As a generalist management degree, an MBA has traditionally been a launchpad for careers in consulting, giving students the broad business knowledge and analytical skills they need to solve problems for the world’s biggest firms.
Working in consulting means high salaries, exciting projects, and international travel, although long hours and work-life balance can be a challenge.
So is consulting a good career path for MBA graduates?
Consulting careers | Pros & cons
Yolanda Kirksey (pictured), is the executive advisor for the Consulting Immersion Program at the University of Texas at Dallas Naveen Jindal School of Management, which prepares MBA students for careers in consulting.
Also a director at Ernest & Young, Yolanda has worked in consulting for over 20 years, but she says she still learns something new every day.
A key advantage of working in consulting, she says, is that you’re constantly intellectually challenged. “People are dependent on you to have a better point of view than they do.”
Consulting careers suit individuals who strive for variety and changing environments, Yolanda explains. Depending on your clients, your daily tasks differ and the problems you face may require different solutions.
Building a powerful professional network is another strong benefit of working in consulting. You will be working with a broad range of clients, helping you build strong personal and professional connections, and benefiting you as you advance in your career.
However, if you’re not committed to life as a consultant, the long hours and high-pressure environment can be challenging.
Consultants at top-tier consulting firms reportedly work around 50 to 80 hours a week. However, some firms have proven more flexible to adjusting their work hours to promote a healthier work/life balance.
Despite a sometimes tricky work-life balance, a significant attraction for anyone wanting to join the consulting industry is the high compensation. That includes generous consultant salaries, bonuses, equity, and other perks like health insurance.
In the US, according to Glassdoor, a business analyst working in consulting earns between $65k and $85k on average, while senior consultants or managers can earn $100k to $175k.
MBA grads earn more. The Big Four—Deloitte, EY, KPMG, and PwC—increased their MBA salaries this year to a starting salary of $165k at EY or $135k at Deloitte, for MBA hires.
Consulting jobs for MBA graduates
Students in the Consulting Immersion Program at UT Dallas take courses in Supply Chain Management, Accountancy, and Systems Applications and Products.
They’re also prepared for consulting internships, with one-to-one case interview practice helping them to build the right frameworks and understand how to demonstrate their skills to hiring managers.
Sarah Carroll (pictured), an MBA alum from UT Dallas and senior consultant at Ernest & Young, had a background in social work and non-profits before doing her MBA with no real consulting experience.
At UT Dallas, Sarah was introduced to Yolanda, who she says was, “instrumental in helping me make those connections that got me the internship.”
She adds, “internships are great opportunities to get a taste and see whether it’s a good fit for you or not, without having to commit to a career.”
When considering the types of consulting jobs to apply for, Yolanda suggests going into a larger consulting firm such as Accenture, EY, or PwC, if you’re on the fence about which area to specialize in.
If you already know your focus area, looking into more specialized boutique firms can help you become an industry insider.
To maximize your options, Yolanda advises looking for jobs in locations such as Dallas, Texas, which is a global hub for consulting firms. “I don’t think there’s a single consulting firm that isn’t housed in Dallas in some form or fashion,” she says.
Is a consulting career right for you?
To stand out to consultant recruiters, Yolanda says curiosity is key. Consulting firms want to know you’re adept at acquiring the information you’ll need to perform well for your clients.
“They want to see if you’re a curious individual, you have a creative mind, and you can methodically think through things,” Yolanda comments.
Recently, firms are increasingly looking for hard analytical and technical skills. Enrolling in a specialized degree like the dual MBA/MS at UT Dallas could give you the skills to have a competitive edge.
Strategic thinking and problem-solving skills are also high in demand. At UT Dallas, the Consulting Immersion Program takes students through several business case deep dives for MBA students to develop these skills.
In these deep dives, students explore several problems businesses may have, investigate the issue, and try to find solutions to mitigate its negative effects in an efficient and cost-effective manner.
“The consulting immersion program was a game-changer in terms of the classes and the education that I got to prepare me for my career in consulting,” Sarah exclaims.
Sarah adds the program was instrumental in helping her pass the case interview for her current role, "we were able to practice our communication skills, understand the frameworks of the interviews, and know how you can let your skills shine through the process."
At UT Dallas 90% of MBA students are employed within three months of graduation with an average salary of $118k in their first year of employment.
Top consulting firms that hire UT Dallas MBA grads include McKinsey, Deloitte Consulting and EY.
Pursuing a career in consulting can be tough. However, for MBA graduates with the right skillset, consulting provides a good and lucrative career path and a variety of globally renowned firms to work for.