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Management Consulting Career Guide

05/07/2021

Management consultants, sometimes called management analysts, recommend ways to improve an organization’s efficiency. Organizations seek their insight on reducing costs and increasing revenue to become more profitable.

The management consulting services market continues to grow worldwide. According to Adroit Market Research, the entire industry will be worth $343.52 billion by 2025. The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects U.S. jobs in management analytics to grow by 11%, with almost 94,000 jobs added by the end of this decade.

A top-notch management consultant has to be:

  • A client advocate—Clients are your bread and butter, which means you are equal parts consultant, salesperson, and customer service rep.
  • A creative thinker—You should be able to generate novel ideas and express them clearly.
  • A good listener—If you are to grasp all the nuances of a given project, you must be a good listener and ask a lot of questions.
  • A lifelong learner—As a problem-solver, you should possess a natural curiosity.
  • An organizer—If you find yourself in the role of project manager, you will need superior organization skills.
  • A people person—You should not only like working with others, but be able to put yourself in their shoes so you can understand their needs and concerns.
  • A professional—You must present yourself in a professional manner and remember that client confidentiality is of the utmost importance.
  • A team player—Consultants don't work in silos; in most cases, you will be part of a consulting team.

In deciding whether to become a business management consultant, ask yourself these questions: 

  • Do you want to be an independent consultant, or work in-house at an existing business?
  • Do you want to be a generalist or focus on a specific area or industry?

Read on to find out what management consulting is, what makes a good management consultant, and how to get into the field.

What Do Management Consultants Do?

The duties of business management consultants are determined by each project. Some projects require a team of analysts, and others rely on an individual analyst working with the managers of a client organization.

Management consultants typically:

  • Analyze financial and other data, including revenue, expenditure, and employment reports
  • Assemble and organize information about problems and procedures to solve them
  • Confer with managers to ensure changes are working
  • Develop solutions or alternative practices
  • Interview staff and make onsite observations to determine the equipment, methods, and personnel that will be needed
  • Make recommendations to management through presentations or written reports
  • Recommend new systems, procedures, or organizational changes

How to Be an Independent (External) Management Consultant

In the business world, “consultant” often refers to a person who is not a full-time employee but rather an outsider hired for a specific project or time period. This is typically the case for management consultants, too. Consultants are usually hired on a contractual basis. In fact, they are particularly valued as "outsiders" who are able to offer an unbiased perspective on any given situation.

Unless you are hired as a full-time employee of a management consulting firm, you most likely will be working as an independent contractor. You should know the positive and negative aspects of this role as you determine your career path.

Pros Cons
VarietyYou'll have the chance to work on a wider range of projects than if you chose a management track within a company. PressureBecause your clients are paying you handsomely, more is expected of you.
NetworkingYou’ll build a vast network of business connections that could prove invaluable throughout your career. Job securityOnce your contract ends (actually before it ends), you’ll have to look for your next project.
More flexibilityAs a consultant, you're not stuck in a 9-to-5 desk job. Of course, you may be working long hours, but you can set them. Lots of travelYou may rack up a lot of frequent flier miles, but extensive travel can be exhausting and get old relatively fast.
SalaryBecause the company does not have to pay your benefits, you’re likely to be well compensated. No benefitsYou will have to provide your own medical and other benefits, such as retirement accounts and health insurance.
IndependenceWhile your clients are ultimately the boss, you can choose which clients to accept. IsolationDue to considerable travel and the fact that you're not in a traditional office setting, you may experience loneliness.

How to Be an Internal Management Consultant

Many organizations have an ongoing need for third-party expertise. According to Harvard Business Review, the cost of internal strategy advisors for a typical project is as much as six times lower than the cost of hiring one of the top three consultancy firms: McKinsey & Company, Bain & Company, or The Boston Consulting Group.

As a result, many organizations often opt to form their own in-house consulting teams. An internal consulting department will be set up, and often borrow staff from various business units, to work on a given project. For example, a project may incorporate staff from departments such as corporate development, human resources, finance, project management, and IT.

Aside from cost, another advantage of internal consultants is that they have a better grasp of the organization, as well as any office politics that may exist. In addition, internal consultants usually have established relationships with key players, which can help projects run more smoothly.

How to Choose Between a Management Consultant Generalist vs. Specialist

When considering a management consulting career, you can choose to be either a generalist or a specialist. In broad strokes, a generalist focuses on breadth of knowledge, while a specialist focuses on depth of knowledge.

Some work is typically divided between generalists and specialists. Here is a typical list of duties and responsibilities for the two.

Generalists Specialists
Corporate strategy Business restructuring
Leadership Change management
Management Financial performance
Mergers Human resources
Organizational structure Managing risks and costs
Supervisory Marketing

When deciding between generalist and specialist career paths, you need to carefully consider your own strengths and the growing needs of the business world. Historically, businesses have relied on generalists for overall expertise. In today's marketplace, however, there is a trend toward specialization in all fields, including management consulting.

The book “Management Consulting: A Guide to the Profession” discusses the ongoing debate over which is preferred in the industry. Those who favor generalists consider them "real" management consultants. Others, however, contend that "generalists lack the in-depth knowledge required fully to understand and resolve problems."Ideally, the book suggests, "the specialist has to be able to look at the problem from the generalist point of view."

So which way should you go with your career? If you are passionate about a niche area, that can give you an entryway to a career. On the other hand, if you have broader interests, starting out as a generalist may be a good way to find your desired career path.

How Technology Impacts Management Consulting

For the most part, management consulting has followed a very traditional business model. However, recent technological advances have disrupted that model, bringing innovation to a field that previously shied away from it.

According to Consultancy.eu, technology has blurred the lines between traditional consulting work and technology work. Consulting used to be clearly project-based, value-adding work. Innovation and performance improvement is now being led digitally, so consulting firms are delivering much more technology work. Consultants now work with clients to design and develop apps, prototypes, and intelligent systems, as well as to perform additional tasks.

As an example, consulting giant McKinsey formed a new consulting arm, offering software and technology-based tools for data analytics and data-driven decision-making, independent of individual consultants.

Asset-based consulting is another example of how technology has changed traditional consulting. With asset-based consulting, ideas, processes, frameworks, analytics, and other intellectual property are packaged and marketed more like a product than a service. Consulting companies often use this approach in conjunction with static processes and business models.

How Trends Are Affecting Management Consulting

According to Consulting Magazine’s 2019 executive survey, firms were already starting to show signs of a slowdown because of the economy—and this was before the COVID-19 crisis. The overall numbers, however, still look good for management consultant jobs.

The BLS expects strong growth in consulting companies that specialize in certain industries or specific business functions, such as information technology or human resources. The agency also sees growth in healthcare and government agencies as they seek to reduce spending and improve efficiency.

If you are just starting out in business, consider an internship in management consulting. This can help you decide which career path suits you best. You also can decide whether you want to be a generalist or specialist, an independent consultant, or part of an in-house team.

To learn more about management consulting, contact a professional organization. The Institute of Management Consultants is one of dozens of management consulting organizations around the globe. Such organizations offer their members a variety of benefits, from certifications, to training, to networking opportunities.

Learn More About the Online MSBA

If you are looking to advance your career in consulting and analytics, consider the Wake Forest online Master of Science in Business Analytics (MSBA). The MSBA enables working professionals to develop capabilities and technical expertise to create business and social value, giving you marketable skills often sought by today's top employers.

Request more information from Wake Forest today.