Consultants are professional problem solvers: whether working for small outfits, or for global giants like Mckinsey & Company or Boston Consulting Group, consultants act as on-demand experts, called in to help organisations overcome business challenges, achieve social outreach goals, or address concerns related to specific areas, such as the environment, recruitment, or the law.
Why should you be interested? For one, a career in consultancy is uniquely degree agnostic. It needn’t matter whether you’re studying maths, engineering, anthropology, history, chemistry, law, business, or something else entirely. If you can demonstrate ambition, intelligence, high-achievement, and standout problem-solving skills, consultancy offers you an alternative path to professional success and personal satisfaction. So—with that in mind, here are ten awesome things you can do as a graduate consultant.
Christine Wong, a graduate of the University of Sydney, now works for Boston Consulting Group (BCG) one of the ‘Big Three’ strategy firms (the others are Bain & Co. and McKinsey & Company). BCG has 90 offices in 50 countries, so, given its international reach and diverse client portfolio, it’s no surprise that travel is a regular aspect of Christine’s job: ‘There’s not a monotonous day in this job,’ she told GradAustralia. ‘We travel to our clients for most of the work week, wherever they’re located. This provides a great opportunity to explore different parts of Australia and the world.’
In truth, the travel isn’t always exciting: Christine adds that ‘it can be difficult when you’re away from home for long periods of time.’ Nevertheless, consulting still offers an unparalleled opportunity for you to use your career to see different parts of the globe, from rural Australia to the Amazon.
As a consultant, you’re most likely to work for a professional services firm, like Bain, Deloitte, KPMG, or Port Jackson Partners. Generally, such firms assemble teams of consultants with complementary specialisations, with all members working under the supervision of a senior partner. These teams then take responsibility for a range of clients whose needs correspond to the team’s area of expertise.
As a graduate, there is a distinct advantage to this model: though employed by a single firm, you still get to build up a diverse portfolio of career experience while working with various client organisations. So says Nina Hauser, a management consultant at KPMG. ‘The greatest thing about my job is the fact that I’m constantly working on new projects and meeting new people,’ she told GradAustralia. ‘This really helps me grow at both a professional and personal level.’
Most careers presuppose specific tertiary education: a law firm, for instance, is going to shred applications from candidates without law backgrounds. What, then, do the world’s top consultancy firms look for in a graduate recruit? Well, as an example, this is how McKinsey describes their ideal hire:
‘We look for people who can develop and implement creative solutions to challenging problems and work well with teams to do it. We look for people with an entrepreneurial spirit: innovative by nature, always creating new approaches, products, services, and technologies.’
In other words, top firms look for smart and creative team players, without too much concern for whether they studied commerce or creative writing.
Nor is this mere rhetoric: one of the most awesome things you can do as a graduate consultant is brainstorm solutions to complex problems in the company of people from various professional and personal walks of life. As Nina Hauser told GradAustralia, ‘Our team consists of people from diverse backgrounds, such as commerce, IT, business, engineering, and other degrees.’
If you want your career to have a social impact, then consulting could be a great fit. It offers two main ways in which you can use your skills to benefit the wider community.
First, there are firms such as 180 Degrees Consulting and Squared Impact that focus on support organisations (such as non-profits) that aim to achieve positive social change. For example, Squared Impact partners with clients such as Aboriginal Affairs NSW and various women’s community shelters to help them identify target social outcomes and then measure their progress towards them.
Second, you will find that many full-service firms encourage employees to participate in pro bono initiatives and other social outreach programs. For example, BCG has an entire branch dedicated to ‘social impact consulting’, through which it has worked on initiatives such as helping the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation fight malaria and partnering with government agencies to improve access to education in the Indian state of Haryana.
Money isn’t everything, it’s true, but one of the awesome things you can do as a consulting graduate is bring home an enviable salary anyway. According to Payscale, the real-time salary aggregator website, an Australian management consultant on an average salary earns $83,892.
This grows quickly too: a 2017 study found that, in Australia, analysts (with one to three years of consulting experience) took home between $100,000 and $150,000 a year; consultants with an MBA earn $150,000 to $200,000; and, at the end of the scale, junior partners earn about $730,000 a year at top-tier firms.
Certainly, the grads we’ve spoken to are pleased with their paycheques. To quote a Sydney graduate at Port Jackson Partners: ‘I think we are well paid, and unlike many industries, our pay grows quickly - particularly at the start of our career. Bonuses are a large and growing part of our compensation.’
Here’s an awesome thing you can do as a graduate consultant: improve, and perhaps even save, the lives of thousands of people who lack access to adequate healthcare. Firms such as Realizing Global Health, JSI, and Accenture partner with governments and healthcare providers in locations ranging from Albania to Zimbabwe. Some of the more notable challenges addressed by health-oriented consultancy firms include reducing HIV transmission rates in rural Zambia; decreasing rates of infant mortality in Egypt; and addressing widespread vitamin A deficiency in Nepal.
Importantly, you needn’t have a health background to make a significant impact as a health consultant. For example, the eradication of polio is now considered to be, in large part, an issue of logistics and distribution: both of which are challenges well understood by graduates with backgrounds in business or commerce.
In the same way that consultants can help health providers overcome logistical and cultural obstacles to the achievement of health outcomes, they have also played an important role in removing barriers to financial independence for people with less advantaged backgrounds.
For example, High Water Women is an international consultancy firm that focuses on empowering impoverished communities through the provision of microfinance loans, financial literacy training, and investment advice. In fact, the transformative potential of microfinance arrangements has led to the emergence of ‘microfinance consultant’ as a bona fide career in its own right.
Environmental consulting is a specific branch of consulting that, for the most part, involves helping clients meet their legal obligations with respect to environmental regulations. As an environmental consultant, you may also work to help boost a client’s sustainability rating; reduce waste; conserve natural habitats; and even protect endangered wildlife. This may involve addressing business challenges, advocating for legislation, partnering with community groups, and more. For example, Bain and Company performs extensive pro bono work to support the Nature Conservancy and its efforts to address issues such as sustainable forestry in North America and tuna scarcity in Micronesia.
Just because you’re working for a multinational conglomerate, doesn’t mean you can’t have an enduring and positive impact on local businesses. Small business consultants focus on issues faced by organisations that are just getting off the ground or preparing to expand. Management consultants too may interact with local businesses through pro bono and community outreach work.
To take one example, startup companies often talk about the ‘death valley curve’: the time between when a business receives funding from investors and when it first generates revenue. As a small business consultant, you’ll be able to help startups make it through ‘the death valley’ and deal with other common challenges such as cashflow, the integration of technology, recruitment, and the search for investors.
In effect, the last four entries on this list have been variations of the one, single most awesome thing you can do as a graduate in consulting: use your hard-won skills, your natural talents, and your position as a trusted source of professional counsel to multiply the impact you can have in the world by improving the performance of organisations with socially responsible goals.
This makes consulting a rare career: not only is it intellectually stimulating and well-remunerated, but it offers various paths for the graduate who hopes to make a positive contribution to communities at the local, national, and even global scales. What could be more awesome than that?