Management Consulting Career Path: Helen (32)

What is your degree in?

Master of Mathematics, Operational Research, Statistics and Economics

Why did you do the degree you did?

I was good at maths but thought it was a bit boring. Reading about operational research, how it applied maths and logic to operational issues appealed to me. I always quite liked statistics too, so when I was looking through university prospectuses, I found this course and liked the sound of it.

With the benefit of hindsight, if you were 18 again now would you do anything differently degree-wise?

I did maths and statistics, because I was good at it, not because I liked it. In hindsight, I think it would have been interesting to do business studies, but because it was seen as a bit of a cop-out in my school, I didn’t do it.

When you came out of university did you seek advice from anyone following a management consulting career path?

No, I just looked at books and courses and tried to figure it out for myself.

Did you know what the day-to-day of a management consulting career path entailed starting off in your career?

In between my third and fourth years of university, everyone was doing internships, I went to an internship fair, and thought I wanted to do finance. I was going to do audit, but someone told me that audit was boring, so I applied for tax. Then I did the eight-week internship, and they offered me the job at the end of it, but it was boring. It was a job offer, but I was reluctant, I said I didn’t want to do tax. So they said have a look at our website and see if there was anything I liked as they really liked me. I had a look and said I wouldn’t mind pursuing management consulting career path, so I started in that department.

What did you know about a management consulting career path going into it?

– I knew they helped companies do things better, faster, cheaper and more efficiently. I knew people who got grades did it and knew about the company which had a good reputation – so I wasn’t totally blind.

– They say you will be dealing with high powered CFO’s and CEO’s, but in the first few years you will be just be reformatting PowerPoint slides. However, you do get a lot of exposure to lots of different companies. In the first three years, I would have worked in 10 major companies, which is quite cool.

– The downside of that is that it can be quite daunting. You are 23 and put in front of someone very senior who has been doing their job for 20 years, but you learn lots.

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What percentage of what you learned in university have you used in your day-to-day roles?

Very little – 5%.

What are the jobs you’ve done since graduating? And what have they entailed?

2016 – 2018

Managing Consultant, Mid-size Consulting Company

Responsible for winning new work and attracting new clients.

2007 – 2016

Consultant, Big 4 Consulting Firm

Started off meeting clients, flowcharting processes, understanding how clients’ businesses work, presenting findings back to senior management. Worked on 20-plus major companies during my time in this job.

What are the things you most like about management consulting, and the things you don’t like?

Like:

  1. The people – you’re working with the best and brightest people who are all really driven to improve things for clients.
  2. Wide exposure to different industries and departments – it’s like having a new job every couple of months, you learn loads.
  3. The chance to build a business. It’s only relevant to my new job in a smaller company, but there’s a real sense of entrepreneurialism, growing a business, etc. There is a wide range of things to get involved in, from setting up our new pension scheme to organising the Christmas party!

Don’t like:

  1. The uncertainty when you’re between projects. Your next project could be the other side of the world or worse some random business park in the UK! You never know until very late notice.
  2. The hours can be long as you’re always working to deadlines, and your clients are paying a lot for you, so they expect lots.
  3. The inflexibility – most of the time you must be face-to-face on client site, or back in your base office. Working from home, starting late or finishing early is rare without some forward-planning. Because of this, many people (especially women) sadly leave consulting when they have a family and prefer to do something which fits around a more stable 9-5.
Have you worked long hours over the years following a management consulting career path?

I’ve been better than most of my peers. I feel strongly that it should be about the work you are doing, not about the hours you are spending in the office. I have had assignments that were 12-16 hour days, but when I have been finished at 5pm, I go home, I don’t just sit there.

Have you had much fun over the years?

Yes, starting off in the big 4 was lots of fun, their graduate programmes are great, there is lots of socialising, you meet friends for life.

Would you be an advocate of a graduate programme?

If you don’t know what you want to do, then it’s good as you rotate around different departments and get a feel for what you like and what you don’t like. They are good in that way.

Which would you prefer to work for: a small company or a big company, and why?

– I like working for a small company now, but also like the credentials from working with a big company, having that name on your CV.

– You’ll get to see how processes should work if you start off with a big company first and then go small.

– Smaller companies can be harder work. With a smaller company, there is nowhere to hide. If you are having a good week, then great, everyone knows you are doing a brilliant job. If you haven’t done something or missed something then everybody knows, which isn’t so great.

Are you jealous of any of your friend’s jobs?

One of my school friends is a professional adventurer, she rows across oceans, etc., but apart from that!

If you could start over and you were 22, but you know all you know now, would you do anything differently career-wise?

I would have left my first job after five years, as I stayed there for nine years and the last four I wasn’t really learning anything.

What career advice would you give a young person now?

Don’t settle for something that is not that interesting. You spend a lot of your life at work. You could do something with less pay, or longer hours, or less interest, but if you are passionate about it, then give it a go and see if you like it.

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What advice would you give a young person who wanted to follow a management consulting career path?

I would try and get into a top tier consultancy, to get into that you don’t have to do a specific degree, you can do history or psychology, etc. However, when you go to an interview, you must demonstrate your knowledge of the business world. Read the papers and know your stuff so you can answer the competency questions in the interviews.

If you have any questions about an management consulting career path, or any other career questions, feel free to get in touch using the ‘contact’ form, thanks!

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