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Management consulting industry overview

Toby Van Dyke

This industry’s generous salaries and promise of accelerated professional advancement keeps graduates hopping on its fast-track to the executive floor.
Management consulting industry overview

Management consultants are problem-solvers for hire: businesses and governments bring them on board when they have a problem that’s too complicated for internal staff to resolve.

The mysterious world of management consulting eludes most people outside the industry, but those in the know understand the satisfaction of taking on complex issues that have a real impact on businesses.

Business and enterprise, government and not-for-profits turn to management consulting firms for assistance with matters ranging from technology, policy, marketing and strategy, to people, pricing and products. Typically, a management consultant or team will be called in to advise a senior decision-maker whose staff are too busy to consider long-term strategy. Alternatively, the problem at hand may be too complex for the people charged with resolving it. 

The ‘Big Three’ are the most prestigious management consulting firms in the world. They’re also known by ‘MBB’, which is an acronym of all three – McKinsey & Company, Boston Consulting Group, and Bain & Company.

Then there are sharp-focus, top-tier consulting firms, such as Accenture, which focuses on technology, and PwC’s Strategy&, which focuses on (you guessed it) strategy.

On the more specialised end, boutique firms such as Port Jackson Partners, Partners in Performance and A.T. Kearney consult on high-level strategy and implementation, among other things.

According to the Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment, Graduate management consultants usually start on $50,000 a year, management consultants with up to five years' experience can earn between $50,000 and $100,000, and highly skilled management consultants can earn between $100,000 and $250,000.

Job market outlook

Traditional management consulting firms tend to recruit consistently throughout the year. Management consulting, in general, is expected to grow very strongly, with more businesses each year requiring assistance as they navigate the digital revolution.

On the other side of the coin, while the traditional consulting firms have dominated the industry for more than a hundred years, freelance and transactional consulting services are gaining traction in the marketplace, especially as businesses seek assistance with specific problems (such as digital communications, brand development, and so on). 

Management consulting is sometimes referred to as a ‘recession-proof’ industry. When the economy is strong, clients have more money to spend on consulting services. In a downturn, business challenges often become more pressing, and businesses are more likely to seek help to solve problems quickly!

How to get hired

Management consulting is practically degree-agnostic. Candidates from all kinds of backgrounds can succeed as long as they have the right combination of skills and aptitude. Indeed, management consulting firms tend to seek out candidates with a diverse range of skills and experiences. This allows them to create teams that are more likely to approach client challenges in creative ways.

Extracurricular activities count enormously in this industry, with employers telling us that they value these experiences as much as academic achievements. So be sure to highlight your extracurricular activities, especially those that have required you to take initiative, show leadership, or model the values of your desired organisation.

Nearly all management consultancies will require you to undergo psychometric testing, so find out what type of test your target employer uses and check to see whether you can find a practice test to complete online. This will give you a chance to brush up on any areas that give you pause.

Key skills you need

Problem-solving

Management consultants are hired primarily for their problem-solving abilities. The ability to unpack a problem and find solutions, using your innate aptitude and any skills you learn on the job, will be complemented by your natural confidence and agility as a decision-maker.

Creativity

While general knowledge and problem-solving skills are vital, candidates that can tie those skills together with creativity are especially in demand. The ability to consider a problem from a unique perspective can trigger an idea that is practical, but also surprising.

People skills

Collaboration is essential. Knowing how to get things done and leave for the day with your professional relationships intact is vital. This is especially true because management consultants are often tasked with developing strong partnerships at client companies, where they usually work closely with staff members on short- to medium-term contracts.