What do you want to become ? I want to be a consultant!
Madhujith Thachappilly is a Mechanical Engineer who has completed his MBA from XIME, Bangalore. He has worked with Tata- HItachi Machinery as a Sales Manager. At present, he is an MSc student at UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School in Ireland where he is pursuing his passion for consulting.
Consulting the word itself has a magical allure to it. I know it did for me and still continues to do so. The prospect of telling people what to do and in the process getting paid for it is something anyone would jump at. It wasn't just the salary and perks (which are great), but the prospect of working across different industries is something that one must be ready for.
One of the prerequisites of this industry is to have excellent communication skills, both in writing and speaking. The majority of work involves writing up reports and presenting to clients, so if this is a weak area for you, it has to be polished and ramped up. As a consultant you must be ready for a life of ambiguity as you can't choose your projects and in most cases, and especially in the beginning of your career it would choose you. So if you are someone who expects to work from 9-5 and in a pre-set routine, then this definitely is not a career path for you. There might even be lots of travelling involved and no, it will not always be to Paris or Milan, but could be to a factory in the deserts of Somalia where you won't have drinking water and may have to fight your way out. Well, let's hope that doesn't happen. But the point is that one has to be ready to work out of one's comfort zone and the job requires a steep learning curve as you would have to be instantly an expert in a domain that could be as alien to you as cricket was to Sid Mallya.
So if you are ready to take the plunge and this career path still excites you, then get ready to be consulted. There are many routes people can take to break into consulting. Firstly, is important to understand that there are two different types of consultants. One is the generalist and the other the functional expert.
Most management and strategy consultants would fall in the category of generalist. A generalist is not an expert in any field, more like a jack of all trades and people from a wide variety of disciplines work in this field of consulting. Personally, I know people who have done such diverse courses like microbiology and geography working in these fields. It is quite difficult to break into this category and you have to be on the top of your game to get in. "Top of your game" means that you should have graduated from the top colleges in your respective countries with excellent grades and also have done something extraordinary with your life like mountain climbing or working with charities etc. The crucial factor is to differentiate oneself from the crowd.
The second category of "functional experts" include consulting in the fields of finance, analytics, IT, operations and performance improvement, marketing, etc. This field requires a degree or work experience in the relevant field. E.g. - If you are trying to break into IT consulting, most firms would prefer a degree in computer science engineering or similar degrees and/ or they would also require work experience in the field. Hence, if a particular function excites and interests you, my advice would be to gain some work experience in it and apply to top consulting firms as there is always a shortage of functional consultants. This is a good way to enter consulting without having to get a degree from a top college.
In India, most of the top consulting firms would hire from the best b-schools in the country and for a fresher to break into consulting, this is a good option to look into. Something that is not prevalent in India but is common in most countries is something called a graduate programme. So if you are studying abroad and you have no work experience, most consulting firms have graduate programmes that one can apply to. These programmes are not easy to get in and the vetting and qualification process is rigorous. But that's a good option to look at if you don't have consulting experience but be warned that in some countries visa restrictions apply and it is difficult for foreign nationals to gain entry into the programme. These programmes have a structured training programme and a definite career path and hence, would be an ideal way to enter.
Other options to look at are to go for tailor made courses that offer theoretical and practical exposure to the field of consulting. Some of the options are listed below:
1. MSc in Management Consultancy from UCD Smurfit Business School in Ireland
2. MSc Business Consulting & Information Systems Management from Skema Business School in France.
There are lot more options available but while going abroad make sure that you are applying to a reputed university and also see the possibilities of getting work permits as these days that has also become an important criterion.
As you can see there are different routes and ways to get into consulting and you must choose the path that fits your profile and try to make the best of it. To conclude, I hope this article has provided some clarity to the exciting and demanding field of consulting, but like any job, my advice would be to critically evaluate your strengths, weakness and what you actually like. Do not get into a field because it has a fancy title of a "consultant"; get in because you would actually enjoy working in that field.
"Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life" - Confucius
All the very best !