What Is Consulting & What Do Consultants Do?

Erica Suesserman
Erica Suesserman

ex-BCG Recruiter

Consulting is a term loosely applied to providing business advice on various topics including marketing, information technology, operational improvement, and corporate strategy. But what most people mean when they talk about consulting is management consulting.

Management consulting firms include top strategy firms such as Bain, BCG, and McKinsey. These firms hire business-savvy problem-solvers to help their clients:

  • Define the problems or opportunities their businesses face,
  • Collect and analyze data to better understand the problem/opportunity and identify a recommended course of action, and
  • Plan the implementation of that solution across the company.
What Is Consulting explained in detail

Think of consultants as “doctors” for businesses – brought in to diagnose the root cause of an issue, and then prescribe and implement treatments with the patient’s consent.

My Consulting Offer’s coaches have experience as consultants at Bain, BCG, McKinsey, and a variety of other management consulting firms. We can give you insight into the field of consulting and tell you what consultants do.

In this article, we’ll discuss:

  • What is consulting?
  • What do consultants do?
  • Benefits of working as a consultant,
  • Downsides to a career in consulting,
  • What is a typical consulting salary?
  • How do I become a consultant?

Let’s get started!

What Is Consulting?

There are multiple ways to answer the question “What is consulting?” To dig deeper, let’s continue with our analogy of consultants as doctors for businesses.

What-Is-Consulting - step by step explanation

  1. Assessment of symptoms: A client knows they’ve got a business problem (such as declining revenue or a new competitor in their market. They turn to a consultant for help getting to the root of the problem as a sick patient would turn to a doctor. 
  2. Diagnosis: The consultant will assess the client’s business performance, taking into account similar problems they’ve seen at clients in the past, like a doctor would check their patient’s symptoms against known illnesses.
  3. Prescription: The consultant will recommend a course of action to improve revenues or meet a competitive threat much like a doctor would tell their patient what’s wrong with them and prescribe medicine or recommend a medical procedure.
  4. Bedside manner: The consultant has the experience to steer a client to the right course of action as a doctor would advise a nervous patient.
  5. Follow-up care: The consultant will provide the client with a step-by-step process that will improve their business results much like  a doctor would provide a patient with the steps necessary to regain their health. 

Why does anyone trust a doctor? Because they are experts in their field and have extensively studied the human body, medicines, and the like. 

Consultants, similarly, are strong problem-solvers with business acumen. They can lead the client through the process of completing a data-based analysis of their business problem and evaluating alternative courses of action. They can also leverage their firm’s collective knowledge and experience to bring extensive industry and functional knowledge to bear to solve the problem. 

In addition, consultants can provide expert capabilities on topics that businesses rarely face. For example, a manufacturing company might only consider a merger or acquisition once every 10 years. If so, it doesn’t make sense for them to have M&A experts on staff full time. But M&A decisions are high-impact business decisions that a client won’t want to get wrong. 

Consulting firms look at M&A deals all the time and by hiring consultants, a client can get this specialized expertise when they need it.

What Do Consultants Do?

So, what do consultants do?

In short, consultants solve complex business problems using their expertise and knowledge in specific industries or functions. This could range from cutting costs, to growing sales, or evaluating a new market the client is considering entering.

Let’s explore this question by walking through a sample case from start to finish.

Sample Case: Concert-mania

Concert-mania, Inc. runs several music festivals featuring big-name recording artists each year. Recently, they transitioned to cashless events, with customers paying for tickets, food, drinks, and merchandise with credit cards. 

Concert-mania wants to leverage its new digital capabilities to increase revenue and optimize its staffing and operations during festivals.

How would a consulting team help Concert-mania to take its use of digital tools and data to the next level?

  1. Assessment of Symptoms: Consultants define the problem.
  2. Diagnosis: Consultants collect and analyze data.
  3. Prescription: Consultants recommend a course of action.
  4. Bedside Manner: Consultants gain consensus from the client’s leadership team.
  5.  Follow-up care: Consultants help implement recommendations, if necessary.

Assessment of Symptoms: Consultants Define the Problem

Suppose Concert-mania knows that it can do more to take advantage of digital tools than just avoid having to deal with cash at its festivals, but there’s disagreement over what opportunities would be the best to pursue.

The head of marketing wants to use digital tools to increase revenue at each festival by making it easier for attendees to buy drinks and merchandise, as well as encouraging them to buy more. The head of operations, on the other hand, wants to use digital tools to reduce costs. Quicker transaction speed means fewer staff will be required in the beer tents and merchandise booths.

Part of the value that consultants provide is quickly assessing where the opportunities are. By doing an 80/20 estimation of the value of using digital tools and whether the high-value opportunities are in increasing revenue, decreasing cost, or both, the consultants can help ensure the entire management team is focused on the right problem.

The importance of doing quick but reasonably accurate assessments of alternative courses of action is the reason market-sizing cases are popular in consulting interviews.

Diagnosis: Consultants Collect and Analyze Data

While an 80/20 estimation of the opportunity is enough to define the problem and get the client and consulting team organized to solve it, further analysis is needed. At this stage, consultants will dig deep into data which is often hard to gather or not clean/organized enough to yield insight without diving in and doing a lot of work.

For instance, the Concert-mania consultants might attend a festival or two, not to see the performances, but to count the number of people in line for beer and merchandise, time the speed of transactions, and measure the frequency of stock-outs to assess how much revenue might be increased by fixing these problems with digital technology. They would also assess alternative technologies to determine which would work best to streamline operations.

Consultants will talk with the marketing and operations teams to get the clients’ input on the improvement opportunities and best tools to use. They’ll also talk to clients to find out what they like or dislike about the way the festivals are run and how they feel about the changes they are considering.

The team will calculate the expected revenue increase and cost savings, and compare them to the cost of investing in digital tools to evaluate whether there will be a positive return on investment.

Prescription: Consultants Recommend a Course of Action

what is consulting and what does it take to be a consultant

After completing a robust, data-based analysis of how much Concert-mania can increase revenues and/or decrease costs through the use of digital tools, the consultants will develop a recommended course of action and present their recommendation to senior management. This course of action includes detailed implementation requirements needed for the plan to be successful.

Bedside Manner: Consultants Gains Consensus from the Client’s Leadership Team

In the same way that consultants help to define the problem, they also help to gain consensus around the solution.

Suppose when they defined the business problem they found that most of the opportunity was through increasing revenue, not reducing costs. Nonetheless, the marketing group can’t implement the new digital tools on its own. The operations group needs to be on board because their staff will operate the beer tent and the merchandise booths.

It’s critical that the operations group’s input into the best tools and new processes be taken into account. Otherwise, the project rollout will not be successful and the festival’s net income won’t change. It’s also critical that all parts of the client organization see the decisions as being driven by data and not by management favoring one department over another. This is why consulting firms seek to hire people who are persuasive and can influence people to adopt their way of thinking.

Follow-up Care: Consultants Help Implement Recommendations

When Concert-mania makes the decision to adopt new digital tools to increase revenues, there’s still a lot of work to be done. This includes buying the tools, customizing them for their operations, and training staff on how to use them.

The consultants on the Concert-mania study will lay out what needs to be done to implement the recommendations in a step-by-step manner. This implementation plan will identify the capital and staff time needed to purchase and customize tools and roll them out. It will also include a timeline for the final implementation.

As you can see from this example, what consultants do isn’t just solving problems, but ensuring they are solving the right problem, being data-driven in their recommendation, getting the entire client organization on board, and assisting with implementation.

If needed, they will also help the company learn new skills so they can hire and/or build the new capabilities they’ll need to succeed in the future. Consulting is all about helping the client build a self-sustained, well-run business.

Examples of the Impact of Consultants

Impact of Consultants: BCG Helps Starbucks Create the Starbucks App

You can find another example of what consultants do and the impact it can have on you personally in the amount of coffee you consume! If you’ve ever ordered a drink from Starbucks, then you’ve most likely benefited from the application development that BCG helped Starbucks implement.

Have you ever been lured into purchasing a drink by your Starbucks app? You know, when your notifications pop up to tell you that it’s double star day or convince you that you must have another mocha latte and earn 50 stars?

Or have you ever played any of their star games (much like the slot machines) to earn that big bonus or free Starbucks for a month?

To make this happen, Starbucks hired BCG to help develop the personalized recommendations in its app. The goal of this project was to increase revenue by engaging and attracting more long-term customers, and to do so by giving each customer a more personalized experience every time they open their app and order a drink.

The Starbucks application collects data spanning from your most-purchased beverages, the time between your purchases, and even the time of day that you most frequently purchase beverages. All this and more are analyzed so that they can continue to monetize your caffeine addiction.

“The personalized games have helped to triple Starbucks’s marketing campaign results, double email redemptions, and generate a threefold increase in the incremental spending of customers who redeem offers. The results come with increased marketing effectiveness, enabling Starbucks to reduce its mass-marketing spending and invest in more-personalized marketing dollars with the right customers, thus incentivizing the right behaviors.”

Source: “Profiting from Personalization” on BCG.com

If someone asks you “What is consulting?”, use the Starbucks app as a cool, relevant example of something that might influence them every day, without them even knowing!

The impact of consulting is all around us, most of the time it’s just behind the scenes.

Impact of Consultants: McKinsey’s Generation Project Helps Alleviate Youth Unemployment

what is consulting - an example of consultants working

Another example of the impact of consulting is McKinsey’s Generation project, an independent nonprofit organization they founded in 2012. Generation focuses on tackling the most persistent barriers encountered by youth searching for stable employment.

McKinsey saw a huge gap between education and employment rates between young people of different socio-economic backgrounds. This gap can lead to a lack of motivation, poor job performance, and an unsatisfactory career at an underpaid job.

To bridge this gap, McKinsey developed a crash course on the key vocational skills needed in high-demand jobs with good salaries. They also partnered with companies that needed workers with those skills to ensure there would be positions available for graduates.

Today, Generation has graduated over 38,000 people from its programs, employs over 300 people, and operates in 14 countries, from Brazil to India to Australia. 93% of Generation learners were unemployed when entering the program, and 84% of graduates are placed in jobs within 3 months of completion at salaries two to six times higher than their previous earnings. At the one-year mark, close to 70 percent continue to be employed.

“Generation is McKinsey’s most ambitious social-responsibility commitment to transform people’s lives and communities through the power of stable, meaningful work.”

Generation 2.0 — ReGeneration

The Generation Program has been so successful that they have also created ReGeneration, an initiative for mid-career learners over the age of 35. Regeneration provides a free 1-3 month boot camp that trains someone for a completely new and skilled job.

How do you train someone for a new, skilled job quickly? Mona Mourshed, former McKinsey consultant and the founding CEO of Generation explains. “The students are learning from 9 to 5, five days a week. And the emphasis is on simulations, role-playing, projects, and activities as opposed to just learning theory. They focus on “on activities as opposed to skills.”

“Here’s what we know,” stated Ms. Mourshed. “There’s often a misconception that midcareer learners are less able to master new skills. That is completely untrue.” Among the advantages that older workers bring, she points out, are “greater life experiences and judgment.”

The next time you’re asked, “What is management consulting?” talk about the Generation project. This is just one of hundreds of examples of the impact that consultants can have on not just companies, but humanity, and they are worth talking about!

7 Benefits of a Career in Consulting

what is consulting and the benefits and perks of being a consultant

There are many benefits to going into consulting as a career:

    1. Travel. The life of a consultant (pre-Covid) takes you all over the world. With ambassadorship opportunities to work in an international office, study abroad programs, and global clientele, you will have the opportunity to explore the world. 
    2. Friendships. These are built during your first few weeks at a consulting firm as you enter training. They grow as you work together or attend social events and progress through your careers
    3. Mentorship. Mentorship relationships also start early on. Sometimes you are paired with a mentor and sometimes they develop organically with leaders on your team. These relationships can extend beyond just your first weeks to help you throughout your career.
    4. Impact. Few jobs allow you to leave a legacy of your work behind across some of the biggest companies and industries in the world, especially as a new college graduate.
    5. Continuous learning. Consulting firms know the value of knowledge, so they are committed to training their employees. Consultants learn constantly, both from formal training and from on-the-job problem solving and the bright professionals around them. Many say that one of the best benefits of being surrounded by the smartest people in the world is the amount of knowledge you get to absorb on a day-to-day basis. You get to work in teams with people who have wildly different backgrounds, perspectives, and experiences, which is perfect for personal growth. 
    6. Educational opportunities. Typically consulting firms sponsor business school or additional educational opportunities for consulting staff in exchange for a time commitment to the firm.
    7. Exit opportunities. Exit opportunities are the jobs you take when you leave consulting. They include working for clients, other firms in industries you’ve done projects on, private equity, and more. It’s celebrated when consultants move on to work for clients, as they are continuing the long-lasting relationship between the consulting firm and their current clients. Sometimes consultants transition out of consulting after a year or two of work, and sometimes they leave after 10 years with the firm to C-suite positions.

Famous Ex-consultants on the Benefits of Consulting

Take note from some of consulting’s most recognizable and influential names:

“It is the ultimate luxury to combine passion and contribution. It’s also a very clear path to happiness.”

Sheryl Sandberg, former McKinsey consultant and current COO of Facebook, from her book, Lean In.

“Opportunities – the good ones – are messy, confusing and hard to recognize. They’re risky. They challenge you.”

Susan Wojcicki, former Bain consultant and current CEO of YouTube, from her commencement speech to the Johns Hopkins University Class of 2014.

Consulting can be an extremely challenging career, but ultimately can be gratifying because it gives you the ability to contribute to the world and solve some of its most challenging problems.

Downsides to Life as a Consultant

A career in consulting can be invigorating, exciting, and impactful! However, all things come at a cost, and it’s important to be able to decide if these benefits are worth the hardships that the life of a consultant can bring:

  • Long working hours,
  • Heavy travel (pre-Covid),
  • Time away from family,
  • An inconsistent schedule,
  • Not getting to see the long-term results of your work and
  • The potential for burn-out.

Early in your career in consulting, you sacrifice personal time for what may be one of the highest-paid salaries of all of your recent grad friends. Many consultants feel pressured to work long hours to solve the client’s problem and therefore struggle with work-life balance. Over time, most consultants get better at finding balance.

What Is a Typical Consulting Salary?

Typical consulting salaries don’t vary much between firms and only shift slightly from year to year. Typically, we see base salaries for associate level consultants of $72-$90,000. We see MBA grads receive consulting salaries of $150-$170,000. Consultants received performance bonuses on top of base pay.

For more details, you can see our upcoming article on Management Consulting Salaries.-

7 Tips on How to Break into Consulting

  1. Ask yourself whether consulting is right for you. The rewards of work as a management consultant are great, but do they outweigh the downsides of the job for you? Is consulting a step on the path toward your dream career?
  2. Identify your area of interest or expertise. Do you want to be a generalist consultant, or do you have a background/interest in healthcare, telecom, or another industry or functional area? Knowing your personal interests will allow you to better tailor your consulting resume and applications to highlight them.
  3. Check for early deadlines. Management consulting firms tend to have very early application deadlines and there is no second chance if you miss them. Check with your school’s career department or the firms’ websites.
  4. Create your resume and cover letter. You will use this to “sell” yourself to people working with the consulting firms you’d like to join. Creating this upfront solidifies your interest in consulting and makes your application more likely to get picked for interviews. See our article on Consulting Cover Letters to get started.
  5. Network Network Network. Reach out to a consultant who attended your alma mater or with who you have connections. They will help you get further insight into consulting as a career and the culture of their firm. For more information, see our article on Consulting Networking.
  6. Apply. Submit a polished application to the firms you’d like to work with based on your work on each of the steps above.
  7. Learn to case. Learning to structure your problem-solving is key to passing consulting interviews and landing an offer. It does not come naturally to most people, so start practicing early using our Ultimate Guide to Case Interview Prep.

In this article, we’ve covered:

  • What is consulting and what do consultants do?
  • The benefits and downsides to a career in consulting,
  • A brief overview of what consultants can make, and 
  • Tips on how to become a consultant?

Still have questions?

If you have more questions about what a consultant is or what consultants do, leave them in the comments below. One of My Consulting Offer’s case coaches will answer them.
Other people interested in finding out more about consulting found the following pages helpful:

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Consulting is a term loosely applied to providing business advice on various topics including marketing, information technology, operational improvement, and corporate strategy. But what most people mean when they talk about consulting is management consulting.

Management consulting firms include the top strategy firms such as Bain, BCG, and McKinsey. These firms hire business-savvy problem-solvers to help their clients:

  • Define the problems or opportunities their businesses face,
  • Collect and analyze data to better understand the problem/opportunity and identify a recommended course of action, and
  • Plan the implementation of that solution across the company.
What Is Consulting explained in detail

Think of them as “doctors” for businesses – brought in to diagnose the root cause of an issue, and then prescribe and implement treatments with the patient’s consent.

My Consulting Offer’s coaches have experience as consultants at Bain, BCG, McKinsey, and a variety of other management consulting firms. We can give you insight into the field of consulting and tell you what consultants do.

In this article, we’ll discuss:

  • What is consulting?
  • What do consultants do?
  • Benefits of working as a consultant,
  • Downsides to a career in consulting,
  • What is a typical consulting salary?
  • How do I become a consultant?

Let’s get started!

What Is Consulting?

If we are thinking about the question “What is consulting?”, there are multiple answers.
To put it into simple terms, consultants are doctors for businesses.

What-Is-Consulting - step by step explanation

  1. Assessment of symptoms: A client knows they’ve got a business problem (such as declining revenue or a new competitor in their market. They turn to a consultant for help getting to the root of the problem as a sick patient would turn to a doctor. 
  2. Diagnosis: The consultant will assess the client’s business performance, taking into account similar problems they’ve seen at clients in the past, like a doctor would check their patient’s symptoms against known illnesses.
  3. Prescription: The consultant will provide a recommended course of action to improve revenues or meet the competitive threat much like a doctor would tell their patient what’s wrong with them and gives them a prescription for medicine or recommends a medical procedure.
  4. Bedside manner: The consultant has the experience to steer a client to the right course of action as a doctor would advise a nervous patient.
  5. Follow-up care: The consultant will provide the client with a step-by-step process that will improve their business results as a doctor would provide a patient with the steps necessary to regain their health. 

Why does anyone trust a doctor? Well, because they are experts in their field, and have extensively studied the human body, medicines, and the like. 

Consultants, similarly, are strong problem-solvers with business acumen. They can lead the client through the process of completing a data-based analysis of their business problem and evaluating alternative courses of action. They can also leverage their firm’s collective knowledge and experience to bring its extensive industry and functional knowledge to bear to solve the problem. 

In addition, consultants can provide expert capabilities on topics that businesses rarely face. For example, a manufacturing company might only consider a merger or acquisition once every 10 years. If so, it doesn’t make sense for them to have M&A experts on staff full time. But M&A decisions are high-impact business decisions that a client won’t want to get wrong. 

Consulting firms look at M&A deals all the time and by hiring consultants, a client can get this specialized expertise when they need it.

What Do Consultants Do?

So, what do consultants do?

In short, consultants solve complex business problems using their expertise and knowledge in specific industries or functions. This could range from cutting costs, to growing sales, or evaluating a new market the client is considering entering.

Let’s explore this question by walking through a sample case from start to finish.

Sample Case: Concert-mania

Concert-mania, Inc. runs several music festivals featuring big-name recording artists each year. Recently, they transitioned to cashless events, with customers paying for tickets, food, drinks, and merchandise with credit cards. 

Concert-mania wants to leverage its new digital capabilities to increase revenue and optimize its staffing and operations during festivals.

How would a consulting team help Concert-mania to take its use of digital tools and data to the next level?

  1. Assessment of Symptoms: Consultants define the problem.
  2. Diagnosis: Consultants collect and analyze data.
  3. Prescription: Consultants recommend a course of action.
  4. Bedside Manner: Consultants gain consensus from the client’s leadership team.

Follow-up Care: Consultants help implement recommendations, if needed.

Assessment of Symptoms: Consultants Define the Problem

Suppose Concert-mania knows that it can do more to take advantage of digital tools than just avoid having to deal with cash at its festivals, but there’s disagreement over what opportunities would be the best to pursue.

The head of marketing wants to use digital tools to increase revenue at each festival by making it easier for attendees to buy drinks and merchandise, as well as encouraging them to buy more. The head of operations, on the other hand, wants to use digital tools to reduce costs. Quicker transaction speed means fewer staff will be required in the beer tents and merchandise booths.

Part of the value that consultants provide is quickly assessing where the opportunities are. By doing an 80/20 estimation of the value of using digital tools and whether the high-value opportunities are in increasing revenue, decreasing cost, or both, the consultants can help ensure the entire management team is focused on the right problem.

The importance of doing quick but reasonably accurate assessments of alternative courses of action is the reason market-sizing cases are popular in consulting interviews.

Diagnosis: Consultants Collect and Analyze Data

While an 80/20 estimation of the opportunity is enough to define the problem and get the client and consulting team organized to solve it, further analysis is needed. At this stage, consultants will dig deep into data which is often hard to gather or not clean/organized enough to yield insight without diving in and doing a lot of work.

For instance, the Concert-mania consultants might attend a festival or two, not to see the performances, but to count the number of people in line for beer and merchandise, time the speed of transactions, and measure the frequency of stock-outs to assess how much revenue might be increased by fixing these problems with digital technology. They would also assess alternative technologies to determine which would work best to streamline operations.

Consultants will talk with the marketing and operations teams to get the clients’ input on the improvement opportunities and best tools to use. They’ll also talk to clients to find out what they like about the way the festivals are run and how they feel about the changes they are considering.

The team will calculate the expected revenue increase and cost savings, and compare them to the investment cost in digital tools to evaluate whether there will be a positive return on investment for the new tools.

Prescription: Consultants Recommend a Course of Action

what is consulting and what does it take to be a consultant

After completing a robust, data-based analysis of how much Concert-mania can increase revenues and/or decrease costs through the use of digital tools, the consultants will develop a recommended course of action, and present their recommendation to senior management. This course of action includes detailed implementation requirements needed for the plan to be successful.

Bedside Manner: Consultants Gains Consensus from the Client’s Leadership Team

In the same way that consultants help to define the problem, they also help to gain consensus around the solution.

Suppose when they defined the business problem they found that most of the opportunity was through increasing revenue, not reducing costs. Nonetheless, the marketing group can’t implement the new digital tools on its own. The operations group needs to be on board because their staff will operate the beer tent and the merchandise booths.

It’s critical that the operations group’s input into the best tools and the best new processes be taken into account. Otherwise, the project rollout will not be successful and the festival’s net income won’t change. It’s also critical that all parts of the client organization see the decisions as being driven by data and not by management favoring one department over another. This is why consulting firms value consultants who are persuasive and can influence people to adopt their way of thinking.

Follow-up Care: Consultants Help Implement Recommendations

The consultants on the Concert-mania study will lay out what needs to be done in order to implement the recommendations to use digital tools to increase revenue in a step-by-step manner. This implementation plan will identify the capital and staff time needed to purchase and customize tools and roll them out. It will also include a timeline for the final implementation.

As you can see from this example, what consultants do isn’t just solving problems, but ensuring they are solving the right problem, being data-driven in their recommendation, getting the entire client organization on board, and assisting with implementation.

If needed, they will also help the company learn new skills so they can hire and/or build the new capabilities they’ll need to succeed in the future. Consulting is all about helping the client build a self-sustained, well-run business on their own.

Examples of the Impact of Consultants

Impact of Consultants: BCG Helps Starbucks Create the Starbucks App

You can find another example of “What is consulting?” and the impact it can have on you personally in the amount of coffee you consume! If you’ve ever ordered a drink from Starbucks, then you’ve most likely benefited from the application development that BCG helped Starbucks implement.

Have you ever been lured into purchasing a drink by your Starbucks app? You know, when your notifications pop up to tell you that it’s double star day or convince you that you must have another mocha latte and earn 50 stars??

Or have you ever played any of their star games (much like the slot machines) to earn that big bonus or free Starbucks for a month??

To make this happen, Starbucks hired BCG to help with the development of the personalized recommendations in its app. The goal of this project was to increase revenue by engaging and attracting more long-term customers, and to do so by giving each customer a more personalized experience every time they open their app and order a drink.

The Starbucks application collects data spanning from your most-purchased beverages, the time between purchases, and even the time of day that you most frequently purchase beverages. All this and more are analyzed so that they can continue to monetize on your caffeine additions.

“The personalized games have helped to triple Starbucks’s marketing campaign results, double email redemptions, and generate a threefold increase in the incremental spending of customers who redeem offers. The results come with increased marketing effectiveness, enabling Starbucks to reduce its mass-marketing spending and invest in more-personalized marketing dollars with the right customers, thus incentivizing the right behaviors,” according to an article published by BCG.

If you’re ever in a situation where someone happens to ask you “What is consulting?”, use the Starbucks app as a cool, relevant example of something that might influence them every day, without them even knowing!

The impact of consulting is all around us, most of the time it’s just behind the scenes.

Impact of Consultants: McKinsey’s Generation Project Helps Alleviate Youth Unemployment

what is consulting - an example of consultants working

Another example of the impact of consulting is McKinsey’s Generation project, an independent nonprofit organization they founded in 2012. Generation focuses on tackling the most persistent barriers to youth searching for stable employment.

McKinsey saw a huge gap between education and employment rates between young people of different socio-economic backgrounds. This gap can lead to a lack of motivation, poor job performance, and an unsatisfactory career at an underpaid job.

To bridge this gap, McKinsey developed a crash course on the key vocational skills needed in high-demand jobs with good salaries. They also partnered with companies that needed workers with those skills to ensure there would be positions available for graduates.

Today, Generation has graduated over 38,000 people from its programs, employs over 300 people, and operates in 14 countries, from Brazil to India to Australia. 93% of Generation learners were unemployed when entering the program, and 84% of graduates are placed in jobs within 3 months of completion at salaries two to six times higher than their previous earnings. At the one-year mark, close to 70 percent continue to be employed.

“Generation is McKinsey’s most ambitious social-responsibility commitment to transform people’s lives and communities through the power of stable, meaningful work.” – Generation.org

Generation 2.0 — ReGeneration

The Generation Program has been so successful that they have also created ReGeneration, an initiative for mid-career learners over the age of 35. Regeneration provides a free 1-3 month boot camp that trains someone for a completely new and skilled job.

How do you train someone for a completely new, skilled job quickly? Mona Mourshed, former McKinsey consultant and the founding CEO of Generation explains. “The students are learning from 9 to 5, five days a week. And the emphasis is on simulations, role-playing, projects, and activities as opposed to just learning theory. They focus on “on activities as opposed to skills.”

“Here’s what we know,” stated Ms. Mourshed. “There’s often a misconception that midcareer learners are less able to master new skills. That is completely untrue.” Among the advantages that older workers bring, she points out, are “greater life experiences and judgment.”

The next time someone asks you “What is management consulting?” tell them about the Generation project. This is just one of hundreds of examples of the impact that consultants can have on not just companies, but humanity, and they are worth talking about!

7 Benefits of a Career in Consulting

what is consulting and the benefits and perks of being a consultant

There are many benefits to going into consulting as a career:

    1. Travel. The life of a consultant (pre-Covid) takes you all over the world. With ambassadorship opportunities to work in an international office, study abroad programs, and global clientele, you will have the opportunity to explore the world. 
    2. Friendships. These are built during your first few weeks at a consulting firm as you enter training and grow as you work together or attend social events and progress through your careers
    3. Mentorship. Mentorship relationships also start early on. Sometimes you are paired up with a mentor and sometimes they develop organically with leaders on your team. These relationships can extend beyond just your first weeks, throughout your career.
    4. Impact. Few jobs that allow you to leave a legacy behind across some of the biggest companies and industries in the world, especially as a new college graduate.
    5. Continuous learning. Consulting firms know the value of knowledge, so they are committed to training their employees. Consultants learn constantly, both from formal training and from on-the-job problem solving and the bright professionals around them. Many say that one of the best benefits of being surrounded by the smartest people in the world is the amount of knowledge you get to absorb on a day-to-day basis. You get to work in teams with people who have wildly different backgrounds, perspectives, and experiences, which is perfect for personal growth. 
    6. Educational opportunities. Typically consulting firms sponsor business school or additional educational opportunities for consulting staff in exchange for time commitment to the firm.
    7. Exit opportunities. Exit opportunities are the jobs you take when you leave consulting. They include working for clients, other firms in industries you’ve done projects on, private equity, and more. It’s celebrated when consultants move on to work for clients, as they are continuing the long-lasting relationship between the firm and their current clients. Sometimes consultants transition to outside work after a year or two of work, and sometimes they leave after 10 years with the firm to C-suite positions.

Famous Ex-consultants on the Benefits of Consulting

Take note from some of consulting’s most recognizable and influential names:

“It is the ultimate luxury to combine passion and contribution. It’s also a very clear path to happiness.”

Sheryl Sandberg, former McKinsey consultant and current COO of Facebook, from her book, Lean In

“Opportunities – the good ones – are messy, confusing and hard to recognize. They’re risky. They challenge you.”

Susan Wojcicki, former Bain consultant and current CEO of YouTube, from her commencement speech to Johns Hopkins University class of 2014

Consulting can be an extremely challenging career, but ultimately can be gratifying because it gives you the ability to contribute to the world and solve some of its most challenging problems.

Downsides to Life as a Consultant

A career in consulting can be invigorating, exciting, and impactful! However, all things come at a cost, and it’s important to be able to decide if these benefits are worth the hardships that the life of a consultant can bring:

  • Long working hours,
  • Heavy travel (pre-Covid),
  • Time away from family,
  • An inconsistent schedule,
  • Not getting to see the long-term results of your work and
  • The potential for burn-out.

Early in your career in consulting, you sacrifice personal time for what may be one of the highest-paid salaries of all of your recent grad friends. Many consultants feel pressured to work long hours to solve the client’s problem. Many therefore struggle with work-life balance, but over time, get better at gauging their ability to turn off work when they need a break.

What Is a Typical Consulting Salary?

Typical consulting salaries don’t vary much between firms and only shift slightly from year to year. Typically, we see base salaries for an associate level consultant at X, while we see MBA consulting salaries at X.

For more details, you can see our article on Management Consulting Salaries.

7 Tips on How to Break into Consulting

  1. Ask yourself whether consulting is right for you. The rewards of work as a management consultant are great, but do they outweigh the downsides of the job for you? Is consulting a step on the path toward your dream career?
  2. Identify your area of interest or expertise. Do you want to be a generalist, or do you have a background/interest in healthcare, telecom, etc.? Knowing your personal interests will allow you to better tailor your resume and applications to highlight them.
  3. Check for early deadlines. Management consulting firms tend to have very early deadlines and there is no flexibility for a second chance if you miss them. Check with your Career Department or the firms’ websites.
  4. Create your resume and cover letter. You will use this to “sell” yourself to people working with the firms you’d like to join. Creating this upfront solidifies your interest in consulting and makes your application more likely to get picked for interviews. See our article on Consulting Cover Letters to get started.
  5. Network Network Network. Reach out to a consultant who attended your alma mater or who you have connections with. They will help you get further insight into consulting as a career and what the culture at the firm they work for is like. For more information, see our article on Consulting Networking.
  6. Apply. Submit a polished application to the firms you’d like to work with based on your work on each of the steps above. Note: Many consulting firms have early deadlines, so if you’re applying straight from an undergrad, Master’s, or MBA program, look for these.
  7. Learn to case. Learning to structure your problem-solving is key to both passing consulting interviews and landing an offer. It does not come naturally to most people, so start practicing early. You can use our Ultimate Guide to Case Interview Prep to get started.

In this article, we’ve covered:

  • What is consulting and what do consultants do?
  • The benefits and downsides to a career in consulting,
  • A brief overview of what consultants can make, and 
  • How to become a consultant?

Still have questions?

If you have more questions about what a consultant is or what consultants do, leave them in the comments below. One of My Consulting Offer’s case coaches will answer them.
Other people interested in finding out more about consulting found the following pages helpful:

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