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A Day in the Life of a Management Consultant

Companies, to improve efficiency and profitability, hire management consultants to identify problems and recommend solutions. Consultants’ objectives can be limited to analyzing such issues as shipping functions and then streamlining procedures. Alternatively, their goals may be broadly defined and include reorganizing a multinational corporation to take advantage of the synergies that developed when it acquired new businesses. “Sometimes you’re asked to solve a particular problem, and you find that the problem is just a symptom of another problem, so you need to spend a lot of time at the beginning identifying where to start and what you need to do,” wrote one consultant. The need to spend time at the beginning doing research, identifying areas of concern, and mapping out how the different areas of a business affect one another is often a difficult sell to clients who want immediate results. “No one wants to hear that you’ve got to look at five years of data—they want you to tell them how to fix things today,” wrote another. Management consultants have to be accomplished analysts, attentive listeners, and firm but tactful communicators. They are thinkers and problem solvers who know how to convince others that change is needed. Though even starting management consultants make good money (and income rises considerably with experience), our surveys indicate that candidates must be willing to sacrifice time from their personal lives. Nearly all survey respondents say that 60-hour workweeks are part of the training and education process—some report up to 90-hour workweeks—and that travel and time spent on-site at clients’ offices can be considerable. Consultants must get used to leaving home on Sunday for a business trip and not returning until Thursday or Friday. Individuals who do management consulting in government agencies tend to be more serene about their lot, citing more regular hours and interesting work. Satisfaction is generally high in this career, despite its demands.

Paying Your Dues

No specific academic requirements exist for management consultants, but nearly all employers require at least a college degree in a related field. Employers generally prefer candidates who majored in one of the following areas: business, economics, statistics, mathematics, computer science, and logic. An Ivy League education is a distinct plus, and many employers look extremely favorably on MBAs, which are necessary requirements for upward mobility in this profession. Very little guidance is available, so candidates should demonstrate academic, work, or entrepreneurial experience that shows them to be self-starters and interested in excellence in whatever they do. Most major employers run their own programs to train junior consultants in accounting, internal policy, research techniques, and how to work as part of a close-knit, hardworking team. Experience is always valuable, but professional certification—granted by the Institute of Management Consultants USA, Inc. only after rigorous review—is often more important when it comes to getting hired and promoted, especially at smaller firms. The majority of management consultants are self-employed and work in firms of 10 or fewer people, but the highest-paid ones usually do a significant stint at a large company, making professional contacts and building a solid reputation.

Present and Future

Management consulting is a relatively new occupation and one that took off in the 1960s with the growth of management sciences as a valid academic course of study. Business schools and economics departments across the nation produced a spate of literature on the subject of “management organization” and analysis of worker and company efficiency. To support this purely theoretical science, they began collecting and distributing data on organization, productivity, and capacity, giving companies a greater understanding of the forces affecting their organizations. Small consulting firms with specific areas of expertise developed in the 1970s, and the 1980s saw the birth of the management consultant generalist, who applied general principles of management to individual companies and emerged with recommendations. The work of these management consultants was validated in the 1990s: companies with more than 10,000 employees who followed their consultants’ recommendations experienced an average increase of 21 percent in revenue after five years. Management consulting is a growing profession, and significant opportunities are projected for the future. Competition for these positions will, however, be intense.

Quality of Life


Management consultants reported that quality of life is a trade-off at first. Most individuals have gone through initial training programs and are junior members of consulting teams. The hours are very long. Salaries—consisting of an average base wage and significant potential for bonuses—are high for entry-level positions. A number of consultants said that in these initial years, they learned not only how to analyze a company’s management but also how to enjoy working hard and getting results with a small group of bright and dedicated people.


Five-year management consultants are team leaders who manage projects instead of working on-site all the time. Satisfaction jumps as people who are successful receive salaries commensurate with their staggering hours. Duties at this stage for management consultants include managing accounts, directing production of reports, and reviewing the analyses of more junior associates.


Ten-year veterans continue to find their work very exciting. Why else would they be willing to work 60 hours a week after 10 years on the job? One answer may be that salaries can be enormous. They are experienced, dedicated professionals who very much enjoy applying their skills to their work. At the most senior levels, management consultants are involved in such sensitive areas as recruiting new business, working closely with clients, and directing company policy.