s, and the 1980s saw the birth of the management consultant generalist, who
applied general principles of management to individual companies and emerged with recommendations.
The work of these management consultants was validated in the 1990s: companies
with more than 10,000 employees who followed their consultants’ recommendations
experienced an average increase of 21 percent in revenue after five years.
Management consulting is a growing profession, and significant opportunities are projected
for the future. Competition for these positions will, however, be intense.
Quality of Life
PRESENT AND FUTURE
Management consultants reported that quality of life is a trade-off at first. Most
individuals have gone through initial training programs and are junior members of
consulting teams. The hours are very long. Salaries—consisting of an average base
wage and significant potential for bonuses—are high for entry-level positions. A number of
consultants said that in these initial years, they learned not only how to analyze a company’s
management but also how to enjoy working hard and getting results with a small group of
bright and dedicated people.
FIVE YEARS OUT
Five-year management consultants are team leaders who manage projects instead of
working on-site all the time. Satisfaction jumps as people who are successful receive
salaries commensurate with their staggering hours. Duties at this stage for management
consultants include managing accounts, directing production of reports, and reviewing
the analyses of more junior associates.
TEN YEARS OUT
Ten-year veterans continue to find their work very exciting. Why else would they be
willing to work 60 hours a week after 10 years on the job? One answer may be that
salaries can be enormous. They are experienced, dedicated professionals who very
much enjoy applying their skills to their work. At the most senior levels, management consultants
are involved in such sensitive areas as recruiting new business, working closely with
clients, and directing company policy.