Most students respond to job market trends by changing their innermost convictions and long-term career goals with the slippery ease of a chameleon. The consulting industry is one such beneficiary of a structural shift in aspirations. Banking was brought down to its knees in 2007, and it continues to be in limbo, with companies like UBS, Bank of America, HSBC, Citigroup announcing major job cuts across service lines and especially in investment banking. Management consulting, on the other hand has remained fairly insulated from all the bad news about the economy, and has emerged as the preferred option for India’s best and brightest. Here’s a primer on the consulting industry, the types of consulting firms, pros and cons of working in a consulting firm.

Why do companies hire consultants really? Don’t they understand their own business?

1. They do, but once in a while, it genuinely helps to have a person from outside look at your problems with a fresh pair of eyes. The consultant, being an outsider, will not be restricted by the tunnel vision that often impairs the judgment of long-entrenched senior management, and will be able to give a more impartial, independent and possibly more creative solutions.
2. To know what the competitors are doing, or (politely) benchmarking. Benchmarking is a useful tool to set sales targets, build your employee incentive schemes, change your business processes and generally justify any changes that may otherwise appear unpopular.
3. To validate management’s own conclusions. The CEO is answerable to the board of directors, and his or her strategic decisions (like Starbucks deciding to increase the number of outlets in India) will look totally whimsical to the company’s board unless they are backed up by research and analysis done by external consultants.

Types of consulting firms
There is a clear hierarchy here, a caste system, with the strategy consulting firms occupying the top tier followed by others (business consulting, process consulting, IT consulting, HR consulting and supply chain consulting) who all claim to be strategy consultants.

Strategy consulting firms: These firms (Mckinsey, BCG) have built their brand over the years by hiring the best and brightest minds from the top B schools, and advising the world’s best companies. There are some boutique firms in this list which focus on a limited set of industries (like the Parthenon group which focuses mainly on education) while the bigger firms have a broader industry focus. All are decidedly snooty when it comes to hiring. The problem posed to a strategy consulting firm will be extremely vague, like: What should be Tesco’s entry strategy in India?

Process consulting/Operations consulting firms:
The big 4 audit firms play in this space, although they have moved into the ‘strategy’ space as well. They have patiently acquired knowledge of their client’s businesses and industries by studying their accounts over a period of years. The big 4’s work varies from the glamourous (“What programming content should I show on Colors TV to maximize TRPs?”) to the mundane (“How do I reduce my company’s tax bill”). There is a conflict of interest, as the company doing the consulting is in many cases the company keeping the books. The problem posed to an operations consulting firm will be more specific – “How do I procure my raw materials at the lowest possible cost”.

IT consulting:

The question posed to an IT consulting firm will be even more specific. “Should I or should I not upgrade to Windows 8”. Or maybe “Financial Times’ content management software is out of date. What are the upgrade options in open source and licensed software?” Having worked with a large number of industry peers on similar projects, IT companies are well placed to advise their clients on these issues. Again there’s a conflict of interest here, as the company doing the advising will often try to make sure that the actual implementation of the project is awarded to itself (in the above case, once TCS decides the best option for Financial Times, it will actually do the migration of all the content to the new content management software).

Pros and cons of working in a top-notch consulting firm:

Better quality of work as compared to other options like investment banking. Sure, you won’t be able to buy a Merc with the first year’s bonus, which you might have been able to pull off as an i-banker. However, the work is generally described as intellectually stimulating, given the novel nature of the problems facing companies, as compared to the grinding monotony of excel sheets. The pay is not bad by the way. Instead of being stinking rich, you’ll be merely well-heeled.
Work with brainy people. Most Mckinsey-ites are a bunch of insecure, super-determined, hyper-diligent and obsessively analytical overachievers. Your connection with clients will be at the level of senior management (CEO, CIO, CFO etc).
• Exit options. Many consultants exit these firms to join at top executives at leading companies of the industries they cover.
Travel. Most engagements will require you to be at the client-site throughout the week, with the option of returning home for the weekend (assuming the client is in your country). See places, meet new people.

Cons
Choona lagane ka kaam hain – told to me by a BCG consultant whose identity I wish to protect. Enough said.

To get a view of the qualities you need to become a consultant, see this article. To summarize, you need to be

A smart and confident communicator – This need not mean you have to be an extrovert or a sales-guy. An introvert can be a very good communicator in his area of expertise. You also need to be someone who can stand up to 50-something CEOs and tell them they’re wrong.
An analytical thinker. Alas, the world of consulting is not for the dreamy, creative types. You will have to demonstrate a structured and logical problem-solving thought process. Creativity is good to have, but not essential.

The next section will look at realistic job previews at two or three job profiles in the consulting roles that are offered to B school students, as well as some tips on how to get through consulting interviews.

IT Consulting: The role of a consultant in IT firms like TCS, Cognizant etc. is comparable to that of a business analyst. The job description of a consultant in such firms is listed below:

1. Requirements gathering: Working with client to decide scope of the project, map the business requirements into things the developers can understand, i.e making screen mock-ups, process flow diagrams, mapping business fields into database fields etc.

2. Industry Analysis: Studying latest trends in the industry, adding some gyaan from your company’s experience with clients. The result will be a marketing ppt that can be used to start a conversation with prospective clients.

3. Pre-sales support: Taking responsibility for preparing documents in response to Request For Proposals (RFPs) from clients. This will involve speaking to various people in the different horizontals of your company (i.e if it is a Testing project, call up the Testing Head) to collect all the relevant materials demonstrating your company’s credentials for the project, and tailor them to the requirements of your client.

The last two roles don’t require client interaction, while the first gives you a real taste of consulting.

We’ll be back with some dope on other job profiles and tips to clear consulting interviews..

 

– Shyam Sunder Ramakrishnan

(The author is an alumnus of IIM Indore, and has worked with Cognizant Business Consulting in the past.)

 

Perspectives – Career perspectives from those who have faced the battles and reached the top.

The InsideIIM Career Guide

 

 

Comments

19 comments

Satwinder Singh

@Ankit: No specialization as such. However, students usually tend to take up subjects on Strategic Management and similar.

Ankit

One more doubt..Do people who are doing IT operations/Risk Analytics/Back end jobs in banks need to understand the nuances of finance? What should be the ideal combo of specialization if one wants to do such job?

Brendan

Could someone elaborate on the [1] Typical requirements for a consulting role at BCG, Bain or Mc Kinsey? Do they look for IIT&IIM combination only? [2] How to get into these places if one doesnt have an IIT or IIM degree…..I am assuimg what type of work experience and duration is needed to break into such elite jobs?

Neutral_Junta

If you are not from IIMABC you cant get into Bain from Campus. If you are not from ABCLI or ISB you cant get into Mckinsey or BCG from campus. If you are IIT/IIM it helps but the most important trait that BCG or Mckinsey look for is very very good acads ( Typically top 5%)
So if you are in the top 5% of the batch in IIMABCLI or ISB you have a great chance of getting a shortlist from these companies. Workex/internship if in IB or consulting only helps. So as far as I know a IT experience is as good as no experience or worse ( Have seen it practically )

Although BCG goes to I, if you are serious about BCG, Bain or Mckinsey, the way to go for is to go to IIMABC ( or L/ISB atmost ) and aim to be in top 5%.

Neutral_Junta

Ok I missed XLRI in that list. BCG and Mckinsey goes to XL as well. So its something like this

IIMABC ( Mckinsey/BCG/Bain/Booz)
ISB/L/XL ( Mckinsey/BCG – Goes to Campus )
I ( BCG Campus, Mckinsey Batch Day )
K/JBIMS/FMS/SPJ ( Mckinsey Batch Day )

FYI

The top 5 consulting companies as perceived by majority of aspirants are:

1) McKinsey – By far it is the most sought after consulting firm on any campus. Visits ABCL, ISB on a regular basis. They have visited JBIMS, XLRI etc on campus on rare occasions. Otherwise (I, K, XL, JB, SPJIMR and others) – Batch day.

2) BCG – Almost as good as McKinsey – Visits ABCL, ISB on a regular basis. They have started visiting XL and I on campus. We need to wait for a couple of more years to check if they visit I and XL regularly or not. Unlike Big M, BCG does not conduct any batch day or so.

3) Bain & Co – Often referred to as Small B. Visits only ABC, ISB as of now.

4) A T Kearney – Visits ABC and ISB on a regular basis. Sometimes L. Other campuses, not on the radar so far.

5) Booz & Co – Visits only AB and ISB as now. Recruits heavily from ISB.

In terms of absolute numbers, these five companies recruits the maximum from ISB.

SIDDHARTHA

@FYI — Sir, I don't know if u are gonna see this before 9th March (my IIM-A interview) [I really hope u do:( ] but if u do, please reply to my query–>

U (along with 2 other very insightful guys here) seem to have a great depth of knowledge about THE top colleges & i really wanted your views on 2 topics-

1) It is my dream to get into a top notch consulting firm after my MBA [By top notch, besides the BIG 4, I also mean Accenture, ATK, Oliver Wyman, Arthur D Little] but as is popularly believed & reciprocated by u as well, having an IIT background does have a great weightage. Now I don't have that. But I do have pretty good acads [92+ in both 10 & 12] & a good ECs [ national level football player, certified scuba diver, certification in water surfing]—- Does these offset the negatives of NOT having an IIT degree at all?? :O Or do I come across as too frolicsome rather than a brilliant allrounder? :O Will these have ANY impression in the minds of the panel (good or bad]? :O Or should I stop dreaming of a top notch consulting job? :O

2) Is it (huge weightage on a IIT degree) the same for THE topmost marketing companies as well ? :O or there do I stand any chance? :O

[PS- I am asking this as I am surely gonna face the question- "what are u gonna do after MBA" & I dont AT ALL want to give an answer where I come across as a day-dreamer, someone far removed from the reality. So I wanted to have a clear idea of things before I jump into it]

Please reply sir

Neutral_Junta

Ok to be frank this article is pretty much incomplete. No mention of something like management consulting and the firms ( Accenture, ATK, Oliver Wyman, Arthur D Little etc ) . I know the boundary is pretty obscure in some cases between Strategy and Management consulting but a mention would have been beneficial to say the least.

Also whatever is said is fine but the requirements for getting into consulting should have been more objective.

From my experience, requirements in CV required to get into Strategy Consulting ?
Top 5%
Placom member
National level sports player / National level Musician ( I know these guys dont come to IIM's but all the consulting firms seem to like such guys )
Gold Medallists in Olympiads and Undergrads
People winning competitions like LIME, Mahindra, TBLA and other college festival competitions

The more of the above said things you have in your resume the better it is.

Sonu

Thanks for your response. They've been pretty helpful. Would be grateful if you or anyone else helps clear a few of my doubts.

I'll be interning with CBC & would like to know where does it fit into all this? How much of the work is IT Consulting & how much business/management consulting?

Besides, how does it compare to work in say Accenture Management Consulting or Capgemini Consulting. Where would you put them onto the hierarchy?

Retard

CBC is mostly into IT consulting with minimal IT strategic consulting exposure. There is no business/management consulting in CBC. The roles you would get will be akin to that of Business Analysts where you will go to clients to gather requirements(If you are onsite) or Drawing the process flow diagrams and all that stuff(if you are on offshore). Basically for an IT project you are the go-to guys for any requirement related doubts.

Neutral_Junta

Accenture Management Consulting is one of the best consulting roles…next only to strategy consulting roles at all IIM's. Much better than CBC and Capgemini.
Capgemini will be a rung lower or similar level to CBC.

SIDDHARTHA

@ Neutral_Junta– Sir, I don't know if u are gonna see this before 9th March (my IIM-A interview) [I really hope u do:( ] but if u do, please reply to my query–>

U (along with 2 other very insightful guys here) seem to have a great depth of knowledge about THE top colleges & i really wanted your views on 2 topics-

1) It is my dream to get into a top notch consulting firm after my MBA [By top notch, besides the BIG 4, I also mean Accenture, ATK, Oliver Wyman, Arthur D Little] but as is popularly believed & reciprocated by u as well, having an IIT background does have a great weightage. Now I don't have that. But I do have pretty good acads [92+ in both 10 & 12] & a good ECs [ national level football player, certified scuba diver, certification in water surfing]—- Does these offset the negatives of NOT having an IIT degree at all?? :O Or do I come across as too frolicsome rather than a brilliant allrounder? :O Will these have ANY impression in the minds of the panel (good or bad]? :O Or should I stop dreaming of a top notch consulting job? :O

2) Is it (huge weightage on a IIT degree) the same for THE topmost marketing companies as well ? :O or there do I stand any chance? :O

[PS- I am asking this as I am surely gonna face the question- "what are u gonna do after MBA" & I dont AT ALL want to give an answer where I come across as a day-dreamer, someone far removed from the reality. So I wanted to have a clear idea of things before I jump into it]

Please reply sir

USA Indian

I'm not sure how you can say that there is no client interaction at all in IT Consulting. Probably you will change your statement once you see how IT consulting works in USA.

Rachit

is there any SCM/strategy/management consulting profile in TCS? And which other consulting firms are good as far as SCM consulting is concerned?

Thanks

Samik

If I have studied PGDHRM from XLRI or MDI for example and I get placed in a consulting firm (the big 4 for example) what would be the kind of profile offered to me?

Lexi Moore

Dear InsideIIM team, perhaps you should consider upgrading this article in examples and company names. The IT consulting firms suggested as CBC, TCS and Wipro (even Infosys) have their own process and domain consulting arms with heavy client interaction and business information based consulting deals. All these big IT firms are wise enough to get involved in the process consulting space. IT consulting firms are supposed to know business nowadays, without this understanding no IT firm can get a single multimillion dollar deal. You should have a closer look at IIM placement reports when we say lot of people (even from core background) are hired by IT firms in large numbers. Pure play IT consulting firms are non-existent now. Large IT firms understand this very well. Even though they are not seen as a prominent process consulting firms, one should not disguise them as pure IT consulting firms. No offense but Please work in the consulting market and get your ideas clear before writing an article like this.