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2 Major Skills you need to get into Management Consulting- an end to end guide


Shatakshi Sharma, St Stephens College, University of Delhi Graduate, ISB MBA, strategist to government of India, former BCG management consultant, advisor to tony blair institute, ivy league exchange student, LinkedIn Top Voice and co-founder of Global Governance Initiative

Career insights by GGI is a new series by GGI sharing hacks and tips around management consulting, MBA, product management and public policy.


In this GGI career insight, we will be sharing insights into: the role, opportunities, salaries, network, pros and cons of being a management consultant.

 

I get gazillion questions in my inbox on how to get a shortlist from BCG, Mckinsey, and Bain or how to crack case interviews.


Most people run after management consulting because it has a fancy title attached to it, and rightly so.


Boston Consulting Group (BCG), McKinsey & Company, and Bain & Company are not just employers but frankly institutions in themselves.


Working in MBB upskills you and provides you with a fantastic career launchpad, which many times can be better than career acceleration provided by top MBA institutes! You learn and explore a lot of different sectors while working in consulting from structured problem-solving to communication.


Based on my experience as a former BCG consultant, I will be sharing insights into the hard and soft skills, case interview requirements, your changes of getting into an MBB and the life style of a management consultant.



1. What is management consulting?


Before we delve into the specifics, it will also be best we understand the world of consulting first and get our basics clear.


Historically, advisors have held a prestigious position in society. Kings and queens often looked up to these advisors for the welfare of their kingdom and for devising war strategies. The only difference is that those were in-house advisors, and belonged to the same kingdom.


The management consulting model is just a little different. Consultants typically work for external clients, rather than being part of the client’s team. This brings in a lot of fresh perspective to the advice.


However, today a lot of companies also hire in-house strategy folks. By doing so, they do not necessarily rely on an external firm.


Coming back to the profile of a consultant. Consultants work with the CXOs and CEOs of leading organisations to solve the root cause of P&L problems. You are invested in issues such as increasing revenue, reducing cost, mergers and acquisitions and due diligence, which have large-scale impacts.


And hence you get a more hands-on experience by working closely next to CEOs and CXOs.


1.1 How are consultants staffed?


Starting on a bright note, there is an extremely transparent staffing culture at BCG. There are 3 types of projects that you can select from - high, medium and low priority. Based on your prioritization, you would be typically staffed in either a high or a medium priority choice. For your first project at BCG, your resumé is used to staff you.


1.2 What do consultants do on a case?


The first week on a consulting project generally goes in allocation of work for each consultant. This particular project was a classic strategy case involving a cost reduction problem. Here, we were a team of 3 consultants, 1 project manager and 2 partners.


Coming to the problem solving- you begin by looking at the ledgers and figure out the top 3 areas where the client is incurring costs. These areas were equally divided among the consultants. For instance- I was dealing with the logistics cost and my teammate was looking over the software costs.


After this, the second week was spent building hypotheses and issue trees. This accounts for the most crucial time where you look at the bigger picture and try to solve the problem. Essentially week 2 is all about thinking. Post these initial steps you align with the partner over your progress. In my particular case, we found out that the client was incurring a lot of real estate costs.


Stepping into week 3- it involvescollecting data through different methods like research and getting on expert calls. Here you align with your project manager every day on you hypothesis, action plan. You go over the categories and sub-categories of your share of the cost bucket. This process involves going over the various hypotheses you have and how you would be subsequently proving or disproving them.


It is a very liberal and non-micro-managing culture at BCG set forth by the managers. The idea is simply to have the same thought process and gain extra input from their substantial experience. To sum it up, you begin by building context and move on to building PPTs and refining hypotheses. You start estimating potential savings as you come closer to answers.


1.3 Sabatical


This brings us to the non-work related aspects. I will always appreciate my time at BCG due to their understanding and empathetic work culture. They have a very flexible approach towards health based sabbaticals.


1.4 Chill Time


So after all this hard work, what is the chill time like?


Unfortunately, my experience was quite out of the norm in this regard. My team and were working on Christmas, which is not typically the case for consultants. This was a brain storming session organised by a partner.


Though, much to their regard, it was a very good ecosystem. The partner recognised and appreciated our efforts for rising upto the occasion. To top it off, we ended up having a very good Christmas evening dinner at a 5-star hotel. The life of a consultant is as fancy as it gets.


2. What are your chances of getting into management consulting?


Now that you have understood the role of a consultant, you might be wondering about your chances to land a role. To illustrate your chances clearly, I am going to create a structure.


2.1 Target Schools


MBB firms especially in India have certain target schools from which they hire. Some of these target institutions at the undergrad stage are- St. Stephen’s College, Sri Ram College of Commerce (SRCC), Lady Sri Ram College for Women (LSR) and old IITs.


The firms hire front-end consultants exclusive by having a target hiring pool.


One thing to note though is that there are fewer restrictions for back-end and research consultants in the same firms.


This will certainly raise a question on whether you are part of a target school or not. To determine that, all you have to do is go back and look at historical placements of your school for the last 6-7 years. If your alumni have been hired by these MBB firms, then you are part of target school list.


As disheartening as it may be, we are trying to change this mindset slowly via Global Governance Initiative.


2.2 How to get a short list


The best way to distinguish your CV is by making it brief and having a spike.


Ideally, your CV must be 1 page to demonstrate a good grasp of brevity in your communication skills. Today, with 10 years of experience, I still have 1 page CV.


2.2.1 What is a Spike


The concept of a spike is being an extraordinary candidate in 1 of the 3 sections in your CV (academia, work experience, and extra-curricular) and good amongst the other two compared to your peers. The spike may vary from person to person.


A good example of a spike is being a national-level swimmer.


Many of you may wonder why the concept of spike exists.


Well consulting is a client-centered business, meaning consultants work for hand in glove with top CFOs, CEOs, and akin. The spike ensures that young professionals can demonstrate their aptitude for success through historical evidence.


Firms want people who possess and have high abilities to display their competence, because of the client-friendly nature of the business where you are positioned in front of CEOs. To put it rather simply, they want consultants who want to make their clients successful.


2.2.2 Getting Referrals


The value of a partner's referral in MBB is way too high and getting a partner's referral is extremely rare also but valuable. You are typically interviewed at the Partner level or equivalent in MBB. And this makes the system very hard to game. I know sons and daughters of top bureaucrats being rejected in case rounds!


2.3 Case interview hacks


Let's talk basics. You need to solve a number of diverse sets of problems if you are invited for interviews. Doing 5-6 won't do for you at least for MBB!


Solving the case question can be broadly divided into 4 categories- scoping the case, forming an issue tree, asking to follow-up questions, and making final recommendations to solve the problem.


The interviewer is particularly interested in following your chain of thought and problem-solving skills than the final solution.


Once again, case solving is a muscle you build. The skill cannot be acquired by passive reading format.


2.4 Personal Fit Round


Now that you have proven your capability, it all comes down to your personality, confidence and curiosity.

Firms are not looking for just ace case solvers, but also those who fit with the firm. To put it in perspective when asked- why BCG or why McKinsey- you should not be giving generic wikipedia copy pasted cliché answers.


These questions can be golden opportunity for you to showcase your research and introspection on your part. An ideal answer would include how your past work experience helped you realise your potential for problem-solving and critical thinking.


Alternatively, you could draw upon your conversations with company alums who inspired you to pursue this field.


Now let us understand what are the hard and soft skills that will truly make you a fit applicant to management consulting.


2.4.1 Hard Skills


2.4.1.1 Microsoft Excel


This is the primary technical skill you need to excel in the industry :P


A lot of my time as a management consultant was spent on excel. It is an essential tool since you would be required to do a lot of number crunching, projections and cost savings analyses. You are expected to know these skills, especially if you are an experienced professional.


2.4.1.2 Business Acumen


This is going to be quite pivotal in your journey as a consultant.


I remember my first day at a boutique management firm, where my manager had asked me to explain the business model of a company. I was astounded due to my lack of experience in this business field.


Not only are you expected to know the jargon of the industry, but also have an intuition about such things. Additionally, you ought to know the basics of financial accounting and marketing.


Taking the example of my first case at BCG, where the client was an IIM Ahmedabad gold medalist. Despite our thorough analysis, he would always ask questions about our reports and suggestions. Gone are the days when you deal with dull and inactive clients, especially in the MBB.


You have to be ready to display your competence.


2.4.1.3 Competence


Competence is a core skill required for getting into the consulting industry. This starts with the fact that BCG, McKinsey and other management consulting companies are paid exuberant amounts by various fortune 500 companies and other organizations for their input.


The higher salary has to justify their exceptional intellectual advisors capable of carrying out their projects. This exceptionalism demands the very best.


This is why most of the creamy layer of management consultants come from top universities like IIM, ISB, Harvard and akin. In some shape or format, through these degrees, aspirants project their competence at least in terms of their intellect.


This is of course, a bitter pill to swallow for most people. Nobody likes being defined by a paper degree, but the problem does come with its own solutions. There are various skills you can embibe to project yourself as a competent candidate.


The fact of the matter is that you are walking on a tightrope when it comes to consulting. Management consultants are in a very privileged position to get a 360° view of an organization. By being in contact with various heads under the ‘CXOs’, they get a holistic experience. Despite being a fresher and having no prior experience in the department, you would be advising industry specialists. Infact, the client employees could also be disgruntled with you because you would be making more money than them as a management consultant.


So you have no option but to persevere and show competence. This is especially prevalent during the initial months of project where you are understanding the industry and playing catch up. It is unacceptable no be unaware of industry roles and jargon whilst in client meetings.


This raises the paradoxical question of how a management consultant without industry knowledge could advise an industry leader? The answer is quite simple, consulting is not about industry knowledge, but having problem solving skills.


These skills involve dissecting a problem, connecting the dots and finding insights which are not obvious that can help you solve the problem statement successfully. The consultants with time, during the course of their extensive research, learn about the industry specific needs and demands to incorporate in finding the solution.


Inherently having this competence is simply not enough. You must present them well as well, to prove your potential in this tough client friendly industry.


Well you are bound to wonder how you should start projecting this competence.


Simply put, there is an element of fake it till you make it. In fact, many consultants feel like an imposter in consulting gaining a lot of width but lack of depth.


But with time, your learn what it entails to be a consultant. You begin to appreciate the need to not get into too much depth, but have a diverse width of understanding, to solve the problem statement at hand.


Moving onto the way you can subtly display your competence and change the way you are perceived.


You must begin by doing a thorough research on the industry by learning and reading a lot. This is of absolute essence to have a standing in your client meeting. You can even take a step further and initiate ‘expert talks’ afterwards to validate your hypothesis or gather more details about the industry.


Next comes the easiest and most effective method- building credibility through human bonds. We humans pride ourselves on being more advanced than other animals and rightly so. It comes with the special ability to establish trust with others, even strangers. Interestingly, trust is at the heart of management consulting. The best way to instigate this trust comes very naturally and often overlooked- smiling. This charmer works as well in an adult's professional life as it does with a toddler asking for ice cream.


To support your tricks, you have the backing of your brain muscles.


Often during meetings you are required to solve math problems. This is where speed mental math helps you ground your credibility. The best way to crack these equations is by rounding off numbers to the nearest possible numbers to be able to provide quick estimates. For example- it is easier to do 75 multiplied by 90 than 75 multiplied by 93. This represents that you are alert, quick on your feet and up for the challenge.


2.4.1.4 Decking


I only came to realize the importance of PPT making after some time.


Consultants are primarily storytellers. You are selling a story of qualitative and quantitative data.


You need to have an airtight presentation on why they should spend large amounts of money on your suggestions. PPTs come in very handy to share a succinct narrative with the client.


2.4.2 Soft Skills


2.4.2.1 Communication Skills


These skills are the bread and butter of a management consultant.


As a consultant, you deal directly with CXOs from your as well as the client's organization. These are extremely busy people. So you should be able to deliver your points effectively in 2-3 minutes.


2.4.2.2 Emotional Intelligence


In a working environment, you must be able to have an influence amongst your colleagues. This includes your team, the professionals from the client's side and your case partner.


In the corporate ecosystem, people are often obsessed with downward management. Though, upward management is more important to launch your career. You have to be able to manage your case partner and team project manager sustainably.


Emotional intelligence has various other components like listening skills and reading body language. A street smart approach, involving high EQ, will always benefit you in your career. Daniel Goleman has an excellent book on this, in case you wish to dig deeper into the topic.


Now that you have understood the role, application process and essential skills required to become a management consultant, let us dive deep into whether it’s all worth it. What are the pros and cons of management consulting?


3 Pros


3.1 Good Projects


As a management consultant, you are part of an extremely intellectual environment you work together on some really good projects.


You get an unparalleled kick from solving complex problems like mergers and acquisitions, restructuring of organisation, cost optimisation, etc. Had these been easy problems to solve, the Fortune 500 companies and their equivalent would not pay a bomb to the MBB.


3.2 Peer Network


You’re an average of the five people you surround yourself with.


The creamy layer of pears that you surround yourself with in management consulting can not only be excellent for your IQ, but also your EQ. The best managers are those who have a high EQ.


Such people are an excellent source of inspiration and learnings on many fronts. I am awed by their presentation and communication skills.


3.3 Salary


Moving onto the most scrutinized aspect of consulting.


I have got the opportunity to work with the CEOs and CXO of leading FMCG, entertainment and education sector companies in India. The kind of packages you get are the topmost in the country.


The salary of a consultant is like a hockey stick, their salary and bonus increase with time and experience. There is no end to the bonuses after climbing up to a certain point in the hierarchy.


To begin with you must know the hierarchy of positions in the firm:

1. Analyst,

2. Consultant,

3. Managers and

4. Partner.


A typical undergraduate gets the role of an analyst in MBB. As referenced before, from a Category A consulting firm, these analysts earn about 13-15 Lakhs per annum, inclusive of the bonus. I do know that this is a promising number for one to kick start your career and utilize the launch pad that management consulting brings.


Moving up the hierarchy, onto the consultants. They are typically post graduates, bagging about 28-33 lakhs per annum. It can be noted that IIMs tend to get a lower package than ISB since an average IIM graduate has lesser work experience. Though, in the grander scheme of things, the difference between the net evaluations is minute and insignificant.


Higher up the pyramid, the manager (mid layer professional) can draw around 70-80 lakhs per annum. The point to note for you is that though the bonus could be as high as 100%. The rewards get better as you come closer to the apex.


Jumping to the very top, the partner ( senior layer professional) checks in an average base salary of 1.2-1.8 Crores per annum. There is no end to the bonus here. As they are now holding a share of equity, the performance of the entire firm reflects back to them. If the entire year was good, then their pay gets even better. They own a share of all the profits. There may be a slight plus or minus of 10% in all categories with the other Category A companies.


Noe similarly, the Big 4 match 70-80% of salary of the Category A premium companies.


It logically makes sense also since the number of consultants per team at these Category B firms are more, they tend to work lesser hours and get compensated accordingly.


3.4 High Savings


Now out of this great salary, you also have the opportunity to save a lot. This is because your flights, hotels and travelling expenses are all taken care of by the company.


When I was working as an advisor in an international relations firm in Dubai I was able to largely save my entire salary because Dubai is tax free.


3.5 Hotels


Diving into the most fantasized point- the high-end hotel stays. It is commonly known that Mckinsey, BCG, and Bain consultants get to stay at the Hyatts and the Marriotts of the world. We were mostly hosted at 5 Star hotels for work trips. You get the luxury of dining at Michelin-star restaurants while not looking at the prices.


In fact, we have flown to Bangkok for our South Asian BCG orientation. I had a gala time during this 1 week's trip.


The five-star hotels and chauffeurs will look very glamorous to you as a young management consultant.


While this can be very relaxing in the initial few days, it does have a marginal, or in fact, diminishing utility after a point in time.


3.6 Exit Opportunities


After my boutique management consulting role, I got an extremely lucrative offer of working at a leading E-commerce in a strategy domain.


After BCG I got multiple offers to work in private equity or as Chief of Staff to the CEOs of leading unicorns in India. Of course, I ended up choosing the role of an adviser to an international relations firm in Dubai.


The training that you go through at your consulting job prepares you for the best roles.


Are you wondering when is it the right time to leave management consulting.


3.7 Alum Network


Finally, many people don't consider being an alum as a perk, but I would certainly like to recognize and appreciate non-material aspects of consulting which are often overlooked.


These account for the many small tokens of appreciation alum gets through gifts that maintain a network with your firm. I certainly cannot call them luxurious gifts but sweet gestures.


They have definitely kept me connected to the BCG family. This network is close-knit. I have been able to connect with these alums in various places ranging from Boston to Serbia.


For eg- I have been invited to the monthly BCG alum meetings in North America with the Global CEO which have helped me connect with a lot of notable personalities.

BCG has a global alum network.


I can speak from experience, this web of connections holds true to its reputation. The meaningful relationships I forged during my time at BCG continue to be of the best value today. These people have not only helped me in my endeavours, but I have also been able to help them in their endeavours.


The best example is that BCG partners support my education venture, even today.


3.8 Exposure to Multiple Industries


In my boutique management role, I worked in the solar industry, telecom industry, and RFID. Similarly, at BCG I worked in FMCG, IT project, Wires and Cables and public sector projects.


You eventually get exposed to a diverse set of industries.


Being a part of the creamy layer known as BCG employees and alumni is an encouraging experience in itself. The skills the MBB, become a part of your thinking process after a while.


My learnings while working as a consultant in BCG are largely applicable to my entrepreneurial journey today. You may leave consulting, but consulting does not leave you.



4. Cons


In management consulting, it is often sad that you cannot solve everything. If you are over indexing on getting good exit opportunities, then you must forgo yours work life balance.


4.1 Working Hours


The hours have a high probability of fluctuating. And that's why it is particularly hard to put a single number to it. Each project brings forth its own demands, causing a variation in the hours. Few consultants tend to clock more than 70 hours a week or few as low as 50 hours a week. These consulting hours are typically based upon your team, case partner, case timeline, problem statement and, of course, the client. Hence, simply put, it is a volatile time frame.


For providing you some clarity, I am splitting the companies ecosystem into 2 categories :-


Category A includes premium consulting firms such as BCG, McKinsey, Bain and akin

Category B includes Big 4, namely: Deloitte, Ernst and Young, KPMG and PwC


On an average, 70% consultants in category A clock around 60-70 hours/week.


On the other end of the spectrum, the Big 4 consultants clock 50-60 hours/week.


This is not inclusive of the airport travel and on road time, which in itself is substantive and can be tiresome.


These ball park hours are representative of working 5 day work week. Thus, it comes as a surprise that the intensity of the work load tends to get over-shadowed by the rather picturesque lifestyle. Therefore, it is advised that the extent of world load is definitely something that each aspirant, such as you, must consider and prepare for as you take the next steps.


Evidently, consulting is not for the light hearted.


4.2 High Stress Environment


You are essentially charging the client for the time spent on their site. Thus, it is expected that you turn around the situation and solve the problem as quickly as possible.


The probability of you facing an extremely high stress situation increases. Though, things also depend on the kind of managers and case partners you have.


4.3 Travel


Travelling is not always very lucrative for people who are in their mid-30s. You get very tired and just wish to relax back at home. The fatigue could set in.


For example, I traveled on a premium class ticket from Vistara to Kolkata, every Monday morning for my first case. Post that, every Thursday night I would fly back to my home office in Delhi on Fridays. To put it mildly, you do become well acquainted with airports over time :)


To put things into perspective, every consultant takes a bare minimum of 2 flights, to and fro, every week. However, as you move higher up on the ladder, you can fly out at least 5 times a week. Overall, I have met very less consultants who have been fond of traveling so much.


To bring the point of perks back, you are also rewarded by flights with premium or business class membership, as a result of an extensive amount of travel. I recall a colleague and a friend in BCG who funded his trip to Bangkok without spending a penny from his own pocket!


Now talking of the other benefits, minor things such as your entire food and drinks on the flight are taken care of by your firm. Taking luxury a step further, you also get access to a BCG car with a chauffeur for road travel. This certainly prevents the hustle-bustle of booking a cab and meeting at the right location.


Overall, as shallow as these perks might sounds but they definitely appreciate the value of a consultant's time and make their life much easier.


4.4 Women Specific Problem


This is not freely talked about in the open.


But, a lot of males are not comfortable with females earning more than them. This may be the case once she becomes a partner in the firm.


5. When should you leave consulting?


Since we have explored the best and worst that consulting has to offer, it is prudent we analyse what is the right time to leave consulting and what your next steps should be.


5.1 Value of Consulting


The bitter-sweet truth is that working in these premium companies is really a symbol in society. Especially in India, with a 1.2 Billion population, there is a lot of competition.


Prestigious employers symbolise competent employees.


After studying at top MBA schools, if you can work at BCG, then it is a signal to the next employer of your competence.


It shows that you are not just a part of the creamy layer but in the creamiest of the creamy layer. This will eventually help you get outstanding exit opportunities.


5.2 Transferable Skills


As a consultant, you pick up a lot of business acumen. This includes prowess in growth ideas, business models, financial models and inter-departmental thinking.


You learn how to solve and structure problems. You would be able to find structure in a messy and abstract situation. These skills are applicable to most industries. Thus, former consultants have a high value in the job market.


Similarly, in terms of soft skills, you develop fantastic negotiation and communication skills. These skills are particularly important in dealing with CXOs.


For this reason, consultants generally get to work with CEOs from the clients’ side or in a leading unicorn.


5.3 Reality of Consulting


The fact of the matter is that consulting can be very draining. It involves ballpark hours and a lot of travelling. Personally, I didn't enjoy decking and the toll consulting took on my health either.


5.4 Exit Salaries and Funding Opportunities


After BCG, I was given an opportunity to work in Dubai. It was a public policy advisory role in an international affairs firm. I ended up making 3 times my BCG India salary.


It benefited me greatly as I got a chance to work abroad. They also gave me a 30-40% jump over a BCG consultant in Dubai.


In addition to this- we get a lot of funding opportunities for our education venture, even though we have consciously decided not to take that path. This happens primarily because my background in BCG adds to my credibility and connects me to a large network of alumni.


5.5 So, when is the right time to leave?


I am a huge believer in not just advancing your wealth, but advancing your well-being.


So if you are not someone who enjoys your work, then perhaps you should start considering your exit.


You may find the hours and travel unsustainable or you could wish to be a part of the execution not just the ideation.


On last note on why most people are not able to get into consulting is because they are just obsessed with MBB firms and don't look out. I started my career with a boutique consulting firm.


The industry of management consulting is much more diverse. Leverage these small and medium boutique consulting firms to your advantage and I actively advise you to have a more flexible outlook in terms of target pool.


This writeup is an effort to respond to the many- many messages I get on a daily

basis. Hope this helps.


Like I always say, working in BCG and Mckinsey should not be the end of your dreams.


There are multiple paths to achieving the same success point in the 21st-century world.

 

If you need more help getting into management consulting and product management, feel free to check out my education venture- Global Governance Initiative. We invite industry leaders to host Masterclasses and teach our students the hard and soft skills required to excel in their careers.

Author: Shatakshi Sharma, Co-CEO Global Governance Initiative, Ex-BCG Management Consultant, Former Policy Advisor, Tony Blair Institute for Global Change


If you are interested in learning about GGI's MBA Scholar program, you can learn here.

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