Tell me about consulting

DD is headed to a target school of the big3 consulting firms. Not very familiar with this as a career path/stepping stone. Looking for any insight from those who have done consulting, are recent hires or are considering. What majors are most attractive to these firms? Would they be interested in someone with a bio or East Asian studies degree & business minor? Is an MBA required to “move up”? Would you do it again or choose a different path? Do the firms help pay for an MBA or JD degree later if they wish to retain you? If not, is this a disadvantage as you are going to have had a high salary after having worked at a consulting firm for 1-2 years before applying & no you will be less eligible for grants/financial assistance as you have less “need”? Is this only a path for someone who wishes to live in a large metro area for the long term or can it be used as a stepping stone to later move to another position in a smaller size city? Thank you

It’s hard to know as there are many types of consulting. There are technical consulting folks and management consulting folks and many others. Basically, all share a couple of characteristics: Consultants who work directly with clients have excellent communication skills, they also have good manners and tact ( if they want to be successful). Most are confident, knowledgeable in their fields and are good listeners. They don’t try to sell but listen to what the clients issue is, and then figure out a way to help. They can usually be easily fired so their work ( written, spoken, research) need to be A+.
If someone is in a field like you mentioned East Asian studies, they would need a corresponding language. It’s unusual for firms to pay for MBA or JD (many people have advanced degrees when they join firms). Also, MBA’s and JD’s are usually highly specific as firms hire expertise not generalists.
The most important skills are the soft skills, which often cannot be taught. Moving up required expertise, skills and ability to get along with clients, expand and manage the project and work well with others.
It’s not a job for someone who is arrogant or wants to move by being political in the office. It often involved long hours and superior skills (listed above). One someone is no longer Junior they might be able to use their skills to move up and along. The pay is great. And the expectations are high.
Many people in management consulting eventually take jobs in the C suite or at a Senior level. Travel ( esp. international) can make consulting tough to do for more than a decade. It’s a great career path for the right person.
I found the people who did the best were super hard working, learners ( as opposed to know it alls) and creative thinkers.

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My DD interned with MBB and will be working there full-time after graduation. She loved her internship. All majors are considered. My DD is a business and humanities major. Lots of econ majors from targets and they seem to really like STEM, especially engineering, majors. MBB does sponsor MBAs. Those who accept sponsorship have to return to the firm for 2 years. Without sponsorship, their pre-MBA salaries will make financial aid reduced, but not eliminated at the M7. An MBA, however, is not required to move up. Consulting at MBB is typically a stepping stone. Their consultants are highly sought after and will have many excellent exit opportunities because the experience is exceptional. My DD had incredible responsibilities for major companies as a teenager and was presenting to execs. No better training.

One thing to be mindful of is that MBB recruiting is brutal even from target schools. Only a small number will get internship or full-time offers so competition is fierce. The T2 firms are much easier (though not easy) to get.

Let me know if you have any other questions.

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thank you for the honest replies. If you don’t mind, what do you think made your DD stand out in order to secure an internship? Realistically is this a career that a female who wishes to have a family in late 20’s/ very early 30’s should even consider? Is your daughter entering out of undergrad or did she pursue an advanced degree first?

I am a former consultant for Deloitte in the people and change group (or whatever it’s called these days). I worked on large scale change programs that usually involved IT, process and other types of change across multiple departments, and I was in charge of the impact on people and also communications. I am now a complex trauma therapist.

Our role involved working away from home on the client site. The client is paying a lot of money for consultants to be there, so long hours are expected. This makes it hard if you have young children: how can you be home for pick up, or bath time if you’re not even in the same city? Many women I know left after having kids, often to work in house for the client firm or similar company in the same industry - or took on more internal roles, which required a pay cut.

I remember the partner in charge of our group told me once that you can only have a career there and a family if your husband/wife/SO has a more flexible job. Someone has to be there for the kids. Another partner told me to wait until I was a certain grade before having kids so ‘I could afford a nanny’.

If your D is up for a varied role, with lots of travel, deadlines, meeting lots of different people and has the skills that @Happytimes2001 mentioned above, then I think it’s a great start to a working life. As I said, she can always move if/when she has children to a job with more steady hours/ location.

It taught me a lot and I also do business leadership coaching alongside my therapist role. I did have to re-train of course but I learned a lot from my consulting days.

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Getting an interview requires excellent GPA, high quality experience through other internships or on and off campus experiences. They want leaders, creative thinkers, and those with an entrepreneurial mindset. If your DD is interested, she should go for it. As I said, most only stay 2 years so there is no reason not to do it based on her her plans for late 20s-early 30s. My D is entering out of undergrad but also got her masters through combined program (not typical).

I would tend to advise doing the most quantitative major/minors that you can get As and A+s in. Math and econ are both great options. Being able to intuitively ballpark numbers in your head (more quickly than your client!) is a classic management consulting skill that helps a lot, especially when you are scanning PowerPoint slides for typos late at night. Knowing Excel and stats packages (R seems popular nowadays) can help. Ideally what you want is to demonstrate both quantitative and people skills.

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It’s true you need good quant skills.
As far as having a family, many women( and men) do leave. Still I wouldn’t make that the key point. Due to exposure and skills, women often land in very Senior and flexible positions elsewhere when they have a family. Consulting is a field where pay is based on skills.
One can save a lot of $ in their 20’s/30’s to make life easier when they do have a family. I’d say many women in consulting have kids mid to late 30’s. It takes about 5 years to get to a very solid position.
If your daughter is driven and likes to learn, it’s a great field.

Former Deloitte & parent of (very recently former) Monitor/Deloitte (in different countries and literally different centuries - zero nepotism involved!), aunt to current KPMG and parent to about-to-be Exponent consultants here:

Everything in the thread above rings true to all of us (shared the thread).

  1. the big names value brand name degrees to a ridiculous level; quanty skills are valued but you find majors from theology to geology. They want people who know how to work fast and hard, write well and present (in both senses of the word) well.

  2. for most general/strategy type consultancies the big deal for hiring is the Junior-year summer internship, which typically (though not last year!) leads to a post-graduation job offer. The application process involves several stages, starting with submitting the app & your credentials, followed by online quant and situational analysis testing, and finally in-person group & individual exercises/interviews. Exponent hires almost exclusively STEM PhDs and starts courting them when they are within 2 years of the finish line.

  3. there is an up-and-out element: very very high turnover between years 2 & 3 as people get hired by clients (happens a lot), go to grad school (ditto, in a wide range of fields), get burned out, etc. Different places do it different ways (for example, KPMG is very upfront about where you are in the ranking of your intake), but the outcomes are similar. If you aren’t explicitly on the partner track by year 5 you should be getting out.

  4. a few years with a name brand firm opens all kinds of possibilities (even helps in grad school admissions). The work load can be brutal, but imo, it’s a lot like having babies & toddlers: it is all consuming, but it can be really fun while you are doing it! Early-mid 20’s is a great time to be throwing yourself into it.

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Regardless of major, GPA above 3.5 is key. Many firms won’t even look at your resume with anything less. So, while it’s important to be a quick thinker, have good mental math skills and present well, it’s equally important to major in something where a 3.5 GPA is possible.

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I think it’s also important where you attend school. To a larger degree than other fields. It’s often your calling card when you are sent to a client, this is X from Y college with expertise in Z. This is used to leverage why the client has to bring in a consultant. And consultants often have to work with employees at a client so they must tread lightly.

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One thing to consider is the variety of roles that fall under “consulting”. There’s the generalist strategy jobs with MBB, and a huge number of IT focused jobs at companies like Accenture, Wipro, etc. But there’s also a lot of specialist consultants, whether engineering focused (like Exponent and SRI), economics-focused (like Cornerstone and Brattle) or industry focused in telecoms/tech, real estate and lots of other sectors.

I’ve always been in specialist consulting firms, where usually you will find smaller firms (100-200 staff is common) and can progress rapidly. The working practices can also be very different (eg travel may be much more intermittent) and although the pay is often somewhat lower, the flexibility of a smaller firm may make up for it.

S may also head in that direction after graduation, his path has been much as outlined above: very strong academic record (4.0 GPA) with some quant aspects (economics/quant methods courses), internship after sophomore year (with a policy think tank in the field) and now internship with his target consulting firm in the summer after junior year with the hope of a job offer afterwards.

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I do think there are differences in strategy consulting vs tech/ process change consulting. I feel the former cares very much about prestigious schools attended, but the latter minds less. There are also offices all over the US from Atlanta to Dallas to LA to NY and I think this regionality can play into hiring preferences.

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I agree with much of what has been said already. I have worked in consulting for 20+ years, and with consultants from many firms prior to that, as a buyer of said services.

Major doesn’t always matter (but can, as can school), but in general, firms will be looking for strong quant skills, and many will have quant type tests during the interview process. The boutique firm I work with does quant testing, and generally won’t hire non-STEM majors, because the work is focused in pharma and biotech.

Long hours are the norm, as are demanding clients…pre-pandemic the work/home lines were blurred and now it’s even worse. Some firms travel a lot, some don’t…it’s partially dependent on the nature of the work and will be interesting to see what happens post-pandemic.

I agree there is an up and out focus at the larger firms, a bit less so at boutique and medium size firms…if one can sell consulting services, they will ALWAYS have a high paying job. There are part-time opportunities that can be good for stay at home parents, BUT those people do give up the ability to maximize promotions and career advancement.

My advice is to get consulting internships, even after freshman year. MBBs won’t hire those students, but many consulting firms will. That will help someone understand whether consulting is the life they want.

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I just want to redirect the OP again. The OP specified that the school is a target for the big three. The big 3 refers to MBB. MBB, like IB, is really a 2 year gig. It’s not really an up or out culture. It’s more that it’s used as a stepping stone to other things. Internships at MBB are generally during junior summer (excepting top URMs who are hired for freshman and junior summer). MBB will also fill out their needs after offers are given to interns with full times offers to seniors who didn’t intern. The OP’s DD doesn’t need to decide on on consulting beyond this initial 2 year commitment.

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“Consulting” with the large firms can be a great way to start a career, when you have the flexibility to travel, work long hours, etc. I spent 26 years at Deloitte, but realize 2-3 and 5-7 years are common exit points. Many former co-workers and staff became clients and leaders in large organizations based on what they learn in their first stint out of college. Certain majors are certainly more likely to be targeted, get interviews, etc. But at that level we looked for talent, not skill. Someone with a proven record of excelling and leading in whatever they did, not necessarily the specific major. (Though I will admit that interviewing a Physics major who decided it would just be fun to sign up, presumably for interview practice, probably wasn’t going to go anywhere, based on his resume’s objective statement).

We had a program to pay MBA costs for high performers, but it was fairly restrictive- you really had to be a top performer with long term potential, and came with an employment requirement. I had an MBA before I joined and many leaders did, but many others didn’t. The first Partner I worked for was a History major.

(I’m always amused to note that revenue from just our Consulting arm is 2-4x the “Big” three).

Thank you everyone for so much useful information! Wondering if anyone can give feedback on if this is a path my DD should even pursue. It seems interesting to her but she doesn’t really know much about it other than what she sees on the websites.

She is someone with very good “soft skills”, actually loves people/group projects and does well in them - tending to end up taking the lead/ being the organizer/ doing the media aspect/writing /presentation aspect etc. This is usually because others in the group want her to take these roles as this is where she excels. She currently has 2 part - time jobs that are “public facing,” one of which requires sales (she is the youngest person the owner had ever hired in that position). She really enjoys working with the public or as part of a team - she does not want a job where she rarely interacts with people.
However, she is someone who does not find math intuitive - she can do well in her classes, but only after much work. Every other subject, she can ace with minimal effort. For example, on the ACT, her math section was a 31 despite much practice on this area. The other 3 sections, she got 36’s with minimal practice. She has difficultly doing math “in her head.”

I have seen some of the interview math questions and I feel she may struggle with them, especially if they deviate from the prep type questions. Would she be a better fit at a more boutique type firm? She otherwise has great interview skills, loves to travel, has excellent time management skills and as stated, is good with personal presentation. Do those of you with experience in the field feel this may still be a good fit, or maybe would her skill set be more optimal for other fields of interest such as law or other aspects of business?

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She may have trouble at least interviewing at the top tier firms as their interview processes involve a lot of quick mental math. The tier 2 firms not so much. I don’t know about the boutiques. She should apply widely. I recommend she do some networking with a variety of consultants to get a better feel for whether it is a good fit for her.

I agree with this advice. Adding, that she can drill into her memory some of the typical mental math questions that are commonly used in these interviews. If she networks appropriately, and prepares for the interviews, she will know what to expect. There are active internet threads where students post all the recent questions they were asked.

I say this very, very kindly: she hasn’t even started college yet, and you are worrying about what sort of consulting firm would be best for her.

Given that she is at one of a tiny number of super-elite colleges (b/c that’s where the Big3 go hunting), she will have many, many opportunities to explore her actual interests. To get into a ‘good’ consulting firm she just needs to be a solid student. The math is not that hard, and there are (of course) ways to prep for both the math and logic parts.

What she really needs to do now is simply try anything and everything that is genuinely interesting to her, and to keep an eye on what suits her best (and, equally, what doesn’t suit her). Actively pursue the opportunities that arise. Start looking for summer internships by November- in anything she is at least reasonably interested in.

When it comes time to apply to jobs she can connect the dots to show why all the things she has done make sense for the thing she wants to do next. Everybody has to do this- and it is so so much easier when you have chosen true interests at each juncture!

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