The Graduates Guide to getting a job in Consulting – Part 2: Factors to Consider before applying to consultancies
There are a number of factors to consider when deciding if you should apply to a specific consultancy. Each firm has its own unique identity, client dossier and ways of working. Researching the below factors should enable you to identify which consultancies will suit your ambitions. Hopefully this will help you have a long happy start to your career.
Type of Work
This is a factor many graduates take too little time to consider. Consultancy is a vast spectrum of services and skills, the one thing they have in common is that they all address a specific client problem. Dig into the firms website and understand what services they are offering. Look for whether or not they offer multiple career paths or rotary graduate schemes (where you spend a few months in a few chosen roles). If you are solely looking to become a strategy or “management consultant” (the archetype that is so commonly used in the media to define the entire industry – think office space or up in the air) then applying for a technical or cyber security role is not going to meet your expectations. Research the tasks and deliverables these specific roles work on day to day to understand how you’ll spend your time. Would you enjoy being deep in client workshops, writing application code, knee deep in spreadsheet plans or walking around a warehouse trying to optimize manufacturing processes. Ask yourself what do i want to do day to day?, not what do I want my title to be?
A consultancies culture is a slightly ambiguous term. It essentially refers to the set of shared values and practices carried out by a companies employees. The best way to figure out a company’s culture is to speak to the people who have been there. Consider contacting ex employees on LinkedIn and asking about the companies methodologies, how closely and regularly you are expected to interact with your superiors, the level of social interaction and extracurricular participation required outside of the stated working hours. Culture is not about what is in your contract, and more about what a firm expects from its employees that it cannot write down.Culture varies greatly from firm to firm, some individuals thrive in a more autonomous and competitive environment, while other benefit from a highly collaborative and engaged style of working.
There are many different culture styles that work well for specific organisations, but there can also be rare instances of toxic institutionalized culture within firms. If there are many examples of ex-employees complaining about a poor working environment, take it into account and if you go through to the interview. It may be worth querying the company’s culture tentatively in one to one interviews to pick up on the hidden requirements a firm’s culture might impress upon you if you decide to take a job.
Researching the types of clients your prospective employer caters to can give you a picture of what your working environment will look like. If you are interested in working in improvements in banking, financial institutions and professional services, a consultancy that caters to niche manufacturers will not be for you. After all your workplace for the foreseeable future is going to be the location of your clients offices, not the HQ of your new employer. The size of the clients will also have a profound impact on the size of your role in a project. On larger projects you may have a very focused and specific role, whereas smaller clients may require elements of project management, delivery and a whole host of other tasks if the project team is comprised of fewer individuals.
The quality and volume of training received by different consultancies varies significantly. It is well worth understanding how well a firm prepares its graduates for client facing work. A firm that provides little upfront training does not necessarily mean you won’t gain the necessary experience to excel in your role. Many companies will have shadowing schemes where you learn on the job, or have the option to apply for training both independently outside of work and with internally hosted training. Make sure to query if professional qualifications or specific training courses are encouraged, supported and funded by the firm. It’s important to understand how much of your own time outside of work will be required for your own professional development.
Bear in mind that training contracts are now widely accepted as standard. You will likely be required to sign one of these before starting initial training. They are to safeguard the company from initial losses/poaching of trained staff by competitors directly after the training period. They generally stipulate that leaving before a set period of time (12/18 months) will require the reimbursement of training costs incurred. Some firms have phased contracts where less is repaid overtime (e.g. 80% repayment after 6 months, 50% after 12 months).
Some firms offer jobs on the basis that graduates will engage in a period of unpaid training, such as the FDM Group for example. This is not a common practice, but it can be an option for candidates willing and able to support themselves financial for a number of months.
Consultancies may have a centralized offices, but the majority of work is carried out by field consultants. Understanding the role on offer and the amount of travel required for the role can help you decide if you are cut out for life on the road. Some job adverts give a % of time that you are expected to be out on client sites in the role. Consultants place of work are dictated by the needs and demands of their clients, as such the daily commute can be a bit unpredictable.
Many consultancies now offer work from home contracts for consultants, which can be hugely beneficial as individual employees can base themselves almost anywhere geographically. The reality of a work from home contract, does not mean working from home every day of the year. The reality is likely to be made up of predominantly onsite client work and occasional work from the central office and work from home days. Some clients will push virtual working to reduce expense costs. However the likelihood of spending five days a week from home is slim, unless benched or working on internal projects.
Obviously an important factor when deciding on a position. However consulting jobs in the UK are generally well remunerated, it is still worth bench-marking against the national average. The importance of salary is especially prevalent when based in London as living costs are among the highest in the UK. If you are interested in average salaries by firm, experience and specific sectors https://www.emolument.com can provide free and highly detailed salary reports across the advisory and professional services markets. Emolument can even give you a breakdown of pay in the biggest consultancies provided enough data has been contributed by employees.
One factor to consider when reviewing salary is the additional savings that a work from home job can add. The ability to expense travel costs alone can be a significant deduction to monthly outgoings, as any business travel away from your home (which is officially your place of work) can be charged to an expense account. There are also provisions for equipment, services or supplies or additional household expenses such as electricity, gas or internet charges. https://www.gov.uk/expenses-and-benefits-homeworking
Consultancies, especially the larger more established firms commonly offer additional benefits to prospective employees to complete for talent. These can include medical and dental insurance, free eye tests, gym memberships, fuel cards, share options, profit shares, professional development, sabbatical programs, childcare benefits and death in service coverage. Bear in mind the value of these benefits to your lifestyle and understand the value they can add to you.
Concentrate on the type of work you want to do, the problems you want to be involved in solving and the lifestyle you would like to live. A job doesn’t just have to be the thing you do to pay the bills, its what you’ll be spending your time seven hours a day, five days a week for the foreseeable future. If you find the right consulting job it can be a pleasure to wake up in the morning feeling challenged and involved in getting a project over the line. Pick the wrong role for you and you might find yourself fighting the urge to hit the snooze button for the 12th time on a Tuesday morning, wishing the week was over already. Remember, there’s no such thing as a perfect job, but with good research and preparation you can find a career you wake up excited about 99% of the time.
Good luck and happy job hunting, C.