The Career Path in Consulting, Explained

Career path in consulting

If you’re considering a consulting career, you’re probably already preparing for the all-important case interview. Landing and acing consulting interviews is a lot of work, so it’s important not to lose sight of why you’re doing it!

If you’re recruiting with consulting firms, you’re looking for a fast-paced career with a rapid progression. The role progression in consulting provides that – but what does it actually look like?

In this article, we’ll demystify what the consulting career progression looks like and will bring to life how you will fit into your team and firm as you advance in your consulting career.

In this article, we’ll discuss:

  • The career path in consulting: overview
  • Title progression & timeline
  • Your roles & responsibilities, and how they evolve

Let’s get started!

The Career Path in Consulting: Overview

One of the advantages of a consulting career that many people may overlook is a clear, structured career path.

Why can a structured career path be great for driven, early-career talent?

  • Growth: You are challenged to advance your skillset and knowledge every 2-3 years, which relative to most corporations is a very compressed timeline. You will learn both on-the-job and in intensive training sessions offered by your firm.
  • Meritocracy: It’s very hard to create a perfect meritocracy, but in the business world, consulting is as close as you can get. There is clarity on the skills and behaviors you need to develop to grow to the next level, as well as frequent feedback on how you are doing.
  • Life planning: You can project your earnings with a high level of confidence, which allows you to plan for things such as attending grad school, buying a home, or having a family.
  • External recognition: If and when you leave consulting for another role, especially in industry or in investing, you’re likely to work with recruiters or hiring managers who have hired former consultants before – or who may even be former consultants themselves. They’ll be familiar with the consulting hierarchy too, and will therefore understand how to maximize and build on your skills in a new role.

Consulting firms put a lot of energy into developing their people since people are their main assets. This means that it is a strategic imperative that consulting firms retain and grow their best talent, and offering a challenging, structured, and lucrative career path is an important way that they do this. Moreover, they know that it’s easy for employees to fall into the trap of “the grass is greener on the other side” – but it’s harder to leave a job where you are continuously challenged and growing.

So, this structured path sounds great, but what does it take to advance within a consulting firm? How long does it take? How does the role change over time?

Let’s dive into that now.

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Title Progression & Timeline

The typical career path at a major consulting firm looks something like this:

Role

Climbing the ladder will typically take 10-15 years, with each role challenging you in a different way, which creates a great environment for top talent to thrive.

It’s also worth noting that you can’t stick around in a role for too long. After a certain amount of time in each role, you will be expected to step up into the next role or to leave the consulting track (this is sometimes called “up or out”).

This doesn’t mean that you’ll be left behind if you are trying your best and showing progress. Major consulting firms have a strong collaborative culture that encourages mentorship and coaching to help people advance. And if you do hit a speed bump, you’ll be given time and guidance to get back on track.

So, the most important thing is that you are eager for a career that demands such a fast pace of learning.

Your Roles & Responsibilities, and How They Evolve

Career Path In Consulting

At a high level, the role and responsibilities in consulting look like this:

  • Analyst/Associate: Performs the analysis
  • Project manager: Supervises the analysis
  • Partner: Builds and manages the client relationship

Say you’ve just joined your dream consulting firm as an Analyst. You’ve been staffed on your first project with a large CPG company that’s looking to grow into a new category (e.g., snacks). They have hired your firm to understand whether they should do it and if so, how (e.g., organically or M&A).

The composition of your team would likely look like this:

  • You (New Analyst): You’ll support the team in performing the analysis by providing case studies on successful new market entry strategies (e.g., competitor X successfully entered the snacks category through an M&A program of small brands) and data points for a market sizing model (e.g., average household spending on snacks).
  • Experienced Analyst: Builds an end-to-end model to estimate the market size, growth, and the client’s potential market share.
  • First-year Associate: Conducts expert interviews to understand the competitive landscape, and holds client workshops to generate and test ideas for market entry.
  • Project manager: Supports the team in delivering the workstreams (e.g., provides input on the model and expert interview guide, and attends the client workshops). Ensures the client is aligned with the outputs of the project (e.g., sets up weekly meetings with the client to go through interim findings).
  • Associate Partner: Provides expert input on team findings (e.g., stress-testing whether growth assumptions are reasonable) and on how best to engage with key clients as the project progresses.
  • Partner: Takes responsibility for the final recommendation presented to the client (i.e., “holds the pen”) and manages client expectations on project scope (e.g., agrees with the client counterpart on project deliverables). The Partner would have been a key part of the initial discussions with the client when they purchased the project.
  • Senior Partner: Serves as the first point of contact for C-Level executives in case of an emergency or interest in other projects.

Make sure you read our article “What is Consulting” for additional information on what consultants do.

As you can see, as you advance in your firm, the greater the expectations of your ability not only to generate a sound recommendation but also to ensure the client is bought in. In addition, you will take on internal responsibilities at the office, region, or practice area (industry/function) level.

The general skillset required for each role is as follows:

  • Analyst/Associate: Analytical, synthesizing, and presenting (writing, visual and verbal) skills, plus people management skills as you become more experienced.
  • Project Manager: Team management, communication with senior leadership, and specific industry or functional expertise (e.g., airlines pricing, digital marketing)
  • Partner: Business development (sales), advising clients, firm branding (e.g., showcasing firm expertise at conferences or authoring articles), and office leadership (e.g., leading the recruiting function)

A note on compensation: the structure of your compensation will evolve as you advance as well. The variable component (i.e., performance bonus) will start comprising a larger percentage of your total compensation (e.g., 50% or more as a Partner versus 10-20% in junior roles).

A Partner’s bonus will typically depend on his or her ability to develop opportunities with clients, as well as the firm’s overall performance, to encourage collaboration amongst Partners. This creates an incentive for Partners to build long-term relationships with clients and build the firm’s expertise in new areas. Make sure you read our article “Management Consulting Salary” for additional information.

In summary, the consulting hierarchy requires you to evolve your skillset over several years from performing the analysis, to guiding the team, to advising clients and selling projects. You’ll go from answering questions to asking the right questions, which can be a fun and very interesting challenge for people who enjoy problem-solving and are motivated to serve clients.

– – – – –

In this article, we’ve covered:

  • The advantage of a structured career path.
  • A typical consulting career progression.
  • Skills and expectations at each level of the consulting hierarchy.

Still have questions?

If you have more questions about the consulting career progression, leave them in the comments below. One of My Consulting Offer’s case coaches will answer them.

Other people exploring the career path in consulting found the following pages helpful:

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