Management consulting has always been a highly desirable career path for MBA students. Aside from the attractive compensation package, a main factor pulling students to the sector is the chance to work on a wide variety of business problems using their newfound management and leadership abilities.
Business schools also have historical links with consulting firms, enabling an easier career transition into the industry.
But that does not mean pulling off such a switch is going to be easy. At the best of times, consulting firm jobs are extremely competitive, and we are leaving in an age of upheaval sparked by coronavirus.
“The economic recession has created a competitive job market due to many firms pausing their recruiting or reducing their head count,” says Philip Heavilin, executive director of the Career Development Office at Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business.
“Nevertheless, consulting firms are interested in staying engaged with talent. As the economy improves, and the need for consultants increases, recruiters will reach out.”
Debbie Singer, a career management consultant for the Online MBA program at University of Southern California Marshall School of Business, agrees. “I did see a slowdown prior to the election as companies took a ‘wait and see’ stance before making any big hiring decisions in this last quarter. I believe things will ramp up again by the second quarter of 2021,” she says.
Can an Online MBA graduate land a job in the consulting industry?
Singer says that consulting firms see Online MBA students as experienced contributors who have already proven their success and capabilities in a corporate setting. “They are truly amazing individuals who have a great capacity for juggling multiple balls in the air and can make a significant contribution to an organization very quickly.”
Some business schools also offer Online MBA specializations or concentrations in the area of consulting, which may help students develop the specific skills they will need in the industry. For example, the Kogod School of Business at American University offers an Online MBA focus area in Consulting on offer, which explores topics in analytics and management, two essential ingredients for prospective consultants.
Other programs, such as the Online MBA from Temple University’s Fox School of Business, offer concentrations in related fields such as Strategic Management.
Skills developed through an Online MBA program can make graduates highly desirable in consulting where they are required to advise clients in a wide array of industries.
Singer offers her students job search techniques for making a pivot to a new job in consulting: “Identify the appropriate opportunity, ensure your experience matches up with the requirements of the position, and submit your CV in person with a well-written cover letter outlining why you are the candidate of choice — not just an online application.”
Rice’s Heavilin says that the larger consulting firms have experienced-hire recruiting paths that provide an entry point for graduates with several years of work experience. But he adds that networking is key to this career transition: “Connecting with alumni at your institution who work in the consulting field is a key strategy.”
At Rice, students interested in consulting have access to a wide variety of resources to prepare them for the switch. They have access to a team of experienced career advisors that prepare them for the job search through career education.
Case interviewing is central to the consulting recruiting process; Rice also partners with case interviewing experts, to provide students with workshops and one-on-one coaching. In addition, the Rice Business Consulting Association, a student-run club, provides case interview preparation as well.
These sessions are popular. “Management consultants are hired to solve a myriad of business problems and so consulting offers a variety of unique challenges,” Heavilin says.
Internships and other resources
At most business schools, graduates who accept positions within the consulting industry command the highest salaries on average. And because consultants gain experience in addressing key challenges within a variety of industries, it is not uncommon for consultants to leave practice to accept leadership roles in a variety of companies.
But to break into the industry, Megan Parker, director of career coaching for MBA programs at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, says that internships are the primary pathway.
At her institution, Online MBA students have access to a variety of subscription-based services that support students in their research into the industry. They also have access to alumni panels and employer networking events. Career coaches can provide an introductory mock case interview as well as behavioral interview preparation.
“Consulting can be a very rewarding and lucrative career, and therefore the requirements for entry and long-term success are high,” says Parker. “Consulting offers challenging intellectual experiences, provides an opportunity to impact an entire organization, and affords high returns in terms of growth and personal benefits.”
Encouragingly, schools say that Online MBA programs are not treated any differently by consulting firms. “Employers are interested in attracting the best talent to their organizations. The delivery method of the program is less important than the level of talent that it graduates,” says Rice’s Heavilin.
“As more Online MBA programs enter the market, and more graduates enter consulting, the more familiar hiring managers will become in recognizing online MBA programs as another source for attracting top consulting talent.”