Beyond the buzzwords

Craig Abrahams explores the day-to-day life and employment details of management consultancy

What is Management Consulting?

Management Consulting is a broad term which encapsulates the practice of advising companies on how they can improve their business. Consulting firms fall into one of two camps: they either advise clients on how to increase revenues or decrease costs. The first type are commonly known as 'Strategy Consultants'; the second as 'Operational' or (confusingly) 'Management Consultants'.

What does the day-to-day involve?

As a fresh graduate you will not find yourself solving the business problems of FTSE 100 companies. Complicated commercial problems require high levels of research and analysis in order to find a solution: consultants are hired because they have the time to conduct this work. In real terms this means that up to 80% of your day will be spent number crunching / data modelling and conducting desk / internet research: consultants soon become Excel and Wikipedia wizzkids. The rest of your time will be spent presenting your findings to colleagues or clients, attending meetings and generally supporting your peers.

Name some example projects.

This week, UK consultants will be advising Carlsberg-Tetley on whether they should buy Scottish and Newcastle Breweries, ITV on how to increase revenue from ITV2 advertisements, Unilever on methods of saving money in their supply chain and the board of Tesco on who should succeed Terry Leahy when he retires as CEO. Alternatively, you may find yourself working with companies you've never heard on similar business issues.

Who are the big Consultancy firms?

The most famous Strategy Consultants are McKinsey and Company, who are joined in the unofficial 'Big Four' by Boston Consulting Group, Bain and Company and Booz Allen Hamilton. There are a further eight large, international Consultancies with London offices - our website has a full list. The largest operational consultancy is Accenture, who have a particular expertise in fixing problems relating to systems, data and computers in general. CapGemini and PA Consulting are Accenture's biggest competitors in the UK.

What are the hours and pay like?

A typical Strategy Consultant's day will last from 9am-9pm, with all-nighters common as projects come to a close. Some projects will also involve significant proportions of time in the client's office - this can mean up to three nights a week in a hotel away from home. Pay starts at around £35k and will rise by about £10k per year: you may perhaps get a sign-on bonus of a few thousand pounds and you will get an 'almost-guaranteed' bonus of 10-20% of your salary at the end of each year.

Operational Consultants can spend huge periods of time working from the client site (some Accenture employees have never been to Accenture's offices), although the day-to-day may only last from 9am-7pm. Projects are often ongoing meaning that you won't experience as many 'deadline crises' as Strategy Consultants. The starting salary will be around £26k and rise by around £4k per year. It is rare to receive an annual bonus although you will often get an £8k-£10k sign on bonus when you join.

This sounds interesting: what do I do next?

The large consultancies all operate milkround programmes for finalists looking to begin in September, with most deadlines now having passed. Even if you have missed a deadline it is worth phoning to ask if you can still apply, both now and towards the end of term, as Consultancies can have unfilled vacancies at the end of the milkround process.

Penultimate years should strongly consider applying for an internship - these are a great way for you to experience the Consulting interview process and, hopefully, work as a Consultant for a couple of months over the Summer holidays. If you prove yourself talented and enjoy yourself whilst on your internship (these two typically go hand-in-hand) then you will probably be offered a full-time job to start upon the completion of your studies. If you are not offered a job you will still have a significant advantage in the milkround as compared to other applicants, both for consulting and non-consulting roles.

Prior to your penultimate year you are unlikely to be considered for an internship at a large consultancy, however any business exposure you can gain will be valuable. Look on your careers website for commercially orientated work experience, especially at smaller companies where you will often gain a good insight into the day-to-day running of the business.