Industry Spotlight: Management Consulting

Industry Spotlight: Management Consulting

In today's globally competitive market, corporate strategy is often intertwined with technology solutions. To respond to customer needs, management consulting firms increasingly seek tech professionals with business know-how to help their clients.

"The vast majority of what is considered consulting these days is technical in nature," says the president of a Columbus, Ohio-based consulting information services firm. "That trend will continue. The future bodes well for the techies."

Management consulting firms frequently specialize. Some are information technology shops like IBM, while others are strategy specialists like McKinsey. But all consulting companies, from major players to niche firms, expect most employees will have solid IT knowledge, if not in-depth tech expertise, according to experts. "The demand has moved toward people who have the business experience coupled with the technology experience," says the director of talent acquisition and management at a McLean, Virginia-based firm.

Breaking In

Both techies and IT majors who think their technical skills are the ticket to a management consulting job offer will likely be disappointed. Consulting companies, especially those specializing in strategy, seek candidates with top-notch educational credentials, a record of achievement and excellent communication skills. They want smart people who are quick learners.

The candidate interview process at many consulting firms reflects this -- they want to assess a candidate's analytical skills. One global consulting firm specializing in the consumer product, retail and healthcare industries uses a business case set in an IT environment to get a sense of how a person thinks, rather than her specific technical expertise. "It's not so much did they get the right answer, but how did they get there," says the company's manager of recruiting.

Looking for Mr. or Ms. Well-Rounded

Recruiters look for well-rounded candidates who have proven their leadership through internships and other activities. Because consultants work with a variety of clients, being able to work on a team, write well and handle presentations is crucial.

"We have found that you can train a smart person to fix a widget, but it's more difficult to train someone in people skills," says the president and CEO of a consulting company in Houston specializing in legal technology.

Solid academic credentials are crucial. Major strategic consulting firms continue to seek consultants from the Harvards and Stanfords of the world. Other firms look for candidates who are among the top students at their schools.

Blending Technology and Business

IT-specific consulting firms are more likely to value tech experience over an academic pedigree. But even positions emphasizing technical expertise require an outlook that extends beyond .NET and Java.

"We look for people who have an understanding of business, an appreciation of the finer points of office culture, a focus on people and process rather than simply hardware and infrastructure," says the Houston CEO.

The president of the Ohio-based firm suggests consulting firms focusing on strategy may "be pushed to a think tank-like niche" in the future. "It behooves people to look beyond narrow technical applications and understand the underlying business problems that must be solved."

Consider the Lifestyle

Consulting firms readily concede the consulting life is not for everyone. Consultants often travel three or four days per week, and it can be a difficult life to adjust to.

Consultants may work on multiple projects for a variety of clients, requiring them to switch gears without much notice. And while an in-house staffer might see an initiative through several phases, consultants often leave projects behind for others to implement.

These considerations are among the reasons that it is difficult to break into consulting from another industry unless you are bringing in-demand industry expertise. Even so, consulting firms will want to be sure you can cut it.

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