What is consulting - and could it be right for you?

With the help of PwC, Hannah Langworth introduces this exciting area of the business world

Consulting is all about helping clients to optimise the performance of their organisation. Doing so could involve bringing them a fresh perspective on how they operate, working with them on a specific challenge, or contributing particular technical expertise or knowledge drawn from working with a number of different clients across an industry.

Consulting is a great career for any graduate considering entering the commercial world. It enables you to acquire a great range of business skills - like the ability to analyse data, understand and react to business problems, work with high-level people, and manage projects and teams of staff - through working in an in-depth and hands-on way with a number of different organisations.

What do consultants at PwC do?

PwC's consulting practice offers two main routes for graduates: a generalist route into Management Consulting, or the opportunity to specialise in Economics, Risk, Strategy or Sustainability & Climate Change. Here is an outline what each one's all about

  • Management Consulting: We help some of the world's most significant organisations - public and private - become even more effective as quickly as possible by improving the way they operate, accelerating their growth, reducing their costs, managing their risks, developing their talent and changing the way they do business. In doing so, we focus on their agendas and the big issues they need to deal with, both today and in the future.
  • Economics Consulting: Economics is the science of business and shapes the world we live in every day. In this team, you could find yourself analysing the current economic climate for companies in a wide range of sectors trying to maximise the value of their transactions or involved in market-related disputes. You might also be involved in working with public sector bodies on market regulation and reform. Put simply, the work here is front page news.
  • Risk Consulting: Market dynamics over the last two years have highlighted weaknesses in valuation and risk models and tools that have played a significant role in measuring and monitoring risk and business performance. Events over recent history have shown that risk can materialise and result in major losses and that capital needs to be prudently allocated. Firms are increasingly looking to us to help them maintain a strong capital base and to guide their businesses towards balancing profit potential, risk and capital usage. We also help financial institutions comply with increasingly demanding new regulations relating to capital adequacy and liquidity risk.
  • Strategy Consulting: Most of our work is concentrated on two main areas. Corporate Strategy offers a wide range of strategic advice to major international companies and organisations. Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A) Strategy advises private equity houses, banks and companies undertaking M&A on investment opportunities. We evaluate business plans and strategies against market performance and competitor strengths to help clients understand which companies are attractive acquisitions and how much to pay.
  • Sustainability & Climate Change Consulting: Sustainability and climate change are at the top of the corporate agenda for public and private sector organisations. But different organisations are at different stages in understanding how they should respond. We help them balance competing economic, social and environmental goals, giving advice which goes right to the heart of policy and strategy, addressing everything from changing regulations and consumer preferences to the security of supply chains and access to scarce resources.

Isabelle's career

I studied Electrical Engineering at Imperial College London, and moved into computing there. Once I graduated, I joined RBS's graduate scheme in their IT department and then PwC as a consultant. I thought I'd get PwC's prestigious name on my CV, stay for two years, and then go back into the banking industry. But I had so much fun at PwC that after 18 years I'm still here in consulting! I became a partner in our Management Consulting team eight years ago, and have worked all over the world and with many different clients.

For a personal perspective on what a career in consulting involves, we spoke to Isabelle, Partner in consulting at PwC

What attracted you to consulting at PwC?

I saw working in consulting as a way to fast-track my career by getting a vast range of experience quickly. I was able to do just that, but having realised how rewarding and challenging consulting was, I really didn't want to leave!

What graduate programmes in consulting are available at PwC?

We offer two distinct graduate routes into consulting.

If you want a broad range of experience across a number of disciplines, there's our core Management Consulting programme. Students train on a two-year structured programme, building a range of core skills. And we'll provide them with the opportunity to specialise. A significant amount of the programme is spent on fast-paced client assignments, as we believe getting involved in these is the best way to develop.

Or, if you're interested in specialising straight away into one of our key consulting practices - you can choose Economics, Strategy, Risk or Sustainability & Climate Change - you can apply directly to your practice of choice and develop your skills in this area quickly through taking responsibility on projects in your chosen area and in-depth training.

Why is now an exciting time to join the consulting practice at PwC?

Our consulting business has grown hugely over the last four years through a mixture of finding experienced hires and recruiting graduates. Going forward, our growth will be driven by our graduate programme. We're looking to develop a strong team of talent that's flexible and able to respond to the market. And we see the people who join us as graduates as future leaders - the partners and directors - of the business.

How do you manage to maintain a healthy work/life balance?

I'm married, have three young children, and work four days a week. We're a large enough organisation to support multiple flexible work patterns, and the fact that the work we do is project-based - so is made up of a mixture of busy and quieter periods in a relatively predictable pattern - really supports us in doing so. It sounds strange, but I treat my family like one of my other projects and make sure I allocate the right amount of time to them, just as I do with my other projects. Also, the technology we have to support us in doing our work really helps us to work when and wherever we want.

Why should more women apply to work in consulting at PwC?

I think consulting is an excellent career for women. You'll need some specialised technical knowledge to help you as you progress, but a lot of consulting is about interacting well with other people and really listening to them, which women tend to be very good at.

Consulting is a flexible career - you may spend six months on one project, and then change to another. Flexibility benefits any woman in their working life, and personally I've found that being in an environment where everybody is so used to people moving from project to project has made it easier for me to take time out to have children.

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