What kind of jobs do management consultants do?

Recently, I wrote an article on ‘How engineers can break into Management Consulting‘. I received several emails from readers with questions. The two most frequently asked questions were what type of consulting jobs are available and how to go about getting a job in consulting.

Before I answer these questions, I would like to comment on the impact of the current economic situation on the job market. There are two implications in my opinion. The first one is that it has brought into question what we know as management best practices. At a recent talk I attended, Dr. Gary Hamel addressed a group of Boston area B-School students. He told them aIf you are looking for new ideas in management, donat read any books!a

It appears that our leaders are struggling with the old management practices to channelize the power of information in todayas highly connected workplace. So when the dust settles from the economic blow up, corporations will inevitably start looking for fresh ideas in collaborative management principles. So if you are betting on top-down, prescriptive frameworks such as TQM or ISO 9000 certifications, you might be headed in the wrong direction.

The second implication I can make is that it will be the growth of the small and medium enterprises or SMEs. They are the ones most likely to turn around on a dime and adapt new ideas and leverage themselves on the power of asocial networksa. Innovation will come from companies that will figure out collaborative solutions from the power of a connected workplace and society.

Take for instance companies that are setting up their own awikisa for collaboration of ideas and harnessing the intellectual capital of their own people. This company will no longer need to hire the services of a big five consulting firm to do a competitive analysis of a new product they are about to introduce. So does this mean that the consulting industry will die out? Actually no, it will change and become flatter too. I see consultancy engagements shift down from senior management down to lower levels creating a bigger market for niche players.

So in summary, get ready for new ideas in management, start practicing creative thinking, sharpen your analytical capabilities and engage in activities and projects that leverage the power of collaboration. You will automatically be in demand because management decision-making is going to become bottom-up and you, the new aspirants, will be in the driving seat!

Now that I have set the context, I will attempt to answer the specific questions that came over to me from a number of readers.

What exactly is consulting and how do I identify such jobs?

There are many definitions but from the point of view of MBA job aspirants, it can be any job that requires client interaction and working with products or services that need customization. A financial consultant at a bank or insurance company who helps clients choose the right investment vehicle is a consultant.

A business analyst in an IT or a BPO company is also a consultant since they have to create custom solution for their clients before the service begins. Almost everyone in a KPO (knowledge process outsourcing) is a consultant. A research analyst at a KPO should be able to understand what the client wants. The analyst then has to conduct the research, analyze the data and present the results in the context of the clientas problem.

At the higher end of the spectrum, there are management consultants who take any given business issue and help clients come up with a strategy to resolve it. Client engagements can be anywhere from 6 weeks to 6 months. Leading strategy management consulting firms already in India are McKinsey, BCG, Deloitte, Accenture and several others.

Do I need a MBA to get into consulting?

I would like to say anot reallya but unfortunately, most consulting companies and hirers of strategy type roles, will make the assumption that If you have done an MBA you have learned how to think independently, learn independently, work in teams, and communicate well.

Because of the case study style of teaching in most B-School, this no doubt makes a difference. However, this does not necessarily mean that if you do not have an MBA, you do not have these attributes or could develop them through some other means.

The real question though most of you are asking in between the lines is aIs it really worth my while to take two years out of my working career, take a loan and be assured that I will get a job such as consulting that will take the monotony out of my current job?a To this I would certainly say no, you do not have to do an MBA.

Do a part time MBA, join a distance education program or seek projects in your current job that will allow you to flex your creative grey cells. If you feel bold, go and work for a startup. Not the best pay but it will certainly teach you way more than you will learn in a B-School.

What type of companies should I be applying for?

IT/ITeS industry is still the largest and has been the fastest growing sector till now. Almost 100% of their business has been export driven so a slowdown in hiring is but natural. But when they do start hiring, they will look for consulting roles first. This is because consulting roles yield higher billing rates compared to process and software development work.

In the interim it would be advisable to target client-facing and strategy roles at smaller and more nimble firms that are into niche areas of growth industries such as energy, pharmaceuticals, infrastructure, retail and telecommunications.

What should I do to prepare myself more attractive for such jobs in consulting, strategy or R&D;?

Well for starters, an MBA can still help in getting past the first door of keyword search. But at the last count I remember that there are 1700 B-Schools in India. So the second level keyword search needs to set you apart from the rest.

To do this one suggestion would be to make sure that the work you have done in past projects highlights your capability in original thinking, teamwork, influencing and selling. For example, If you have written a piece of code in a CRM system for a large company then donat think that the keywords a.Neta or GE as the client will perk your recruiters attention.

However, if you say that you analyzed the pros-and cons of open source versus an in-house custom development to help the client decide on the technology to use, you have taken your resume noticability factor up by several notches.

How should I go about looking for a company that will offer me job in consulting or a strategy role?

The first thing I would say is stop throwing your resume into large job banks and mailing them to hundreds of employers or wait for campus recruiters to tell you who you should work for.

Do your own research. We live in a highly connected world. There are thousands of blogs, discussion boards, portals where you can do your research and discover your real interest and jobs where your strengths line up. There hundreds of user interest groups in Linkedin. Even if you donat post anything there, read the discussions and you will figure out what interests you.

Once you have narrowed down your industry, job function or better still a specific employer, create a custom resume and pitch it to a apersona who can take you to the hiring decision maker.

Your resume should look like a proposal to the hirer. They need to see specific capabilities and ambitions in you that will benefit the company and YOU in your career aspirations. In future, companies will not look for your paper qualifications. They will try to understand if the company can offer you something that will make you want to get out of bed every morning and come to work. Anyone can give you the paycheck you want but few will be able to give you the elusive mojo that made you dump your job and go do an MBA.

If you recall the implication of this downturn I mentioned earlier. Innovative and open minds will be in demand. SME sector will grow faster and will be the recovery engine. If you want some mojo, you are likely to find them in a startup or an SME.

Another tip is for positive results in networking. Start with giving rather than just asking. We at ZENESYS are practicing this principle to good results. In our distance workshops, we are constantly looking for live projects to give candidates hands on experience. We are offering 40 hours of free market research to anyone who can come share globalization success stories. Itas a win-win for all. Our workshop attendees get exposure to live projects and hear about success stories. The case study contributor gets some free research from our well-trained consultants.

Saibal Sen is the founder of ZENESYS, a professional services
training organization. ZENESYS has trained hundreds of engineers in
consulting skills at leading consulting organizations in India and
abroad. ZENESYS also runs distance workshops for consulting
certification. Saibal was formerly a management consultant at Arthur D.
Little and founder of KUBER consulting in Boston MA. He can be reached
at ssen@zenesys.in

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