The business world offers many roads to success. If you’re someone with lots of experience and business acumen, you might want to consider a job as a consultant, whether you’re looking to change careers or start a side hustle.
Management consulting is a growing industry that offers dynamic and exciting work with high earning potential. It’s a busy and rewarding career path, and it’s a good choice if you enjoy working with diverse groups of people and workplaces to solve business problems.
Let’s take a look at what management consulting is and how to start a career in this field.
What’s management consulting?
As part of the consulting industry, management consultants help businesses improve their operations. They work with managers and leadership — including C-suite executives — to analyze team performance and recommend steps for improvement.
Management consultants can work in one of these three common categories:
Strategy consulting. These consultants delve into the higher-level operations of the organization, dealing with topics like strategic corporate planning, mergers and acquisitions, and organizational development.
Operations consulting. Consultants in this field work on day-to-day issues such as sales, supply chain, and outsourcing.
Consultants can work in manufacturing and natural resources (25% of total activity), finance (23%), public (19%) telecommunications (11%), and trade (9%). Some management consultants work freelance, and others fulfill their roles as part of a consulting team or consulting firm like one of the Big Three: McKinsey & Company, Boston Consulting Group (BCG), and Bain & Company.
Management consultants might also work for accounting firms or other consulting companies, like Deloitte or Accenture. Many fields need consulting when it comes to their economic and operational decisions, so there are lots of employment options.
What does a management consultant do?
Management consultants help businesses and organizations develop solutions to their problems. They work with managers and leaders to identify problems, set goals, and create the pathway a business needs to follow to reach those objectives.
Most management consultants have these main responsibilities when working with a business:
Defining the problem. A consultant’s job is to understand a client’s needs, and that starts with assessing where they are in the market. What a client sees as the main challenge they want to overcome could be a symptom of an even greater issue. Management consultants identify these issues by looking at the bigger picture.
Gathering and analyzing data. To provide accurate and actionable solutions, consultants need to understand everything there is to know about the problem. That means researching the issue and holding focus groups and interviews with all stakeholders — including the company’s clients — to discover pain points.
They also analyze records to gather as much data as possible. Then, consultants go over their findings to discover trends and pinpoint weaknesses.
Developing an implementation plan. Management consultants use data and insights to find the best action plan to reach a business’s goals. They often propose multiple solutions so the client can choose which might work best for them and their resources.
Then, in a meeting or presentation, they show a business or organization what it should be doing and how to get there.
Managing client relations. Client management is a big part of management consulting. Consultants are in constant contact with their corporate counterparts, keeping them up-to-date with their findings and potential solutions.
Management consulting is all about asking the right questions and finding their answers. Here are some problems a business might have and questions a consultant could to start a conversation and work toward a solution:
An e-commerce company’s annual growth is slowing, and executives feel stunted. Should they expand into a foreign market? If so, should it acquire a homegrown business or grow organically?
A tech company realizes they’re facing more competitors. What will the competitive landscape look like in the next five years? How can the company set itself apart and maintain its individuality?
A manufacturer that usually uses nickel is considering changing materials. What’s nickel’s expected supply and demand in the next five years? Are there alternatives with a better outlook?
A banking service is navigating new regulations. How will specific regulatory changes impact the banking services market, and how can the organization minimize these consequences?
Most of these questions involve complex business issues, and many of them are industry-specific. That’s why it’s important that management consultants understand the micro and macroeconomic implications of both the problem and the solution.
Pros and cons of management consulting
Management consulting is a demanding job, but it’s also rewarding to help businesses and teams reach their goals. Consider these pros and cons before embarking on this career path:
Learning opportunities. Consulting teams tackle diverse projects, from human resources and change management to IT consulting and beyond. They can collaborate with and learn from some of the best and brightest in multiple industries.
Varied tasks and workspaces. Throughout a management consultant’s career, they’ll work with many different types of organizations — from small startups to some of the biggest multinational corporations in the world.
Travel. Because of the nature of the position, many management consultants can work from anywhere in the world, and they often travel to meet up with business leaders. They’re constantly meeting new people in new environments.
Prestige and opportunities. Management consultants have access to many new opportunities thanks to their diverse work experience and network of contacts. Often, major firms court management consulting alums to fill executive-level roles. These new positions are often lucrative, with many chances for advancement.
High salary and job growth. Management consultants earn a high salary, and it’s an in-demand job. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for management consultants is $93,000. The same report shows that the industry is growing by 11% between 2021 and 2031, which is much faster than average.
Fast client turnover. Management consultants often work with a client for months at a time, but they rarely see the tangible results of their efforts because they’ll move on to the next one so quickly.
Stressful environment. A management consultant’s job is high-pressure — a consulting firm’s reputation and sometimes millions of dollars of client resources are on the line. Expectations are generally very high, which can result in long hours and lots of stress. It’s why 35% of management consultants leave their positions after only 1–2 years.
Poor work-life balance. Between traveling, late nights, and tight deadlines, management consulting doesn’t leave much time for personal matters or family life. Developing a healthy work-life balance can be tricky, and it’s hard to balance family and work.
While there’s a lot of opportunity for employment and growth within the realm of management consulting, it’s not for everyone. It involves hard work, long hours, and high pressure.
But if you’re realistic about the expectations, prepare yourself for the workload, and strive to take care of yourself on the job, you can succeed.
How to become a management consultant
People can start working in management consulting early in their careers, but it’s common to become a consultant after garnering several years of work experience. The path isn’t as straightforward as other jobs — but that’s not a bad thing.
Even with a background that seems unrelated, or diverse work experience in multiple industries, you can become a management consultant. Here are a few things you need to do to start working in this position.
Earn a degree
Management consultants need at least a bachelor’s degree. Earning a degree in business or economics to better understand global trends is ideal. Management consulting is a multi-discipline career, meaning you can start working with a different major.
But due to the nature of the work, a business or analytical background is more advantageous when it comes time to find an internship or a job.
Some firms may look favorably on candidates who have a Master of Business Administration, but you don’t need to have a master’s degree. They just want to make sure you have the business acumen and organizational skills to succeed. In some cases, work experience is more important.
Build business experience
Before getting into consulting, start an entry-level job in business or a related field to build experience. It might not be as enticing as management consulting, but you can’t consult if you don’t understand the business world — especially if your degree isn’t related to business.
You could become a business analyst, bookkeeper, or administrative assistant to start building experience. Career planning isn’t one-size-fits-all, and as long as you’re learning about business and management operations, you’re on the right track.
Start an internship
Landing an internship or job with a top management consulting firm is highly competitive, but it’s arguably the best way in. They usually restrict their recruitment activities to specific schools and programs, so if you want to pursue employment with a specific firm, research their hiring channels.
Although it’s exciting to think big, it’s okay if your first management consulting position isn’t at a top company. Any consulting internships that offer real-world knowledge will improve your standing for a larger role.
Make the leap into management consulting
Managing a company or organization is a continuously evolving enterprise. That’s why management consultants will always be in demand. Organizations need people who can come in and take an unbiased look at operations and start planning the future of management.
If job security, high average salaries, and challenging positions appeal to you, management consulting might be a good choice. Start brushing up on your business skills, analytical prowess, and strategic plan management skills and get ready to forge a new path.