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Strategy/Consulting

Is Management Consulting the Right Post-MBA Career For Me?

This article is sponsored by Menlo Coaching.

We spoke with Alex Stanton, a recent MBA from UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, about her decision to take a consulting job at EY Parthenon. She shares her approach to researching the industry and some of the pros and cons of consulting work.

Why Choose Management Consulting?

Consulting is a great career path if you want to build a broad skill set that includes everything from critical thinking and strategic planning to communications. If you love rising to a challenge where there is always something new to learn, consulting is an ideal career.

A consulting career builds upon a variety of skills, exposes you to different industries, and opens doors to many different roles later in your career. By emphasizing strategy and leadership skills, consultants often find that they can have their pick of career exits to various industries or advancing to partnership at a consulting firm.

Researching the Consulting Career Path

If you have ever thought about consulting, you are probably aware of the big three firms: McKinsey, Bain, and BCG. But there are other firms to research as you look for a good fit, including Parthenon, Deloitte, Strategy&, KPMG, Oliver Wyman, Accenture Strategy, A.T. Kearny, L.E.K., and others. How do you learn about these firms and their reputations? How do you figure out which firm fits you best?

Informational Interviews

One of the best ways to research consulting is to speak with consultants to help you get a sense of which industries various firms are involved with and how they are structured. It will be especially helpful to connect with women at each firm to learn more about company culture and advancement opportunities. Connections you make now will continue to benefit you once you’ve entered an MBA program and are going through the recruitment process.

Newsletters

Most firms have newsletters you can sign up for. Among the wealth of information they provide is an event schedule with webinars focused on your areas of interest; for example: a particular industry, or women/under-represented demographic groups in business. They will also have information about pre-MBA programs, including scholarships and networking opportunities (such as Experience Bain, McKinsey’s Emerging Scholars Program, or Deloitte’s Consulting Immersion Program, to name a few).

Joining the Consulting Club During Your MBA

Every major MBA program will have a consulting club that is focused on helping you to prepare for this career path. Through the club, you can access networking opportunities, internships, case interview prep, and second-year students willing to share their experiences, among other resources.

The Recruitment Process

Firms go out of their way to make themselves available to MBA candidates. Top firms will usually station two people on campus full-time during the recruiting season: a consultant, who is available to practice cases with you and tell you about their work experience, and a recruiting professional, who handles the nuts and bolts of the recruiting process. Besides this, many consulting professionals will visit campus for info sessions, closed-group dinners, diversity recruiting events, and more. Finally, your alumni network can provide even more contacts to connect with throughout the process.

Other Benefits of Research

The consulting recruitment process is synergistic with the MBA admissions process, so whichever task you do first will benefit the other. If you are doing your research on the right firm for you and the various ins and outs of the consulting business, you might also find that you are already putting in the legwork for the career goals portion of your MBA application and essays.

Pros and Cons of Working in the Management Consulting Industry

Intense Work Schedules + Motivated Colleagues

Consulting involves long hours and stressful work. It can be a grueling schedule. It is not unusual to stay at work until two in the morning. And the hours can be quite volatile. You might leave at 4am on one day, only to arrive at 9am the next morning. The positive side of this is that you will form intense relationships with your colleagues. The hours may be variable and long, but they will be spent in great company.

Experience a Wide Variety of Industries

The constant change as you work on different projects will give you a lot of independence. If you find a particular industry less than stimulating, you’ll have an opportunity to move on to a new one in no time. The downside is you don’t become an expert in anything right away. It typically takes a couple of years to begin to specialize in a particular industry or function and get the experience needed. Additionally, because the client usually owns the implementation of your proposed strategy, you may be gone before your recommendations are actually implemented.

Build a Range of Skills

Consulting work will give you the chance to put skills you learned in your MBA program to good work. These might include research, presentation skills, on your feet decision-making, problem solving, and project/personnel management. If getting to work in a variety of functions is a plus, consulting is definitely a job to consider. If you find the constant change and the need to switch functions difficult or chaotic, consulting might not be the best career option.

Management Consulting Salaries

This one is all positive! Consultants are very well compensated for their work. Just as important as the high initial compensation is the steep trajectory as you advance to a manager role, and then either exit to industry or commit to the partner track. This long-term increase in your compensation is a big part of why most people commit to the expense of an MBA in the first place, which we discuss in a separate article.

Typical Path

Entry Points

Professionals join the consulting field either upon graduating college, entering as an “associate,” “business analyst,” or “associate consultant.” It can take about two years to get to the next level. You can also enter as an MBA graduate at the “consultant” level, a position that can last two to three years before advancing to a manager role, depending on the firm.

Advancement

  • Project or Engagement Manager. Project managers tend to be in their positions for two to three years, gaining critical leadership skills.
  • Partner. Partnership at a consulting firm is the top tier of leadership for those who wish to remain in the field
  • Exit to Industry. Instead of moving on to partner levels, many in consulting prefer to leave the field in order to work specifically in an industry they have gained expertise in, serving in a variety of management and leadership roles.

Alice Van Harten started coaching MBA applicants in 2007, founded Menlo Coaching in 2012, and now enjoys seeing the number of non-traditional applicants admitted into top-tier MBA programs grow steadily, year over year. Together with David (her partner), Rebecca, Ava, Leslie, Julie, Marissa, Olga, Puja, and Yaron, the team at Menlo Coaching offers the perfect blend of 1-on-1 coaching, interview prep, career consulting and step-by-step guidance through the MBA application process. If you want to get into a top MBA program, there’s no better place to start than right here: Winning Admission to a Top MBA: An Exhaustive Guide.

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