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Consulting Overview


  Consulting firms work behind the scenes with businesses, governments and institutions to investigate problems and implement solutions.1 Consultants work in every industry and field, including marketing, finance, corporate strategy, manufacturing processes, information systems, data processing, e-commerce, human resources, and the application of science and technology.2 They offer their clients specialized knowledge, experience, special skills, creativity, as well as their time and expertise.3 General management consulting is the most common area of consulting, and employs over 300,000 people in a $30 billion industry.4

  Some of the biggest and best-known consulting firms include BCG, Booz Allen & Hamilton, McKinsey, Bain, and Monitor.5

Who They Serve:

  Consultants work in every industry, offering specialized expertise. In the private sector, consultants work with businesses of all sizes.

  They also work with Federal, State and local government agencies; non-profit institutions like hospitals, universities, unions and nonprofit organizations; and on the international level, consultants work with foreign governments and businesses.6

What They Do:

  Consultants typically gather information about a problem, analyze complex data, determine resources needed to address the organization's problem, recommend systems, procedures, or organizational changes to solve the problem, and confer with managers at the organization to ensure the changes work7 (OOH, 2012).

  Most consultants work on a project-by-project basis. Clients will send an RFP, or request for proposal, to potential consulting firms outlining the request or problem. In return, consulting firms provide proposals that outline the way they would approach the request, including the time and resources required to complete the task if hired.8 Management consulting firms advise on almost every aspect of corporate operations, whereas scientific and technical consulting firms provide recommendations on non-management activities, typically the application of technology and expertise and knowledge of the sciences. Management consulting firms advise on almost every aspect of corporate operations, whereas scientific and technical consulting firms provide recommendations on non-management activities, typically the application of technology and expertise and knowledge of the sciences.9

  Consulting firms can be either vertically or horizontally integrated: they can specialize in a particular business process, or they can provide a range of business services specific to one industry, such as health care or law.10



Consulting Specialties


  The consulting industry is diverse: almost anyone with expertise in a given area can enter consulting.

  The largest organizational areas are managerial consulting, scientific and technical consulting, and healthcare consulting.

  Managerial consultants provide strategic analysis and recommendations on every aspect of the business process. While larger consulting firms, such as Bain and McKinsey, can provide expertise in any of these areas, smaller firms typically specialize in a specific area of managerial consulting, including:

  • Administrative Management and Finance - advice on clients' day-to-day operations such as budgeting, asset and records management, strategic and financial planning, and tax strategy.11
  • Human Resources, Benefits & Compensation - offers effective management of clients' human capital, including effective personnel policies, salaries and benefits, employee recruitment, training and assessment.12 Increasingly, human resources consulting involves helping clients outsource to other countries with less expensive labor and manufacturing costs. Because of the political and economic ramifications of outsourcing, this is becoming one of the more controversial areas involved with consulting.
  • Marketing - assistance in everything from product development to customer service, including product pricing, sales forecasting, planning and implementing marketing strategy, and setting up business franchises and product licenses.13
  • Logistics - typically specialize in the production and distribution of goods, and offer advice and services for all steps of the production process, including suppliers, manufacturing, packaging and delivery to consumers.14

  Rather than hiring outside consulting firms, some large corporations maintain internal consulting staffs to help their company run more efficiently. These individuals act as change agents within the company, and provide specialized management consulting to facilitate change and improve the bottom line performance of companies. Internal management consultants typically have MBAs or were promoted to a consulting role from another area within the company.15

  Whereas managerial consulting provides recommendations on efficient and intelligent business administration, other areas of consulting are more subject-oriented. Scientific and technical consulting firms advise on topics relating to the physical and social sciences:

  • Agricultural consultants - provide ways to increase agricultural production, including innovative farming techniques and new technologies
  • Energy consultants - offer cost-reduction strategies utilizing more energy-efficient technologies, manufacturing and distribution practices
  • Biological, chemical and physics consultants - offer in-depth expertise on the application of scientific theories
  • Economic consultants - conduct economic research and advise clients on economic trends.16

  Two of the fastest growing and most lucrative areas of scientific and technical consulting are environmental consulting and computer systems consulting. Environmental consulting firms identify and evaluate environmental problems and offer effective ways for their clients to avoid causing or suffering from them.

  Consultants in this field might work with real estate developers to plan environmentally sound construction projects; a manufacturing or utilities firm might hire them to inspect their facilities to ensure that the government's environmental standards are being met; they might even work for the government itself to assess environmental contamination or to provide cost/benefit analysis on proposed regulation and policy.17 Computer systems analysts solve information technology problems and design computer technology to meet the specific needs of an organization.18

  Healthcare consulting is a nuanced combination of these two areas: it encompasses both managerial and subject oriented strategic advisory. Because of the scope and size of the American healthcare system, its application in both the public and private spheres, and the continuing emergence in the industry of pharmaceutical and biotechnical giants, business leaders in healthcare have to evolve more and more quickly.19 Increasingly, they are turning to healthcare consultants for help.

  Healthcare consultants provide expertise in everything from strategic planning and marketing of pharmaceutical drugs to clinical performance improvement strategies. They work with policy makers to design public healthcare systems; they also work with private healthcare providers to organize and manage physician practices, legal liability, and billing procedures.20 Given the increasing political demand for an improved healthcare system and cost regulation, this is an area of consulting that will likely grow exponentially in years to come.



Consulting Breaking In


  Though the majority of American consulting firms are small and employ less than five workers, large firms continue to dominate the industry: approximately 58% of consulting jobs are found in the 4% of firms with 20 or more employees.21 The largest consulting firms employ thousands of people in offices across the country and around the world. Globalization has increased the demand for management analysts in international business, as companies face expanding markets and complicated legal and strategic issues.22

  Because consultants typically divide their time between their own offices and those of their clients, extensive travel is involved, as is extensive overtime when project deadlines are approaching.23 Consulting is a high-intensity, high-pressure field, though self-employed consultants can set their own workloads, hours and often work from home. Most entry-level consultants work at large firms, where pay is lucrative but 60 to 90 hour workweeks are common. Those beginning in the industry must be willing to sacrifice time from their personal lives to become successful at work, but most say that their jobs are both exciting and rewarding.24

  Those seeking to break into consulting can do so either at entry-level or after establishing themselves as experts in their respective fields. Above all, employers in consulting are looking for competitive, high-energy self-starters with excellent communication and people skills, who are also idea-driven and motivated to do whatever is necessary to improve the client organization.25

What Employers Want:

  Entry-level requirements for management analysts are typically a bachelor's degree accompanied with practical experience solving problems and critical thinking. For more subject-oriented consulting, a graduate degree is often required. At the undergraduate level, entry-level consultants are hired as analysts, and candidates with MBAs or other specialized graduate degrees are hired as associates.

  Because of the wide range of knowledge areas encompassed in consulting, consulting firms hiring entry-level analysts are less concerned with academic majors and are more concerned with GPA, writing and critical thinking abilities. Multiple interviews are required for these positions, and interviews often include several case studies designed to evaluate problem solving ability under pressure. Consulting firms are extremely competitive in recruiting the best and the brightest from America's top universities and business schools.26

  Large consulting firms also offer highly competitive internship programs for students following their third year of undergraduate study.

What They Hire Undergraduates to Do:

  Most entry-level positions in consulting are in large firms, and often involve very little responsibility for the first few months of employment. New employees undergo intense training programs and long hours, and as work quality increases, associates are given more responsibility. In some firms, an MBA is required to advance to more senior positions, and many offer tuition reimbursement or assistance for their employees to attend business school.27

  Most recent graduates begin in managerial consulting, and are assigned to project teams with more experienced consultants. Typical tasks for an entry-level consulting associate include:

  • Gathering and organizing information;
  • Data analysis and presentation;
  • Preparation of materials for project implementation and evaluation.28

  The primary responsibility of recent hires in managerial consulting is to develop relationships within the firm and with clients, to familiarize themselves with the firm's problem solving techniques, and to discover and develop their strengths and abilities. Most importantly, it is to translate critical thinking skills into strategic application. "Sometimes you're asked to solve a particular problem, and 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.29 This involves doing research and identifying problems, and then finding ways to communicate complex findings to a client often looking for a simple fix. Consequently, consultants must be skilled analysts, but also attentive listeners and firm communicators.30



Consulting Alumni


Mark Margolin- Partner, Palomar, International Studies, Class of 1985

  1. How did you get interested in your field? Was it your original goal when you started at Hopkins? - I did not know that my field even existed until sometime during my senior year. I had originally intended to study law, and then became interested in education. I contacted one of my high school teachers for career advice during my senior year, and discovered that he had left public education to start his own business. He invited me to join his company while I considered my options.
  2. What was your career path? How did you get to where you are today? - What began as a part-time job right out of college quickly became full-time. I ended up working for my high school teacher's company for seven years. I left that company to start my own company with two partners. We quickly identified several niche markets that were good fits for us. We just celebrated our 15th anniversary in business. Along the way, I have become recognized as an expert not only in instructional design and technical communication, but also in automotive dealership operations. This has allowed my business to serve most of the major auto manufacturers. We've been directly involved in many of the automotive field's most important initiatives. Along the way, I've had to learn a variety of business skills including project management, sales, financial management, and how to manage people. I've taken some risks, including a brief stint as an account executive and the great leap to start my own company. Those risks, though difficult, have paid off tremendously.
  3. What was your first job after college? Was it in your current field? - I started work as a part-time writer for a company called CraneMorley, which was owned by two former teachers, both of whom had taught in my high school. The company had two lines of business: custom training programs, and business writing workshops. The custom training business remains my focus today.
  4. What advice do you have for current students? - A -Don't expect to have all the answers. It's OK to be uncertain about your career and your goals early on. Take the time to discover what really interests you, and to explore your options. Learn to network - Ask people you meet about their jobs and their interests. You never know when a contact you make might become important to you. Don't let someone else drive your career choices. Your parents or significant other should not be deciding how you will spend your working life. Be true to your ideals and your interests. Ask others for help and advice. Don't try to go it alone. You don't always have to take the advice that you're given, but always consider it. Have close friends you can rely on to listen and give advice about your life. The people I call when I need that kind of help are mostly people I went to Hopkins with. Never burn a bridge. In our field, as in many others, you will continue to meet the same people over and over. Be professional and avoid cutting off any potential business relationship.
  5. What is your typical day like? - Typical? I guess that's what I like about my job...there is no typical day. If I'm in the office, I'm most likely writing or doing research for training programs I'm developing. But some days, I'll spend a great deal of my time on business management issues. I also spend a lot of time out of the office, meeting with clients, working on project proposals, reviewing drafts, or overseeing training events.
  6. What’s most rewarding about your industry and/ or job? What's most challenging? - Rewarding: I have really enjoyed that I am always learning something new about somebody's business. In my career, I've learned about running a car dealership, designing irrigation systems, running restaurants, selling mortgages, and dozens of other things I never dreamed I would have to know. Challenging: Working with clients can always be challenging. You need to be sensitive to their individual needs and to their company politics. I've always found sales to be challenging, as well. I'm not a born salesperson, and I really need to focus to make those skills work for me.
  7. What are typical entry-level positions for this field? What tips do you have for students to be successful in these positions? - Most people come into this field as an entry-level writer or project manager. Often, those positions are combined. Entry-level positions are exactly what the name says. Everyone needs to pay their dues. Many of the companies in our field are small businesses, which means that entry-level writers or project managers end up doing a lot of things that are not necessarily in the written job description. Don't be afraid of "other duties as assigned." They're often great learning opportunities. And don't have an attitude about your fancy college degree. You may find yourself working with people who have no degree or who went to "inferior" institutions. Often they'll be smarter and better equipped than you. Live with it!
  8. here do you see the field going in the next 5-10 years? - Training and technical communication will continue to be growing fields. Technology will continue to change the tools we use and the methods we use to deliver information and instruction. But the core will continue to be good, solid, clear writing.
  9. What skills and out-of-class experiences (i.e. internships, co-curricular activities, volunteering, etc.) are ideal for entering your industry / career field? - Any experience that involves writing or communication is useful. Build your skills on writing clearly for a variety of audiences. Learn to use technology and to understand how it evolves. You don't need to be a programmer or an expert at any one type of system, but you need a solid understanding of how technology can work for you.
  10. Where can someone in an entry-level position expect to be in two years? Five years? Ten years? - I think people tend to advance fairly quickly in our field. There are many paths for this advancement, including creative positions, sales positions, management positions, and consulting. Within five years, you'll likely be in some kind of team leadership position, and within ten you'll likely have settled into one of the paths described above.
  11. Which professional organizations and resources should students look into or get involved with? - American Society for Training and Development (ASTD), Society for Technical Communication (STC), and International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI)
  12. What related occupations and industries would you recommend students explore who are interested in your industry or career field? - Education, Marketing and Marketing Communications, PR, Industrial Psychology, HR, and Management

Carl Liggio- Managing Partner, Pharos Enterprise Intelligence, LLC, Class of 1996

  1. How did you get interested in your field? Was it your original goal when you started at Hopkins? - I took a graduate class in energy market modeling about the same time I decided not to pursue Civil Engineering as a career choice.
  2. What was your career path? How did you get to where you are today? - A professor put me in touch with the head analyst at a local energy company. I interviewed, got the job and never left the industry. We were bought by another company. That company sold their power plants to another. Then I left to start my own company.
  3. What was your first job after college? Was it in your current field? - Working as a quantitative analyst for a startup energy company in Baltimore. Totally unrelated to my Civil Engineering coursework. Somewhat related to my environmental engineering coursework.
  4. What advice do you have for current students? - You can be as good of a specialist as you are a generalist. Constantly be learning. Don't stop with your specific niche. Understand how your niche interfaces with others.
  5. What is your typical day like? - No such thing. Since I started a company no two days are the same. Wake up, check email, work. Gym, Eat, Work more, eat. Hope to eat out with friends or colleagues. Work and sleep. You can be as good of a specialist as you are a generalist. Constantly be learning. Don't stop with your specific niche. Understand how your niche interfaces with others.
  6. What is your typical day like? - No such thing. Since I started a company no two days are the same. Wake up, check email, work. Gym, Eat, Work more, eat. Hope to eat out with friends or colleagues. Work and sleep.
  7. What’s most rewarding about your industry and/ or job? What's most challenging? - Energy is in a constant state of flux. The policies change, the technologies change. Right now it has the attention of the world. What is rewarding is starting a company and watching it grow. What is most challenging is keeping up with it all and wanting to do way more than there is time for.
  8. What are typical entry-level positions for this field? What tips do you have for students to be successful in these positions? - Tough question to answer. Power and gas schedulers require the least amount of expertise. Be willing to learn, work hard, and learn not just about your area of the business. Learn how to trade, manage power plants, learn the billing. The more diverse of an experience you have the more valuable you will be. Tough question to answer. Power and gas schedulers require the least amount of expertise. Be willing to learn, work hard, and learn not just about your area of the business. Learn how to trade, manage power plants, learn the billing. The more diverse of an experience you have the more valuable you will be.
  9. Where do you see the field going in the next 5-10 years? - Such a broad field. I am involved in too many aspects of it. Power plant management will not change too much. Just the rules will change. Renewable technologies are a different story
  10. What skills and out-of-class experiences (i.e. internships, co-curricular activities, volunteering, etc.) are ideal for entering your industry / career field? - Being proficient in Excel Knowing how to program in any language. Internships are very helpful. Most important though is showing a good quantitative background and an understanding of general energy issues.
  11. Where can someone in an entry-level position expect to be in two years? Five years? Ten years? - In power plant management or gas and power trading: Two years still working in it. Five Management of a group. Ten senior management
  12. Which professional organizations and resources should students look into or get involved with? - There are occasional energy networking groups. All very local. There is no one be all end all organization. Also depends on what aspect of energy you are in.
  13. What related occupations and industries would you would recommend students explore who are interested in your industry or career field? - Anything that deals with commodities or risk. Tough question to answer. Power and gas schedulers require the least amount of expertise. Be willing to learn, work hard, and learn not just about your area of the business. Learn how to trade, manage power plants, learn the billing. The more diverse of an experience you have the more valuable you will be.
  14. Where do you see the field going in the next 5-10 years? - Such a broad field. I am involved in too many aspects of it. Power plant management will not change too much. Just the rules will change. Renewable technologies are a different story
  15. What skills and out-of-class experiences (i.e. internships, co-curricular activities, volunteering, etc.) are ideal for entering your industry / career field? - Being proficient in Excel Knowing how to program in any language. Internships are very helpful. Most important though is showing a good quantitative background and an understanding of general energy issues.

Warren E. Wilhide- Sr. Sr. VP, Executive Director, Retired Quantum Group Intl, Booz Allen & Hamilton General Engineering, Class of 1958

  1. How did you get interested in your field? Was it your original goal when you started at Hopkins? - Graduated from Baltimore Polytechnic High School. Always interested in engineering and making things. Started JHU in Industrial Engineering and continued on.
  2. What was your career path? How did you get to where you are today? - After graduation worked as a manufacturing Engineer in numerous plants with many products thus obtained broad experience. This led to mngt. consulting, and also into sales development in many areas for high level executives of many corporations in U.S. and overseas.
  3. What was your first job after college? Was it in your current field? - Industrial Engineer in manufacturing plant was my first job. This was not in my final field however, that experience was essential to each progressive step along the way.
  4. What advice do you have for current students? - Learn to work with and respect people of all levels and backgrounds. Learn to ask good questions, and to listen well. Constantly learn new things.
  5. What is your typical day like? - My typical day frequently involved trying to determine how to best serve a new company and its senior management. This involved a wide variety of activities and research.
  6. What’s most rewarding about your industry and/ or job? What's most challenging? - Meeting and working with many people of various levels, and feeling that I was able to make a positive difference for people. Major challenges involved selling new ideas.
  7. What are typical entry-level positions for this field? What tips do you have for students to be successful in these positions? - Engineer or consultant. While trying to learn details, also try to see the overall big picture. While doing this, try not to let yourself become pigeon-holed, or narrowly labeled.
  8. Where do you see the field going in the next 5-10 years? - Management consulting should continue to grow, but may become more specialized, and more international as we become more of a global economy.
  9. What skills and out-of-class experiences are ideal for entering your industry / career field? - Develop a broad problem solving prospective which becomes natural and automatic.
  10. Where can someone in an entry-level position expect to be in two years? Five years? Ten years? - May begin as a consultant working on client assignments, and maybe later be hired away by a client
  11. Which professional organizations and resources should students look into or get involved with? - Professional Engineering and Consulting Organizations
  12. What related occupations and industries would you recommend students explore who are interested in your industry or career field? - Computer Sciences, Economics, Business

Additional Alumni Profiles

    Networking with alumni and other professionals who work in these fields can help you learn very specific information about a career field. Use Johns Hopkins Connect to contact alumni to ask for their advice. You may also find professional contacts through professional associations, faculty, friends and family.

    If you would like to talk about how your search is going, we invite you to make an appointment with a Career Counselor by calling 410-516-8056.

    LinkedIn.com - a professional networking site where you can identify Hopkins alumni. Join the LinkedIn Johns Hopkins University Alumni Group to add over 4000+ alumni to your network.


Consulting Resources


Resources:

Webinar

  • Video: Consulting-Market-Research
  • Video:Feb 20, 2013 Consulting 101

Interview Guides:

Industry /Professional Organizations:

Industry Websites:

Consulting Firms:

  • ABT Associates - Consulting firm specialized on social and economic policy, international development, business research and consulting, and clinical trials and registries.
  • The Advisory Board Company - The Advisory Board provides best practices research and analysis to the health care industry, focusing on business strategy, operations and general management issues.
  • Analysis Group
  • A.T. Kearney - Global management consulting firm focused on strategy and organization, operations, technology solutions and executive search
  • Bain and Company, Inc. - Global business consulting firm
  • Booz Allen Hamilton - Consulting firm specializing in Strategy, Organization and Change Leadership, Operations, Information Technology, Technology Management
  • Boston Consulting Group - Business consulting
  • Bull Worldwide - Information technology consulting
  • Caliber Associates - Research and consulting firm focused on the development and management of effective human services programs and policies for the public good in areas such as child care, education, juvenile justice and more
  • Convergent Group
  • PriceWaterhouseCoopers
  • Computer Systems Management, Inc. - Technology and management consulting firm specializing in the development of Web-based management systems and e-business solutions.
  • Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu - Professional services in the areas of advisory, tax and consulting services
  • Corporate Executive Board - Membership organization for senior executives of leading institutions worldwide to discover innovative strategies for addressing their most pressing challenges. Membership programs focus upon increasing the effectiveness of leaders within member organizations through best practices research, executive education and decision support tools.
  • Ernst and Young - Business professional services consulting firm
  • KPMG Peat Marwick - Provider of assurance, tax and legal, and financial advisory services
  • Healthcare Policy Research and Management Consulting - National health and human services consulting firm
  • Industrial Economics
  • Maximus - Provides a wide range of program management, information technology, and consulting services to government agencies
  • McKinsey and Co - Management consulting firm
  • Monitor Company - Strategy consulting
  • NERA - Economic Consulting

Networking:

  Networking with professionals who work in this field can help you learn very specific information about a career field. Professional contacts through professional associations, faculty, friends and family can be very helpful. You may also explore career opportunities by talking with employers at career fairs, and company presentations.

  Internships - research positions and summer employment are highly effective ways for you to try out a field, gain experience and skills and make professional contacts.



Consulting Related


  If you would like to talk about how your search is going, we invite you to make an appointment with a Career Counselor by calling 410-516-8056.

Footnotes

  Consulting Footnotes