Career Coach: Top 3 Questions on the Consulting Industry

CDO, February 06, 2017 | 0 comments
Tags: consulting, career development office, career switch, career

By Stephen Pidgeon T’07

I get a lot of questions from people who are thinking of doing an MBA and are interested in consulting as a post-MBA career. Here are some of the common ones:

Do I need consulting experience to be a consultant?

No! Consulting companies who recruit MBAs do so because they are looking for a very definite type of skillset. They are looking for a combination of being intellectually curious, driven to solve tough problems, and great with people. If you have these characteristics, they can train you in the technical aspects of doing the job. Luckily, these characteristics are also a very good match for what makes a good MBA candidate, which is one of the reasons why consulting companies see top business schools as such a rich source of talent.

Does consulting work always mean getting on a plane every week and being away from home?

As with many things in consulting, the answer is … it depends. Some companies have a model where they encourage their teams to spend the majority of their working time on the client site. This is a great way to build strong relationships and to ensure the consultants are immersed in their clients’ businesses. Other companies use a travel as needed model, which may involve travel to the client for key meetings, and the rest of the work done from the home office. Part of the process of finding the company that is right for you is learning about the nuances between companies, and actually between offices as well. My experience as a consultant with McKinsey in London, for instance, was that a lot of work was local because that was a very big office in a location where many companies had their headquarters. But ask a consultant in the same firm at a different office and they may have a different experience. The good news is that at any top business school you will find a great many alumni in each of the companies, so you will have many opportunities to have conversations and learn about each person’s experience at their firm.

How long do people tend to stay in consulting?

Many of our alumni have stayed in consulting for many years, and are now senior leaders in their firms. For these people being a consulting partner is their dream job. But many others have left to pursue other jobs, which is reflected in the fact that a very large number of our alumni have a stint in consulting on their resume before their real career took off! From my observation, the average tenure in many of the top companies seems to be around 3 to 5 years. At this point, you have developed a really solid consulting toolkit, have managed projects and teams, and helped build client relationships, and are incredibly valuable to other employers. In my experience, you start to get a lot of contacts from headhunters, and you will also find favorite clients asking you to join them. The biggest reason for people to leave consulting is more of a pull from the many opportunities they see, than a push from the consulting company. One thing I find interesting is that the consulting companies are very open about the fact that people use them as training grounds and will often highlight the great successes of their many alumni when they come to do recruiting events.

Stephen Pidgeon T’07 is an associate director of the Tuck Career Development Office (CDO) and author of the books How to Get a Job in Consulting and Case Interviews for Beginners.

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