Though running a business has always come with its set of challenges, business leaders today are experiencing a diversification of problems and conundrums. Inflation, supply chain uncertainty, rapid technological advancements, and the ongoing war for talent have executives scratching their heads.
One man's problem can be another man's opportunity, however: the ever-changing business landscape is driving hordes of business owners to seek out advice from consulting professionals. The momentum being generated is colossal, with the management consulting market value estimated to grow by a staggering $814.6 billion by 2031.
So, if it’s job security, a good paycheck, and purposeful work you’re after, then a career in management consulting could be right for you. In this article, we’ll be looking at what the job entails, how much it pays, and what steps you need to follow in order to become a successful management consultant.
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What management consultants do
Management consultants, or management analysts as they’re sometimes called, offer advice and guidance to help their clients’ organizations thrive. Many management analysts specialize in a specific area, such as corporate structure, marketing, or human resources. In some cases, they may specialize in a specific industry, like the healthcare, financial, or telecommunications sectors.
No matter their area of expertise, management consultants will use a combination of quantitative and analytical skills to come up with tailored, effective solutions. Their duties don’t end there, however; aside from coming up with informed suggestions, they play an active role in having these suggestions implemented.
To summarize, to enhance efficiency in business operations, management consultants:
- Collect information about the problems faced by the company
- Conduct staff interviews and observations to arrive at appropriate solutions
- Analyze data, like revenue and expenditure reports, to see what can be improved
- Create written proposals and presentations
- Discuss structural or organizational change propositions with upper management
- Work with management to ensure new procedures are implemented well
What the job is like
So far, we’ve looked at the duties that management consultants perform on a day-to-day basis. To gain a clear idea of what a typical management consultant role looks like, however, there’s much more you need to know.
In this section, we’ll discuss the good and the bad of management consulting.
While management analysts most commonly find employment in management consulting firms or the federal government, some choose to work independently. Regardless of where they work, management consultants split their time between their office or firm and their client’s premises.
As is the case with many professions these days, management consulting requires a high level of digital skills. When they’re not liaising with clients or traveling, management consultants spend a fair share of their time working with spreadsheets, creating presentations, and writing up emails.
Because they’re usually offered fixed-term contracts by clients seeking fast, impactful solutions, management consultants often work under tight deadlines. The closer the deadline, the likelier it is for these management experts to have to work more than 40 hours a week.
If you’re considering entering this profession, bear in mind that working hours can become long, depending on the client’s requirements, how pressing the time is, and whether you’re offered a temporary or long-standing consulting contract. How far their office is from yours will also determine how long your commutes will be.
Long hours, endless commutes, and high amounts of screen time can increase stress and the likelihood of depression — the job’s got them all.
Long hours at work have widely been associated by medical professionals with an increase in tobacco and alcohol consumption. This is because stress levels can skyrocket when work-life balance goes out the window and we don’t get enough rest.
Similarly, long commutes can result in higher levels of anger, stress, and boredom, which negatively impacts our mood. Not only that, sitting down for long periods of time and being exposed to air pollution can be detrimental to cardiovascular and respiratory health.
Finally, we’ve all heard that the use of electronics can disrupt the circadian rhythm and result in poor sleep quality. And insufficient sleep is the last thing you need when you’re already under pressure!
Can a job be rewarding despite its stressful nature and the long hours it requires? Certainly! For people who can set boundaries and manage stress, management consulting can be an enjoyable career. The high job security and median annual wage of $93,000 can make the hardships worthwhile.
Ultimately, job satisfaction has less to do with duties and requirements and more to do with the individual’s goals and preferences. According to the Harvard Business Review, many management consultants are now choosing freelance work over working for firms. This is because it allows them to build more meaningful relationships with clients, make a bigger impact, and work fewer hours.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has projected that, between 2021 and 2031, employment of management analysts will grow 11%. This is remarkably faster than the average growth for all occupations. As a result, management consultants can expect to see around 101,900 positions opening up in their field every year until 2031.
The BLS also notes that the vast majority of management consultants work in the professional, scientific, and technical services sector, the federal government, or are self-employed.
In coming years, the BLS anticipates management analysts who specialize in information technology to find their skills in even higher demand. As nearly a third of business now takes place online, more and more companies need to ensure a high level of cybersecurity and the use of up-to-date systems.
According to the BLS, management consultants earn a little under $50 an hour on average. That works out to $100,530 a year. The top 10th percentile, however, takes home over $163,760 annually, while the lowest 10th percentile earns under $50,190.
Much like in any industry, there are many deciding factors in a worker’s earnings: how many years of experience they have, who their employer is, and what area they live in. Speaking of the latter, the top-paying states for management consultants are Massachusetts ($116,870), New Jersey ($116, 780), New York ($114,950), Washington ($114,730), and Illinois ($112,420).
As far as individual industries are concerned, management consultants working in metal ore mining receive the highest annual earnings ($148,130), followed by consultants in oil and gas ($125,930) and engine, turbine, and power transmission equipment manufacturing ($124,620).
Here's a quick overview:
Essential skills and qualities
Management consultants work with clients on high-stakes projects under tight timeframes. Their role comprises a wide range of tasks, from conducting interviews to analyzing data to liaising with management and C-level executives.
Therefore, in order to excel in this career, management consultants need to have the following skills and qualities:
- Problem-solving ability: Consultants must gain aholistic perspective of how a company operates in order to find the most efficient solutions to problems.
- Collaboration skills: To increase business performance, consultants need to work alongside management. Aside from good communication skills, this requires honesty, approachability, and a sense of accountability.
- An inquisitive mind: Management consultants must carry out investigative work to understand where and why things go wrong. Researching the company and its competitors is part of the job.
- Project management ability: You can’t sit at the steering wheel unless you know how to drive. Consultants must monitor various different tasks and parameters at once to lead the way.
- Analytical thinking skills: Coming up with answers to problems relies heavily on collecting and analyzing the right data.
- Ability to work under pressure: In this profession, it’s vital to be able to perform well when the stakes are high and time is running out.
Steps to become a management consultant
As we’ve seen, management consulting brings together various responsibilities and combines them into a single role. If you’re up for the challenge and can see yourself thriving in this profession, you can find out how to become a management consultant below.
Step 1: Determine if it’s the right career for you
Daydreaming about a job is, of course, entirely different to undergoing the necessary training and working in that field. Though something may sound enticing in theory, in reality it may not prove a good fit. You’ll need to determine if you have the correct skills and attributes for the role, so do a little self-reflection to determine if you have most of the skills we listed above.
To explore your career options and make a decision with more certainty, we recommend using a reliable career or aptitude test, such as our own, CareerHunter. Put together by career experts, psychologists, and psychometrists, CareerHunter takes into account your personality and skills, and matches you against 250 career paths.
If you’d like to see how it works, you can take the first assessment on us.
Step 2: Earn a bachelor’s degree
A bachelor’s degree is usually the minimum requirement for entry-level management consultants. Picking a major in business or a relevant subject, such as project management or financial management, is one way you can approach your studies. Alternatively, you could pick a major that’s related to the industry you’d like to work in, like social sciences or engineering.
Step 3: Earn an MBA (optional)
Though not always required by employers, an MBA can help your application stand out.
Having said that, it’s even possible to break into the Big Three (McKinsey & Company, Boston Consulting Group, and Bain & Company) without an MBA… at least, in theory! If you’re hired at entry level and your performance is consistently outstanding, you may be offered an MBA sponsorship. However, according to MConsultingPrep, competition at these prestigious firms is so fierce that only about 1% of applicants are offered a position.
So, earning your qualifications prior to applying for work is safer than fighting against the odds, especially if your goals are ambitious.
Step 4: Gain work experience
In recent years, employers have been reconsidering their degree requirements for a wide range of roles. The Great Resignation has only accelerated this trend, as it’s resulted in talent shortages across the world. To access larger pools of candidates, companies are now shifting to skills-based hiring, encouraging applicants with transferable skills to send in their résumé.
Considering this, for recent graduates especially, an internship at a boutique firm or relevant work experience can make all the difference between being given a chance and having your application discarded.
Step 5: Get your CMC designation (optional)
Gaining the certified management consultant (CMC) designation from the Institute of Management Consultants USA is a great way to establish yourself as an industry expert.
To sit the written and oral exams, you must first complete an accredited four-year degree, work for at least three years, and provide five client evaluations.
Management consulting jobs come with excellent job security, six-figure salaries, company cars, and even exciting exit opportunities. On the flip side, the profession can be highly demanding, both physically and mentally. While some can push through the pressure and reap the benefits, others fold their cards and decide the stress just isn’t worth it.
Could this be the right profession for you? Let us know your thoughts now that you’ve gained a better understanding of what it takes to work as a management consultant.
Originally published May 4, 2014.