One can describe Consulting as a sphere of business, which grew up on the limited office space and active networking. In other words, Consulting companies sell competencies of their employees and spare office space by putting those employees in clients’ companies.
How is a consulting different from the industry? You will be the most important asset of the company, and your boss – an asset manager. If the asset manager is good, any asset will bring profit to the company – therefore, look for the companies, which generate good profits, pay well and where people are promoted and can benefit from additional education and certification opportunities.
As people are the assets, it will be crucial that you will be able to network. If you have no interest in developing your communication skills, do not enter consulting, as it will be difficult to make a career without knowing the “right people”.
At the same time, many people know that consulting gives a good career start, therefore the competition for every position is high enough. This means that you will not be missed once you are gone – there will be always a line waiting for your position. Consulting companies manage people in a way “get the maximum every time you have it”, which means that you will have a lot to do, but you can be substituted anytime. This is the business model of the consulting industry – one should never depend on any employee.
How does the working environment look like? If you did not choose a family-owned small consulting company, it will be very hard. The competition for each promotion will raise, and combining a good team work, a good political understanding while competing with your colleagues is not an easy task. The most dangerous part of the game remains upstairs – where partners compete for influence and power and may just take all the clients’ lists and projects to another consulting company..together with the most team members.
How does the lifestyle look like? Usually, you will be “on the project” between 4 and 5 days a week. Depending on the company’s size and your position, you will live in so-so or very good 3-stars hotels during the week. As not everybody is lucky enough to get a project in the city where he or she lives, one should be ready to live 4 days in a hotel and to work 1 day from the home office.
Which consulting companies are the best? It really depends on your personality. There are different consulting companies. Very large and well known like McKinsey and PWC, have a very complex application processes, very high competition for each position, quite high salaries and long overtime hours. If a standard consulting contract contains 40 hours a week + 10 hours standard overtime (you will be paid if you do more overtime or you can take those hours as a vacation), large companies will not have any overtime limits. Such companies also just LOVE titles, such as MBA or PhD, because it allows them to sell you much better to the client.
The second category is the “hidden champions”. Well known among the clients, such companies do not do a lot of high school marketing, therefore getting there is much easier. This has a plus – the overtime hours will be lower, you still will work with many interesting clients, but the pay will be lower as well.
The third category would be local, highly specialized or relatively new consulting companies. From this range, I would recommend highly specialized companies, because they will more likely invest in your education and network, and it will offer you better career opportunities later.
The fourth category would be the companies, which initially had nothing to do with consulting, such as Deloitte, EY, KPMG etc. The initial idea behind their consulting activity was to get large audit, M&A and similar projects via active consulting and develop their own network.
Which education do you need to work in Consulting? This does not matter at all. For instance, IT companies in Germany working with banks, have such a lack of employees that they started to recruit every possible candidate with good grades and motivation to learn new things. BIG4 companies promote diversity and cross-disciplinary teams, therefore even as an Engineer or IT-expert you will be welcome there.
How about the career opportunities? In Consulting, you have three ways to be promoted. You may jump from a company to a company getting one position higher every time; you may have a good political understanding and raise within one company; or you may go to one of the clients. It is acceptable that another consulting company working on the same project with you will make you an offer or that your former manager building up a new field in a competing company will ask you to join his team. Opportunities for career changes are, probably, the main reason, why good employees go to consulting, therefore the usual period one works in the consulting is 2-3 years, if one goes to a client, or 5-6 years, if one grows within the consulting industry.
How to get into Consulting? If you are about to graduate, I would advise you on going to job fairs and getting to know your potential employers. People you meet at job fairs, the feeling that they give you at the first moment, the way they talk to you will be an important indicator if you can work with them. There are also many events like Dinner with PWC, Sailing with Deloitte, Coffee with EY, Consulting day, Women’s Day by BCG etc., which allow you to get a direct contact to your potential manager without going through Assessment Centre first. Instead of preparing for days for Assessment Days, try getting direct contacts – it might be, they will save you the stress, and your application process will be limited to 1-2 interviews.
Do I need to know the local language to work in consulting? If you lack the knowledge of the local language, try large companies. They usually have employees’ exchange programs and international Trainee Programs, so they are used to work in English. Anyway, do not rely on English only if you want to be promoted one day and directly apply for a language course.
I hope that this article gave you some interesting insights from the consulting industry. Feel free to ask your questions in the comments!