Strategy Consulting: Why Do All Top MBAs Want This Job?

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Strategy Consulting

Why do all MBAs want to be in Strategy Consulting?

Strategy consulting and planning is the life-line of any organisation and pervades through the mission, objectives , goals and functioning of a company. Naturally, a company requires smart minds to be able to grasp the bird’s eye view of the direction that the company is taking and be able to advise on the future path.

Many companies traditionally rely on experienced and wise old timers of the company to do this path guidance. However, for smaller and newer companies, the throne remains for those to claim who can wisely advise and steer the company through tricky environmental and cooperate issues. All this and much more is the preserve of management or strategic consulting. So why is this an adrenaline inducing role for most MBAs , especially from top B- Schools? What is the fuss all about?

As per a report by Financial Time in 2016, consulting firms remained the top choice of MBA graduates and the top three firms –  McKinsey, Boston Consulting and Bain & Co. are the major influencers of the study and curriculum of top MBA schools as these are important recruiters. A statistic shows how 38 percent of MBAs from Emory University’s Goizueta School of Business were lapped up by the consulting firms and with higher median base than usual which was very close to the salaries offered in Harvard and Stanford.

In many ways, strategy consulting is the perfect job fit for MBAs. It allows them to leverage their functional training and business experience as they work on projects that are broad-based and cross-functional. Strategy consultants are also exposed to diverse industries and functions – which helps them expand their knowledge base in a very short period of time. They also get an opportunity to work closely with top clients and senior executives on strategic issues that have long term impact on businesses.

The environment at leading strategy firms is highly collaborative and intellectually challenging, which allows consultants to grow rapidly – both in terms of industry expertise and functional knowledge such as finance, marketing, operations and IT. This gives them an opportunity to move into senior roles such as Partner within 10-12 years of starting their careers

What is Strategy Consulting ?

It is defined as a continuous planning, monitoring, analysis and assessment of plans and goals for the organisation to meet its long term objectives. There have been large conglomerates which have been quick and nimble-footed enough to change as quickly as the market trends and adapt the product and practices accordingly. Advising companies on such practices and keeping them relevant in this dynamic and cut-throat environment is the expertise offered by strategic management.

Strategy consulting is typically done at the highest echelons of the management – the Board and C-level executives. It is understanding the environmental factors affecting your company – industry, economic, political, social, be able to distinguish the external vs internal factors and make an informed plan of action for the top management to help them lead the teams below them.

Strategy consultants work with top-level management (CEOs and CFOs) of companies or organizations, advising on critical issues. They diagnose problems, perform analysis and research, and develop recommendations for their clients on how they should move forward based on this analysis. Consultants then present these findings and recommendations to key decision makers in the client company who will ultimately decide whether or not to implement those recommendations.

The tactical or functional operations are carried out by the other levels of the company but the steering at the top has to be at the right direction. Strategy consulting is hence a multi-dimensional role where solutions have to be tailor-made for each company and monitored using tools and techniques devised over last 50 years.

Strategy Consulting

Qualities required for a Strategy Consultant

The first and foremost quality that any consulting firm will look at while hiring is strong analytical acumen. Working on theoretical and live case studies is the first test that firms look at.

Your adeptness at assimilating changing information, multi-dimensional issues and incorporating them smartly, keeping all stakeholders in mind, and coming to an acceptable and profitable solution is the key to become a successful strategy consulting professional.

Proven signs of teamwork and team leading capabilities, formidable interpersonal and negotiation skills along with a broad based network will take you to great heights.

Qualifications Required

A management consultant can be first a core expert in a particular area (physics, programming, marketing and others) and then look at a multi-disciplinary course like an MBA to augment the case study skills. An MBA is a good option for someone who doesn’t have a lot of work experience and wants to change careers, but can also be a good choice for someone with many years of work experience in the same field.

If you are an experienced professional looking to make the jump to a top consulting firm, an MBA degree from a top-tier business school is often seen as an important credential. Elite firms such as McKinsey, BCG and Bain may recruit on campus during the first year of your MBA program.

The highest-ranked programs for career opportunities in consulting include Harvard Business School, which offers a specialised degree track in management consulting, and Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, which has longstanding relationships with many leading firms.

Also, these days consulting companies are looking for people with specific new skills such as Big Data analytics and digital transformation. Thus, most new specific skills and qualifications will come in handy to appeal your case to a potential management consultant firm.

How MBA helps

MBA being a multi-disciplinary approach towards problem solving helps condition the mind set of the students in thinking in that way. It is a curriculum that undergoes most changes each year and includes the latest knowledge base to help assimilate the useful information.

Here is how an MBA program helps to get into strategy consulting roles:

  • Practical training – a chance to learn from experience

MBA programs provide opportunities for students to work on real-life projects with companies. These projects often lead to permanent job offers where you can make a lasting impact on the operation of a business. MBA programs allow you to gain valuable industry experience, as well as interact with people who have years of experience in the field. The pedagogy at top MBA programs is rigorous and world class. You will learn from some of the best professors in their fields, who will also serve as mentors and guide you through your career path.

  • Developing your leadership and communication skills

One of the biggest reasons that employers hire MBAs is because they are looking for leadership potential. Today’s business environment demands leaders who can motivate others, communicate effectively and build teams that work well together. When you pursue an MBA program, you will be able to strengthen your leadership skills by interacting with other students in your cohort and working together on group projects. The experience and knowledge you gain during your MBA will prepare you to step into management positions within companies when you graduate.

  • Networking opportunities

When it comes to getting a job, who you know is just as important as what you know. That’s why networking is so important for anyone looking for new employment opportunities, including those pursuing MBAs. Students at top business schools come from diverse backgrounds and experiences and you can leverage this diversity to build a strong network that will help you navigate through your career path. Many top MBA programs will give you a network with alumni that are often in senior positions, as well as a top peer network that can help you access top management peers in the future.

  • Internships and access to top consulting firms

Strategy consulting companies hire most of their candidates from campus so an internship with a top consulting firm is one of the best ways to get into a full time role with them post MBA. It is important for you to apply for internships early since most firms start recruiting interns well before the first semester ends.

It also teaches the art of teamwork and managing different egoes that will come in handy while dealing with various sticky situations.

Top companies to work for

As per Vault – a website researching companies and ranking consultancies, the top management consulting firms to work for are –

  • McKinsey & Company
  • The Boston Consulting Group, Inc.
  • Bain & Company
  • AT Kearney
  • Oliver Wyman

There are various other common names such as KPMG, Accenture, PricewaterHouseCoopers Consulting, Booz Allen Hamilton, and many others.

Roles and Career Path

Consulting can be across industries and your core subjects of engineering to MBA and sciences can work in your favour – some industries seeking management consultants are –

  • Aerospace, Defence & Government Services
  • Agribusiness
  • Airlines & Transportation
  • Automotive
  • Chemicals
  • Consumer Products
  • Energy
  • Financial Services
  • Forest Products, Paper & Packaging
  • Healthcare
  • Industrial Goods & Services
  • Industrial Machinery
  • Infrastructure, Construction & Building Products
  • Media and Entertainment
  • Metals & Mining
  • Private Equity
  • Retail
  • Social & Public Sector
  • Technology
  • Telecommunications

Strategy consulting firms have well-defined career paths for their consultants. The path differs across firms but here is a general idea of what your career will look like. The opportunity to travel, exposure to big decisions and organising challenges, high powered network of C-level executives and colleagues is a daily routine for management consultants.

The salaries are among the highest, more than even those in Finance – US$145,000 on an average if you are in the top colleges. The starting standing median salaries are in the range of US$100,000 to US$135,000 with bonuses of US$25,000 on an average.

As you can see, the path is a clear progression from junior to senior to principal and then partner. The titles associate and senior associate are used interchangeably in some firms, with the same applying for senior manager and director.

The fact that the path is so clear means that the job is very structured and you do not need to worry about your career progression as long as you perform well. Some firms have an ‘up or out’ (perform or perish) policy as well.

The typical path for graduates who join a firm straight out of university is:

Junior consultant -> Consultant -> Engagement Manager -> Senior Manager/Partner

For those who join as experienced hires after a few years in industry, it can be:

Engagement Manager -> Senior Manager/Director -> Partner

The growth path starts as a “Junior Associate” (graduation) then to an “Associate” in 3 to 4 years, then to an “Engagement Manager” in another 5 to 6 years.

Parting Comment

Management consulting as a function certainly highly sought after; however, the qualities and qualifications will keep changing as per the current business trends and scenarios, and the core requirement of an analytical mind remains.

It will help to think of it as a relationship role rather than a job as then it will lead you to work towards all the requirements effortlessly. The strategy consulting professional is not just a problem seeker but a problem solver.


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