Management consulting provides excellent opportunities to work with high-level and talented executives, gain broadly-applicable skills, travel to many different places, and earn high incomes (up to $120,000/year in the US for entry-level positions). To gain access to these benefits, however, candidates must train intensively to overcome hundreds of thousands of competitors, with a <1% acceptance rate.
In this article, I have compiled the 7 most common reasons why people pursue consulting. These are the most refined insights coming from over 30 interviews I conducted with my ex-colleagues, as well as my personal experience as an ex-McKinsey consultant. For the “Why Consulting?” interview question, I’ve also included useful strategies and tips to get the perfect answer. Enjoy reading!
7 reasons to work in management consulting
No.1: Any background can get you into management consulting
Two great characteristics of the consulting world are openness and diversity – There is absolutely no background required to become a management consultant, not even a degree!
For fields such as Engineering or Finance, you would almost certainly need an Engineering degree and a Finance degree to get in. Consulting is exactly the opposite of this. Management consulting firms will hire candidates from every academic discipline and background – so long as they meet three key criteria – leadership, achieving, and analytical problem-solving. After that, consultants will receive all the training they need to do the job.
It’s true that Maths or Finance degrees do give you an edge as they sharpen important consulting skills like analytical problem-solving. Yet, they’re not so necessary. With enough practice, using great materials – such as my Ultimate Management Consulting Program, anyone can make it to top consulting firms!
No.2: Glamorous lifestyle and high income
Many people choose management consulting because of the outrageously good pay and the glamorous lifestyle. A typical senior consultant at MBB (Big 3) firms earns over $160,000 a year, and the highest positions pay up to $1,3m a year.
Life-style wise, because consultants spend a lot of time and effort travelling worldwide for their projects, consulting firms always ensure the highest-standard travel experiences possible for its human assets. Consultants will always stay in the nicest five-star hotels, own the most elite membership cards, access to premium gyms and pools, you name it.
Of course, travel schedules and destinations vary depending on client industry, work scope, job titles, and other reasons. This is why, sometimes, the best places to stay might not be as glamorous as expected. But rest assured that they’re the best services around!
No.3: A mountain of support of all kinds to take advantage of
Very few companies will let new hires manage other employees much senior than themselves. Consulting firms flipped this – even as an intern, you can get other people to do your work right away. Why? Because you get access to a mountain of support in all kinds to capitalize on.
These support services come in all kinds of forms, but they all serve a common purpose – to ensure that consultants save 99% of their time doing consulting work. For example, when I was at McKinsey, there was an entire function of professional Powerpoint designers. All I had to do was to quickly draft the contents on a piece of paper, took a picture of it, and send it to the Powerpoint team to beautify.
Other services work similarly. If you cannot afford an hour to figure out complex Excel models, outsource it to the company’s pool of Excel experts. If you need industry experts’ advice on your client’s case, look up McKinsey’s network and help will come in two minutes.
Bottom line is, consulting firms want consultants to focus on the big content, and utilize all time-saving support they can get to take care of the rest. This is because profit-generating time outweighs all extra costs.
No.4: Reasonable work/life balance
Compared to other high-income career paths, management consulting offers a more reasonable work-life balance. A consultant typically works 60-70 hours a week. Of course, this number heavily depends on project type, job titles, office geography, and how well each consultant can utilize given resources.
The lowest range is around 45 hours a week and the highest range up to 80 hours a week. Compared with investment banking (known for its 100hrs/week), or the “crunch culture” of video gaming industries (average at 120hrs/week), consulting work/life balance is much more reasonable.
Additionally, some consulting do try to create a sustainable experience for its employees. At Bain & Company, for instance, there are daily work-hour tracking systems to record overtime hours, which will be compensated for with extra leaves (comp-offs).
No.5: Fast, high-level, and well-rounded personal development
Aside from the great pay and the great reputation, management consulting is especially attractive because of the fast, high-level, and well-rounded personal development that lasts a lifetime. Unlike investment bankers, who are often trained to become experts in specialized, functional skills, consultants are trained to excel in a diverse range of skills and to be comfortable with steep learning curves.
To put this into perspective, I was already meeting with the Prime Minister and pitching to senior CEOs in the first several weeks at McKinsey. When I wasn’t meeting high-profile people, I was pressured to keep up with the work of my superstar teammates, digging through numerous documents to bring together only 2-slides worth of data.
It’s particularly difficult for newbies in the first 8 weeks, and usually it takes 3 months for people to start learning the ropes. But after that, your strategic thinking, analysis and people skills will be knife-sharp. You will produce quality Powerpoint slides; you will master efficiency and know how to best utilize given resources. These are the kinds of well-rounded skills that make consultants successful in whatever they do later in life.
No.6: Flexible exit options
Many people choose consulting as a springboard to a wide range of careers. This is because consultants often enjoy impressive exit opportunities thanks to industry prestige, diverse experiences, and high-quality alumni networks.
Consultants work on projects spanning all kinds of functions and industries, giving them the transferable skills suitable for many industries and roles. Most importantly, consultants get the network that helps them get into those roles later on. Industry prestige also means that it’s easier for consultants to directly enter many C-level roles. That said, the most common consulting exit routes are:
According to a survey of working consultants in the US by Vault, MBB firms lead the pack when it comes to exit opportunities.
Best Consulting Firms by Exit Opportunities (US 2020)*
McKinsey & Company
Boston Consulting Group
ClearView Healthcare Partners
Bain & Company
The Bridgespan Group
Deloitte Consulting LLP
The Chartis Group
Insight Sourcing Group
GE Healthcare Partners
Simon-Kucher & Partners
The Keystone Group
Analysis Group, Inc.
*The above lists consist of the best consulting firms in the US on exit opportunities. The firms are scored and ranked by Vault, using surveys of working consultants, who are allowed to rate only their firm.
No.7: A relatively short preparation period needed
Another perk of management consulting is that it takes a relatively short preparation period (usually two months to one year) compared to other relevant industries/jobs. This is one reason why many people transfer to consulting when they are unsure of what to pursue long-term
To work in, say, entry-level roles in Investment Banking or Hedge funds, most people I knew typically started preparing from their first year of a Finance bachelor’s degree from top schools. That means it’ll take them 4 years to start working, not to mention networking time.
By contrast, consulting average prep time is much shorter – two months to one year – that includes building connections, preparing consulting resumes, studying for consulting tests, and practicing consulting case interviews. In general, consulting is much more open-armed (easy in, easy out) and less selective.
Why Consulting? – Interview question
During fit interviews, understanding your personal reasons for the question “Why consulting?” is already half the battle. The other half is to persuade the interviewer that consulting is really for you. To deliver a convincing answer, bear in mind the below strategy and checklist.
“Why Consulting?” – Interview question strategy
The truth is, nobody cares about WHAT particular reasons (or insights) you list out.
What they do care about is HOW you deliver them. Hence, the key is to implicitly show off qualifications and consulting traits, i.e: structured, fact-based, achieving (strong will to succeed). To do so, you should always structure your points and collect strong data to back up each point you made. Follow the steps listed below for more details.
Steps to approach “Why McKinsey” interview question
Management consulting is an industry providing expensive and professional advice to organizations to improve their overall performance, through better “management”, which includes strategy, governance, operation, organization, finance, and marketing. The three most prestigious management consulting firms are McKinsey, BCG, and Bain (the Big Three).