Since When Is Management Consulting a Real Job? A Brief Overview in 2 Parts

By Gergely Lodinsky

Never since the days of alchemy has a profession drawn as much fascination, mystery and, at times, derision as management consulting. “Since when is management consulting a real job?” asks a character in the popular TV show House of Lies. “Since it pays seven figures a year” retorts the lead character, Marty Khan, played by Don Cheadle. Despite limited public understanding of the work actually done in advisory services (or maybe as a result of a massive over-exaggeration of the salary potential!), competition to enter is intense. McKinsey, a top brand in the market, had 201,000 applicants for 2,200 places in 2012 worldwide.

But fear not: as a current management consultant for Accenture in London, the world’s largest consulting firm by revenues, and alumni of three other top consulting firms, I will help make sense of the industry and how to make it into it. This article, the first of a two part series, will serve as an introduction to consulting, what consultants do, and the important role diversity plays in the industry. There will be a follow-up article on how to be successful in the recruitment process, how to choose the right firm for you and about the different types of consulting firms.

What is consulting?

Management consultants help organisations tackle their toughest problems and challenges. Consultants act as external advisers and are tasked with identifying solutions to entrenched problems that the client might not readily see.

As a former rower, I like to use the analogy of a rowing boat. The crew rows backwards and is steered by a coxswain who is faced opposite and who has a full view of where the boat is headed. During practices and races in university, we often had a coach riding a bike alongside us on the bank of the river. Because of the distance and unique vantage point, the coach is able to see things that often even an experienced coxswain might not: details of the rowers’ technique, how well the team row together as a team, how smoothly the boat moves along the river. Similarly, a management consultant is able to bring a fresh perspective to approaching clients’ problems for the first time as an experienced outsider.

What kind of work are consultants hired to perform?

Management consultants work on projects in all industries including financial services, oil & gas, aerospace & defence, retail and others. Problems can be as elementary as helping a company increase profits, cut costs or more specific technical concerns such as implementing a new IT system into the organisation. For example, in the past 3+ years, I’ve worked on 7 very different projects. I’ve assisted a major brewery on understanding what beers they should produce, a California grocer on what product range to offer and, most recently, a major UK bank on dealing with millions of customer complaints more efficiently. No two projects are the same.

What role does gender diversity play in consulting?

Many articles have pointed out the lack of female representation in the world’s largest businesses. In 2014, Fortune 500 magazine reported the largest number of women CEOs since they first started reporting Executive Gender in 1998: a mere 24 CEOs or 4.8% of the total. Unfortunately, management consultancies suffer from a similar lack of gender diversity which is clearly shown in research performed by Giulia Tognini, now a Consultant at Cap Gemini. She found that out of 81 consulting firms surveyed, female professionals accounted for 39% of the total workforce but only 17% of total partners.
Why is a job in consulting suitable for women with young families?

Consulting firms have taken notice of the underrepresentation of women, and many have made changes to both their hiring and retention policies as a result. Accenture, for example, has committed that by 2017, at least 40 percent of new hires will be women. In the UK, the firm provides women with 9 months of maternity leave on full pay and benefits (including holiday allowance). McKinsey provides coaching and support provided by a dedicated mothers’ network manager as well as assistance to help transition back to work after maternity leave. These initiatives have yielded concrete results: in Working Mother magazine’s 100 Best Companies to work for 2015 rankings, 14 firms were in management consulting, including some of the biggest players in the market: Accenture, Deloitte, PwC, McKinsey, etc. Companies in related industries such as finance and technology often boast similar benefits; however, consulting provides a unique advantage for working mothers. Because management consulting work is project based and done on client sites, a particular role will only exist for a number of weeks or months and people will move around from position to position. Thus, a woman returning from maternity leave can simply move on to a new project and not need to ‘reclaim’ her old job. Additionally, because the consulting teams themselves change, it is entirely possible to enjoy a level of anonymity about one’s leave of absence and start afresh with a different team at a new location.

How can I break into the field of management consulting?

Now that you have an overview of the industry, look out for part 2 of this series where I explain the different areas of consulting, firms to apply with as well as the application process.,

Gergely Lodinsky is a management consultant in London with Accenture and has worked in the industry for over 3 years.

 

Sources:

1) http://fortune.com/2014/06/03/number-of-fortune-500-women-ceos-reaches-historic-high/

2) http://www.managementtoday.co.uk/news/1189719/mckinsey-head-dominic-barton-we-dont-dominate-brain-pool/

3) http://pwc.blogs.com/gender_agenda/2012/09/gender-diversity-in-professional-service-firms-female-representation-boosts-performance-.html

4) https://www.accenture.com/us-en/Careers/team-culture-diversity.aspx

5) Working Mother’s List of 100 Best Companies to Work For: http://www.workingmother.com/2015-working-mother-100-best-companies-hub

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