Consulting firms like McKinsey & Company or Bain have long been among the top employers of Master’s in Management (MiM) graduates. At London Business School last year, 45 percent of the MiM graduates chose roles in the consulting sector, and McKinsey, The Boston Consulting Group and A.T. Kearney hired the largest number of graduates.
But to land a job at one of these prestigious firms is a tough task. According to jobs website Glassdoor, the five hardest companies for interviews are all consultancies, among them McKinsey, BCG, Oliver Wyman and ZS Associates.
To give job candidates an edge, some of the world’s best business schools are running specialist master’s degrees in consulting.
One of the most established programs is the MSc Business with Consulting at Warwick Business School of the UK, which is taught by Warwick professors in collaboration with strategy consultants from flagship firms including McKinsey, EY and BCG.
The program provides students with a solid grounding in business concepts, such as finance, strategy, organizational leadership and change management. This sets them up for entry-level posts in consulting firms, which tend to recruit fresh graduates as generalists, advising clients from a wide array of industries on many functions.
Then the Warwick students apply the theory in practice via a live consulting engagement. For example, this year they all worked with DXC, advising the IT services company on its digital strategy, gaining experience that may be attractive to employers.
The program is over-subscribed, says course director João Baptista who is an associate professor of information systems. Some students pick the program over an MBA, a business degree for experienced professionals that is popular among consulting-bound candidates, because they want to develop deeper understanding of consulting concepts, he says.
“Our graduates are fully prepared to do consulting work. They are versed in the career, processes, challenges and opportunities. So they go in better prepared and will more quickly adapt to the specific nature of consulting work,” says Baptista.
Besides the Warwick program, a number of other schools are offering MSc programs in Consulting. These include France’s EDHEC, which offers an MSc in Strategy Consulting & Digital Transformation; and the MSc Management Consulting course at Leeds University Business School in the UK.
Most consultants are having to adapt to the digital revolution. One of the biggest opportunities for management consulting firms has been advising clients on their digital strategies, for example using artificial intelligence and technology to better engage with customers or become more efficient. This is a market that has doubled in size since 2016, according to Source Global Research.
Unsurprisingly, digital and technology skills will become increasingly important for management consultants to harness in the next five years, according to a survey of the Management Consultancies Association’s members.
Essentially, today’s consultants need to be jacks of all trades, who can analyze data to solve clients’ problems and identify new business opportunities, but also liaise with clients and communicate insight to win their confidence.
Yet the demand for those with digital and consulting skills is outstripping supply.
Henley Business School in the UK is one of many schools that has adapted its syllabus to respond to consulting’s own digital revolution. The school’s MSc Business Technology Consulting course introduces disruptive digital technology to students, preparing them to help consulting firm clients profit from using robotics, the Internet of Things and 3D printing.
The idea is to develop digital leaders who can, as well as process data, form a business idea and lead the technology change, says Vaughan Michell, director of the program.
It was designed by academics who have doctorates in robotics, engineering, mathematics, as well as those who have held senior roles in investment banks, management consulting firms and technology companies.
“Many of our staff are not just academics, but practitioners,” says Michell. “They provide vital stories and guidance to students on how and why these techniques are needed and work in practice.”
At IÉSEG School of Management in Lille, 82 percent of the permanent professors are from outside France, providing the global perspective that is important to consulting firms, as they deal with diverse and global clients. Students on the MSc in Business Analysis and Consulting program represent about 15 nationalities, and have degrees in either engineering or a business-related subject.
So they bring diverse perspectives and learn much from each other, as well as from the diverse faculty. “Our graduates have very different profiles, which can be attractive for companies,” says Christine Di Martinelly, academic director of the course.
Consulting firms are broadening the pool of students from which they hire, from MBA to pre-experience master’s programs and more backgrounds, to reflect the diverse needs of their clients. This bodes well for the job prospects of students on specialist consulting programs.
Graduates of the IÉSEG program work as a business analyst or a consultant for both internal and external clients, in the private and public sector. Niche consulting firms also provide career opportunities in areas such as strategy consulting, human resource management, operations management and information systems consulting.
At Henley, Michell says some students have established their own consultancies or work in-house for technology businesses such Deutsche Telecom and Dell.
Of the last MSc Business with Consulting cohort that graduated from Warwick (in 2017-18), 28 percent went into the consulting industry, 17 percent into finance, and 9 percent each into consumer goods and technology.
“Our students are very attractive to employers and placed very quickly,” says Baptista.