What is consulting?
A consultancy is a firm which sells the expertise and time of its employees to another corporate entity. Accenture Senior Executive Gib Bulloch tells The Gateway that, a consultant is to a business what a doctor is to a patient - we identify and diagnose challenges and opportunities for companies, and then help them to develop a plan of action."
The large management consultancy firms provide advice on many areas, including corporate structure and funding, risk, tax, technology, operational issues and human resources and, increasingly, sustainability. Some focus in particular on "strategy", which means studying the way a company works in the context of its financial and market position to determine what its aims for the future, and approaches to achieving those aims, should be. There are also consultancies focused on specific issues, for example, outsourcing of technology services, or industries, for example, oil and gas. Accenture, one of the world's largest consultancy firms, offers all industries and specialisms.
Why use consultants?
Companies choose to use consultancies for a variety of reasons. Often, a client will turn to a consultancy firm for access to specialist knowledge that they do not have in-house, for example, on the best kind of IT system to use for a particular purpose, or on a complex environmental issue. Sometimes consultants are used for a project with a defined scope and term, for example, advising on the merging of two divisions of an organisation. Some companies use consultants to get a fresh perspective, for example, if it recognises that it is not performing as well as its competitors and wants an external opinion on why.
What kind of clients do consultancies have?
Companies from every major sector use consultancies, including corporates and other professional services firms - even governments. Some consultancies are focused on clients in a particular industry, for example, energy or law.
Life as an analyst
Hugo - first year analyst
What internships with Accenture did you do before you became an analyst?
I completed two internships with Accenture before I was offered my full-time role. The first was the eight month Horizons Scheme, which I took part in straight after leaving school. I quickly picked up the need to take complex problems, find manageable solutions, and then implement them - great preparation for an analyst job. I returned in 2007 for a two month internship with Accenture Development Partnerships (a part of our business that applies Accenture's expertise to the development sector) and worked in La Paz, Bolivia and Los Angeles with Save The Children to develop their IT strategy.
What are you working on at the moment?
Right now I'm working on a huge global retail project, which involves about ten thousand stores around the world. I'm part of a team working to make these sites run more efficiently. The system we're using to do so has been under development for around two years - we've been working out precisely what the business needs and how we can deliver it. It's now at the stage where we can take our solution out to them. At the moment I am working on locations in Hong Kong, helping them get the new system up and running.
Are you enjoying your work?
Yes! It's fantastic when you put hours into something very complex and get to see a result - you get the feeling that you are really improving the way that your clients do business. For me, one of the best moments was when we took the first site live on my current project in Hong Kong. We'd spent six months working incredibly hard to make sure it was a success, and it all worked without any difficulty.
What kind of person makes a good analyst?
You need to have an open and enquiring mind, as well as the ability to be able to distil a large amount of complex information very quickly, whilst maintaining an eye for detail. Building relationships is also something that should come naturally to you, because much of what we do is dependent on the success of other people, or their views of what we deliver.
What advice would you give students who are thinking about applying to Accenture?
Keep up to speed with the world of business and technology. In particular, you should be thinking about how technology can help businesses become more efficient. Keeping abreast of the latest developments in the international media is key - it helps you to give you an understanding of how interconnected the business world is, and how small decisions taken on the far side of the world can have a hugely significant impact.
Also, it's important you research Accenture and speak to employees on campus to find out as much as possible .
Boot Camp for the best
Simon - runs Boot Camp
What is Boot Camp?
Boot Camp was developed in 2009 to deliver accelerated graduate training to our highest calibre applicants. We run eight Boot Camps throughout the year, each with 30 places. We receive lots of applications annually so, as you can imagine, it's highly competitive. Most people applying for a graduate scheme with us have to complete a two-stage interview but, if you're accepted onto the Boot Camp, you'll be fast-tracked through to an assessment centre the week following the Boot Camp, and so you'll only have to do one interview. Around 73 per cent of Boot Camp delegates receive an offer from us, so it's very advantageous.
What kind of things does Boot Camp involve?
We don't tell people too much about what the experience involves, because we like to keep some mystery and excitement around it. It's a jam-packed 48 hours in a secret location that combines training and working through real life case studies. What we can say is that it's an intense learning experience which will challenge you. Expect complete immersion into Accenture's culture as you'll be thrown into practical exercises where you'll be solving problems and learning new skills. The Boot Camp itself isn't assessed, but it's an amazing chance to really hone your skills for the assessment centre, which is the next step towards getting an offer.
What kind of people get selected for Boot Camp?
We're looking for the brightest and the best, and for people who are really focused on their career. We seek out people from various degree backgrounds, though we do expect people to have an understanding of how technology can be applied in a business setting. There are a number of things that will make your CV stand out. A really well-researched application with a clear rationale for wanting to pursue a career in consulting, and specifically at Accenture, is likely to impress us.
How do I apply for Boot Camp?
You can apply via the Accenture graduate recruitment website. You'll find all the information about it on the Boot Camp page. By applying, you are also applying for a graduate role. All applications are screened, and then, if you're good enough, you'll have to answer a number of competency based questions. The final stage is a telephone interview. If you don't get a place on a Boot Camp, you'll be channelled into the normal recruitment process.
Stepping up the career ladder
Stephanie - just been promoted to consultant
What was your first step towards a job at Accenture?
I started with a summer internship. The work was very similar to that of a full-time analyst, especially in terms of the huge variety. The difference is that while projects are allocated to you as an intern, you get more freedom of choice when you work here as a graduate. During my internship I worked on a project for Barclays Wealth in a team of around ten people. Working in a small team was great as I was able to try several different kinds of work - I helped the consultants to design solutions and also got to do some financial analysis and budget tracking.
What did you get to do once you started in a full time role?
Before I joined Accenture, I worked as a travel agent so once I came back from my analyst training in Chicago (which everyone does when they start), I was sent to work on a project for Thomas Cook. There's so much to learn when you come in as a graduate, so it was nice to go into an area in which I had some experience. Having said that, you don't have to have specialised knowledge when you arrive, and your first role really depends on what is happening at the time in the company and business needs. When I came back from training, I emailed the team I had worked with on my internship, letting them know I was back, and talked to my sub community lead, which is how I found my first project. My first role was as a functional designer & tester which was a great start in understanding the project lifecycle and what we do for clients.
You've been promoted to a consultant after two years. How has your role changed?
My job changed as I was getting ready for promotion, because I had to prove that I was ready to step up to the next level. I spent six months as a test lead for another client and I'm now back at Thomas Cook managing a development and test team who are working on a retail point of sale application. I analyse the requirements, run design workshops with the client, and then produce a document describing our proposed changes, which is then passed on to the development team. I also look after the project financials and status reporting report back on them to my manager and the client. The timeframe for this project is around four months, which is fairly short, but I've got three separate projects going on at the moment which are all at different stages so I'm very busy!
How would you describe consulting?
It's the most varied job you could ever have - everyone working here will have a different story to tell. It's like having ten jobs because you are always working on different projects and with different clients. Each project teaches you something that you didn't know before and while juggling a lot at once is one of the biggest challenges about being a consultant, it's also what I love about it.
A view from the top
Gib - Partner at Accenture
What do you do as a partner at Accenture?
I run Accenture Development Partnerships (ADP), which has around 300 - 400 people working on it. ADP provides strategic advice and technical project management support to organisations operating in the development sector. It's essentially one of many global businesses within the firm. Just as with other parts of Accenture, my role is all about understanding the needs of our clients. We have lots of contact with them; these days I'm increasingly based in Geneva, where many of the CEOs of development agencies are.
I'm also heavily involved in the Accenture Boot Camp as I'm very passionate about recruitment.
What employment opportunities are there in the ADP?
Once you've been with Accenture for around three years and are a high performer, you'll get the chance to apply to work with ADP. There are also a small number of summer internship opportunities with ADP.
What qualities do you look for in a potential future consultant?
You need to have analytical rigour and diligence. Creativity is also a very important quality to have, particularly in strategy consulting. We take people from all degree backgrounds, but you do need a genuine interest in technology. Relationship building and communication skills are very important, particularly because you need to be able to empathise with your clients and build up a rapport with them.
What differentiates a good candidate and an excellent candidate?
I look for someone a bit unusual. An excellent candidate will often be able to demonstrate that they've overcome some sort of challenge or problem. Showing that you can deal with these demonstrates the level of maturity that we're looking for. Be ready to set yourself apart from the crowd at interview, as there's only so much your CV can say about you.
Consulting is a great industry to be in, as you can do some great things for businesses that will benefit the growth of the economy. And with ADP here at Accenture, you also have the opportunity to use your consulting skills to help some of those who really need it most.
Accenture accept applications all year for the Analyst Consulting Group and Boot Camp. Their schemes and placements close on January 1, 2011.