Want to work for a consulting firm? Here's what you need to know

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The field of management consulting is a big draw for finance professionals. But the universe of consultancies is wide, including large firms focused on accounting, tax and advisory services to medium-sized firms and smaller boutique outfits centering on a specific business challenge or strategy. In a Q&A session with eFinancialCareers, Kristine Hyde, chief talent officer for L.E.K. Consulting, a global management consulting firm, discusses the ins and outs of working in the space. L.E.K. is a mid-sized strategy management-consulting firm with nearly 1,000 employees in 20 offices globally.

Q: What experience and skills should someone have to work at a consulting firm?

Both your academic credentials and track record in business are important. Your educational background provides some indication of your skills, but we’re really interested in how you can apply your knowledge to help our clients tackle some pretty daunting issues. Undergrads applying for our associate position may not have extensive work experience, which is why your ability to showcase your analytical and critical thinking skills is so important during the interview process.

At the post-MBA level, we often look a little more closely at someone’s professional work accomplishments when evaluating consultant-level candidates. Although we don’t have a rigid checklist for our candidates, we seek individuals with strong business and quantitative skills, who are enthusiastic about a career in management consulting and at L.E.K.

Q: Is there a particular personality that makes someone better suited to working in consulting?

Senior executives come to us to help solve their biggest problems, such as reinventing their company or mapping a global expansion strategy. In some cases, we have literally reshaped entire industries based on our ground-breaking findings. At L.E.K., we look for people who are curious, have analytical firepower, finance and accounting skills and are willing to roll up their sleeves with their colleagues to come up with creative, practical solutions to complex problems. Given the immediate team management responsibility that our consultants have, we look for leadership and management qualities as well.

Q: For an undergrad or recent MBA grad, what sort of training is common at L.E.K.?

Your first day at L.E.K. begins with a two-week training course that spotlights our case process and details your role and responsibilities based on your position. After that, we typically have two training sessions each month tailored for each position that can cover finance and other academic topics, as well as our methodologies and insights into our key industries. Annually, we have a three-day training session to cover some of the 150 courses we offer in greater depth and to introduce new topics.

Q: If someone were considering working for a Big Four or a recognized mid-sized firm or a boutique outfit, what sort of advice would you give them in making the decision?

Big firms certainly have brand recognition and typically have clients that they support annually, rather than on a short project basis. Specialized and mid-sized firms like L.E.K. tend to expose employees to a greater variety of work based on our strategy and due diligence cases. Our relatively flat organizational structure, compared to bigger firms, enables our consulting staff to gain more responsibility and exposure to a greater number of business topics earlier in their careers.

Q: What are some of the challenges of working in management consulting? The amount of travel is certainly one that is talked about frequently.

I’m glad that you mentioned travel, because unlike many consulting firms, our consulting teams typically work in our office and not out of a suitcase while being stationed at a client site. That said, I think that we use technology pretty effectively so that our teams work collaboratively with our clients in real time. But to address your question, management consulting certainly isn’t a nine-to-five job, which makes it similar to other careers in financial services. We’ve found that our successful employees enjoy the challenges of working on cases across multiple industries and having a lot of responsibility. But the pace and diversity of work isn’t attractive for everyone.

Q: It’s a commonly held belief that after working at a consulting firm, the skills gleaned can be applied to working in many other fields. What are some of the more usual exit opportunities? Private equity and venture capital do come to mind.

Many of our employees use their experience with us as a way to get into a top-tier business school. We’re also seeing a growing number of individuals taking strategy positions at global companies and start-ups. And certainly PE and VC industries are also popular next steps for some of our employees.

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