How Can I Break into Management Consulting?

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Rodrigo from ITESM asks:

“I graduated 2 years ago with an International Business bachelor’s degree, and I’m trying to switch into management consulting. What can I do?”

Thanks for your question, Rodrigo.  So, you are interested in management consulting?  Great news!  I’m sure by now you already know about the long hours, incredibly tight project deadlines, constant priority and strategy shifting, extreme client focus, and extensive travel that management consultants endure.

It can be a rewarding field in terms of skill development and compensation.  It truly takes a special kind of professional to succeed in this field, and it isn’t for everyone.

Excellent management consultants are known for their fearlessness, problem solving skills, strong business acumen, technical know-how, client focus, change management expertise, and the ability to think quickly on their feet.  If these attributes describe you, Rodrigo, then management consulting might be the fit you are targeting.

As with any field, you’ll need to develop a strong personal marketing campaign (job search) to land your starting point opportunity within this field.

Below are some strategies you can implement in your campaign to move towards your objective to get into management consulting.

Management Consulting Paths

There are a few different paths to follow to get into management consulting including:

  1. Big 5 Consulting Firms: KPMG Consulting, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Ernst & Young, Deloitte Touche Consulting, and Accenture make up the “Big 5” consulting firms.  These companies generally work on projects for Fortune 500 companies.  Advantages include: well-developed and defined consulting methodologies, lots of projects, exceptional training programs and career paths.  Disadvantages include: bias towards young workers (may be a positive for you, Rodrigo), bureaucracy, and internal company politics.
  2. “Boutique” Firms: Of course, these firms are much smaller than the “Big 5” firms, and usually specialize in particular industries.  Advantages include: generally better access to senior consultants for good mentoring opportunities, more frequent client contact, less “red tape” or bureaucracy.  Disadvantages include:  Less established operating infrastructure, fewer opportunities for exposure.
  3. Consulting Divisions: Companies in this space include IBM and Oracle to name a couple of key players.  Advantages include: well-developed and defined consulting methodologies, lots of projects, exceptional training programs and career paths.  Disadvantages include: same as “Big 5” – bureaucracy and internal politics.
  4. Self-Employed: Through this path, you are self-employed and/or start your own small business. Advantages include:  having total creative control, ground-up learning opportunities, direct work with clients, great learning opportunities, all the profits are for you.  Disadvantages include: you will have go “hunt” for business as it won’t just come to you.  You’ll always have to be marketing and selling your services.

Strengthen Your Management Consulting Network (Network, Network, Network!)

People hire people, not computers.  We need the help of others to succeed both on the job and in life.  Networking (engaging with people) is, was, and will always produce the best results.  Embrace saying hello to others, while reconnecting with people you already know.  One of the first things you should do is let all of your friends, family members, and connections know exactly what you are looking for and that you’d be grateful for any assistance that they can offer to you.  While many may not be able to help with a job lead, these individuals can offer tips, leads, introductions, referrals, and more that can be a stepping stone to landing the job.

Make sure to grow your circle of influence and network by attending community events, especially those frequented by management consultants and/or management consultant firms.  Join professional associations in your field to connect with others in your field.  Utilize LinkedIn to grow your virtual network, find posted jobs, connect with recruiters, further your value proposition through skills endorsements and recommendations, and join industry related groups.

Build and Implement a Solid Self-Marketing Plan (i.e. Good Job Search Plan)

Think of your job search as your own personal sales and marketing campaign.  You are the product, so you need to know all of the features, values, and benefits you can offer to a prospective employer.  Personally, I don’t like the term, “job search”, as it sounds like you are lifting up rocks to “find” something.  Mentally reposition the search while thinking of it as a campaign.  You are connecting with people, especially prospective employers and decision makers to highlight your value proposition (what you can do for them) detailing how you can solve their problems.  Also, you will sell to the buyer – in this case, the hiring manager.  This is the person who has the power to hire you.  Focus your efforts primarily on the hiring manager.

Most job seekers mistakenly assume employers post all jobs online through various job boards and company sites.  Employers are competing for talent similar to the way you are competing for jobs with other candidates.  Current data shows that many employers find employee referrals as a great way to fill job openings.  In fact, recruitment by referrals is utilized for over 25 percent of openings.

Jobs won’t always be posted online.  So, I suggest that you reverse this thinking by targeting employers.  Don’t wait for employers to post available jobs.  Develop a list of 25-50 prospective employers in your area that may have opportunity in line with your skills, experience, education, and interests.  Do some additional research and determine a decision maker to whom you’ll address your letter and resume.  This is a great way to get your value proposition into the hands of the person with the power to start a dialogue and ultimately hire you.  Companies are always hiring.  The downside is that they may not always be hiring on your timeline.  Get to the employer before everyone else.

Utilizing this strategy allows you to be proactive, rather than passively waiting for jobs to be posted.  It can make all the difference in the world to landing an interview.  Remember, you only need one job.

Target marketing and employee incentive referral programs as described above can be very powerful.  Consider adding other job search methods including:

  • Networking – Engage your network to build your own marketing army filled with individuals who can potentially provide tips, leads, referrals, introductions, job placement, and more.
  • Visit Employers in Person – Don’t be afraid to visit a prospective employer in person as a part of your strategy. While many employers today won’t accept walk-in resumes or applications, it still can allow you to gain some further insight and useful information that can be used in the future.  Make sure to dress appropriately for your visit and bring several copies of your resume in case the employer is willing to accept it.
  • Recruiters – While recruiters work for and are paid by their company (direct recruiter) or client (3rd party recruiter), these individuals need qualified candidates to fill direct jobs or put in front of client companies. Develop a rapport with recruiters, especially those who specialize in placing candidates with (or within) management consultant firms.
  • Job Leads Via Job Boards Using Double-Hit – After applying online, most go into hope and pray mode as they hope and pray an employer calls them in for an interview. Be proactive with employers by following up on all your applications.  Additionally, target market your value proposition to the hiring manager as well.  Research to determine who the decision maker is and craft a strong message to this individual highlighting how you can help them.  This is a great way to get your resume into the hands of the person who is making the hiring decision.  The first step is to apply through HR, then target the decision maker / hiring manager – the double-hit.  Utilizing this strategy allows you to be proactive, rather than passively waiting for a response.  It can make all the difference in the world to landing an interview.

Contact Your Career Center for Guidance

Most colleges and universities offer career preparation services to current students at no additional cost.  Simply put, students, like you, should leverage their career center as it is a valuable resource.  College career centers are staffed with knowledgeable, skilled, and credentialed professionals who can provide assistance in a variety of areas including resume review, interview skills training, job search strategy, and more.  Your university’s career center can likely provide some further insight to help you develop strategies to accomplish your goal of landing a position in management consulting.  Additionally, they likely have an exclusive job board for current students and recent alumni. Tap into this resource and speak with someone soon.

Putting It All Together

I can appreciate why you are interested in this field as it would likely allow you to travel extensively, make good money, offer a variety of work/challenges, and lots of flexibility.  However, it will require an incredible amount of hard work and long hours to be sure.  It isn’t for everyone, especially those who have a family or other time-intensive passions.

If management consulting is your calling, then start by building a strong network within this field, especially with the “Big 5” firms and other boutique companies.  Utilize a proactive job search effort and don’t give up on your plan even if you encounter some obstacles and setbacks along the way.  A solid plan combined with a strong desire and commitment to succeed along with consistent effort is always a winning formula when it comes to achieving a worthwhile goal.  You’ve got this, Rodrigo!

Good luck and best wishes!

Here’s to your success,

Bob Nealon



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About the Author

Robert Nealon

For almost 10 years, Bob Nealon has been a South Florida-based career coach, focused on training and coaching college students and professional-level clients to achieve success in their employment search campaign and careers. He has trained over 5,000 clients with strategies on how to best compete in today’s ultra-competitive market to land the job and advance their career. Currently, he is a career coach at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Sports Management from Indiana University, a master’s degree in Sports Administration from Indiana State University and is a multi-credentialed career coach holding industry certifications as a Certified Professional Career Coach, Certified Professional Résumé Writer, Certified Employment Interview Professional, Certified Empowerment and Motivational Coach, Global Career Development Facilitator, and Florida Certified Workforce Professional. He is an active member of Professional Association of Resume Writers and Career Coaches, Center for Credentialing and Education, Florida Association of Colleges and Employers, National Association of Colleges and Employers, and National Career Development Association. Connect with Bob via LinkedIn and Twitter.

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