Consultancy is one of the top 10 graduate career choices, but what do these consultants do and how can someone who has never run a business tell someone else what to do?
The big management consultancy firms say they expend a lot of time and effort selecting the best graduates. Then they spend years training them up as experts in specialist fields, such as technology, business consulting or outsourcing, so they become experts and can offer advice.
According to Accenture, one of the biggest graduate employers in the UK, consultancy is complex and students have limited knowledge of the career, other than its prestige and big salaries. So the global consultancy firm has come up with a scheme to give students and recent graduates first-hand experience of the life of a consultant. They have introduced three-day "boot camps" where the would-be consultants work on real-life scenarios in a simulated environment and are coached in the skills they will need in employment.
There is no need to sign up with the company at the end of the boot camp, though so far most of those taking part have received and accepted a job offer.
Annabel Nichols, the UK head of graduate recruitment, says if students decide consulting or Accenture is not for them, they will not have wasted their time. "They get an opportunity to work with some of our inspirational people and receive top-quality coaching from experts. They go away with presentation skills, problem-solving techniques, teamworking and networking skills."
The 30 students chosen for each camp work in small teams to come up with a strategy to help a real retail company improve its profile and profitability. They undertake advanced training on the core business skills of problem-solving, presenting, communication and creativity. "All the sessions are delivered to take the students out of their comfort zone and help them to think differently," says Nichols. "On the final day, they are expected to make a live presentation of their strategies."
Why do women avoid jobs in banking?
Stung by criticism from big City banks that not enough women are applying for their graduate schemes, the University of Oxford's Careers Service carried out a survey of 450 students. The survey shows that they think jobs are either good for society or for individuals but not both. "The students see they must trade off the benefit to themselves with the contribution they make to society. They understand that to get a high benefit to themselves they have to work in a sector with a low contribution to society and vice versa," says Jonathan Black, the Careers Service's director.
Students saw jobs in financial services as good for them rather than for society. Only a third of those who said they were interested in finance were women. Women students were more likely to believe there was workplace discrimination against them and that they faced a glass ceiling in promotion.
"In this era of the Equal Pay Act, it is dispiriting that 50 per cent of women perceive they will be adversely affected by pay/benefits and workplace culture," said the Career Service's report. "There is plenty of evidence from, for example, the financial services sector, that women do earn less than men, confirming students' perceptions."
Four out of five students questioned said their opinion of discrimination in employment sectors was gained through their personal experience and that of their friends, family and alumni.
"It is pretty close to real experience, so when we talk to the banks about getting more women to apply we will be telling them that they are going to have to make some real changes," says Black. "How many female vice-presidents and other senior people do they have? Actions speak louder than words."