Let’s talk about your career now that you have a frame of reference for the consulting industry. You know the types of firms that are in the industry. And, you also know the unit economics.
What does a career in consulting look like specifically? We will look at the entry points to a career in consulting, job titles, how a career progression looks and the compensation and salary that consultants enjoy.
Points of entry into consulting
Let’s begin with the entry points. There are four main entry points to consulting: graduating with an undergraduate degree, graduating from graduate school, leaving industry, and becoming a senior hire. Most people who enter consulting do so through one of two main entry points.
Grad school hire
The majority of consulting firms are filled by graduates, especially those who have completed MBA programs. Many firms are dominated by post MBAs, who have been out of their programs for between one and three years. Many JDs, MDs and other professionals join consulting firms following their degrees but the majority are MBAs. There are also many engineers and other people with technical degrees (e.g. data analytics) who enter the field.
This is the second most important source of talent for consulting firms. Some firms hire more undergraduates than others. Bain, for example, tends to hire more undergraduates among strategy firms than McKinsey and BCG, even though it is a smaller company. Accenture and Deloitte tend to hire more analysts than their strategy counterparts. The differences in hiring preferences are a result of the firm profiles that we examined when comparing the different types consulting firms.
The two paths above are the most common, but they’re not the only ones! These entry points will become more common as firms expand (as we discussed in the previous section). This is because they need more industry experts, and more people who have experience in implementation as they move into these fields.
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Career path and career counseling
What will be your career path if you join a consultancy firm? Below is an approximation. Imagine it as a mental tool to help you understand how long you may spend at each job level, your potential compensation and responsibilities. This is meant to give you a general idea of what the future holds, not a complete picture.
As you look at the table, there are a few things to note:
Titles are relatively simple and have been fairly constant for the past few decades. Many firms now offer their consultants “interim titles” as they move up the ranks. These title changes can be official or unofficial, but they all help to show where someone is on their career path.
It is more common at the lower end of the ladder (e.g. Senior Associate Consultant) than the higher end (e.g. Senior Principal). Noting the years in the level is another common configuration. Some firms may refer to a first-year consultant as C1, and a second-year consultant as C2. These interim titles are helpful in determining where a consultant stands on the responsibility scale (see below for discussion regarding flexibility between bands, as people near the transition).
It’s important to note that these are just ranges. Unless you’re a rockstar, you’ll likely fall into one of them. Sometimes, a consultant can go from Consultant to partner in just five years. But this is the exception and not the rule!
If you are at the opposite end, then many consulting firms have “Up or out”. This means, quite simply, that if you are not ready to be promoted to the next level by the time period generally accepted, the firm will ask you to leave. It may hurt, but it is probably for the best. Many firms, particularly the large ones, offer generous services to help you find your next job.
Responsibility at each level
These responsibilities are generalized and give you an idea of what you would be responsible for at every level. We’ve arranged the main activities in each band at the top. You’ll want to get started on these activities as soon as possible after you take up your new role.
We’ve listed at the bottom the activities you will begin to take on as you progress in that band. As an example, at the end of a good Associate Consultant’s tenure with that band, they might begin to take on more responsibilities like leading a work stream. This could also be reflected in the title you choose (e.g. Senior Associate Consultant).
The primary role of a partner is to generate new business and maintain the relationship with existing clients. This means the partner is responsible for both winning new business and maintaining existing clients’ satisfaction. The partners will also spend some time directly working with the case team. However, they will rely primarily on a principal who will drive all case work streams and supervise the rest of their team.
Principals are often “partners in education.” This is an excellent and challenging position. This is a great position because they are close to the top. It’s hard because they have to prove that they are a partner before they can be named one. This means they must take on new business-development efforts. They can’t shirk from their primary responsibilities which include managing key clients on a daily basis, managing mid-level managers, and keeping partners informed of the case progress including milestones, analysis findings and potential blockers.
From jr. analyst to senior partners, many consultants will admit that their first year as a principal is the most difficult because they are managing clients, managers, and the partner. It’s a huge amount of responsibility!
Project Leaders/ Case Team Leaders/ Engagement Managers
Managers spend most of their time structuring problems, managing analysts’ work streams individually and synthesizing it into a cohesive report. The majority of the manager’s time is spent on ensuring analysts are on track and not blocked in any analysis.
They also share progress updates with senior team leaders. In addition to managing analysts, they synthesize the output from the work streams. Managers will also spend time directly interacting the client, depending on the factors like 1) the involvement of the principal 2) the scope of the case 3) and whether or not the team is in the field.
Analysts, Associates and Consultants
Individual contributors are responsible for the majority of analysis, just like analysts and associates. They also own their individual work streams. Individual contributors, unlike any of the previous roles, will not have to manage any other entity within the case team. This allows them to focus on their own work stream.
This could include conducting research interviews, creating an operational model using excel, collecting and analyzing data, or building powerpoint presentations on key insights. Analysts and associates will be expected to complete their assignments independently, with minimal supervision.