Skip to Main Content
by Vault Consulting Editors | March 31, 2009


For just about any aspect of business life, there is a management consultant who can suggest a better way of doing it. Management consultants advise companies on a wide range of business issues, ranging from their buying processes, through to their recruiting strategies and marketing operations. Some people complain that management consultants lack practical experience, having never held positions in the industry they are giving advice on. But in fact, many management consultancy firms now recruit senior staff fromdifferent trades, so-called “lateral” hires, bringing their experience with them.

The total value of the UK market was estimated by the Management Consultancies Association (MCA) to be around £7.7 billion in 2006, employing upwards of 25,000 people. The MCA, in their 2006/2007 annual report, stated that the sector enjoyed a 16 per cent increase in income in 2006 compared with 2005.The UK is roughly equal with Germany in terms of its share of the management consultancy sector, each having around 27 per cent of the European market, with the US as the leading market globally. This rapid growth followed a period of unrest in the early years of the decade, after a series of scandals in the US, where management consultants were criticised for their role in the failure of Enron and other companies. Since then, firms have taken care to keep consultancy and accountancy divisions apart from one another, or toseparate them entirely by creating a new company or merging with another firm. KCI-KPMG Consulting (now BearingPoint) split from KPMG in 2000, and in 2000 Capgemini split from Ernst & Young.

There are three general types of management consultancy:

• Strategy consulting
• IT Consulting
• Boutique Firms (i.e. finance, healthcare or human resources)

Many strategy consulting firms are considered generalist as they offer many different disciplines such as, human resources, information technology (IT) and outsourcing consultancy. They offer advice to companies on specific projects, using experts in the field to deliver benefits. In the UK, these include companies such as McKinsey and Bain and Company, both US-owned firms. Some of them have developed as advisory arms of accountancy firms (such as Accenture), some grew out of computer companies (such as IBM BusinessConsulting Services) and others were created as consultancy firms from the start (such as PAConsulting Group).

For an example, companies are finding that contracting out supporting parts of their business, like accounting or human resources, to lower-cost countries such as India or China can save millions of dollars, and so large consulting firms are now offering specialised advice in how to do this more efficiently. These Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) services provide consultation on sourcing-tosettlement globally to corporate and government entities. In the UK, Capgemini and Accenture are now the leading providers of consulting in various BPO areas.

Boutique or niche firms are small firms that specialise in one or a few, very particular areas of law. Niche firms are often formed when consultants leave a large firm and set up their own consultancy, offering specialised knowledge in specific industries like M&A, operational risk, finance or regulatory compliance. As clients get more sophisticated, they are demanding more and more results from consultants who have the knowledge and experience to give them more value for their money.

Who gets hired?

As a basic starter, all management consultants will have completed tertiary education and a university degree. In larger, international companies it is common for recruits to have a second degree, either an MBA or a master’s degree in law, medicine, engineering or science.

Nevertheless, there are other ways to enter the sector. Firms will recruit among undergraduates, offering “Business Analyst” schemes where a recent graduate will work alongside associates at a firm for up to two years. Firms will also sponsor candidates to attend graduate schools, either for an MBA or another further degree, after their initial two years.

There are four key qualities that recruiters are looking for:

• Solid problem-solving skills
• Goal-oriented
• Communication and interpersonal skills
• Leadership qualities

Consultancy is a promising area for graduate employment opportunities with management consultancies complaining that they have more jobs to fill than good applicants. Consulting firms are generally facing high attrition rates because of a growing demand for specialised consultants. Specialised talent can be difficult to retain because they are drawn away by higher-paying consulting or industry positions. Therefore, there are many new opportunities available as the sector continues to expand.

Which job role?

Within management consultancy firms, individuals can carry out a variety of roles, depending on the workflow and the needs of clients. This is particularly true in smaller firms. Here are some working definitions of management consultancy roles:

The generalist

This person will possibly have an MBA and will have done further study of business at a graduate school. The generalist’s role is to advise clients from any kind of industry on good practice. They will have excellent problem-solving skills and be able to present information to clients in a clear, persuasive way.

IT consultant

This role includes advising clients on computing, telecommunications and all the many issues around e-business, automation and multimedia developments. Demand for IT consultants has increased in recent years as companies invest in new generations of equipment and adopt new technologies. The ideal candidate might have a degree in electrical engineering or computer science and anMBA.

Human resources (HR) consultant

Advising clients on recruitment policy, salary reviews and leadership skills comprises much of human resources consultancy. Firms that are going through the merger or acquisition process often have a particular need for HR consultancy, as two sets of employees try to work together and match their differing salaries and working conditions. Candidates are welcome from many different academic disciplines, although an MBA is still a valued additional degree.

Brand management and marketing

Consultants working on brand management help clients to understand and measure the effectiveness of their brand and to build upon it. Graduates of maths or economics degrees may have an advantage here, since this work is often based on complex figures derived from market research programmes.

Business process engineering

This area was highly popular in the 1990s and was conducted by most of the largest consultancy firms, as clients came to grips with the opportunities and threats of new technology — automation, mobile telecommunications and the internet. Since the millennium it became less popular but is now enjoying a revival as outsourcing (for example, to Asia) grows ever more prevalent and companies need to adjust to new realities.

Generally speaking

Financial services provide the lion’s share of work for UK management consultants, adding up to more than £1 billion in revenue each year, according to the MCA’s survey of its members. In second place is the services sector, including retail, leisure, media, private healthcare and real estate and information technology services. Yet the fastest-growing sector for management consultancy is manufacturing and construction, up by 49 per cent to £578 million in 2006.

Names to know

The biggest global consultancy firms employ tens of thousands of people in around the world, meaning there is a constant demand for employees. The top firms in any major financial centre often hire approximately 100 graduates each year. These firms include Accenture and McKinsey.

Other prominent companies in the sector include:

Bain and Company, Booz Allen Hamilton, Boston Consulting Group, Capgemini,and Mercer Management Consulting


Filed Under: Consulting

Want to be found by top employers? Upload Your Resume

Join Gold to Unlock Company Reviews