In this wide ranging interview with Management Consultant, Helen, you will learn:
- What she did in university and why
- How much she knew about Management Consulting starting off
- About her career path since she graduated
- What she likes and dislikes about her job
- How many hours she has worked over the years
- Whether she has had much fun
- Her thoughts on the benefits of a graduate programme
- Whether she’d like to work for a big or small company
- Her advice to a young person now
- The advice she would give to someone who wants to get into consulting
This interview is taken from my book ‘1000 Years of Career Advice’ which interviews 100 graduates 10 years out of university about their career paths, and advice for a younger generation.
Mckinsey Consulting Career Path: What was your degree in?
Master of Mathematics, Operational Research, Statistics and Economics
Mckinsey Consulting Career Path: 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.
Mckinsey Consulting Career Path: 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.
In hindsight, I think it would have been interesting to do business studies. However, it was seen as a bit of a cop-out in my school.
Mckinsey Consulting Career Path: 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. Looking back I definitely should have tried to ask some management consultants about their jobs.
They would have been only too willing to help out!
Mckinsey Consulting Career Path: 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!
I did the eight-week internship, and they offered me the job at the end of it. It was a job offer, but I wasn’t sure about doing Tax.
They said have a look at our website and see if there was anything I liked as they really liked me.
I said I wouldn’t mind pursuing management consulting career path, so I started in in Consulting!
Ever wonder how long it takes to fully qualify and earn some decent money in the well known prefessions? If so, check out my blog post on ‘How long it takes to become a…’
Mckinsey Consulting Career Path: 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. However, in the first few years you will be just be reformatting PowerPoint slides. Having said that you do get a lot of exposure to many 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.
Are you unsure about which career path to follow? You have a vague idea what you might want to do, but are not really sure?
If so, check out my online course on ‘How to Find Your Perfect Career’. It is 5 tried and tested exercises that I’ve used to take me from jobs I hated in my 20’s to a job I LOVE now!
Mckinsey Consulting Career Path: What percentage of what you learned in university have you used in your day-to-day roles?
Very little – 5%.
You are constantly learning new things in consulting, university seems like another life.
What are the jobs you’ve done since graduating? And what have they entailed?
2018 – Present
Managing Consultant, Mid-size Consulting Company
- Responsible for winning new work and attracting new clients.
- Managing teams, and budgets of new consulting engagements
- Helping to set the company’s strategy for the next 5 years
- Recruiting and retaining top talent to the company
2008 – 2017
Consultant, Big 4 Consulting Firm (Mckinsey)
- Collected data to understand the clients’ organisation better
- Interviewed employees and management teams
- Ran and facilitated workshops
- Presented proposals and presentations
- Identified issues and came up with solutions
- Presented findings and recommendations to clients
- Helped implement recommendations
Worked on 20-plus major companies during my time in this job.
Mckinsey Consulting Career Path: What are the things you most like about management consulting, and the things you don’t like?
- The people. You’re working with the best and brightest people who are all really driven to improve things for clients.
- Wide exposure to different industries and departments. It’s like having a new job every couple of months. You learn loads.
- 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!
- The money is good, although when you divide your salary by the number of hours you work, you are not really that well paid!
- 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.
- The hours can be long as you’re always working to deadlines. Your clients are paying a lot for you, so they expect a lot.
- 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.
- Sometimes clients are not that co-operative. They will treat you like someone who has no idea about their business or industry. This can be frustrating.
- You get fantastic experience of going into many different companies and seeing how they operate, however sometimes I think it would be quite nice to just have the same desk and the same work to do instead of it constantly changing all the time!
To read some of my other interviews with graduates 10 years out of university click on the below links:
Mckinsey Consulting Career Path: 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.
Some people I know have not been so lucky. They have been on difficult jobs and routinely have to put in 60+ hour weeks.
The hours you have to do can depend on what type of manager and client you are working for. 60+ hour weeks staying in some hotel are not much fun!
Mckinsey Consulting Career Path: 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.
If I had my time again, I would make the absolute most of my graduate programme years with a big 4 firm, and then I’d go and work for a smaller consulting firm.
One where you have more of a say in how things are done, and is a bit more relaxed.
Mckinsey Consulting Career Path: Would you be an advocate of a graduate programme?
If you don’t know what you want to do, then they are good as you rotate around different departments and get a feel for what you like and what you don’t like.
I think there are a few pros and cons:
- great social aspect among the grads – like an extension of university
- you get rotated around different parts of the business so you can see what you like
- if you don’t like a rotation, it only lasts for a year, you are not stuck in it.
- you have a ready made network to help you with any issues/questions
- there is a lot of competition, can be tough to get a permanent job at the end of it
- if you like a rotation there is often no option to stay on in that department
- you learn more about different parts of the firm, but your knowledge isn’t as deep
- if the graduate scheme is not well run, then you can end up just being bored and not learning much
Do you know who the top Graduate Employers are in the UK? If not, check out my list of The Top 300, sorted by Industry
Mckinsey Consulting Career Path: 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.
Mckinsey Consulting Career Path: Are you jealous of any of your friend’s jobs?
One of my school friends is a professional adventurer, she rows across oceans, etc!
I’m definitely not jealous of any of my Consulting friends or colleagues. I think working long hours for many years in a very stressful job can wear you down a bit.
Mckinsey Consulting Career Path: 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. I stayed there for nine years and the last four I wasn’t really learning anything.
I’d really encourage any young person reading this to move on after 18 months if they are not learning anything new. If they can’t get another job in their company, then look for a different company.
Learning new skills is really the way to advance your career, get promotions, make more money, etc.
Don’t get comfortable in your job!!
Mckinsey Consulting Career Path: 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.
If you are passionate about something, then you won’t mind putting in long hours, and everything else will look after itself!!!
Mckinsey Consulting Career Path: 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 well.