Consultancy is the provision of advice, recommendations and strategies to businesses, with the aim of increasing their efficiency and productivity. These services can be provided either by a professional services firm with a consultancy arm, or by a specialist consultancy firm.
Overall, there are two different kinds of consulting: Advisory and Consultancy. Advisory is when a consultancy or professional services firm provides advice and recommendations to a client, but does not carry out the work required to make these recommended changes on their behalf. For example, the firm may recommend that the client installs new budgetary control systems and will advise on the best ones for their business needs, but it will not install them for the client. If a client requests an advisory service, they will be charged a one-off fee and can ignore or follow the suggested solutions as required.
Consultancy is different, inasmuch as the firm not only provides recommendations, but also carries out these changes on behalf of the client e.g. recommending the client installs new software, and then sourcing and installing the software itself on their behalf.
There are many different consultancy firms and they all specialise in supplying different services for a range of industries. These specialisations can be broken down into ten fields, with most firms choosing to specialise in one, several or, in some case, all of the fields below:
As a result, a career in consultancy will see you working with a range of different clients and, in some cases, providing a diverse range of services. This is especially true as consultancy is generally contract-based, which means that tasks, locations and clients vary from week-to-week and month-to-month, making it an exciting and dynamic career for new graduates.
Graduates who choose a career in consultancy generally start as analysts or associates. Tasks vary depending on the field and the company you work for, and you will often have a range of interesting responsibilities including complex analysis, research and preparing client presentation materials.
That said, you will also be tasked with less exciting work, such as documentation. As you gain experience you’ll have the opportunity to develop into more senior roles or go freelance, a move that can be extremely lucrative. Many consultants also go on to start their own businesses and startups.
Major consultancy firms include McKinsey & Company, the Boston Consulting Group, Bain & Company and Booz Allen Hamilton. There are also many major professional services companies with a consultancy department, such as PricewaterhouseCoopers, Deloitte, KPMG and Ernst & Young.
Graduates normally need a 2:1 degree. Many firms are keen on management, economics and business degrees, though all subjects are eligible. Competition is tough for graduate roles and, outside of academic qualifications, employers will be looking for a real passion and interest in the industry. As a result, your application will be looked on more favourably if you can demonstrate experience of internships, work placements or extra-curricular activities related to the field.
Although it is undoubtedly easier to break into consultancy with a degree, there are some entry-level positions and apprenticeships available for school leavers. Again, it is important that you’re able to demonstrate a real interest and passion for the field when applying, and that you mention any relevant skills and/or work experience in your application.
Training is an important aspect of any consultancy career. While professional qualifications are not generally offered, graduate roles will normally incorporate a three to four-week training course at the start. As your career progresses, you will also reap the benefits of frequent training programmes and development courses.
The application process varies depending on the company, but will generally follow thee steps:
Salaries vary according to location, company and field. On average, graduates can expect a starting salary of £25,000 to £30,000+ plus, with trained consultants earning £30,000 to £60,000 and senior consultants earning upwards of £100,000 per annum.
Although consultancy is an exciting, challenging and highly rewarding career, there are some downsides. Frequent travel may mean spending protracted periods away from family and friends (at least during the week) and long hours and weekend work are not uncommon.
As you’ll generally be working on a contract-by-contract basis, it can also be hard to plan time outside of work, as you will rarely know what you’ll be doing and where you’ll be working more than a few months (or weeks) in advance. In addition, while you may find many of the projects extremely inspiring, you will not generally be able to pick and choose those you work on - at least until you reach a senior level.
To enjoy and excel in a career in consultancy, you’ll need to have excellent communication and analytical skills, be a strong team player and be comfortable working under pressure. You’ll also need to be flexible enough to cope with changing working hours, locations and contracts, and be comfortable leading a team - a trait that is especially important for progression to senior roles.
If you have all that, plus the passion and drive to succeed in one of the most competitive professional services industries around, consultancy could be the perfect career for you. Check out our forums to find out more.
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