5 Steps to a Career in Management Consulting

If you enjoy solving problems, analyzing data, and helping organizations grow, then management consulting could be the right career for you. In this role, you’ll have the opportunity to work alongside executives for various organizations, both in the public and private sectors. You’ll receive a competitive salary, develop many professional relationships, and even have the freedom to travel.

So what exactly does a management consultant’s job look like? What steps can you take to get your career started? Who will you work for? And how much money can you make as you progress throughout your career?

In this article, we’ll examine this profession and provide guidance on how to make it your career. First, let’s start with an overview of what to expect as a management consultant.

What Does a Management Consultant Do?

As a management consultant, you’ll be responsible for improving operations and developing strategies for businesses and organizations, with the goal of cutting costs and increasing productivity and/or profits. You’ll plan and carry out projects, as well as measure their success once completed. Your clients will expect you to deliver effective results on time without exceeding your budget.

Executives will hire you for the skills and knowledge you possess in a specific industry. Management consultants exist in all fields, including health care, hospitality, travel, and IT. The more experience and education you acquire surrounding a certain industry, the more qualified you’ll be for work as a consultant.

Regardless of which field you go into, executives will expect you to be proficient in the following:

  • Project management
  • Organization
  • Strategic planning
  • Leadership
  • Opportunity assessment
  • Analytics
  • Creativity
  • Innovation

Another soft skill that’s important for all management consultants is stress management, since you’ll work on projects that are time sensitive, involving many different people and moving parts. In these situations, it’s important to remain confident, logical, and positive.

While it’s becoming more common for management consultants to be independent contractors, most of them work for consulting firms. As an employee of one of these firms, you’ll likely work in an office setting in a metropolitan area.

This position can require a lot of traveling, as you’ll often work out of your clients’ headquarters. You might also have to spend time at divisional offices and subsidiary companies. Also, this type of work is generally more rigorous than your typical 9-5 job. It’s customary to work more than 50 hours a week, and according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a quarter of management consultants work overtime. So if you want to be successful, you’ll need to be flexible. In this profession, every day can be completely different from the last.

It’s important to note that management consultants are different from business consultants, though the two jobs may sound similar. Business consultants typically work with small companies and startups, acting as a sort of “business coach.” They help get things off the ground. Management consultants, on the other hand, are brought in later, once the functions of the organization have already been established (as with Fortune 500 companies, for example), to keep things running smoothly and improve upon existing systems.

Types of Management Consulting Careers

Depending on your area of expertise and how much experience you have, there are many different career options for management consultants. However, your job will most likely fall under one of these five categories:

1. Risk and Compliance Consulting

Companies hire this type of management consultant to ensure that their business operations and practices adhere to standards and regulations set by the entities that oversee them. In other words, you’ll work to make sure that your clients are not breaking any rules to avoid costly lawsuits and fines. As a risk and compliance consultant, you’ll seek to answer questions like, which aspects of the organization’s systems are operating against industry regulations? How can they function as efficiently as possible without breaking any rules? Which parameters and limitations need to be put in place for employees?

2. Financial Advisory Consulting

This type of management consultant helps clients make smarter decisions when it comes to spending their money. This could involve discovering ways to reduce their tax bill, guiding them toward wise investments, and finding other individuals or entities to invest in them. To become a financial advisory consultant, you’ll need a strong background in stocks and bonds, finance laws and regulations, and how money markets work.

3. Strategy Consulting

This is a C-level position that plays a big role in the functionality and growth of a business. Management consultants in this role make big decisions, such as focusing on new markets, dissolving departments, and reallocating resources. To become a qualified strategy consultant, you’ll need many years of experience working in a specific field and proven success with making particular types of decisions, such as organizational change and the implementation of new technologies.

4. Operations Consulting

Whenever new management takes over a company or an organization implements a new technology, an operations consultant is often recruited to manage the transition, with the goal of making it as smooth as possible. This role is commonly found in the supply chain industry, where efficient operations are the biggest factor in achieving higher margins. They figure out ways to reduce costs, improve quality control, etc. Getting into this line of work is competitive, as you’ll need a lot of experience with process management, data analysis, and outsourcing.

5. Human Resources Consulting

This is a role that deals with handling internal issues that directly impact employees. Onboarding new talent, keeping current employees happy and comfortable in the workplace, as well as finding the best perks and benefits available are all tasks that human resources consultants assist with. To make this your career, you’ll need special industry certifications, a strong knowledge of HR laws, and years of experience working in HR departments.

A Day in The Life of a Management Consultant

Let’s say you have over a decade of experience working in the hospitality industry and you get hired working as a management consultant for a chain of restaurants. Depending on the projects you’re working on and how far along you are in the process, there are a variety of different tasks you could be responsible for in a given day.

Most likely, you’ll begin each day by reporting to the headquarters, creating a to-do list, responding to emails, etc. At some point throughout the day, you’ll connect with an executive, either in person or on the phone. This executive will oversee the progress of your project. They’ll ask for status updates, make sure you haven’t gone over budget, and inquire about any obstacles that might be blocking you from achieving the desired results.

If your goal is to cut shipping costs, you might spend your day reviewing accounting documents like payroll information, financial statements, and other company expenses. How is the inventory shipped to each location? What is the most expensive part of the shipping process? What are some alternative vendors or shipping options that could be used instead?

Your industry experience will play a big role in answering these questions wisely and putting together an efficient plan. In your research, you might find that the trucking company used to ship the ingredients charges an unusually high rate for its service. You’ll seek to find out why the costs are so high and then create a plan to bring them down. This could involve traveling to different facilities, interviewing employees and third-party contractors, learning about their workflows, understanding the technologies they use, getting an idea for how long it takes them to complete certain tasks, and receiving their detailed feedback.

Once you notice inefficiency in the shipping process, you’ll start developing a plan to make improvements. This could involve switching vendors, hiring new employees, or moving job responsibilities around. You may also have to conduct training sessions to help workers be more efficient with their time.

You’ll put together a strategy and a list of objectives to help meet your goal. Throughout this entire process, you’ll be in constant communication with your executives. Sending out weekly reports, hopping on calls, and chatting in email threads will keep them up-to-date with your progress and help set expectations for the results.

How Much Do Management Consultants Make?

According to PayScale, the typical management consultant makes an annual salary of $87,558. They also earn an average $7,172 in bonuses, and $4,056 from profit sharing. Also, over 70% of management consultants receive medical, dental, and vision insurance benefits from their employers.

In your first year as a management consultant, you can expect to earn around $67,000 annually. After five years, you can earn over $100,000. And after 20 years, you can earn around $130,000. It’s important to keep in mind that the city and state you live in will play a big role in determining how high your salary is. For example, management consultants in San Francisco earn a 17% higher salary than the national average.

Demand for Management Consulting

As a result of markets becoming more competitive and businesses constantly having to adapt to new technologies, the demand for management consultants is increasing. According to the BLS, the number of management consulting jobs in the U.S. will grow by 14% from 2018 to 2028. If you’re thinking about making this your career, you can worry less about there not being enough opportunity and focus more on becoming a competitive job seeker.

Who are ‘The Big Three?’

McKinsey, Boston Consulting Group, and Bain are the world’s largest consulting firms, collectively earning more than $20 billion in revenue each year. They are referred to as “The Big Three,” or MBB. Working with Fortune 500 companies, these firms specialize in management, organization, operations, innovation, and corporate development. While they are headquartered in the U.S., these companies have offices all over the world. As an aspiring management consultant, it’ll be helpful to familiarize yourself with The Big Three, since you could end up working for one of them someday.

How to Become a Management Consultant

Management consulting jobs are highly competitive since they provide financial stability and a lot of opportunity for growth. You’ll need a good education, industry-specific certifications, and relevant work experience. The path of your career will largely depend on the industry and type of consulting you decide to focus on.

Consider these five general steps to becoming a successful management consultant:

1. Get a bachelor’s degree

Your undergraduate education is the best place to figure out which industries interest you the most. Many different majors will teach you about the fields that you can work in as a management consultant, including computer science, economics, accounting, marketing, and business. When you find specific areas that you’re attracted to, try taking classes that cover those as well. For example, if you’re interested in working with foreign governments, you could major in business with a minor in international studies.

2. Start working

To be qualified for most management consulting positions, you’re going to need at least two years of experience working in that particular field. After all, executives will hire you under the assumption that you know more than they do. Try to decide which field you want to work in as early as possible so you can start learning and retaining valuable knowledge quickly. If you want to focus on hospitality, work your way up to a management position at a restaurant. You’ll be able to use the skills and experience you pick up from those years in the industry to help other restaurants make smarter business decisions.

3. Obtain the proper certifications

If you enter a field that demands specific certifications for consultants, like HR or finance, you’ll want to make sure that you’re prepared for those required tests and assessments. Regardless of which direction your career goes, there are general certifications you can acquire to help your resume stand out amongst the rest. Organizations like the Association of Professional Consultants and the Institute of Management Consultants USA offer certification courses, as well as a network of professional connections that can act as a helpful resource when you start searching for jobs.

4. Improve upon your soft skills

If you’re someone who is unorganized or frequently tries to avoid confrontation, you’ll need to start making some personal improvements. Having strong soft skills (like the ones mentioned above) are imperative to a long and successful career as a management consultant. The best way to sharpen skills like time management, collaboration, and leadership is through years of experience working with different people and overcoming challenges in various environments.

5. Get a master’s degree

Furthering your education is one of the best ways to advance your career as a management consultant, though it’s not required in every industry. Completing a master’s in business administration program, on top of years of relevant work experience, will be a huge help in qualifying you for C-level consulting positions. Also, keep in mind that graduate school is a great place to make professional connections that can help create new opportunities for you in the future.

Northeastern University’s Online Master’s in Business Administration Program

If you want to excel in your career as a management consultant, consider enrolling in Northeastern University’s Online MBA program. At the D’Amore-McKim School of Business, you’ll acquire the knowledge necessary to broaden your expertise in your desired field and become qualified for high paying, C-level consulting jobs.

The online MBA program offers eight different concentrations, so you can focus your studies on topics and issues that are relevant to the space you work in. These concentrations include finance, healthcare management, supply chain management, and marketing.

You can learn more about Northeastern University’s Online MBA Program by speaking with an enrollment advisor.



The Difference Between a Business Consultant and a Management Consultant – Well Coached

Considering Working for a Big 4? – LinkedIn

Job Outlook – U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Average Management Consultant Salary – PayScale

15 Popular Consulting Careers – Consulting.com

What does a Management Consultant do? – The Balance Careers

The Skills Most in Demand for Independent Management Consultants – Forbes