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What exactly is "consulting"?

XavXav Registered User Posts: 281 Junior Member
edited June 2010 in Engineering Majors
I keep seeing the term tossed around in this forum. However, I've heard that a lot of Ph.Ds in similar fields (Math, Physics, etc.) from prestigious schools also obtain these "consulting jobs". So, what exactly is it and how is that they make 2 or 3 times that of an Engineering's salary?
Post edited by Xav on

Replies to: What exactly is "consulting"?

  • purduefrankpurduefrank Registered User Posts: 485 Member
    Consultants solve various problems that all businesses encounter. Be it in IT, engineering, strategy, management, marketing, etc. Some large consulting firms higher a wide range of people with diverse skills, others specialize in one area, in either case they are usually hired to accomplish some specific task. If the firm does this well, it is likely they will receive repeat business.

    There are many advantages to hiring a consulting firm to come in and assess a given situation as opposed to doing this “in-house”. These reasons include, but are not limited to; politics in larger corporations which often skew the correct path moving forward, long-term relationships with employees that may effect decision making(resistance to change) that we as humans become accustomed to, a lack of “in-house” personnel with very specific knowledge… etc. Whatever the case may be, a consulting firm can come in and give a fresh perspective on the situation and offer ideas that may not have been apparent.

    As far as I’m aware, the highly paid consultants are usually management and strategy consultants. To gain employment at a top firm you usually need to graduate from a top school with top grades. The idea being that these highly paid consultants have to tackle extremely large and complex problems in a very short amount of time - hence, the need for “intellectual horsepower”.

    Other reasons for the high pay even at second and third tier firms could include the fact that consulting involves extensive travel. Many people I have talked to about this describe living out of a hotel so much of the time that they eventually decided not to even rent a place… some opting just to stay with family on the two days/week they weren’t traveling. While some travel from one metropolitan area to another, some (such as a Chemical Engineer who specializes in alternative energy sources) may spend much of this time in BFE. Such traveling interferes with relationships and a sense of stability, thus, employers have to pay them more to do it.

    Just my two cents… by the way - I’ve never been a consultant, and am still in undergrad - so take it with a grain of salt.
  • boneh3adboneh3ad Forum Champion Engineering Posts: 7,393 Forum Champion
    Consulting is a fancy way of saying "selling out"

    In all seriousness, it is a great career, and is lucrative mainly because, especially for the major firms, the clients are generally wealthy businesses who pay a lot to solve their problems since it is still less money than doing it in-house, and thus the firms can afford to pay out a lot.

    The downside is that oftentimes (though certainly not all) you end up just recycling old ideas to solve new problems. This is mainly because the time constraints are often extreme, and it is faster to use cookie cutter solutions, and often times just a cheap.

    Many non-consulting engineers view it as sort of selling out because you are not (in most cases) doing any kind of development of new problems or ideas and doing it for a huge paycheck. However, it is a very important and lucrative career.
  • nshah9617nshah9617 Registered User Posts: 1,005 Senior Member
    Consulting is "renting" a brain.

    There is technical consulting (Exponent, DNV, Qorum) that provide engineering/scientific consulting for a specific field or industry. This can be anything from Oil/Gas to IT.

    Then there is Management/Business Consulting (McKinsey, BCG, Bain, Accenture) who provides strategic advice for companies. This focuses more on business goals such as marketing, optimization, product delivery, merging and other things.
  • aibarraibarr Registered User Posts: 4,249 Senior Member
    Consulting is a fancy way of saying "selling out"

    Now, hey. That's not necessarily true... I used to work for a failure analysis consulting firm (main competitor for Exponent in the structural realm) and really, there's no reason to have a structural engineer on staff full-time to solve your acute structural failure problems. There's a time and a place for consulting, and that time/place is when you have a specific, short-term need for expert advice.

    Though I do like the despair.com catchphrase "Consulting: If you're not part of the solution, there's good money to be made in prolonging the problem."
  • needtogetinneedtogetin Registered User Posts: 82 Junior Member
    Would a ChemE major be able to get a job consulting?
  • tenebrousfiretenebrousfire Registered User Posts: 2,531 Senior Member
    am a (bio) engineering major in management consulting, definitely haven't sold out

    chemical engineering or any engineering can be a perfectly fine background for consulting
  • nshah9617nshah9617 Registered User Posts: 1,005 Senior Member
    Any major can technically compete for consulting positions--however, there is a preference for technical/business students. Engineers make great consultants and are usually sought after in recruiting season.

    From my personal experience, I was able to "by-pass" one of the basic level case study since I was an engineer.
  • AuburnMathTutorAuburnMathTutor Registered User Posts: 1,770 Senior Member
    It's when you con and insult people at the same time.

    (credit to Dilbert creator Scott Adams)
  • nshah9617nshah9617 Registered User Posts: 1,005 Senior Member
    I can see that, especially in management/strategic consulting (McKinsey, Bain, BCG, Accenture). From my family's experience, you spend half the time pointing out the painfully obvious with power-point slides.

    However, you do get to make a lot of connections and work on different projects.
  • boneh3adboneh3ad Forum Champion Engineering Posts: 7,393 Forum Champion
    Haha, I guess the line "In all seriousness" after my selling out comment probably wasn't enough to label my first line as a joke. Consulting is not necessarily selling out, and engineering is a great background to be a consultant. That said, if it was me, I would not ever want to be a typical consultant, since MOST consulting firms like to save money and increase speed by regurgitating old solutions that are only slightly tweaked for the new problems. I personally would rather come up with new solutions to new problems, which is why I am going for my Ph.D. Also, I am crazy like that.
  • nshah9617nshah9617 Registered User Posts: 1,005 Senior Member
    Keep in mind there a lot of technical consulting firms (Exponent, MPR Associates or EDG Consulting) that will actually use their engineering background.
  • boneh3adboneh3ad Forum Champion Engineering Posts: 7,393 Forum Champion
    Again, I realize that, but they still have a tendency to reuse solution because ultimately, they are still driven by the bottom line.
  • nshah9617nshah9617 Registered User Posts: 1,005 Senior Member
    I agree. I have a few friends who did stints in consulting and as a whole there is a "Company Approach" to solving any problem.

    Though if you have any interest in consulting, look at Exponent. They hire only PhDs.
  • G.P.BurdellG.P.Burdell User Awaiting Email Confirmation Posts: 2,294 Senior Member
    Again, I realize that, but they still have a tendency to reuse solution because ultimately, they are still driven by the bottom line.

    It depends on the consultants and the problem. Technology consultants come in when a company says "We could do this on our own if we wanted to, but it's easier and cheaper to hire someone with more experience." Those types of consultants reuse solutions.

    The expert consultants, on the other hand, come in when a company says "we've spent years trying to solve this problem and have no idea what's going on". These are your college professors and other industry leaders - they solve the problems no one else has ever experienced. Obviously, you're not going to get a "reused" solution in this case.
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