The Graduates Guide to getting a job in Consulting – Part 1: Understanding the Consulting Landscape

The Graduates Guide to getting a job in Consulting – Part 1: Understanding the Consulting Landscape

  15 May 2018

In 2018 the world of graduate recruitment can be a scary place, especially in the field of consulting and professional services that are historically competitive. However by understanding the mindset of the hiring managers and team leaders you are trying to impress and the recruitment process they use to attract Talent you can increase your chances significantly. If you find yourself pondering how to become a consultant, Let this article take you through each stage the recruitment process and help you increase your chances of securing competitive graduate position.

Consulting is a broad field and there are numerous different types of firms that specialize in delivering different expertise and services to clients. Understanding the playing field before firing off stacks of applications can save much heartache. It can also help identify the companies that’ll help you grow and develop through project work that is meaningful to you.

The Broad Categories

Strategy Houses

The likes of Bain & Co, McKinsey and BCG. These are pure management consultancies, known for their prowess is offering strategy and industry specific insight. They may offer other services but strategy is the at the heart of these companies. They are highly competitive and fundamentally international, meaning a willingness to travel across the globe is likely for the majority of roles. Getting in the door is hard enough, but these firms have a reputation for working their graduates hard throughout their initial tenure.

Having an excellent commercial awareness, academic record and work ethic are essential. The rewards are a high salary, opportunity to travel worldwide (in theory) and potentially have a fulfilling job for life as an adviser to the leaders of industry. All three of the firms mentioned above receive high quality reviews on (All Over 4.2 out of 5 at the time of writing). Employees boast of excellent benefits (not surprising considering the fight for top talent) but a common complaint for all is a lack of work life balance and long working hours.

Big 4 (5)


Originally Comprised of the Big 4 Accounting Firms, PWC, Deloitte, EY and KPMG, many now consider Accenture to have joined the fray. Once upon a time these firms delivered only accountancy, but over time diversified into almost every other professional service provision. The consulting arms of these firms are regularly referred to as Advisory. Internationally recognised they are almost always intimately involved in some of the worlds largest projects, and are often brought in to manage many other third parties, subcontractors and keep them in check.

They all offer a slightly different balance of services, ranging from their core accounting and audit services to compliance, technical, financial fraud, process consulting, cyber security and much more. They are similarly competitive to get into than as strategy houses, all with established graduate schemes. Historically the turn around from application to offer/rejection has been pretty poor, but there are rumblings of significant efforts from within these firms to change that perspective, to try to keep good quality talent. Deloitte has grown the consulting arm of its business aggressively in the past few years and is the largest of the four and the only in 2017 to make more in Advisory revenue than in Audit and Accounting services. This is not to say that the consulting branches of the other players is insignificant.The smallest of the four KPMG still raked in over 10 billion from consulting services last year.

One thing to note is that due to the size of these companies, once you’re through the door there are opportunities to move around and find a consulting area you really enjoy working in. Moving from one job within a company to another is almost always easier than applying fresh when no-one knows your face or your abilities.

If you are picky about the clients you want to work with then bear this in mind when deciding which of the Big 4 to apply to. There is a conflicts of interest in that Auditors cannot offer consulting services to their Auditees, so it is worth doing your research.

Accenture is a little different to the other firms mentioned here in that it does not supply audit services, leaving it free to engage with a much wider range of clients. They offer Strategy, Operations, Digital, Technology and Industry specific consulting services.

At the time of writing the Big 5 rated at around 3.7 to 3.8 from employees, a little lower the the Strategy Houses. Common positives are opportunities to work internationally, exposure to big name clients and the ability to say you’ve worked for a Big 5 consultancy on your CV (generally if you have two or more years on your CV as one of these companies it’s seen as a sign of good quality training, experience and ability to handle stressful situations). Common cons are long hours, communication issues due to the large scale of these firms and lower wages than smaller niche firms can generally offer.

Systems Integrators

If you are technically savvy and interested in helping companies use tech to improve their business processes and give them a competitive advantage then working for a systems integrator may be for you. These companies provide complete IT support for all areas of business, from scoping in new systems, to configuring and developing bespoke tech, to supporting and updating software. These companies are one stop shops for companies looking to outsource the responsibilities of keeping  a complex business infrastructure up and running. Even though they are more geared towards computer science graduates and the like, there may well still be opportunities for budding business, accountancy and many other degree holders in these roles. Many firms actively look for individuals with an interest in technology who hold certification in other specialties as they have a different point of view and can offer another dimension to the role.

Aside from technical expertise, these companies need project managers, business analysts and individuals with specific industry knowledge. So don’t write them off straight away on the basis that their business revolves around technology. There are too many systems integrators to name but a few examples of larger firms are IBM, CSC, HP, ATOS and Capgemini. Bearing in mind the diversity of these firms, the different in employee satisfaction, remuneration and benefits also vary greatly.

Small/Independent Firms

Aside from the giant corporates mentioned above there and thousands upon thousands of consulting opportunities available out there if you are willing to look for them. The so called gig economy in the UK supports companies decisions to use externalized skill sets to solve specific problems they don’t have the time or expertise to manage themselves.

Almost any business problem you can think of will be catered to by small and medium niche firms often made up of experienced experts. Although many of these firms are adverse to hiring individuals without experience, if you can prove you can pick up the ropes quicky, appear professional in front of clients and pick up the tasks that make their lives frustrating you may well change their minds. These firms generally remunerate generously due to the additional risks of running a smaller shop, and can have performance based bonuses and profit shares. You may also find a number of firms based virtually, without any physical office space as they try to avoid unnecessary overheads.


The process of getting your foot in the door of a consulting career can be a little daunting, but by understanding what you are looking for you can reduce the risk of ending up in interviews for jobs you don’t really want. The reality is that there is a plethora of opportunity out there to get a fulfilling, rewarding and well compensated job in consulting. Make sure you’re applying to an employer whose ethos will suit the sort of lifestyle you live after university and understand that all consulting jobs are not the same thing. Consulting is the act of providing expertise, what those expertise are, and who you provide them to are up to you.

If you liked this post and want to find out more on how to become a consultant, read more in Part 2 of this series.

Happy Job Hunting, C.

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