The Market: There are consultants available for every single industry, from telecommunications to marketing to supply chain. Just like the accounting firms, the big consultants serve the big corporations. Although many people lean towards management consulting as the sexier arm (also very well compensated). I am currently in a mixture of management consulting, supply chain and procurement role, so I scope is more limited to those 3 functions.
The Big Players: Within management consulting, the top tier firms are Boston Consulting Group, Mckinsey, Bain, Booz and AT Kearney, get into any of those 5 and you’re doing very well for yourself! The big 4 accounting firms also offer advisory services and cover a broader range of industry market. IBM/Accenture are huge in the IT market and SKM is a large pillar for engineering services.
Entry: Just like you would imagine, gaining employment in the top tier firms isn’t easy, spectacular university marks (I’m unsure what the American/EU standards are) are necessary, work experience is essential, powerpoint/excel competency is a prerequisite and anything beyond is a good premium to have. One thing all these firms have in common is that they ask the same bloody interview questions! And this is where I hope I can add the most value here, to provide an insight into what the employers are seeking. You may or may not heard of these questions but they are industry standards, they will put you on the spot with what you might perceive as absolutely random questions:
1. The most infamous: how many golf balls are there on a jumbo jet? The answer isn’t “I don’t know, never been on a plane” or “162,452”. You must note that they are NOT after a discrete answer but what they ARE seeking is a structured approach to tackle the solution and the assumptions you make (I’ll come back to this key point later). The way you should answer this is by making a whole load of realistic assumptions; e.g. jumbo is a 3-4-3 with 2 aisle configuration, assume 40cm widths per seat and etc etc until you derive the volume of the jumbo and divide it by the assumed volume of the golf ball.
2. A ramp up on difficulty might be something like: how many 10cent coins are there on X Street at any point in time. Again, this comes down to developing key assumptions such as 10cent coin per pedestrian/household/business, then start extrapolating on number of pedestrian/household/business and finally incorporate external factors like time of day (more pedestrians at 9am and 5pm), public transport and entertainment events etc etc. Employers do not care about the answer, they don’t expect a discrete answer (they wouldn’t know themselves), all they want to see are good assumptions and a structured approach.
3. The hardest one I’ve heard was: how many rats are there in New York city: I’ll leave that one to you guys to see how you would answer this one.
The remainder of the interview questions will usually consist of basic set behavioural questions that you can google yourself (this is dependent on the role you applied) the more senior it is the less behaviour and more experience related questions you will be asked.
The Cost/Benefit: Remind yourself that working in a big consultant company = working long long hours, almost approaching investment banking hours. You don’t get compensated as well as the IB guys buy the reward is EXPOSURE. Being a consultant means that you will be working all the big industries out there, banking, construction, telecommunications and so on. You get to develop a rapid understanding on the mechanisms of each industry and if you are lucky, you meet the right people that like you (hang on to these people), the exposure allows you to pursue an industry role that you desire knowing the exact preference. You will definitely at some stage be offered a job by your client, if you don’t then you’re not a very good consultant. While the bonus and pay are pretty decent, the biggest reward for myself is the industry exposure and meeting the key stakeholders, in other words – resume building and social networking. The downside however is the long hours, and depending on your rank, you will either be an excel drone or a powerpoint monkey although both are good skills to have and you will eventually “fall in love” both programs. At some stage you will realise that the work you are doing is all bullshit, and you would be right. There is a saying that goes something like “Consultants borrow your watch to tell you the time then walk off with your watch”, however hilarious the analogy goes, it is fairly accurate, coming back to the “assumptions” point above, consultancy is all about making assumptions to reach a conclusion (telling you what time it is) and we’ll charge you a crap load (getting the watch back). So don’t be surprised that you will be frustrated with the deliverables and the long hours you are putting in all end up down a garbage chute. This shouldn’t come at a surprise that given the allotted timeframe, consultants must understand the functioning mechanisms of the business unit to make a quick judgement that may have significant impact on the company’s strategy (see, I just wrote a line of fluff).
You will also be travelling…A LOT…I am lucky because my company has a policy of returning to office on Friday so I get to be home at least 3 days a week but it also means I’m flying 2-4 times a week. It might sound exotic and exciting at first, but the dread you get on a Sunday night and the notion of living out of a suitcase is straight out of Clooney’s “up in the air” and for those who have watched the movie knows how bad it can get. Subsequently, consultant firms are generally younger in medium age and would be a terrible profession for a family man.
Conclusion: I guess this is more of a TLDR, being a consultant will pay you well, allow you to travel a lot, meet the right people and provide you with exposure with multiple industries but you will be working long hours, doing BS work and never be home! I hope I provided everyone with some useful insights into the consulting world. Please do not hesitate to ask questions for any clarifications. Do note that I don’t know too much beyond the industries I work in currently, although I can safely assume that it’s all as BS as mine.
Oh yer, as Idra would say, excel/powerpoint is a good skill toi have
Thanks for reading TL’ers =]