By Gergely Lodinsky (management consultant for Accenture with over 3 years of experience)
So you’ve already decided to apply for a role in management consulting but aren’t sure where or how to apply? This article aims to help clarify the different areas of management consulting, where to apply as well as the application process.
What are the different types of management consulting?
Management consulting can broadly be divided into strategy, operations and implementation work.
Strategy consultants work with senior executives to ask fundamental questions about the direction of their business. Should the business work to increase revenues, cut costs, increase profits, or diversify their portfolio? How should they go about implementing the strategy? Strategy work is often the most desired because of the unique ability for (junior) consultants to work with senior client stakeholders, fast paced nature of the deliveries, and incredibly steep learning curve. As an intern on a 6 week project for a major European retail bank, I took part in 12 interviews with heads of areas and helped put together and review slides that were shown to senior bank leadership. Working days regularly stretched past midnight, but by the end of the engagement, I was able to put together organisational charts of all the bank’s main operations and recommend areas of improvement.
Operations consultants work with many of the same senior stakeholders; however, they look at how to make organisations run more efficiently. For example, I was on a project at a major brewer where we investigated the impact of complexity on the business. The firm went from brewing and selling two different kinds of beer at the turn of the 20th century to increasingly getting involved in manufacturing craft beers to meet customer demand. Looking at 1,700 SKUs, my team was able to calculate which beers were worth brewing, and which were not.
Implementation consultants often take over from where the strategy and operations consultants leave off. Once the shiny PowerPoint presentations have been completed suggesting that the client buys or sells a (division of a) company or a strategic redirection etc., it is up to the implementation consultants to put it in place. Projects can last multiple years, and they can involve technical implementations of new software, executing training delivery programmes for employees and working on detailed process guidance documents, so employees know exactly what to do in their new roles.
What firms should I apply to?
Traditionally, if you were interested in strategy consulting, the standard advice was to apply to ‘MBB’ or the ‘Big Three’ – McKinsey, Bain and BCG. These companies certainly enjoy a level of prestige, and they have an impressive list of alumni who lead some of the world’s largest companies. Other strategy consultancies include Roland Berger and AT Kearney. You may also want to focus on a particular area and join a boutique management consulting firm such as Aon (insurance) or Ocean Strategy (media).
If you wanted to keep your options open, you might apply to one of the larger professional services firms that perform both strategy and implementation work. Options include the ‘Big 4’ professional services firms – Deloitte, PwC, KPMG, EY – or Accenture, BDO, Grant Thornton or IBM.
This traditional mind-set is changing, however, as companies expand their reach of services offered. For example, Accenture, which is best known for large scale technological implementations, has expanded decisively into both the strategy space as well as the digital space with the acquisition of Fjord, global design and innovation consultancy (Note: Shameless plug). The Big 4 have also beefed up their strategy offerings: Deloitte purchased the bankrupt Monitor Group in 2013, PwC acquired Booz & Company (after first looking to purchase Roland Berger) and EY merged with the Parthenon Group in 2014.
What is the application process like?
The application process for management consulting will differ by area (strategy vs. implementation), level (in particular graduate vs. experienced hire) and by firm.
The start of the application process is completing an online form together with a CV and cover letter. Additional short answer questions may be required with regards your motivation for applying with the specific company and consulting in general. If your application is selected for further consideration, a brief interview with HR is often the first step in the process. Be prepared to answer any questions about your CV, motivations for applying and try to ask 1-2 relevant questions that show you have done your homework and researched the company.
The next stage for graduates is often a standardised test. Tests come in all shapes and sizes including psychometric tests and situational judgment tests. Some preparation in understanding the format and the types of questions asked can be helpful, but I would not recommend spending more than a day in total preparing. Reason for that is threefold: 1) Skills gained from practice is limited to the test you used to practice with 2) There are plenty of firms that do not require a standardised test and 3) You are better off focusing on the rest of the interview process, where case preparation and cultural fit is most important. For experienced hires from industry, tests are highly unusual, and the process consists more of discussions and case interviews to ensure an appropriate fit with the perspective team.
The next and often last stage for graduates is likely to be an assessment centre where you will perform a group exercise with other candidates. A real life consulting scenario will often be tested, and you will be divided into teams. Make sure to be proactive, articulate your thinking clearly and use any supporting materials that may be available to show your ideas (white board, flip chart, etc.). Because it is a group exercise, make sure to understand the views of the other members of the team and ask any clarifying questions, particularly to those members who are quieter.
For strategy consulting, the case interview is by far the most important. Problems are taken from real life client business situations and are intended to test your thinking process rather than obtain a specific answer. The good news is that the case interview questions themselves can be a lot of fun and draw on everyday situations: “What is the annual revenue of the London Eye?” “What is the size of the white wedding dress market in the UK?” “What would the demand be in the US for a new children’s ski helmet?” You will need to form educated guesses to obtain the numbers and be prepared to defend your assumptions. You will also be asked what sources you would use to validate any numbers.
Now that you have a view of the different types of consulting, firms to apply to and the application process, it’s time to submit an application! For graduate applicants, many firms accept applications in the autumn/ early winter of your penultimate year of study, so you can start your first role after graduation. There are a number of companies who hire year round, however, so make sure to do your research!