With the exception of the twin technology titans Amazon and Google, there is no business that pulls as many business school graduates as consulting.
At Yale School of Management, Duke Fuqua School of Business and MIT Sloan, 40% of MBAs have worked in the sector, according to data from MBA Career Coaches. The big three firms, McKinsey & Company, Boston Consulting Group and Bain & Company, hired nearly 350 MBAs from Columbia Business School and INSEAD last year alone.
With growing appetite among the top companies for talent, the union between business school and consulting firm has never been stronger.
Peter Hewlett, a principal at Chicago headquartered firm A.T Kearney, says: “There will always be a need for the MBA profile — the MBA skills learned, along with the work experience that they bring to the firm, adds value for us.”
Job prospects for anyone hoping to work in consulting are being given a boost by data analytics, IT integration, and mobility. Kennedy Consulting forecasts that annual advisory revenues topped $245 billion last year.
The number of consultants has risen by 12% over the past 12 months, according to the UK based Management Consultancies Association. Digital has been the engine of this growth. Gregor McHardy, a consulting lead at Accenture UK and Ireland, says: “Increasingly, we see clients make more data-driven decisions and putting analytics at the heart of their businesses.
“Our teams are increasingly bringing data and analytics skills into project analysis and execution.”
The sector continues to draw the brightest minds. Consulting offers a broad spectrum of industries from which to work with prestige clients. McKinsey works with most of the Fortune 100 index of companies — among them Ford, General Motors, and American Express.
Radhika Chadwick, a partner at EY who leads digital and strategy services, says that being able to work in cross-functional teams is becoming more important. “What we’re seeing is the need to have a variety of viewpoints and expertise,” she says.
Feeding the popularity of management consulting are the fat paychecks handed out to freshly minted MBAs. Median starting salaries are around $135,000. Bonuses too are tasty — At Kellogg School of Management last year, graduates working in consulting got sign-on bonuses averaging $26,000.
“Consulting firms give very significant compensation,” says Stephane Ponce, global consulting lead at INSEAD’s Career Development Centre. “The base salary is very high by comparison with other sectors, and, as there is a clear career path with growing responsibilities, salaries follow.”
The broad exposure to multiple businesses and industries — which mirrors an MBA program — is seen as ideal preparation for a promising management career later in life.
Chris Weber, associate director for the Career Management Center at California’s UCLA Anderson School, says the exit options from consulting are plentiful — often used by recruiters as selling points to MBAs.
“Students see consulting as a job that can open doors for them, either at their respective firm or in any other industry,” he says.
The firm networks themselves can prove to be powerful tools. “These experiences provide a strong foundation that can carry them [MBAs] to the highest levels of corporate management,” says Laurence Verbiest, an associate director for careers at Washington’s McDonough School of Business.
Dozens of current and past chief executives of S&P 500 companies are alumni of top consultancy firms, including telecoms group Vodafone, BHP Billiton, the miner, and aerospace business Boeing.
Regina Resnick, associate dean for the Career Management Center at Columbia Business School in New York, says MBAs value “optionality”.
“The major consulting firms do an excellent job of discussing where their alumni are, and all the great things their firm can prepare MBAs to do,” she says.
There are drawbacks, however. Consultants will face the headwinds of relentless travel and exhausting working weeks. But the consulting industry’s allure still pulls the best and brightest from business schools the world over.
The ramping up of recruitment by global consultancies is accelerating the trend. “These companies live or die by their ability to recruit the smartest, hardest working applicants,” says Stephen Pidgeon, associate director for career development at New Hampshire’s Tuck School of Business.