Introduction to Consulting

Written by Thomas Nutt, Founder of Inside Buzz

What is consulting?

If you were to stop Joe Bloggs in the street and ask him what a consultant is, you’re unlikely to receive a clear answer. In fact, relatively few people outside the consulting industry could convey what a consultant is, let alone what they do. Most of this uncertainty can be attributed to the ambiguity of the term consultant. To take this issue to dizzyingly pedantic heights, anyone who’s ever been consulted on any issue has, in fact, acted as a consultant – whether this be giving your two cents worth in a meeting or warning a friend against the purchase of a skin-tight, leopard-print onesie.

In the professional domain though, consultants are problem solvers who are hired by companies for their expertise and outside perspective; this includes fashion consultants, IT consultants, design consultants, recruitment consultants etc. With a whole slew of different professions and industries adopting the term, it’s unsurprising poor old Joe Bloggs can’t give us a straight answer! While there are a wide variety of consultants operating in a number of different fields, the kind of consultants normally referred to in the context of graduate recruitment can broadly be described as management consultants.

Management consultants provide advice for a fee; they’re problem solvers for hire. Companies are often too busy (or unable) to solve their business problems on their own. In these cases they may seek the expertise and impartiality of a management consulting firm. Consulting firms can give advice to all kinds of corporations, governments and non-profit organisations. The typical client of a consultant is a senior executive whose team is too focussed on day-to-day running of the business to consider any long-term strategic problems that the company may be facing. Consultants can offer a solution from a perspective free from bias and unclouded by the company’s internal politics.

Types of Consultancies

Consultancies vary in focus: they can be structured by topic, type of problem or industry, with specialisations ranging from the relatively broad to the extremely niche. Some consulting firms specialise in giving advice on management and strategy, while others are known as technology specialists. Some firms concentrate on a specific industry area, such as financial services or retail, while others are more like gigantic one-stop shops with divisions that dispense advice on everything from top-level strategy to saving money on staples and paper clips.

What are the best parts of the job?

The nature of consulting means that you can be working on a number of projects in different industries. You’ll often be based at a client’s office which means you may be away from home during the week, staying in hotels and travelling lots. So why would you want to be a consultant? Well for one there is never a dull moment. There is a huge amount of variation in your work – you get to work in different industries with diverse people and clients when you change projects. You will meet, and work with, important, high-level people and will learn new things.

What kinds of people are suited to consulting?

Consulting doesn’t require a clearly defined skill-set – there are a variety of different traits that you should ideally possess. Some of the most important ones include:

  • Broad interests and a thirst for knowledge – Consultants work on a range of subjects in different industries and markets so it is essential that you enjoy learning about new areas.
  • Team work and leadership skills – Consultants work in teams at every stage of a project, and these teams need to work well together and have a direction and focus.
  • Analytical skills – Probably the most crucial skill for a consultant is the ability to look at data, spot trends and work out a solution for their clients.
  • Presentation and communication skills – Once problems have been picked out and the solutions suggested, consultants need to be able to effectively communicate their recommendations to the client. It’s essential to be diplomatic when doing this and to get on well with people of various ages and backgrounds.
  • Attention to detail – There’s a fair amount of number crunching and data to scrutinise and the smallest detail can change the end result of a project. In order to suggest viable solutions, consultants need to ensure they don’t make mistakes!
  • Flexibility – Working on client-sites and travelling means consultants need to be prepared to go where they are needed – whether that be across the country or abroad. Speaking a foreign language in these cases would also be helpful.
  • Organisational skills – When you’re working on different projects for a number of clients in locations across the country you better make sure you are able to juggle tasks, prioritise and stay on top of things!
  • Energy – Regardless of how much you’ve worked or travelled that week, when you’re with a client a consultant must be wide-eyed, energetic and positive.

What can I do with consulting?

A career in consulting sets you up for lots of different careers. You get to experience a wide variety of sectors, you’ll have exposure to senior executives at large companies and will learn an awful lot on each project. Consulting is an ideal “springboard” to other careers. The roles consultants move on to are incredibly varied and are very much reflective of personal interests rather than anything else.

Consultants can easily transition into strategy groups at large FTSE 100 or Fortune 500s – from Coca-Cola to BP and HSBC to Unilever. Alternatively, many consultants pursue government and political careers. Roles can include advising political candidates, campaign work or lobbying. Furthermore as a consultant you are exposed to different industries, have a solid network of contacts, come across a myriad of business problems, and learn to recommend optimal solutions. Given all of this, an appealing option is to start your own company.

To offer you a greater insight into careers in the consulting industry, we suggest having a look at Career Player’s video below. CareerPlayer.com is a multi-award winning website designed to make choosing and breaking into graduate jobs easier.