Consultancy Career Advice: The Experience You'll Need
All you need to know about the Consultancy industry
The consultancy industry specialises in providing expert advice for businesses, helping them to improve their efficiency, grow their profits or enhance their performance. Consultants call upon their specialist knowledge to improve an area that’s often underperforming in a client’s business. They tend to spend time at a client’s site, so there’s a lot of opportunity for travel and meeting new people in the consultancy industry, all while flexing your creative and problem solving muscles.
Consultants typically specialise in a particular area of business operation (e.g. Strategy, Operations, Finance). A client will hire a consultant when an area of their business needs to be improved. These areas may include helping a business plan to enter a new market, making a business more environmentally friendly, improving office culture, or giving training to management. Businesses are complex structures with lots of moving parts, so there’s a lot of room for specialisation for consultants.
Consultancy can be a varied job. A consultant may be hired for a short engagement of a couple of months because a company merely needs a little push, or it may need massive restructuring, requiring a project which might take years to complete. A good consultant can be the difference between a client’s business failing or flourishing.
Consultants almost always have a bachelor’s degree - preferred subjects can include business, economics, engineering or related fields, though many larger firms will be as open to applicants with humanities degrees. It’s a very competitive industry, so a master’s degree can be useful to make you stand out. All that studying will pay off in the long run, however. Junior consultants earn (on average) £44,645, while, at the very top level, partners can earn £168,745 (plus significant profit-related bonuses!)
Skills & interests needed for Consultancy
Consultants spend a lot of time meeting new people, listening to them and offering feedback. This means you need to be a confident speaker with strong interpersonal skills. You’ll be working with other people too, so being able to work in a team will be vital.
You will also need to have an analytical mind that’s comfortable sifting through large amounts of data. You’ll be evaluating this data to offer creative solutions, so problem solving skills are also a must. A lot of this data will be numerical or financial, so a strong head for maths will be needed.
As you’ll be travelling to meet clients from a varied range of industries, you’ll need to be able to get yourself up to speed very quickly on the distinct challenges which different industries face.
As you’ll likely be specialising in a particular area, a firm grasp of the ins and outs of your speciality will be required.
- Data Analysis
What work experience do you need for a career in Consultancy
Alongside your degree, the consultancy industry values experience in the field. Many graduate schemes will offer you a way to get your foot in the door while providing you with experience of the field. These places are highly competitive so anything you can do to make yourself stand out will help tremendously.
Getting involved in university societies is a great way to demonstrate your team working skills.
Otherwise, getting some work experience in the business world will demonstrate your knowledge of the business world.
Many larger consultancy firms will offer a range of different work placement schemes aimed at university students or sixth formers. These can range from a year-long, paid placement during your degree (a ‘sandwich year’ or industrial placement), to a summer internship (usually 2-3 months), to a short 2-3 weeks of work shadowing. These schemes can be highly competitive to secure a place on, so you’ll need to make sure that your application stands out.
A ‘sandwich’ year is usually taken between the penultimate and final years of your degree course, and many people who undertake placements during their degrees report that the experience they received was highly beneficial for their career search after graduating (many employers will also give hiring preference in their graduate schemes to people who have completed placements with them and made a good impression!) Industrial placements can also be a great way to earn a year’s salary and ease students’ financial worries ahead of their final years. Most work placements are recruited during the first term of your penultimate year.
Many degree courses in business-related subjects will have a ‘sandwich year’ as part of the degree’s structure, so you might be able to find out details about placements in buying from your department. If you are particularly interested in a career in consultancy, it might also be worthwhile speaking to your university’s careers department to see whether they have links to particular businesses. Even if your degree does not have a ‘sandwich’ year in its structure, many universities will allow you to take a year out for a placement, so if you are interested in undertaking a placement, speak to your department.
Most summer internships and work experience programmes will be advertised on employers’ websites, so you should identify a range of businesses which interest you and look for details of various programmes. Most employers will expect summer intern to be going into their final year of a degree, while work experience programmes are aimed at college students.