How do I fast track my way into consulting?
May 27, 2007 4:49 AM   Subscribe

How do I fast track my way into consulting?

I'm 24 year old male doing a combined Software Engineering/Int'l studies in Chinese degree. I'm interested in getting into Business consulting within 1-2 years, and believe I have the transferable skills to do so, just not the experience & qualifications.

Things I have considered:
-apply for graduate positions within a large company to work towards software/IT consulting then find a way into business consulting (seems a little tedious)
-go for business analyst roles and wait for an opportunity
-find a managerial job, if possible, and put into resume then apply

Please suggest ways to get into business consulting asap!

My only work experience is pretty much only around 17 months experience as a paid intern programmer at 2 different software companies (no longer employed by either).

Yes I have tried the search but all I found were questions related to career dilemmas.
posted by gttommy to Work & Money (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If you've yet to receive your BA, you presumably have an opportunity to pursue the basic (business analyst) role in the standard cycle. People are hired into those jobs with zero experience, based solely on academic record, assessed aptitude, and interpersonal skill.

If you've already graduated and you're pursuing a graduate degree, you could try to be included in the consultancies' business analyst recruiting process, although it's a lower-percentage shot.

The odds are always better from business school (MBA), though, although the time to get into and out of business school wouldn't suit your 1-2 year time-line.

The tech-to-strategy move within one of the broad field of service consultancies is a very difficult one to pull off. The strategy divisions like to hold themselves apart, and the much more populus tech divisions are reluctant to create a defined promotion/transfer path that way -- they want your incentives aligned to excel in tech, not to get out of tech.
posted by MattD at 5:08 AM on May 27, 2007

"Seems a little tedious"? Dude, I don't know what kind of romantic notions you've got in your head about "business consulting", but seriously, if you want to get into that field, "tedious" doesn't even begin to describe some aspects of it. Especially for someone just starting out.

I'm not saying that it's boring--it's what I do--but the central culture of business consulting is based on a philosophy of "slow growth". It's not so much some kind of repressive "paying your dues" attitude, as it is a very careful, conservative approach. Basically, before they hand you any new level of client responsibility, management is going to make very, very sure you know what you're doing--usually by having you do it in an unofficial capacity for a while before they give it to you officially.

Joining a "Big 5"-type firm (your option 1) is pretty much the most straightforward way to do what you're talking about (if not the fastest). They all hire tons of entry-level software consultants, so they're relatively easy to get into if you've got chops, and they've all got growing business consulting practices, so it's definitely possible to move into that area over time and build a career there. The main pro of that approach are that you can develop pretty solid credentials, since those BC practices are now managed and driven by folks with deep backgrounds in the management consulting. The primary drawback is that it's going to be a slog. (On preview, though, MattD is right--it's not a simple thing to move from tech to business consulting within those places, especially without an MBA. I do know a _lot_ of people who have managed to do just that, so it's definitely possible, but it's definitely not something that just "happens". The most important thing is to prove yourself as a really smart, hard-working thinker with senior folks on the business side, and get one or more of them to basically sponsor/mentor that transition. Again, not a fast process.)

The other route is to is to go with the less "traditional" group of interactive agencies, who similarly need programmers and are also trying to establish business consulting credibility. The main advantage in that world is that you're likely to have a lot more fluidity, and potentially get into what you're looking for, faster. The primary disadvantage is that you're likely to do that surrounded by a bunch of other people who are also figuring things out as they go along. You're very, very likely to end up doing something called "business consulting", but that bears no resemblance to the rigor and depth of insight that you'll (often) find in the more traditional world.

I'm not dismissing that second option--having worked for many years in both worlds, that's where I am now, and where I pretty much expect to stay. It is a faster track, but it's very liable to fast-track you into something that isn't really business consulting, and doesn't necessarily give you a lot of credibility on the other side of the fence. I know that the first time I went from a digital agency to a "pure" management consulting firm, I faced a lot of well-founded skepticism. I was able to prove myself, but it was clear that the standards were much higher than I had seen before.

I guess what you really need to do is reconcile your idea of "I want to be a business consultant" with "I want to do it as quickly as possible". That second statement sort of flies in the face of the first one--while being ambitious is great, your question itself implies you're not necessarily clear on what you're trying to get into.
posted by LairBob at 5:49 AM on May 27, 2007

I may be confused, because I'm just a BA, but I thought the idea (often, I must admit, opposed to my experience) is that your 'business consultant' gets to be that way because they have a bit of experience in business. Experience and skill which is marketable over and above any mug they could just, you know, employ.

So perhaps my suggestion is 'get good'...

Of course, I'm just a BA... ;-)
posted by pompomtom at 6:00 AM on May 27, 2007

pompomtom, it's certainly a fair expectation that the "business consultant" would be a business expert, but that's only half of the equation. It's very, very easy to underestimate the "consultant" element.

When I went into management consulting, the most eye-opening experience for me wasn't on the "business" side of things. I didn't have an MBA (still don't), but I knew I understood my area of expertise much, much better than they did, and so did they. I knew they would be focusing on a whole different level of business strategy than I had seen in the interactive world.

The real difference was in the care and attention they paid to the consulting aspect of things. They put a tremendous focus on how you build trust with a client, the political mechanics of how you sell and close a big project, etc.

Those are the sorts of skills that someone with a more "traditional" consulting background is going to feel--usually rightly--they've been cultivating, slowly and surely, for years. Part of the difficulty that MattD described in moving from tech to strategy really is definitely due to pure "snobbery". There are a lot of folks in that world who won't look twice at you if you don't have an MBA from a high-profile school. On the other hand, even an open-minded business consultant is going to look at someone who didn't go through the same growth process they did, and worry about whether you're going to be as manically careful about the details of your analysis as they would, whether you understand how to cultivate a pipeline, and whether you know how to predict and manage project profitability.
posted by LairBob at 6:47 AM on May 27, 2007

B-school, a top ten one if possible
posted by caddis at 8:53 AM on May 27, 2007

Response by poster: pompomtom wrote: "I thought the idea (often, I must admit, opposed to my experience) is that your 'business consultant' gets to be that way because they have a bit of experience in business. Experience and skill which is marketable over and above any mug they could just, you know, employ.

So perhaps my suggestion is 'get good'..."

Experience over academics - has Donald Trump's "The Apprentice" taught you nothing!

Seriously, that is part of what I am asking; how do I gain the experience and skill and do whatever is required to taste business consulting, quickly.

caddis: My degree is 6 yrs long already and I have little real world experience, so no I don't wanna hit the books again. Just looking for innovative ways to break into BC.

MattD & LairBob, thanks for your insights.

"while being ambitious is great, your question itself implies you're not necessarily clear on what you're trying to get into"

My understanding may not be 100% clear but I aim to learn from experience!
posted by gttommy at 10:39 AM on May 27, 2007

Identify an outstanding problem common to a range of businesses which you can solve with your programming abilities.

Solve the problem, then approach one of the businesses which has this problem, and offer to implement your solution for them for a very reduced fee, provided they are willing to give you testimonials and act as a reference.

Then, go forward to the other businesses which have this problem and charge what your solution is actually worth.
posted by jamjam at 10:52 AM on May 27, 2007

Uh ... fix up your resume, send it in to any of the big consultancies. You really don't need to do much of anything if you just want to be a basic, entry-level consultant. Your college degree will be fine, and the work you've done already will help.

But as others have said, you need to get the idea that it's a fun/romantic/whatever job out of your system right now before you do something dumb.

Consulting is prostitution without the sex. You sign on with a company who pimps you out to other companies, who you work your ass off to please by whatever means necessary. And at the end of the day your company will take 80% of your bill-out rate and cut you a paycheck.

You need to be a "people person" (bluntly: you need to be a good kissass when the situation demands it, which it will). You need to realize that your job is to make someone else look good, no matter how incompetent they may actually be. You will do great work and somebody else will get the credit. You will be assigned a desk in a closet, but only if you're lucky and the client likes you. In many cases, the client won't like you. You'll work obscene hours and probably travel a lot.

Your bonus pay and promotability will be based mostly on your "utilization rate," which is the percentage of your total available hours per week that you actually bill to clients. Your company will probably have a sweet vacation policy on paper, but when you start working you'll figure out that nobody actually takes much, if they want to get promoted. You'll be in a job that has roughly a 3-year burnout rate for new entry-level hires.

I'm not just being cynical for the sake of it; I've seen a lot of people move from pure tech work into consulting and then realize they made a mistake after a few months or a year. You just need to know what you're getting into and that it's for you.

But if you get into a big consultancy as a tech guy, as long as your job role is listed as "Consultant" (and not 'programmer' or some other specialty), you shouldn't have much trouble migrating over to the business side of things. I've seen a lot of people do it. You just need to make sure to let both your HR manager and your project managers know your interest, and help them find tasks for you to do (stuff that's documentable).

The biggest suggestion I can make is, wherever you get hired, find a 'champion,' someone a few levels up in the chain of command who likes you and is willing to help you out, as quickly as you can. Without someone looking out for you, it's easy to get lost and overlooked in a big firm, and overlooked is bad (because overlooked means no jobs, no jobs means bad utilization, bad utilization means no raises or bonuses).
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:16 PM on May 27, 2007

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