Consulting Career Path: How to Make Partner

Making it to Partner at a consulting firm is like a foreign dream to many. The management consulting career path is full of challenges and tribulations, including demanding clients, head-scratching hard projects, and office politics.

Management consulting firms often have an “up-or-out” culture, meaning that you are either promoted or asked to leave. This can result in an intense and competitive environment where some of the smartest people in the world are battling to get to the top.

Of course, the flipside is that there is a reason there is such a strong desire to continue elevating in the management consulting career path. Responsibilities increase, projects get more interesting at a higher level, and compensation is fantastic. The management consulting career path salary has significant jumps at each level. These benefits make the journey well worth it to many.

In this article, we’ll be going over the steps you need to take to make partner at a consulting company.

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Consulting Career Path Steps

Step 1: Analyst

Analysts are hired straight out of undergraduate programs and are responsible for a lot of the heavy lifting required in project deliverables. Analysts are given exposure to clients right off the bat. They are usually given one or a few workstreams to own for each project. There are increasingly more opportunities to contribute to the problem solving process but most work involves research, data analysis, and presentation building.

Analyst positions are typically for 2-3 years and salaries are in the range of $60K-$100K. See our consultant salary report for per firm details.

Step 2: Consultant / Associate

Consultants / Associates are typically hired straight out of top MBA schools or promoted internally from the analyst position. Some management consulting firms prefer that their analysts attend business school rather than promoting them internally. Consultants are given more responsibility to manage larger workstreams while also providing guidance to analysts. The position entails helping identify client issues, forming hypotheses, deeper levels of analysis, and suggesting recommendations.

Consultant / Associate positions are typically for 2-3 years and salaries are in the range of $150K-$200K. See our consultant salary report for per firm details.

Step 3: Manager / Project Leader

Managers / Project Leaders are usually promoted internally from the consultant / associate position, with some brought on as experienced hires. A Manager’s job is to oversee projects. They ensure that the objective is clear, the workstreams are flowing smoothly, and the client is constantly updated on progress. As a result, this position is much more client-facing and requires a deeper level of managerial skills. Many consider this position to be one of the toughest in the consulting firm career path. This is because you need to heavily manage both upwards and downwards in addition to making sure the client is happy.

Manager / Project Leader positions are typically for 2-3 years and salaries are in the range of $200K-$300K.

Step 4: Principal / Director

Again, Principals / Directors are promoted from within the firm most of the time. Though, a few spots may be filled by experienced hires from outside the firm. Principals are responsible for all phases of the project and manage client expectations (which is a lot harder than it sounds!). Great principals will nurture talent within the team and motivate them by providing them with the right amount of both guidance and autonomy. There’s a lot of critical thinking involved in this position, as Principals are required to drive hypotheses, review the team’s analysis, and have strong opinions on the overall recommendation.

Principal / Director positions are typically for 2-3 years and salaries are in the range of $250K-$350K.

Step 5: Partner

Partners run the firm. Top level talent within the firm are promoted to this position after more than a decade of dedication. Other times, experienced industry experts or lateral hires from other consulting firms fill a few of these coveted spots. Partners are trusted allies to clients and are respected as experts in their fields. Partners are the money-makers at consulting firms, as their most important responsibility is to win projects and maintain client relationships. The position requires great leadership skills and creativity in order to create catered, innovative solutions for clients and to grow the firm.

3 Tips on Earning Promotions in the Consulting Career Path

Here are our 3 best tips on earning promotions in your journey.

  1. Do Your Boss’ Job

The truth is, employees are not promoted because they fulfill their role well. Promotions are eagerly given out to those who push beyond their responsibilities and show they can handle the next step. As a result, always be on the lookout for how you can perform the roles of the people you report to.

  1. Be a Good Person

It’s easy to get lost in office politics and believe you need to “claw your way to the top”. However, that’s just not good business. Though, like any company, there may be a few bad apples at the senior level. Yet, you will much more likely gain support by being an excellent teammate and someone everyone wants to work with.

  1. Do the Little Things Well

Great consultants are known for not letting anything fall through the cracks. Especially early on in your career, you need to build a strong fundamental habit of getting the details correct. Doing so will pay massive dividends in the future. Getting the details right builds trust with your colleagues, seniors, and clients on your way to the top.

Concluding Thoughts

As we said before, the management consulting career path is fraught with challenges but can be well worth it. Making it to partner is not for everyone. But for those who love consulting work, there are few other options out there that provide such incredible opportunities for both personal and professional growth. If that’s your goal, we sincerely hope you do make it to the top and that this article can be a small part of your journey!

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Filed Under: management consulting