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Business management & consulting Career Pathways & Advice



The business consultancy sector (also known as the professional services industry) provides advice and services to improve the efficiency, performance and profits of businesses.

Businesses need advice and support on a range of issues including operational management, strategy and planning, human resources, financial management, and environment.

Consultants are often based on the client’s site and are tasked with analysing the business strategy and structure, and looking at how the organisation operates and is managed. After detailed observation and analysis that can involve data collection, interviewing employees, and reviewing records and reports, management consultants will normally offer recommendations for improving the business and solutions to any problems the business is experiencing.

Business consultants often focus on a particular area depending on their expertise, but some larger consultancies may take a more holistic approach, analysing each section of the business and suggesting company-wide solutions.

Organisations will sometimes call in business consultants to provide resources, manage and advise on projects such as company restructuring. It’s a varied job that requires confidence and tenacity and can also be very rewarding both professionally and financially.

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You’ll need to be motivated, a strong leader, and dedicated to success and to achieving strategic goals, to be a success in this area.

Other essential skills include:

- Commercial Awareness
- Communication
- Data Analysis
- Information Technology
- Numeracy
- Problem Solving

Progression opportunities

The career path for those working in management consultancy is fairly straightforward, and has more structure than might be found in other industries – although this will of course vary slightly between different companies.

As a graduate moving into consultancy, you are likely to start as a business analyst or junior consultant, before later becoming an associate consultant, and eventually consultant (after two to five years). These roles involve a lot of analysis, including research, conducting interviews, presenting results and building operational models.

The next rung of the ladder is for project leaders, case team leaders, senior managers and engagement managers. They manage the consultants and analysts on their team, liaise with senior managers, and interact directly with clients.

If you have a masters or higher level qualification when you begin your consultancy career, you might go in at a higher level – for example, you might become a project leader or an engagement manager straightaway.

A principal or director in the consultancy sector is the next step up from being a project leader, case team leader or engagement manager, and is a demanding role - here, employees must prove that they have the capabilities to one day become a partner, whilst maintaining their day-to-day workload: client management, new business, managing those below them, ensuring they’re aware of project workflow, and making sure partners are also kept in the loop about what’s going on in the business.

The ultimate goal of a career in consultancy is of course to become a partner in the company - this is a long-term goal that you should build towards throughout your career, and can take around 15 years. In this role, you’ll have strategic responsibility for the company’s most important clients, as well as the future of the business as a whole.

Career development

By far the best qualification you can take to further your business career is a Masters of Business Administration (MBA). The majority of those taking MBAs have worked professionally for at least a couple of years beforehand – this isn’t a qualification you’re likely to take immediately after finishing university. In a lot of cases, and especially with big companies, your employer will want you to have an MBA and will support you in this after you’ve worked with them for a few years.

Taking an MBA is a big time commitment, taking two years if you study full time. However, if your employer sponsors you to complete the qualification, you are likely to be working at the same time – meaning it will take significantly longer.

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Earning potential

Average salaries for the over-arching roles in the industry, including benefits and bonuses, are as follows:

Junior consultant: £44,645
Senior consultant: £63,074
Manager: £85,678
Senior manager: £115,744
Partner: £168,745

Qualification requirements & subjects to study

A postgraduate qualification, such as a master's in business economics, is very likely to be helpful when attempting to break into this industry – the vast majority of those working in consultancy firms have postgraduate qualifications.

For graduate schemes and entry level roles, the more analytical and numerical your degree (for example in finance or maths) the better chance you have of being successful.

Technical degrees such as engineering, and science degrees such as physics, are also looked upon favourably, especially by the biggest consultancy firms (e.g. Boston Consulting Group (BCG), Bain, and McKinsey.

How to get there

A common route into consultancy as a graduate is via a graduate training scheme with an employer. Competition on these schemes is very strong, hence those with postgraduate degrees have the edge over graduates without.

Although it is not essential to have direct work experience, any experience within a business or that demonstrates your analytical skill will offer you a strong advantage when applying for graduate schemes or entry level roles.

Industry Bodies

Institute of Consulting
Chartered Institute of Management Consultants
Management Consultants Association (MCA)
Chartered Institute of Business Administrators