By Heream Yang
A career in corporate consulting can encompass anything from helping with implementation of enterprise software to cutting costs for a manufacturing plant. Consultants are essentially doctors for businesses, diagnosing an organization’s toughest problems and prescribing a set of solutions.
To help demystify the wide world of consulting, we spoke with Emily Anderson, Senior Director at the Career Management Center (CMC), to learn about the different consulting opportunities available. Here is a guide to different types of consultant roles and which ones are the best fit for business-minded students:
Management consulting is a popular career for students seeking constant intellectual challenges, exposure to top company executives, a collaborative work environment, and frequent travel opportunities. There are three major sources of recruiting:
- “MBB” strategy firms: McKinsey & Company, Bain & Company, and The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) are strategy powerhouses, offering entry-level consultants immediate exposure to a wide variety of industries and functions.
- Big Four accounting firms: Deloitte, EY, KPMG, and PwC operate sizable management consulting practices in Strategy, Technology, Risk, and other business areas.
- Tech-focused firms: Accenture, Booz Allen Hamilton, Infosys, and Wipro draw from their deep digital expertise to help clients innovate and improve performance across a broad range of industries.
The long hours and hard work typically associated with management consulting pay off in the form of generous compensation and lucrative exit opportunities. Through constant exposure to a diverse array of business problems, management consultants develop a variety of business skills that equip them for future success in specialized leadership roles.
“(A firm’s) primary objective is that you have good client-facing skills, good problem-solving skills, good analytical skills, and then it can be applied to various industries and types of problems,” Anderson explained.
Because management consulting values analytical ability over industry expertise, it’s an attractive career for students from a wide variety of backgrounds, and many career switchers leverage an MBA program to make the pivot into management consulting. For example, Bennet Hayes (MBA’18) was a professional poker player for six years before he attended business school and subsequently landed a consulting role at BCG. Regardless of background, all successful management consultants share an enthusiasm for problem-solving and a sharp analytical mindset.
Industry Consulting: Healthcare, Operations, Public Sector
Due to the generalist model of most management consulting firms, breaking into a specific field like healthcare consulting is a less common path for entry-level consultants. “There’s not a lot of firms that specialize in a particular vertical,” Anderson explained. “(At) firms like Bain, BCG, and Deloitte in the strategy practice areas, you might ultimately be able to go down a specialization road, but you’re going to come in (as a generalist). (At) KPMG, PwC, EY, Infosys, they may have a vertical, and you might be able to eventually get in there, but usually you get access to the firm and then you would have to interview for the practice area, too.”
That being said, students with strong demonstrated interest and experience in a particular field can successfully secure industry consulting positions, though it’s the exception to the rule. For example, Cameron Phipps (MBA’19), a Senior Associate on PwC’s Healthcare Advisory Team, earned undergraduate degrees in Chemistry and Community Health and worked at a health information technology company before enrolling in business school. While at Vanderbilt Business, he pursued an MBA concentration in healthcare and interned at a pharmaceuticals company, leveraging his experience to ultimately land a healthcare consulting role at PwC.
Human Capital Consulting
As companies become even more complex and global, strategic people management is critical to driving organizational success. For students interested in the human side of business, human capital consulting may be an excellent fit. “(Human capital consulting) is all about how client firms are utilizing their human capital assets, so a lot around workforce planning, compensation structure, retention, (and) change management,” Anderson explained.
Students can specialize directly in human capital consulting at Big 4 firms by recruiting for Deloitte Human Capital, EY People Advisory Services, KPMG People and Change, or PWC People and Change. MBA students may find that concentrating in a related field like Human & Organizational Performance is helpful for recruiting. However, this may not be necessary to land a human capital consulting role, depending on the firm.
Many major companies have in-house consulting groups, like Google BizOps or Disney Corporate Strategy & Business Development. These internal consulting practices work from within to solve organizational challenges and may be a great career path for students with a clear idea of the company or industry they want to work for. Internal consultants develop deep business expertise that can ultimately serve as a stepping stone up to a leadership position within the company.
Political and Economic Consulting
While not typical careers for most business school students, political and economic consulting represent the more specialized, academic end of the corporate consulting spectrum. Political consultants craft campaigns for public officials on the local, state, or national level, while economic consulting firms work across public and private sector organizations, conducting economic research and analysis at the intersection of business, economics, and law.
“Those (fields) are more (for) specialty hires,” Anderson said. “You would find either PhDs, if they’re straight out of school, or (candidates with) multiple years of industry experience.”
Consulting is a broad field that can lead to a vast array of fulfilling careers. Students who crave intellectual challenge, rigorous analysis, and collaborative teamwork should explore different types of consultant roles to see what might be a fit.