Management and HR consultancy demand great interpersonal skills for high salaries. Justine East reports

Chloe Smith, who works for Deloitte in the area of human capital, is among them. "After doing my degree in English Literature, I knew I wanted a career in management consultancy because you can make such a difference to large organisations," she says. "Also, you get to do stimulating work with great people and I think that's very attractive to graduates."

Ashley Unwin, partner in consulting at Deloitte, points to other rewards. "Consulting offers huge variety as you're solving different problems in different contexts over a given period of time. I could be working with the board of a telecommunications company, then with the board of a newspaper, then with the board of a bank. Graduates enjoy the competitive nature of the environment, and the camaraderie."

You work with high-profile clients, he adds, and there's travel, and a hefty salary.

"Consultancy has some glamour attached to it as well. If you're sitting around with your mates two years after graduating, and you say you're a management consultant, it has a caché. It's a top profession and it's fun."

Although Deloitte is the largest graduate recruiter in the UK this year, management and HR consultancy employers do look for the crème-de-la-crème. You'll need an impressive balance of intellectual capacity, interpersonal skills and team-working skills. Mr Unwin says: "Solving problems is ultimately what consultancy is about. We are customer-facing and nothing we do is on a stand-alone basis. It's all teamwork."

A willingness and aspiration to continually develop is critical. "Most of our graduates are aiming to become partners, which is a 12- to 15-year journey," he says.

Management consultants and HR consultants often do very different work, but there is increasing cross-over, says Jessica Jarvis, learning, training and development adviser for the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).

"For example, organisational change, which is something a management consultant may deal with, will inevitably involve looking at things like reward schemes, training and development, and career paths - which is what HR consultants deal with."

Simon Earnshaw, head of resourcing at the consulting firm Watson Wyatt, adds that his firm throws the net wider still when it comes to a definition of consulting. Providing advice to clients across a range of specialist fields including benefits, human capital, insurance, financial services and investment, the company also has practices dedicated to benefits administration and technology solutions.

"If we advise and administer a pension scheme for a multinational client, we could also be asked to advise clients on the investment strategy and structure of the pension scheme," he says. "Likewise, as a pensions and benefits consultant, we might also advise clients about their overall approach to rewards, including incentive schemes, share plans, executive pay and so on."

Watson Wyatt not only requests a 2.1 or higher from its graduates, but at least 300 UCAS points, typically looking for those who were straight A students at school. The assessment process is rigorous, he warns. "First, we screen the application, then you get invited to a screening interview and from that we select people to join a day long assessment centre."

Lynton Barker, a director of the Management Consultancies Association, still loves his career after 20 years in the business. He has visited the world's major cities, made friends with many consultants and clients and become head of two highly respected firms. "I never hesitate to encourage people to give consulting a go," he says. "But it is not for the faint-hearted. Energy, good health, adaptability, sociability, and patience are all paramount - as well as a good brain and pride in what you do."