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Frequently 
Asked Questions

The consulting industry can be shrouded in mystery and answers to questions can at times be difficult for a consulting job candidate to find.  In anticipation of your questions, we have collected and answered some of the most common ones we've heard at business schools and college campuses, and from career changing professionals and graduates with specialized degrees. 

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Q) What is a "management consultant?"

A) A "management consultant" is a professional who provides assistance to others, usually for a fee.  Of the many responsibilities filled by management consultants, perhaps the most common is the identification, diagnosis, and resolution of business issues.  Sometimes called "business doctors," management consultants play a role similar to medical doctors: they are hired to collect information, distill it down to the most critical issues and define any recognizable patterns, and finally map out an action plan that will help transform an organization into a healthier and stronger entity.  Additionally, management consultants also fill a host of other roles: 1) officiating as experts in a given industry or business function; 2) serving as unbiased, external parties to validate a concept; 3) confirming or negating a hypothesis through extensive analysis... The list of roles is endless.

 

Q) Do some corporations have internal consulting groups?

A) Yes.  Many companies support internal strategy groups, often called Strategic Planning units, which work on the same types of projects as traditional external consulting firms.  These companies have developed their own internal practices for many reasons: 1) they are often cheaper to run than hiring external consultants; 2) internal consultants stay with the company after a project is completed and their knowledge can be applied to other projects; 3) companies may be more willing to share information with internal consultants than with external, since internal consultants are actually employees of the company.  Strategic planning groups are often small and difficult to find, but as a general rule of thumb you can find strategy groups within most of the Fortune 500 companies.

Q) Are consulting careers only available to business majors?

A) No.  Consultants come from a wide variety of academic and professional backgrounds.  Some of the most successful consultants are former art historians, musicians, and linguists, and many had military training and served in the armed forces.  Academically, nearly all consultants have Bachelor's degrees, and a significant number have MBAs or other Master's degrees.  Although the larger, more name-recognized consulting firms tend to focus their on-campus recruiting a graduate and undergraduate business schools, by no means are all of their consultants sourced from these schools.  Undergraduate arts and sciences programs are also tapped for talent, since consulting firms realize that the hard core research and analysis skills needed to perform an Analyst's job are often held by History or Political Science graduates, for example.  Even Ph.D. graduates are often hired to fill the same (or higher) positions as MBAs, and many MDs are hired by health care consultancies because of their medical training.  Nevertheless, some individual firms do have a practice of hiring consultants that come from only one type of background - engineers, for example, or economics majors - but even these firms rarely make their screening criteria public.

Q) Do all consulting firms work for clients in all industries?

A) No.  Most consulting firms have an area of specialty, defined by either an industry or set of industries, or by a type of consulting practice.  For example, a firm that is characterized by an industry focus - say financial services - will likely promote itself by saying it has a deep and rich expertise in all areas of financial services.  This sort of characterization is known as a "vertical" expertise.  On the other hand, a firm that is characterized by a specialty area - say human resource consulting - will probably promote itself across a wide variety of industries by saying it can apply the same specialty expertise to multiple industries.  Firms with such functional specialties are characterized as having "horizontal" expertise.  Still, some of the largest firms offer both specialties: industry practice groups, and functional practice groups.  These firms attempt to build a deep knowledge base in many different areas (both in individual industries as well as in individual practice areas), and promote themselves as super-firms that can accommodate almost any client need.

Q) Do firms work for public and non-profit clients?

A) Yes.  Many of the largest consulting firms simultaneously work for all three sectors: private, public, and non-profit.  Consultants at these firms may specialize in a particular sector, or in more rare cases switch sectors from project to project.  Although the majority of consulting firms focus on the private sector, a rather large number of other firms specialize in consulting to non-profit and/or public sector clients.  

 

Q) Can working professionals join consulting firms?

A) Yes.  Working professionals are often sought-after by consulting firms for their expertise in a particular industry or operating function.  Executives from the auto industry, for example, may join consulting firms to help bring in-depth knowledge of the industry to the firm, and to apply such knowledge to a broad array of auto and auto-related clients.  In many cases, professionals can dramatically increase their income by switching from a corporate position to a consulting firm that targets clients in that same industry.  

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