According to a recent study conducted by Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) in association with the Association of Management Consulting Firms (AMCF), 84 per cent of students from top B-schools prefer a career in consulting. Here’s a look at what consulting is all about, the status of the industry and the factors that draw students to this stream.

The global financial crisis has had a bearing on how B-school students make a career choice. “In the last decade, students at IIM-Calcutta have shown a keen interest in the finance area with a clear preference for investment banks — which have not fully recovered from the crisis. This has clearly impacted placement outcomes. For example, this year a higher number of students interned with consultancies during summer and will probably take up consultancy jobs in final placements compared to earlier years,” says Mritiunjoy Mohanty, Professor of Economics, IIM-Calcutta.

Students have an inclination for consultancies owing to the job profile. Mala Sinha, placement coordinator and professor of Business Ethics and CSR at Faculty of Management Studies (FMS), Delhi, says, “Students have shown a preference for consulting over back-end jobs in investment banks. A career in consulting gives them the opportunity to develop a high profile network in course of their interactions with seniors in the industry, which serves a means for attaining higher positions in the industry when they switch jobs.”

In fact, strategic consulting is preferred over other areas of the field as it brings with it the opportunity to interface with senior-level management of firms.

“Consulting is not a dead-end career. Many use consulting as a stepping stone. Others grow within consulting by developing expertise in a specific industry, and there is a fair amount of movement amongst the various players in consulting. For instance, Deloitte has over 7,000 consultants in India and hired laterally a large number from other firms,” says Roopen Roy, Senior Director, Consulting, Deloitte India.

On the other hand, the recession has perceptibly impacted consultant firms. Aditya Narayan, President of Staffing at Randstad, says, “Consultant firms were thriving from 2004 to 2008. However, they are not expanding at the same pace as earlier, even though they are steady.”

Qualifications

The Big Four firms (PwC, Deloitte, Ernst & Young, KPMG), which started off as accounting firms, significantly hired chartered accountants. However, over time, as they diversified into consulting services, more opportunities opened up for MBAs within these firms. Sagag Arora, who is with one of the Big Four, says, “You wouldn’t require an MBA for a managerial position, but if you are planning to go further up the ladder all the way to partnership — you may require an MBA or any other post-graduate qualification, at least.”

The corporate sector lays special emphasis on the MBA degree. However, the requirements of consultancies vary with each firm. Top consultancies, such as McKinsey, recruit a steady stream of students with an undergraduate degree. However, in course of time, these firms place due importance on procuring an MBA degree. “We implement concepts we were taught at the B-school in our job on a day-to-day basis,” says a graduate of IIM-Ahmedabad.

Conversely, a humanities graduate from Delhi University, who is working with KPMG, explains that the difference between someone who has an MBA and someone who is fresh out of college is that an MBA student is taught the industry jargon, which a graduate gets accustomed to in a matter of days at work.

There are different segments within consultancies, such as HR, operation, and IT consultancy which require specialised skills. Abahaya Aggarwal, Lead, PPP Practice Advisory, Ernst and Young, says, “Students from science backgrounds have better analytical skills, but they may not have expertise in areas such as auditing and accounting.”

John Furth, President and CEO, AMCF, elaborates on the recruitment position of consultant firms in the US, “There is great diversity among those who go into consulting — people with liberal arts, science, technology, medical, legal and other backgrounds become consultants in addition to traditional backgrounds like business and engineering.

With the growth in big data and analytics, Ph.Ds are also finding many opportunities.”

What is consulting?

Consulting is a project-based work where the consultant helps the management of an organisation to secure their goal by analysing the organisational problems with the aid of industry knowledge he/she has acquired by working across verticals.

It gives you the opportunity to work for a range of industries such as hospitality, media, retail, infrastructure, aviation — broadening your understanding of different sectors. Besides offering a plum pay package, consultancy gives you the opportunity to travel and develop a rich network.

Furth says that Indian students have soft skills which are crucial to succeed as a consultant. What qualities do recruiters seek during placements? Sinha says, “Firms recruit students with a good extracurricular track record.” In addition to this, analytical abilities, good communication and presentation skills, interpersonal skills, and the ability to take the lead and get work done are the prerequisites to becoming a consultant, says J. Rajagopal, EVP and Head of TCS’ Global Consulting Practice.

It requires you to think out of the box. Not only do you have to conceive the idea, but also sell it to a client. Parvesh Minocha, Managing Director, Transportation Advisory & Engineering Division, Feedback Ventures, says, “There’s greater responsibility as the burden of implementing the ideas effectively, rests on the consultant, although there’s less hierarchy than the corporate sector.”

There is considerable amount of job independence as you get to work on different projects, each of which has a stipulated time. “You won’t be working with the same person, and each moment you will be working on something entirely different. It won’t get monotonous; it is in fact challenging; a job where you have to constantly reinvent yourself,” says Nimit Mehra, student, FMS, who has interned with Accenture.