So you've decided it's time to redirect your career, and what you've heard about management consultancy appeals to you. But what do you need to make the dream a reality? We ask people with experience working and recruiting in this industry, as well as people who have made the switch, what it really means to be a management consultant and how an MBA could be your ticket to join them.
The industry expert – Kate Gaseltine
A business psychologist who has worked with McKinsey & Company, the UK Treasury, the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, Kate gives specialist coaching to Cambridge MBA students as part of their career development work.
What's so great about management consultancy?
It's the variety the variety of the people, the businesses that you go into and the challenges you tackle. And there's real intellectual stimulus you get a buzz from working with very bright people on things that really matter. Every consultancy project brings a new and different challenge and the key is to pull everything together to come up with a solution that has real impact. At the end of the day you also need to "sell" your solution to the client.
Do I have what it takes?
You need the ability to think clearly, analytically and strategically, but management consultants come from a variety of backgrounds. Firms are looking more and more for people with interpersonal skills – these are more important now than ever. When working with teams, you will need to be able to use active listening and tailor your message to different audiences. You could be working with a client for 12-13 hours a day for three months and will need to be resilient to that. As they increasingly compete with tech firms for the best people, consulting firms also now say they want "entrepreneurial spirit" and "appetite for risk" you need to demonstrate you can think laterally, put your head above the parapet and take the initiative, including taking calculated risks.
There's a huge variety of consultancy firms strategy houses such as McKinsey, Bain and BCG; global full service firms such as PwC and Deloitte, and boutique or specialist firms. The smaller firms tend to focus on specific experience within an industry, but it's possible to join specific sector or functional practices in some of the larger firms too.
What should I do next?
An MBA is a great start, but there are many MBA graduates out there so you need to make sure you can clearly distinguish yourself. Study for your MBA at a school with a recognized brand, one with intellectual rig our to it, and one that gives you hands-on experience with real businesses. This is a good way to build your skills and show that you have recognized and acted to close the gap in your knowledge, especially if you come from a non-business – or quite a specialized – background. Firms like self-starters. It can also help to have a "wild card" on your CV – an initiative or project you have completed outside your day-to-day work. This shows your appetite for variety and ability to manage your time.
So if you want to make a career switch, do your homework. Research the landscape, look at the types of firm you might want to work for – industry-specific or general, big or small, their location. Try to find people to talk to who work in those sectors. It doesn't just help your development, it enables you to network, too. And then connect with them on a topic of mutual interest.
Been there, done that – Milan Cooper (Cambridge MBA 2012)
Milan Cooper, 29, was working in intellectual property law in his native New Zealand when he decided to embark on an MBA, and hopefully use it to switch careers. After completing his Cambridge MBA, he’s now a management consultant working at international strategists Bain & Co in Oslo.
What's the story?
It probably seems to some people a strange career move. I was a patent attorney and had been in intellectual property law for five years, but just thought it was time to make a change. I was interested in strategy and thought it would be interesting to see what I could do. I decided I needed to do an MBA and narrowed my options to Europe. I was interested in Cambridge because of its reputation, its college system and I was fascinated by its history.
Did the MBA help you make the switch?
Definitely. It gave me specific skills in strategy and marketing, for example, and it also gave me experience – as part of the Global Consulting Project I analyzed the mobile gaming industry and developed a repositioning strategy for Sony's PlayStation Vita. It also gave me soft skills – how to work in a challenging team environment, how to manage myself and how to priorities. And it really boosted my confidence. It taught me that I’m capable of a lot and that I am able to push myself.
How will it help me find my new career?
I was able to go from being in a niche field to a completely different work sector without starting at the bottom of the ladder. The MBA enables you to pivot while still continuing your upward spiral. And I realized the Cambridge tag at the top of a CV is a very powerful thing. It makes recruiters sit up and take notice.
The careers expert – Conrad Chua
Conrad Chua is Head of MBA Admissions & Careers at Cambridge Judge Business School.
How will the programme help me switch?
We work with a large network of employers and can identify their talent needs. This means we can give our students a bespoke careers service suited to their situation and goals. Students also have four opportunities for practical projects during the MBA – two of which are with actual business clients – which gives them great opportunities to practice skills required for consultancy work, and make connections in companies they may be interested in working with.
What's so great about it?
Because our cohort is relatively small, our careers team can establish an in-depth profile of each student. This means we can deliver the relevant coaching and guidance to help them find employment in their chosen area. We work with students from before they even start the MBA, to look at their career goals, where they want guidance and what work experience they need.
Also we find that our students support each other enormously in their career search. A characteristic of the Cambridge MBA is that each cohort becomes incredibly close, through their classes and project work together. This commitment to the group is demonstrated when students with particular knowledge and skills of a sector will help others to prepare for interviews, for example, or support networking opportunities. This peer support is really valuable, and continues in subsequent years as alumni continue to progress their careers around the world.
Does it work?
The nature of the learning experience here, and the flexible and bespoke careers service we offer does give students a significant advantage when job hunting. More than 90 per cent of our job-seeking students are employed within three months of completing their MBA studies, in a very diverse range of jobs, industries and sectors. Our mobility rates are very high, showing that the programme does enables the career outcomes our students are looking for.
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