What Is Management Consulting?

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Management consulting is a growing field aimed at helping businesses succeed. Learn about working at a management consulting firm and the skills and experience needed to start a career in consulting.

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Management consulting is a global industry focused on helping organizations operate effectively. A management consultant, or management analyst, provides an outside perspective on problem solving, best practices, and strategy to help companies improve their performance.

Management consulting covers a broad range of industries and business needs. Some consultants specialize in nonprofits, health care, or finance. Some work on issues like diversity and inclusion, while others focus on information technology or marketing strategy. If you enjoy research and problem solving, you may find management consulting a fulfilling career.

What does a job in management consulting look like?

Many businesses want to bring outside perspectives to strategic decisions. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), US job openings for management analysts may grow up to 14 percent this decade. In particular, the healthcare and IT industries are expected to see increased demand as the population ages and cybersecurity needs continue to grow [1].

Opportunities for employment range from jobs at major management consulting firms such as the Big Three (McKinsey & Company, BCG, Bain & Company) to self-employment. Entry-level jobs for recent graduates or those with a few years experience often entail:

  • Working with a broad scope of clients and projects 

  • Being part of a collaborative and cross-functional team

  • Using data science and analytics to solve business problems

  • Assisting in project planning and management  

  • Adapting to fast-paced, high-pressure, and deadline-driven situations

  • Traveling to meet and coordinate with client teams

What skills do management consultants need?

To offer a client sound advice, consultants must identify the business’ strengths and weaknesses. A big part of a consultant's job is collecting information about the organization to understand its business problems. This involves data analysis, learning about competing organizations, and interviewing employees such as executive team members.

Management consultants analyze their findings, make recommendations, and communicate the information to clients. In some cases, the consultant may also implement the strategy. As a result, management consultants need a diverse skill set that includes:

  • Problem-solving skills: Identify issues and take action to resolve them.

  • Analytical skills: Review complex information, analyze data, identify key conclusions, and make recommendations. 

  • Communication skills: Communicate effectively with individuals at all levels of an organization.

  • Time-management skills: Manage tight deadlines, schedules, travel, and other project requirements. 

  • Interpersonal skills: Collaborate effectively with a team of consultants and client representatives to develop the best solution and inspire an organization's leaders to act.

Salary information  

According to the BLS, the average annual salary in 2020 was $87,660 for a management analyst in the US. The highest-paid 10 percent earned more than $156,840. Consultants offering professional, scientific, and technical expertise made more on average [1].

What education and experience does a management consultant need?

Management consultants almost always need a bachelor’s degree, and many hiring organizations look for candidates with a Master of Business Administration (MBA) or other graduate-level education. 

Given the industry’s broad scope, needs and expectations vary by company and job. Some management consulting firms look for new hires with computer science or economics backgrounds. Others want graduates in health care or public administration. Sometimes firms desire employees with broad experience that they can train. Here are four tips for pursuing a career in management consulting:

Explore certifications.

Distinguish yourself from other job candidates with professional certifications for relevant and in-demand skills such as project management, change management, and strategic management. The Certified Management Consultant (CMC) and Project Management Professional (PMP) certifications are two respected options.

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Develop your interview skills.

Interviews for management consultant or analyst positions often reflect the job's complexity. Firms may have candidates perform a case analysis, ask interviewees brain teasers, or give them coding tests in addition to standard interview questions to assess their thought processes and creativity.

The good news is consulting firms may give candidates information to prepare for their interviews. McKinsey and BCG, for example, have sections on their websites with sample case studies and guides. Because so many consulting firms have interview guides, they are also likely looking at a candidate’s ability to prepare and follow guidelines.

Consider a specialization.

Gain a competitive advantage and focus your job search with a specialization. Many consulting firms are looking for expertise in areas such as health care, financial services, and information technology. A consultant that specializes in fundraising could be just what a nonprofit needs. You might find job opportunities with a manufacturing company if you have environmental sustainability expertise.  

Gain related work experience.

Many consulting firms want staffers who have worked with the types of organizations that make up their client base or who have worked in their area of expertise. Others prefer employees who focus on consulting. Internships help students develop work experience — and discover whether management consulting is the right career.

Getting started in management consulting

If you’re ready to take the next step toward a career in consulting, consider the Google Project Management: Professional Certificate. You’ll learn relevant skills such as strategic communication, problem-solving, and stakeholder management and gain practical experience through real-world-inspired exercises.  

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Article sources

1. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Management Analysts, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/management-analysts.htm.” Accessed Feb. 18, 2022.

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