There are many general skills that will benefit you in any sector that you choose to work in, but we have highlighted some that are especially important to a career in the Consultancy.
- Problem solving
- Team building
- Ability to articulate your view
- Good listening skills
- Time management
- Ability to work well under pressure
- Analytical capability
- Interpersonal skills
Boston Consulting Group (BCG) connects with Exeter students at The University of Exeter. Find out about upcoming events on camps, the recruiting team, the application process, or job and internship opportunities by clicking here.
“The opportunity to work on a range of projects across all industries was one the main reasons I wanted to come to BCG. In my first year I worked on seven different projects across industries, including Financial Services, Industrial Goods and Consumer and Retail. It gave me a great flavour of different industries, specifically the main financial drivers and difference in culture. This has really helped me to make informed decisions about the direction of my future career."
Associate, Boston Consulting Group
Consultancy is hugely varied spanning across numerous fields, disciplines and sectors with more than 300,000 consultants working in the UK, according to the Office for National Statistics.
Consultancy is for professionals to seek expert advice in a particular field in exchange for a fee. Consultants work in firms that can range from large firms to smaller or niche firms that offer specialist expertise, or they operate as independent consultants (freelance).
The activities of a consultant typically consist of two main domains: external activities on a project basis and activities that support internal operations but job duties vary depending on the industry in which a consultant is working in. The purpose of a consultant is to do something out of the day-to-day of a clients operation, for example changing the organisations strategy for pricing or reorganising the staff struture using the company data.
The domain of strategy consulting focuses on supporting private sector clients with the development of corporate / business unit strategies and helping public sector organisations with public policy. Strategy consultants are hired by clients to support them with strategic decision making, which includes the development of strategy and to an extent also the execution of strategic plans.
Management consulting is the practice of helping organisations to improve their performance by solving problems and creating business growth. It allows an organisation to build and run a more innovative and efficient business, improving services and where necessary, reducing costs and making savings. An analysis of existing organisational problems is assessed with a goal of developing plans of improvement for the future. Primarily, management consultants will be concerned with the strategy, structure, management and operations of a company, making recommendations for change and optimising the business.
An operations consultant is employed by a company to develop the efficiency of their value chain. A value chain is a series of processes that a firm puts in place in order to deliver a service or product. It includes the purchase of raw materials, marketing, sales and after-sale services. Operations consultants offer their expertise in the following areas: procurement, process management, supply chain management, outsourcing, finance and sales & marketing.
The market for financial advisory services consists of six main disciplines: Corporate Finance, Risk Management, Transaction Services, Restructuring, Real Estate Advisory and Forensics & Litigation. Financial advisors are employed to offer solutions to a number of different issues facing an organisation. This includes restructuring, the handling of acquisitions and mergers, risk management and real estate advisory.
“The financial advisory sector is estimated to be worth $67 billion, a quarter of the global consulting market.” (Consultancy.UK, 2020)
The market for human resource consultancy stems from management consulting and addresses human resource management decisions and tasks. It seeks for a greater ability for HR to be strategic. Consultants assist clients by tactically integrating effective HR practices and processes. This includes organisation development, safety, wellness, employee motivation and engagement, disciplinary and grievance processes and employee benefits. They may make recommendations in management structure, ensure a company is complying with employment laws, or help create performance review processes.
An IT consultant will work in partnership with clients to meet business objectives by improving the structure and efficiency of IT systems. They will provide analysis and advice for organisations to advance their communication, data or software systems. A considerable amount of modern businesses depend critically on their communications and computing systems, therefore having a comprehensive and up-to-data IT strategy is a complete necessity.
You can also work in more specific fields of interest. Exeter Alumna, Anya Osen (Anthropology with Proficiency in Applied Data Analysis, 2018), works as a Cyber Security Consultant at KPMG. This involves assessing computer systems, software and networks for weaknesses and then designing and implementing the necessary solutions. She says:
'I really enjoying working in consultancy because of the fast-paced nature of the business, and the breadth of work that you can experience. I've been working on third party supplier reviews, and now I'm moving into pen testing (ethical hacking), which the company has supported me with. I'd only worked with R at university so there's quite a learning curve!'
Training & qualifications
Most consultancy employers require their consultants to have a bachelor’s degree with a specific set of skills and competencies. Qualifications provide consultants with invaluable knowledge and insights, endorsing their commitment to deliver added value to the client’s workplace. Consultants will operate in an array of sectors and many of the larger consultancy firms welcome applications from graduates of any degree discipline. The most defining factor is whether you can exhibit an academic level of thinking and that you can compellingly explain why you think you would make a good consultant.
The application process will differ slightly depending on the area you apply for in different firms. You will be required to complete an application form or CV and cover letter where you should take an evidence-driven approach, backing up details in your application with strong examples of where you have presented the key competencies/ skills they are looking for. You will need a strong, structured CV which clearly outlines your education, work experience, positions of responsibilities key skills, other achievements, and so on.
There may be an online assessment process with online tests that can range from verbal and numerical reasoning to personality tests.
If successful, you will be required to attend an assessment centre (in person) before having an interview. These are usually 1-2 days in length. This will include a range of tasks that you will be expected to complete. Activities may include group and individual exercises, presentations and interviews. Each exercise is designed to examine your knowledge and skills in particular areas, as well as seeing how you interact with others in your team. These may be held virtually or in person.
The interview will typically be split into two sections. During the first part, the interviewer wants to find out more about your personal background and how you will be able to fit in with the team. Use this as your opportunity to showcase your personality. In the second part, the interview will include a case study (usually 30 minutes in length), which gives you the opportunity to exhibit your problem solving skills. You will be given a situation to explore and resolve. The case study is a good way of employers seeing how you can handle real life work situations. They want to see how you develop solutions, your thinking process, and strategic skills. They will be looking for analysis, creativity and presence, what you can do differently to drive towards a solution. Try and ask insightful questions that drives towards a successful outcome.
Practicing similar case studies and talking it through with family and friends is an excellent way of practicing these skills for when it comes to the real thing. Ask them to give feedback on your performance so you can make improvements. You can find practice questions on consulting company websites or by doing a Google search. It is important that you structure your responses, showing how you would solve business problems in a logical fashion. You can use the 'STAR approach' to help guide you through this. Some companies may use strength based questions.
These resources on Mycareerzone Digital are helpful for interview preparation.
On Mycareerzone there is also a virtual interview platform called Interview360 where you can practice your interview technique and also prepare for virtual interviews.
Is Consultancy for you?
Consultancy is for people who have the practical intelligence to solve problems, meet tight deadlines, work well within a team and be flexible. You will also need to be able to use data (which is often incomplete) to make sense of complex challenges in short spaces of time. There is also the demand for analytical and quantitative skills which is growing within the field. Take a look at the Pathways to Data Analytics programme which has been designed to give students across all disciplines an opportunity to learn these skills.
Another essential quality to being a successful consultant is leadership toward their clients. This is whilst managing an often complex and challenging workload. If you work within a firm you may need to be able to lead more junior consultants as you progress through your career. Consultants will need to have excellent relationship building skills with their clients, as well as strong listening and negotiation skills.
You will need a strong desire to learn, if you do - this may be the career for you!
There are a variety of opportunuties available in consultancy to shape your experience. You don't need to know after leaving university what area you want to go in. You can choose to specialise in an area after a period of time, or you can keep it varied by spanning your knowledge across a lot of areas.
There are good personal development opportunities for those working in consultancy. Many firms offer their junior consultants many training possibilities to help progress their personal and career development whilst starting out. The intellectually challenging environments, range of projects, and work within various teams make working in consultancy a varied and exciting field. This way of working will allow you to build a strong skill. You will be able to reflect on your weaknesses, such as presentation skills, and take up further support to build these skills. As there is no specific degree needed to be a consultant, it is an open field for those who are genuinely invested in starting a consulting career.
High salary, bonuses, company car, training and study facilities, reimbursement for additional expenses, company smartphones, inconvenience allowance, health insurance, childcare vouchers, flexible working, and powerful networks are a few of the benefits you may receive working as a consultant.
Depending on the firm you choose to enter, there may be opportunities for your to work across offices worldwide on different projects, as well as transfer opportunities, secondment opportunities to other organisations, and unpaid leave for relevant reasons (travel, family).
Consultants often work long hours with international travel requirements. This can be a strain on your social and personal life and can become tiresome at times. There is also a high demand by stakeholders and a strong competitive ‘in or out’ culture, alongside a large amount of pressure, and perhaps hostility from the employees of your client. This could lead to large amounts of stress which may have a negative impact on your mental health due to the high expectations.
A large amount of the work may be out of your comfort zone, with the sensation of starting at zero for each new task. This could be difficult and demanding for some.
Your choice of modules during your degree is an excellent opportunity to build specific skills and knowledge that will aid you in your route to a career in consultancy.
Many of the modules on offer in the College of Social Sciences and International Studies will involve studying topics that will be beneficial to developing a career in consultancy. Please get in touch with the SSIS Employability team if you would like further information.
An internship or placement is a fantastic way of learning more about consultancy, while ‘getting your foot in’ that highly competitive door. You will gain practical work experience and see what a consultant does on a day-to-day basis. Internships provide undergraduates with an insight of the professional environment, including: company culture, company values and vision, and whether you are best suited to working for a small, medium or large organisation.
It is beneficial that your LinkedIn profile is up-to-date, professional and appealing to potential intern employees. It could really make a difference in securing yourself an internship, that will develop your skillset and increase your employability within the workplace. You can look at the GBP internships we have available through the university on Handshake. These are opportunities available at the University or within the South West. Practical experience across a range of sectors that allows you to apply yourself to projects, gain feedback, develop your skills and boost your CV is a fantastic way to prepare yourself for graduate roles.
Boston Group Consulting offer different internship programmes: The Mentorship Scheme (applications close early July) and a summer internship programme (applications open 1st January and close 23rd January) for penultimate year students.
You can also find internship and volunteering roles that may give you valuable skills to transfer to a career in consultancy. Take a look at the UK’s biggest consulting companies (‘the big 4’) and see what they offer:
PwC offer undergraduate and graduate careers: summer internships and work placements, as well as a wide variety of consulting graduate schemes, including Economic Consulting, Management Consulting, Sustainability & Climate Change Consulting and Technology Consulting.
Deloitte offer Early Careers Programmes that include a Summer Vacation Scheme and Industrial Placement. They have graduate programmes in in Financial Advisory, Technology Consulting and Human Capital, (which is closely related to HR Consulting).
Joshua Sandhu, Internship at Red Stone
What have you been doing in the last four weeks and what skills have you developed during this time? Joshua Sandhu, Assistant Analyst.
A number of universities offer postgraduate degrees that specialise in a specific area, for example Business, Management, Marketing or Environmental Consultancy. Your career options will vary slightly depending on your specialism, for example with a Management Consultancy Masters qualification, you can go into roles in the public, private and third sector, as well as consultancy.
Undertaking postgraduate studies can equip you with practical, analytical and evaluative skills that will help you as a future manager or consultant. You will be able to gain a better understanding of consulting techniques and methodologies, integrating your professional development skills whilst studying.
Most postgraduate programmes offer flexible study options, but the programme duration and assessment citeria may vary slightly. A postgraduate degree is not a requirement, but this additional qualification will certainly aid you in the day-to-day operations and you can begin to connect with employers at development / networking activities.
Findamasters can help you to research your options.
The Master of Business Administration (MBA) is an internationally recognised degree which is intended to develop the skills of an individual for careers in business and management. It is generally advised that a number of years of work experience is needed to make this valuable. The programme is designed for career changers or those excelling as an entrepreneur.
The Exeter MBA is an internationally accredited MBA programme ranked 4th in Europe by Corporate Knights’ Better World Rankings 2020. The programme will help you to develop your business leadership skills and an entrepreneurial mindset. The Exeter MBA Consultancy Project is integrated into the full-time programme. You will add value to a client organisation, whilst solving the needs of a real organisation facing real business challenges.
Extra-curricular activities are hugely beneficial in any job search, and you can really make yourself stand out in comparison to other graduates by engaging in societies, clubs and volunteering. Activities such as team sports which show strong team player skills, or learning a language which displays a commitment to personal development, are all great ways to enhance your CV whilst at university and place you in good stead for a career in consultancy.
Joining societies and getting involved with the Students' Guild/Student Union activities is a fantastic opportunity to gain experience for your CV and show your dedication to your chosen field or career path.
This is especially important in Consultancy, as societies give you the opportunity to develop and prove the skills needed in assessment centres and job interviews.
Below is a list of some Societies or student groups that you might consider joining in order to give your skill set a boost and make yourself stand out from the crowd:
- Debating Society – debating skills, communication, unbiased broadcasting experience, current issues, workshops in debating skills.
- Debating Union Penryn
- Exeter Student Volunteers – shows a dedication to the local community – you can get involved with various projects – communication and team work skills
- Business & Finance Society - this could help you to develop your networking skills
- Finance & Investment Society Penryn
- Student Union Volunteering Opportunities, Penryn
Volunteering is another opportunity to show your dedication to Consultancy and gain valuable skills and experience.
Many of the projects run by the Exeter Student Volunteering (ESV) part of the Guild and Student Union Volunteering opportunities Penryn are relevant to the Public Sector, and there are also many other opportunities on our campuses so you will certainly be able to find something you’re interested in.
- Exeter Council for Voluntary Services – resources about local volunteering opportunities.
- Exeter Nightline – communication skills, volunteering to keep people safe and be aware of social issues
- Sports – resilience, endurance, confidence in self.
- Amnesty International Society – events, campaigns, working with and for other people.
- Amnesty International Penryn
- Be the Change Society – make a difference and bring about change both in the local area and internationally – 5 ongoing projects – social issues.
- Student Ambassador Scheme – huge range of skills, job.
- ESV – have a huge variety of different volunteering opportunities.
- Volunteer Cornwall
Below, you can find feeds of the current jobs, events and mentors available through The Career Zone that are relevant to Consultancy.
Click on any of the links to be taken to the specific page.
The Career Mentor Scheme is a popular employability scheme which matches experienced professionals with a mentee (current student or recent graduate), to meet monthly for sector insights and one to one careers advice and guidance over a six month period.