Advising managers how to run their organisations more efficiently doesn't require a background in business

Ramsay's foul-mouthed approach may not be to everybody's taste, and the Institute of Management Consultancy doesn't exactly endorse his methods. The chef, the institute points out, has his own way of running the show and expects everybody else to do the same. But if Ramsay has succeeded in getting a restaurateur to think about how he manages his business, then he has performed the same role as a management consultant.

Advising other people how to run their affairs, in the commercial or public sector, is a well-rewarded-career. Starting salaries are at the high end of the graduate pay scale and the job has good career prospects. New graduates can command starting salaries in excess of £30,000, and according to management sources it is an expanding profession; difficult to enter but demanded by many business clients.

"It's exciting, but hard work and long hours," says Lynda Purser, Director of the Institute of Management Consultancy. "This is a job that appeals to people who can handle challenge and change well. If you're after a predictable nine-to-five job in business, this is definitely not it."

For some, management consultancy can be a long-term career, and those who persist may eventually command a six-figure salary as the boss of a consultancy practice. The job also offers an introduction to commerce for bright trainees, who can use the experience and eventually cherry-pick a management post of their own.

Which may seem strange, considering that business experience is not aprerequisite to do the job. Becoming a management consultant requires no formal management qualifications at all. Most new entrants have a degree , in any subject from history to science, but there are no undergraduate courses covering the subject (although several masters or MBA courses now include consultancy modules).

What is most important, according to Purser, is to have an analytical mind. "To succeed as a management consultant, you have got to be bright. You have to pull information together and make sense of it. You have to be able to talk to your clients and work out how they do things, so you need good interpersonal skills. You don't actually need to have management experience of your own.

"A lot of clients call in management consultants because they are unable to do the job themselves - to look at what they do and how they do it. They can't see the wood for the trees. And it is not just the commercial sector - probably most management consultancy today is being bought by the public sector, such as the health service."

Whereas factories used to call in 'time and motion' experts with clipboards to study how their staff behaved, increasing numbers of organisations now use consultants to study the management itself. Management consultants talk a lot about 'processes' and scrawl on flow charts. A consultant's day can involve a lot of meetings, interviews, and writing reports for the board which can make a fundamental impact on a company's future.

While new recruits do not need specific management skills and only build up experience on the job, some already experienced managers can become consultants. After years in a management role, moving into consultancy is an accepted step forward. Every year, many former businessmen set out their stall as management consultants.But not all former managers make good management consultants.

Spending years as a senior manager in even the biggest company is not necessarily the best qualification to becoming a management consultant, as you may never have been required to cast a critical eye over the processes of which you are a part.

An estimated 50,000 to 80,000 management consultants are working in Britain today, covering specialist and niche areas from labour-intensive industry to computer software companies, the media and international finance. Some consultants work from their own homes or offices; most belong to consultancy partnerships which offer good salary packages, perks and professional development for successful operators.

You have to be able to take the heat. Unlike Ramsay, few work in the kitchen.