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What is Management Consulting and How to Become a Management Consultant

Updated: Sep 28, 2023



Fancy Suits


Business skyscrapers


Traveling around the world


These are the images that come to mind when we think of a consultant's life. Management consulting stands as an exciting, esteemed career choice and is one of the highest-paying, lucrative roles post-graduation. With its enticing combination of substantial salaries, travel opportunities, a dynamic work environment, and the potential to secure a prestigious role with industry leaders, it's easy to see why. All the big firms turn to consulting firms like McKinsey, Bain, and Deloitte to solve some of their biggest challenges and strategic imperatives because consultants are trained to be the best problem solvers. It therefore makes sense why so many companies want to hire consultants and the opportunities for consultants are limitless. It's the only position that can allow you to go into any field, easily break into big techs without any coding knowledge, and advance into leadership position in any company. It's the equivalent of getting a MBA degree!


If you're contemplating a career in management consulting, it's essential to understand what the role entails, the day-to-day responsibilities, all the perks and benefits, and most importantly, how to get there.


What is Management Consulting?


Management consulting is all about problem-solving, collaborating and strategizing with businesses to identify solutions to their biggest and most complex challenges. Consultants evaluate the present condition of an organization, identify opportunities for enhancement, and create and execute strategies to enhance operational performance, refine business processes, bring about digital transformation, and augment revenue streams. Businesses seek expert advice and guidance from consultants to help them scale and transform, making consultants the industry experts and doctors in the business world.


Consultants work on anything from business management, marketing, strategic planning, supply chain, to workforce productivity. They engage with senior executives of an organization and may focus on a specific industry or across various industries and sectors, including public and private companies, government agencies, and non-profit organizations.


Some of the emerging trends in management consulting include digital transformation, sustainability integration, agile and remote work adoption, change management and employee experience focus, data analytics and insights utilization, and emphasis on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives. These trends reflect the evolving needs of businesses in a rapidly changing world. Management consultants are thus in high demand to provide expertise in leveraging technology, implementing sustainable strategies, optimizing remote work, managing organizational change, using data analytics for decision-making, and promoting inclusive cultures. By staying ahead of these trends, consultants can help organizations navigate complexities and drive success in an ever-evolving business landscape.


As a management consultant, you'll interact with clients both domestically and internationally, either within a consulting firm or as an independent consultant.


What does a Consultant do?


A management consultant's primary function is to tackle complex business challenges, provide expert advice and guidance to clients in areas such as strategy, operations, finance, marketing, and organizational structure. Specific tasks vary based on the organization, project, and the unique issues. While the specifics differ, certain core areas remain consistent across all management consulting roles, requiring a particular skill set.


Three Core Focus Areas for Management Consultants

  1. Expertise and Specialization: Management consultants provide industry advice and expertise in specialized domains such as business strategy, business restructuring, business operations and processes, risk management, mergers and acquisitions (M&A), marketing, digital transformation, talent management, organizational change management, governance, strategic leadership and more.

  2. Analysis & Assessment: A management consultant serves as an objective third party to conduct in-depth research and analysis and then provides an unbiased opinion and perspective on challenging issues and complex business problems.

  3. Project Management: Management consultants are hands-on in implementing the solutions they devise. This involves working closely with teams to deliver and monitor solutions, often directly engaging with senior management.

Common Tasks


While a management consultant's responsibilities hinge on the specific company, industry, specialty area, and project, some common tasks include:

  • Understanding a business's challenges and needs through consultations with senior management and staff.

  • Devising solutions aligned with the company's processes, culture, and objectives.

  • Scrutinizing company data, policies, and financials to gain a comprehensive overview.

  • Constructing a work roadmap, inclusive of schedules and targets.

  • Keeping senior management updated on project progress, milestones, and any alterations.

  • Engaging with employees at all levels to facilitate seamless implementation and garner support from those affected.

  • Conducting staff training on new systems, processes, and technologies.

  • Attending to employee concerns and feedback to ensure smooth acceptance of changes.

  • Monitoring outcomes to ensure successful project delivery.

Essential Skills


You can master consulting skills by self-studying, taking online courses, taking a MBA course, or interning and working. Success in this role requires proficiency in:

  • Analytical and research capabilities.

  • Thriving under pressure.

  • Teamwork and collaborative aptitude.

  • Industry knowledge & commercial acumen.

  • Problem-solving prowess.

  • Interpersonal and communication skills.

  • Presentation proficiency.

  • Simplifying complex information.

  • Data analysis, analytics and modeling.

  • Strategies.

  • Leadership and taking initiatives.

  • Prioritization and organization.

  • Building and nurturing relationships (networking).


Why should you get into Consulting?


There are so many compelling reasons why you'd consider consulting as a career, from substantial earnings to a promising professional trajectory, along with dynamic workloads and abundant opportunities for promotion. Here are just some of the major perks:

  1. Lucrative Compensation: Management consultants enjoy the promise of robust financial returns. As per data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual income for a management consultant stands at $93,000, with the top 10 percent in the field earning upwards of $163,760. Moreover, consultants employed by consulting firms often receive not only a fixed annual salary but also performance-based bonuses.

  2. Rosy Career Outlook: The employment prospects for management consultants are highly favorable, with an anticipated growth rate of 10% from 2021 to 2031, resulting in the creation of around 100,000 new positions. This rate surpasses the average for most other professions. Notably, smaller consultancies and those specializing in technology are expected to witness the most substantial expansion. You acquire skills in areas such as data analysis, strategic planning, project management, and change management. This broad skill set not only enhances your marketability but also equips you with transferable skills that can be applied in different industries and roles.

  3. Continuous Growth Opportunities: Management consultants benefit from frequent avenues for professional development and career advancement. Seasoned consultants may assume senior roles involving team management, tackling intricate projects, and even generating new business for their companies. For exceptionally adept management consultants, the prospect of ascending to the esteemed partner level is attainable. Many professionals in this field transition into various business management roles, leveraging the skills honed during their consulting careers.

  4. Networking Opportunities: Consulting offers immense networking opportunities. Working with different clients and collaborating with colleagues from diverse backgrounds allows you to build a strong professional network that will allow you to land a job anywhere.

  5. Influence and Impact: As a consultant, you have the opportunity to make a significant impact on the businesses you work with. Your recommendations and strategies can drive positive change, improve efficiency, and help businesses achieve their goals. This sense of influence and contribution can be personally fulfilling and rewarding.

  6. Flexibility and Mobility: Many consulting firms offer flexibility in terms of work location and schedule. Remote work options and travel opportunities are common in the consulting industry. This flexibility provide a better work-life balance and allow you to experience different cultures and environments. What's better than flying business class to Japan and London and staying at 5-star hotels and eating at Michelin-star restaurants, all on the company's dime?

  7. Dynamic, Diverse, and Challenging Work Environment: Consulting is dynamic, varied, and fast-paced. It's a field where you learn to cope with stressful environment, timelines, and personalities, allowing you to grow immensely and be intellectually stimulated. You also develop the most skills and industry knowledge in the shortest amount of time. Compared to most professionals who would work an average of in 3 jobs in a span of 15 years, you are constantly moving from projects to projects, different companies to different industries, and you can easily get exposure to 10 different companies in just 2 years without having to apply for each one. You're constantly learning, networking, solving problems across various industries and different companies so you're developing skills continually, opening you to so many doors when you seek new opportunities. While the hours can be extensive and the competition fierce, the work is intellectually stimulating and the benefits are well worth it. These may encompass opportunities for travel, performance-based bonuses, company vehicles, gym memberships, and the privilege of collaborating with senior-level executives from prominent multinational corporations. This allure is a significant draw for many aspiring management consultants.

How to become a Consultant?


Management consulting positions are in high demand, but competition is intense. Most entrants commence at the entry level and progress upwards. This trajectory demands a high level of education, experience, and skill.


1. Research Your Choice of Firms


The bulk of management consultants work for a consulting firm. They vary in size and specialty and can be broken down into

  • The Big 3: Bain, McKinsey, and Boston Consulting Group (BCG)

  • Tier 2: Accenture, Kearney, Oliver Wyman, L.E.K.

  • The Big 4: PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), Deloitte, Ernst & Young (EY), and KPMG

  • Smaller boutique firms that handle a number of smaller or specialized projects

  • Independent consultants who are self-employed


2. Get a Degree


At a minimum, you should get a bachelor's degree. Pursue a degree in business, management, economics, finance, engineering, or a related discipline. This provides a strong foundation in business principles and fundamental knowledge essential for a management consulting career. Taking courses in data analysis, strategy, organizational behavior, and marketing will also equip you with the necessary consulting skills since these are common areas businesses seek expertise on.


If you want an even bigger edge, you can also pursue a master's degree or MBA. Earning a master's degree can enhance your qualifications and competitiveness in the field as it offers a comprehensive understanding of business management concepts and provides opportunities for networking and internships. Other master's degrees in fields like economics, finance, or organizational behavior can also be valuable.


Many consulting firms hire candidates directly from college, so undergraduate and graduate schools, particularly MBA, are popular avenues to get into consulting.


3. Develop Your Skills & Find a Coach


Look for opportunities to enhance your consulting skills, such as data analysis, data modeling, problem-solving frameworks, industry-specific knowledge, and effective communication, through online courses like Coursera, Udemy, or even Youtube videos. Many prestigious universities like Harvard or Berkeley post their lectures online for you to learn free of charge. Attending workshops, seminars, and industry conferences can also be valuable for staying updated with the latest trends and best practices. Consider also developing technical skills and gaining expertise in a particular system like CRM will also make you more attractive to consulting firms. I also highly recommend finding a coach to help guide you through the required skills and give you the necessary mentorship and best practices. You can find them on inohq.com.


4. Network and Build Relationships


Brush up on your Linkedin profile! Networking plays a crucial role in the consulting industry. Actively engage in professional networking events, join industry associations, and connect with experienced consultants are key in breaking into the field. Building and maintaining relationships with other consultants can lead to valuable mentorship opportunities, referrals, and potential job offers. Referrals are the best way to get a consulting job. You can start by joining the large consultant community on inohq.com and start connecting with other consultants.


5. Study Case Interviews


Case interviews are a common part of the consulting recruitment process and simulate real life scenarios when you work on a client project as a consultant. These interviews assess your ability to analyze problems, develop structured approaches, and communicate your findings effectively. Practicing case interviews and familiarizing yourself with different case frameworks is essential for success, and you can check out sample case interview questions and resources and work with a case coach on inohq.com. I recommend Case in Point by Marc Patrick Cosentino and Case Interview Secrets by Victor Cheng.


6. Get Certified


Pursuing pertinent certifications can further set you apart from other management consultant aspirants. These certifications validate your credentials and enhance your skill set and knowledge base. Some noteworthy certifications include:

  1. Certified Management Consultant (CMC): This is a professional designation granted by the Institute of Management Consultants USA (IMC USA) to individuals who meet certain educational, experience, and ethical standards.

  2. Project Management Professional (PMP): This is a certification offered by the Project Management Institute (PMI) for individuals who demonstrate a deep understanding of project management best practices.

  3. Six Sigma Black Belt: This is a certification that recognizes individuals who have demonstrated expertise in the Six Sigma process improvement methodology, which is widely used in the management consulting field.

  4. Certified Scrum Master (CSM): This is a certification offered by the Scrum Alliance for individuals who have demonstrated proficiency in the Agile software development method.

  5. Certified Lean Six Sigma Green Belt (CLSSGB): This is a certification that recognizes individuals who have demonstrated competence in the Lean Six Sigma methodology, which combines Lean principles and Six Sigma quality tools.

7. Apply for Jobs & Gain Relevant Professional Experience


Now that you understand the process and are skilling up, it's time to actually apply for consulting jobs. Accruing relevant experience is a must to build your resume, whether it be projects, internships, pro-bono work or freelancing. The higher the position you're aiming for, the more experience you'll need. Any experience showcasing industry knowledge and expertise, leadership, and communication skills is critical. Consider internships or entry-level positions in consulting firms or related fields to gain exposure to real-world business challenges. This experience will allow you to develop essential skills and build a strong professional network.


If you're an undergraduate student, you can start with summer internships at the Big 4 or the Big 3, as they often have great summer business analyst programs that eventually turn into full time offers after you graduate.


If you're a graduate student, there are also summer consulting internship for MBA students that are higher level.


If you're fresh off college, you would be seeking entry level positions such as a Business Analyst.


If you're an experienced hire with 1-2 years of experiences, you'd be targeting a Consultant position.


If you have a MBA or 3-5 years of experiences, you'd want to apply for a Senior Consultant role.


If you have prior management experiences, you can apply for Manager, Director or above positions.


A typical career path for a consultant is:

  1. Intern

  2. Business Analyst

  3. Sr. Business Analyst

  4. Consultant / Associate

  5. Sr. Consultant / Sr. Associate

  6. Manager

  7. Sr. Manager

  8. Director / Principal Consultant

  9. Partner

There are 2 paths you can take in consulting: management path where you manage teams and are responsible for bringing in deals and building your accounts or individual contributor path where you become a highly technical specialist and will be the subject matter expert (SME) in the room when facing a client.


When applying for consulting roles, tailor your resume and cover letter to highlight your relevant skills and experiences. Emphasize your problem-solving abilities, project management skills, and industry expertise. Prepare thoroughly for interviews, showcasing your analytical thinking, communication skills, and passion for the consulting profession. Consider working with a consulting coach to help you through the entire application process.


Taking the Next Step


Pursuing a career as a consultant is rewarding and fulfilling but requires a solid mix of education, relevant experiences, and the development of critical consulting skills. If you're eager to embark on a consulting career, consider working with a consulting coach at inohq.com. Tailored for anyone at different stages of the career, we help equip you with the knowledge and expertise needed to succeed in the field. With a focus on mentorship, skill-building, networking, resume writing, recruiting, job application, and case interview preparation, you get the end to end service to help you land your dream consulting job and build a solid foundation for a career in consulting.

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