Careers In Consulting

Career Profile (Salary, Job Titles, Grad School Data)

Consulting is a fairly broad term that can have a variety of meanings depending on the industry it refers to. For example, you can work as a marketing consultant helping companies create and optimize their marketing campaigns or as a software consultant, designing software systems for an organization. However, although the term has many applications, it's generally used to refer to management or strategy consulting, the practice of helping companies increase their efficiency and profits by addressing the major operational or strategic challenges they're facing.  Vault has extensive resources on the consulting industry, including rankings, application prep and "day in the life" guides.   Access the resources here (CPD has provided free access to Vault resources for Gies students)  In addition, we provide access to Management Consulted.

What do consultants do?

Consulting roles can vary greatly depending on the type of consulting firm you work for and the companies you work with. For example, if you work for one of the large management consulting companies (such as McKinsey, Bain or Boston Consulting Group) you'll be following a fairly structured career path, starting off as a junior consultant and moving up to a senior consultant role within two to three years. Working at one of the larger consulting firms also means that you're more likely to be a generalist in your early years since you typically only become specialized in a particular vertical, industry or type of work after working in consulting for several years. At smaller consultancies or boutique firms, you'll generally focus on a particular industry from the beginning (such as healthcare or technology) and work exclusively within that industry.

What are the challenges of working in consulting?

Being a consultant is an exciting career path but it does have its share of challenges. One of the main ones is traveling. Although many other careers require travel (e.g. sales), few are as travel-intensive as consulting. In fact, it's not uncommon to hear of consultants who travel four out of five days of each work week, meaning that your non-travel time will usually be limited to weekends. Additional challenges include long hours (12-hour days are standard) and working closely with a new team every few months. Although these factors might take a little getting used to, most consultants adapt to them fairly quickly and are able to thrive in their roles.

What are some of the benefits of working in consulting?

One of the main benefits of being a consultant is having the opportunity to learn about multiple industries and business models. Diverse project work is one of the biggest perks in consulting as you get to try out different roles and industries all the while at the same job.  In fact, this knowledge will serve you well throughout your consulting career (and beyond), allowing you to quickly spot operational and managerial problems and come up with creative solutions to solve them. And although travel can be a challenging part of the job, it can also be an exciting one, giving you the opportunity to see new parts of the country (and helping you build up some frequent flyer miles in the process!). Consulting will also improve your presentation skills, teaching you how to build impressive presentation decks and communicate your point effectively to any type of audience. Plus, the pay is good!

What skills are needed to thrive in consulting?

As consultants, Excel, Python and PowerPoint are admittedly the go to tools on a day-to-day basis to help synthesize multifaceted ideas to clients in a digestible, actionable manner.  Consultants need strong analytical and problem-solving skills. Soft skills are highly important to communicate your ideas and manage client expectations, both of which are equally important when working in consulting.    Strong writing and verbal communication skills are essential as is the ability to present findings and proposals to groups. Consultants tend to travel frequently and work long hours during crunch periods with projects, so evidence of adaptability and a high energy level are valued.

Top Consulting Firms

The top 3 strategy consulting firms are in a league of their own, and they are commonly referred to as MBB. The members of this elite group are as follows: McKinsey, BCG and Bain.  Beyond the MBB firms, there are several other reputable strategy consultancies.  Below we've highlighted additional firms that are notable. You may notice that a few of these firms are the strategy branches of Big 4 accounting firms: Accenture, Booz Allen Hamilton, EY-Parthenon, Oliver Wyman, PwC, AT Kearney, Roland Berger, and Deloitte.  Here is a list of 200+ firms.

Typical Consulting Career Path

Consulting offers a faster career growth trajectory than most industries.  Most consultancies hold an "up or out" employee promotion policy, meaning you're either promoted "up" to the next level, or you're phased "out." These promotions typically happen every 2-3 years. If you're a top performer, there'll always be opportunities to advance up the firm's career ladder.  Below is a typical career progression:

  1. Business Analyst: Their work involves researching, interviewing experts, gathering and analyzing data on spreadsheets, and building PowerPoint presentations.
  2. Associate/Consultant: Associates have similar job functions to analysts but manage larger workstreams and have more autonomy.
  3. Manager/Project Leader: They define a client's problems and lead a team of analysts and consultants who figure out the best solutions.
  4. Principal/Director: Directors strengthen and develop new client relationships, provide input on high-level projects, nurture team members.
  5. Partner/Shareholder: Their key roles include identifying new business opportunities, winning projects, managing client relationships, and providing leadership.

Confused about analyst roles vs. consultants? Learn about the similarities and differences here.

Advisory vs. consulting?    Read more here.

Types of Consulting

Management Consulting

Management Consulting is the business of analyzing and offering solutions to complex problems within an organization. This is a valuable service because consultants can offer an outside, unbiased perspective to the problem and devote their full attention to solving it.  Management consulting firms include top strategy firms such as Bain, BCG, and McKinsey. These firms hire business-savvy problem-solvers to help their clients:

  • Define the problems or opportunities their businesses face
  • Decide on on the approach to take
  • Collect and analyze data to better understand the problem/opportunity
  • Identify a recommended course of action
  • Plan the implementation of that solution across the company
  • Follow up to see if the recommendations were successful

Gaining The Right Experience to Be Prepared for a Consulting Career

How to Land Your First Consulting Job

Consulting jobs are highly sought after because they are prestigious and offer excellent pay and benefits. To come out on top, you need to know where the jobs are and how to learn about companies that are hiring.

Recruiting Timelines

For undergraduate and master's program recruits, full-time consulting application deadlines typically fall between July and September, depending on the consulting firm and the specific program. Summer internship application deadlines usually occur between June and August. It's essential to be proactive and start preparing your application materials early to avoid missing these deadlines.

Visit Management Consulted to view 
Consulting Application Deadlines.

1. Use Keywords

When using job search platforms, such as Handshake, utilize keywords to find appropriate positions for the industries you are interested in.

Below are consulting job titles Gies Alumni have had:

  • Accounting Consultant
  • Advanced Analytics Consultant
  • Advisory Consultant
  • Analytics Consultant
  • Benefit Plan Consultant
  • Business Advisory Consultant
  • Business Analyst
  • Business Risk Consultant
  • Consultant
  • Consulting Analyst
  • Customer Experience Consultant
  • Cyber Risk Consultant
  • Data Analytics Consultant
  • Digital Media Marketing Consultant
  • Financial Services Consultant
  • Forensic & Litigation Consultant
  • Functional Consultant
  • General Consultant
  • Health Care Consulting Analyst
  • Healthcare Product Consulting Specialist
  • Healthcare Staff Consultant
  • Higher Education Consultant
  • Human Capital Business Analyst
  • M&A Consultant
  • Management Consulting Associate
  • Marketing Communications Consultant
  • Operations Excellence Consultant
  • Product Consultant
  • Recruiting Consultant
  • Risk And Compliance Consultant
  • Risk Intelligence Consultant
  • Sales Consultant
  • Staff Consultant
  • Strategic Cloud Services Consultant
  • Tax Consultant
  • Technology Advisory Consultant

2. Customize your Resume & Cover Letter

Consulting resumes and cover letters are a step above what you would need at a typical corporate firm. The leading consulting firms get hundreds of thousands of applications for a small number of positions and their recruiters will scan your documents only for a few seconds.  As a result, to be successful you'll need to optimize your resume and cover letter for consulting positions.  TIP: Consultants are obsessed with quantifying things.  A big part of their job is to crunch numbers to back up ideas they present to clients. So, in your resume, you will need to demonstrate this skill by using numbers wherever possible.

How does your experience align with the skills the employer is seeking?

  • Analytical Skills
  • Detail-oriented
  • Problem-solving
  • Prioritizing/Organization
  • Communication with colleagues/clients
  • Adaptability and flexibility
  • Spreadsheets (Excel) and Powerpoint
  • Ability to work with a team
  • Leadership skills
  • Intellectual curioustiy
  • Presentation Skills (Powerpoint, think-cell)
  • Understand performance metrics
  • Technology  and Data Visualization Skills: Python, PowerBI, Tableau, SQL
  • Whiteboarding Tools (Miro)
  • Mental Math Skills
  • Learn more about the Gies Professional Pathway skills that all employers rank as top sought-after skills for future employees!

3. Find the Right Opportunities

A simple way to get started is by learning more about the companies that hired Gies students in the past. Once you have identified your target companies, follow these companies on Handshake to be informed about opportunities and info sessions, in which you can network with recruiters and professionals.  Check out this list of 200+ firms if you'd like to broaden your search.  Vault also rans the top 50 consulting firms in the U.S.

  • Accenture
  • Bain & Company
  • Baker Tilly
  • BCG
  • Booz Allen Hamilton
  • CapGemini
  • Charles River Associates
  • Claro Healthcare
  • Cognizant
  • Crowe
  • Deloitte
  • FTI Consulting, Inc.
  • EY
  • Galt & Company
  • GEP
  • Grant Thorton
  • HBR Consulting
  • HealthScape Advisors
  • Huron Consulting
  • Kearney
  • KPMG
  • L.E.K.
  • McKinsey & Company
  • Oliver Wyman
  • Plante Moran
  • PwC
  • Protiviti
  • RSM
  • West Monroe
  • ZS Associates

Consulting Interviews

Interview questions for consultants vary depending on the type of company to which you are applying. Consulting interviews typically include a mixture of behavioral, fit and case questions.