Management consulting careers explained

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If you want to work in management consulting, you might also have considered working in investment banking. Investment banking and management consulting are two sides of the binary career options open to elite students: both industries hire top students with exceptional smarts, both industries are renowned for their hard-driving work ethos, both industries carry a certain kudos and pay exceptionally well.

Management consulting is not investment banking, however. While bankers help companies raise money or execute strategy decisions that involve acquiring rivals or selling parts of their existing entity, management consultants are all about helping client companies understand and solve problems. That's the nub of their work. First, consultants help clients understand their problem. They structure the problem in a way that invites a rational approach and deliver those insights to the clients. Secondly, consultants work with clients to design solutions to the problem. And thirdly, consultants work with clients to implement those solutions.

Sounds simple? It's not. Client companies' problems are often deep-seated and intractable. They might be due to years of poor management and they might be very complex. Consultants need to understand the problem and to keep clients on their side while they solve it. The work can be totally immersive. Very often, consultants work at client companies a long way away from their home offices. They spend their days in meetings with the executives of the client company and they spend their evenings in hotels or at client dinners.

Like investment bankers, management consultants are often industry specialists. For example, Boston Consulting Group (BCG) divides its consultants into groups focused upon the public sector, technology, media, financial institutions, and energy and the environment. Within financial services consulting, most firms have specialists focused on risk and regulation in particular. This is a growth area as banks tighten their controls in the wake of some huge fines from global financial services regulators.

Samatha Cory, a senior manager with a financial services regulatory focus in PWC's consulting business, says her days are spent helping clients, "understand their regulatory issues and working collaboratively with them to find solutions." Cory says most of her projects are long term, meaning that she gets to work with clients right through from "strategy to execution."  Meaning that she identifies the problem and then sticks around to solve it.