Management consultancy: Get ahead with confidence and global business knowledge

Traditionally, management consultancy was a career choice for proven business professionals; preferably with a good five or 10 years direct experience under their belt.

Today, as the international consultancy scene widens its scope to encompass the latest opportunities presented by e-commerce, the opportunities for new graduates with little direct experience of the commercial coal-face, but shed-loads of self-confidence, have soared.

Consultancies such as Ernst & Young and McKinsey typically offer a wide range of services in some or all of the following areas: strategy, development and change, human resources, financial management, manufacturing, marketing, environmental management and quality management as well as all things IT.

Experienced management consultants can earn a lot of money by showing private and public sector organisations how to run themselves more effectively, but for a fresh graduate without years of business knowledge, there are other entry qualifications to consider.

While a recent graduate won't be expected to have run a successful e-enterprise, or to have orchestrated a big win on the stock market, they will be expected to be knowledgeable about and sympathetic to the global business community. They will also need to possess the kind of persuasiveness that one day will convince already successful clients that their business can scale still greater heights.

A potential recruit will be expected to show an innate understanding of how business ticks and the financial, distribution, sales, marketing and IT issues that senior managers grapple with every day. Their application will be far stronger if they have had work experience that involves practical problem-solving ability and a minimum 2.1 degree is the norm.

"We look for confidence, but despite this being a highly competitive business, listening, communication and teamworking skills are also vital," says David Owen, managing director of consulting at Deloitte, one of the world's leading professional services firms, which will take on 1,400 graduates into its core businesses of audit, tax, consulting and corporate finance this year.

One of the jobs of a junior consultant or analyst is to research and write management reports. Although a fresh graduate won't usually be let loose on a senior client without back-up, it is part of the role to interview clients about their particular business problem and then use sources such as the web to gather any stats or trend information that may be relevant to solving it.

As they gain experience, they will find practical answers for their clients and present their recommendations for action; often to cynical, world-weary directors. Further on up the chain of command, senior consultants and managers lead their own teams of analysts and manage specific client projects of their own.

Project-based and intensely entrepreneurial, management consultancy attracts people with financial acumen, commercial nous, boundless self-assurance and great mental and physical stamina but, surprisingly perhaps, a business or management degree not essential.

While an economics, mathematics or psychology degree may improve your chances of breaking into this competitive and highly rewarded field - Deloitte for example pays its consulting graduates a starting salary of £30,000 and says it is "agnostic" about their choice of degree - strong analytical skills, personal charisma and potential leadership capacity are all highly rated.

Graduates who have already completed a post-grad training scheme with a blue-chip employer tend to be looked on fairly favourably - even if the course was only one year - but again, recruiters are on the hunt for intellectual skill and emotional intelligence as much as hands-on experience.

Large consultancy firms such as Accenture and Deloitte offer new recruits training courses on company culture, consulting in general and their specific area, and after two years, may offer sponsorship for an MBA in preparation for their first frontline consultancy role.

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