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by Vault Consulting Editors | March 10, 2009

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For people with no energy experience, consulting offers a good entry point into the industry. Consulting firms are often willing to hire smart people and train them on the industry content knowledge. BAs with any type of academic concentration are competitive, though some firms may tend to prefer Economics or Engineering students. Given the complex nature of the energy business, PhDs are unusually welcome and explicitly recruited into energy consulting. Most firms start PhD graduates one or two levels below MBAs, given their lack of work experience.

Business consulting firms whose clients are the senior management staff of private companies are called management consulting firms. Working for one of them would get you involved in helping energy company clients answer a wide variety of questions, such as:

  • Conduct due diligence for proposed M&A transactions
  • Assess the pros and cons of an O&G company investing in capacity to produce and import liquefied natural gas (LNG)
  • Advise companies on oil, gas, and electricity price hedging strategies
  • Recommend methods for a refinery to cut operating costs
  • Discuss alternatives for setting up a joint venture between an investment bank and a utility
  • Design a performance management system for a national oil company abroad
  • Identify which assets, if any, a utility should divest
  • Value power generation assets
  • Calculate the risk management impact of a utility's physical and financial positions
  • Evaluate for which oil fields an E&P company should renew leases and pursue development

In contrast to management consultancies, risk consulting firms focus specifically on supporting companies with Value-at-Risk (VaR) management, capital adequacy questions, Sarbanes-Oxley compliance, and establishing enterprise-wide risk management processes. Another niche area within business consulting is litigation support. Litigation support consulting groups (also known as economic consulting firms) provide economic reasoning to support disputes over issues such as price fixing, collusion, or trading improprieties; they may also delve into traditional strategy consulting as well. Many of these firms were originally spun out of Harvard and MIT academic departments, and tend to be staffed with a fair number of PhDs, rather than MBAs.

Hiring for energy practices in consulting firms is generally no different than hiring for other practices--in fact, firms that focus on multiple industries often hire generalists and assign them to a specific industry practice after-the-fact. Like all consultants, energy consultants need to demonstrate excellent problem-solving and client service skills. Interviews for energy-specific consulting jobs will tend to be more quantitative. Because the industry is so asset-intensive, senior executive decisions tend to be heavily based on financial reports and data.

Consulting firms have one of the more rigorous hiring processes among types of companies, using business case interviews to test your ability to quickly assess the probable causes of problems you would likely encounter in client organizations. Anyone attempting to get into consulting is wise to study hard for case questions. Often, the difference between getting an offer and not is more a reflection of how hard you study and how many analysis frameworks you memorize, rather than how intrinsically smart you may be--so don't plan on simply "winging it" in the interview!

You can actually do consulting work in many types of companies. If your work is project-based, as opposed to having a continuous and fixed job responsibility, and you advise people on things, then you are a consultant. In fact, the line between being a consultant and being some type of non-consultant businessperson is quite blurry. Sometimes large corporations have positions for people they actually title "internal consultants." An internal consultant at a large utility company might work on a business strategy project for a few months, and then be asked to help with a new market forecasting initiative, followed by providing valuation support for an environmental compliance decision. Similarly, many services firms do advisory work without referring to themselves as consulting firms per se. A prime example of this is oil services firms, which not only provide outsourced equipment supply services, but also consult to oil companies on exploration tactics and data analysis. Working for an oil services firm could feel very similar to working for a consulting firm, depending on the exact nature of your role.

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Filed Under: Consulting

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