You may have heard of a management consultant—and you could even have friends with the title. They may talk of travel, clients, presentations, and spreadsheets, but, well, what do they actually do all day? How did they land the role to begin with? And, most importantly, could a job like that be a fit for you?
To find out, we turned to the experts: former and current consultants.
Although each firm can vary on their approach to the job, a management consultant can broadly be defined as "being a problem solver for some of the more complex business and org structures out there," said Brad Helfand, a current consultant. "Someone who works on a broad range of projects—potentially industry focused," adds Rob Midelton, a former consultant.
While many consultants focus on one area of specific expertise, management consultants are focused on helping leadership of an organization improve overall performance and operations. Management consultants are often engaging with C-Suite level executives and working on complex issues.
Some consulting firms focus on a single industry like healthcare, IT, or marketing, while others take a broad approach or focus on a handful of business issues, like employee engagement or regulatory compliance.
So What Do They Do All Day?
Being a management consultant is all about having a "Swiss Army knife of solutions you can use to work with a client," says Brad. Most consultants work on only a few projects at a time (and sometimes only a single project, depending on how large the client is) so they can really focus in on their client's need.
In the beginning of a project, much of the time is spent getting to know the client's business, which includes employee interviews and data collection. Consultants (depending on their level) are often responsible for the data analysis as well, taking the data they gather and turning it into digestible information to share with the company. (Otherwise known as using Excel to pull together spreadsheets and PowerPoint to develop presentations.)
And as you probably guessed, a big part of being a consultant is traveling to the client site. For some consultants, this is as-needed, for others this means adopting a Monday-through-Thursday on-the-road lifestyle. However it's worth nothing that, in general, larger firms require weekly travel, while smaller ones tend to offer more balance. Andrew Conrad, an independent consultant, really enjoyed that part of the job. "It was nice to have a group of peers that you could both work with and spend time with socially," he says.
But it can make for a long day. While you may have time for meals with your team or the client, there isn't ample downtime when on the road. "The hours are long, you often get in before the client arrives, and stay after the client leaves," says Rob. "After dinner out you often spend a portion of your night continuing to work on deliverables," he adds.
What Skills Do You Need?
Being a consultant takes a unique skill set that balances analytical abilities and stellar communication. Much of your time as a consultant will involve analyzing data and pulling together a story, and ultimately recommendations, for the client. However, a huge chunk of the project will involve interviewing employees, presenting information to a group of executives, and convincing the key players that your recommendations are sound.
"Much of it is like the basics of organizational psychology," says Brad. "It's taking the time to listen and understand elements of the situation and breaking that down to make it understandable to a group who is making a consensus based agreement to move their business forward."
This means having excellent facilitator and listening skills. And relationship building is important as well—it's a lot easier to convince a senior executive of your recommendations if they like you and trust what you are saying.
How Do I Get a Consulting Job?
Consulting firms often hire right out of undergraduate and business school programs, so doing your research on what type of firm you'd be interested in is a great first step. If it's a big firm you have your eye on, take a look at the schools that typically feed into it, so you can begin to plot the steps you'll need to take.
Or, if the firm tends to hire mid-career professionals, you can take other approaches. For example, you already know the power of connecting with the right people! You may be able to find an alumni of your school who has worked at the consulting firm you're interested in and pick their brain on what it takes to break in.
Brad also recommends familiarizing yourself with case studies. Often, consulting firms will use a case study in their interview. Academic achievement and a flexible personality will take you a long way as well.
So, now that you know what a consultant, and more specifically a management consultant, does every day it's time to make a decision. Do you think it's the job for you?