Management Consulting and the Consulting Industry 101

It seems like everyone these days is in management consulting – strategy consultants, business consultants, technology consultants, IT consultants, marketing consultants, and the list goes on and on.

It’s a catch-all title for someone who gets paid to give their advice on particular subjects to companies.

In this post, we’ll attempt to answer 3 big questions:

-Who are management consultants? -McKinsey, Accenture, Monitor…what’s the difference between different management consulting firms? -What do management consultants actually do?

Who are consultants?

Management consultants as people are generally:

1) Knowledgeable about the topic at hand 2) Well-connected within the industry 3) Have a reputation and/or brand (based on experience, publications, etc) 4) Effective communicators

Companies often face questions that they are incapable of answering or too busy to properly address. This is where management consultants come in, armed with the above 4 traits, to help address precisely those questions.

Further reading: Why companies hire management consultants

McKinsey, Accenture, Monitor…what’s the difference between different management consulting firms?

The consulting industry can be segmented accordingly:

1) Management consulting firms (eg McKinsey, Bain, BCG – MBB) 2) One-stop-shop and technology-focused consulting firms (eg Accenture, Deloitte) 3) Niche/boutique consulting firms (eg Mercer HR, Kurt Salmon) 4) Independent consultants (self explanatory)

Our categorization isn’t perfect – for instance, boutique consulting shops provide management advice; one-stop-shops often focus on IT/technology and less on strategy.

In addition – many corporations these days have in-house consulting groups (often populated by ex-McKinsey-Bain-BCG-types).

And much of what the venture capital industry does when working with portfolio companies is similar to what Monitor would do for their Fortune 500 clients.

Further reading: Interviews with a McKinsey and Bain consultant

Finally, what do consultants do?

The answer is: it depends. If you’re an analyst/associate, your job is to do the grunt work necessary to answer client questions.

You will work with the following pieces of software:

1) Microsoft Powerpoint 2) Microsoft Excel 3) Email…lots and lots of email

You will be provided the following pieces of hardware:

1) Smartphone 2) Durable laptop, usually a PC

Your day will typically include the following (with a more detailed post on this later):

1) Client meetings 2) Team (internal) meetings 3) Data gathering and analysis 4) PowerPoint slide creation 5) Conference calls

With all the above, your job is to come up with the most comprehensive, data-driven insights and answers that your clients don’t already know. These will form the basis for recommendations that your team will provide, and from which your clients will (ideally) make changes to their business to result in one or more of the following:

1) Increased revenue 2) Reduced costs 3) Clear strategic direction (acquisitions/divestitures/partnerships) 4) Org design and the gameplan for hiring and firing of employees 5) And so forth

For more information about management consulting, check out:

Management Consulting – Day in the Life

Management Consulting – Interview Preparation



  • Luis R. Villegas H.

    Hello, Kevin Gao.

    I read your article “Management Consulting and the Consulting Industry, 101” and I have a question:

    Do you think an intelligent person, capable of executing a consulting firm

  • Luis R. Villegas H.

    Wonderful! Thank you, Kevin.

  • Luke Boom

    I do enjoy what U wrote. I should have read Ur articles much earlier.

  • ike


    which company did you mean by “Monitor”?


  • kgao

    Monitor is a well-known strategy consulting firm –

  • ike

    never heard of it. i was thinking of euromonitor actually

  • Luke Boom

    It was founded by Porter

  • Vic

    Hi Luke,

    I have a Q for you.If i wish to be a Business Analyst and work for a top consultant like McKinsey do i need to have hands on experience on management side before? I’ve been workin’ on technical side for the last 3 years and moroever i don have vast knowledge on 1) Microsoft Powerpoint
    2) Microsoft Excel.But i’m cnfident that once i get into the role i’ll be keepin’ up..

  • Kevin

    Luis – I believe your original comment was somehow truncated. However, in regards to your basic question of whether an intelligent person is capable of finding a consulting job:

    Absolutely. Less than intelligence, it’s more about your ability to perform well in your environment, whether that’s in academics, work performance, or something else. Consistent high-performance, along with the ability to build important relationships through networking, will be the best predictors of your ability to break into and be successful at consulting.

  • Kevin

    Luke – thanks for your kind word! Please stay in touch.

  • Kevin

    Vic, this is Kevin here. Hands-on management experience certainly helps, although it’s not a firm prerequisite.

    Vastly more important is your ability to get attention to your resume and candidacy now that you’re an experienced/parallel hire. Typically, most experienced candidates either have internal firm contacts on a relatively senior level, or have gone to a top-tier post-graduate institution and went through on-campus recruiting.

    Hope that helps clarify things. Best of luck in your search.

  • Luke Boom

    Hi Vic,

    U seemed to have more than one Q…

    1) I want to work for Mc too, I once sent them a email and soon I received a “we are ###, but ***” letter. I wrote back as “I am sorry that I am not stupid enough to heartly believe that U r ###, but U know what, I will somehow someday become a consultant, and later I will be Ur colleague”. This is really stupid, and it is also for Ur last Q, confidence is important, but far from enough, as I am still not in Mc yet after one year full with confidence.

    2) I don’t know what Ur “technical” means, would U plz elaborate on what U did and learned? I have never been “workin’on technical side”.

    3) My personal opinion is, those with hands on experience on management are too expensive and too old to travel that much for becoming a consultant in consulting firms. I cannot agree more with Kevin, as campus hired consultant means less pay & more plasticity for the firms. However, the best way to get into a con firm is to be recommended by senior level consultants. After I receive Mc’ elegant rejecting letter, I found myself a intern position in a con firm mentioned in the artical above, and then I wrote letters to every senior level consultants I knew, I was lucky, so U see, confidence is really important, at least I realized my first half promise, I am a consultant now.

    And my friend, I can wish U nothing better than good luck in Ur search.

  • Luke Boom

    And sorry for several spelling mistakes, I just don’t figure out how to correct them.

    “An email” but not “a email”
    “Heartily” but not “heartly”
    “Received” rather than “receive”
    “Article” rather than “artical”


  • Vic

    I thank whole-heartedly both of U (Kevin and Luke)…

    But my ultimate aim is to get onto management side… Hope, one day I would see myself as a good business analyst in one of the top firms…
    But, people like me need more guidance from you and that helps a lot…
    I still have lot more Qs to get clarified and i’ll keep buzzing you :)

  • eddie

    You may have heard this question before…are there managment consulting firms that specialize in local or small regions? I am currently married, I wouldn’t mind traveling, but I live in NYC and I think the tri-state area is good enough travel for me. Are there mgmt consulting firms that do not travel as much or little, if at all?

  • Kevin

    Of course – that’s the entire purpose behind smaller boutiques.

    There are definitely consulting firms well known for their local/no-travel policy – Slalom Consulting has one of the better reputations among them.

  • Daniel

    The article is concise!
    thank you a million for your helpful introduction
    and I have a question for you: in a recession economy, what should we do to become a consultant in a top-tier consulting firm?

  • Kevin

    Of course, Daniel. Thanks for your readership.

    There’s no difference in a recession economy – I’d just encourage you to work even harder at it via the standard channels (eg, recruiting, networking, interviewing, etc).

  • Ananta

    Hi Luke,
    I have been following your site for quite some time and I would like you to know that yours is one most comprihensive, easy to understand and friendly consulting sites I’ve ever seen. Thank you very much for your efforts. There is something I would like to know, I am doing my BS in Information System Management at NYU. My career goal is to enter into the business and strategic consulting field. Right now, I want to enter into Information Technology consulting. Can you please point out few companies which could make this transition (from IT consulting to Strategic consulting) relatively easy? Also, can you please let me know what skill set I need to possess in order to enter the field of IT consulting and still avoid being one in the crowd? I know you must be really busy, but I will be really happy and grateful to you if you can be as specific as possible. Thanks.

  • Luke Boom

    Hi Ananta~
    Are U sure that U have been following MY site but not Kevin’s?
    I wonder how U find me here.

    For Ur Qs:
    1) Capgemini, Accenture, IBM GBS,etc
    2) Be a quick learner and work really hard with passion

  • Ananta

    Hi Luke,
    I am pretty much sure that it is your site that I am following. In fact, more I read your posts, more I am attracted towards your “The Consulting Bible.” Thanks for your answers.

  • Ananta

    oops, sorry I guess I got confused with the names :-(…. It keeps happening with me….

  • Luke Boom

    Well, it is Ok, at least U will learn two things:
    1 Don’t be confused with names any more, it’s disastrous in consulting;
    2 Don’t always be that pretty much sure about things…

    Good Luck~

  • Ananta

    LOL…. Thanks a lot… I’m sure that I’ve learnt my lesson(s)…….

  • Mohamed

    I’m an accomplished and successful professional in the field of brand building- brand strategy – marketing. I’ve worked all my career on the client side, in the best name in this field and I reached a director level. I’m now looking into moving to brand consulting. 1- What do you recommend as the best brand consulting firms, 2- what advise would you give me to succeed in my job hunt? will i need to sacrifice a lot on level in the organization/pay?

  • Olim

    Hi – just looking for opinions really. I’m UK based, am currently working in the public sector as a project manager, but have a wide range of experience in various fields – I’ve run my own small construction business, I’ve been an IT consultant and worked in the US and Europe, but never been particularly fulfilled with life as a techie, I’ve got a degree in English from a US university. I’m now completing an MBA and am seriously considering consulting for either a firm specialising SMEs or public sector and I think I look OK on paper. Only thing is – I’m 42. Is this too old? I also have a family too so don’t want to spend my time endlessly roaming the globe. Am I being realistic about getting anyone to hire me? Honest opinions please!

  • r

    what’s the difference beween general consulting and hr consulting?

  • smita

    I am a stay at home mom now since 4 yrs and had completed my masters in biomedical engg. before that. Now with not any work experience all these 4 yrs i would like to start over taking my masters deg. in account. I had interned during the Masters in my study field but that’s about it. I am ready for what it takes to be a Management Consultant but don’t know where to start. Need your suggestions on this.

  • Shimona Moodley


    Does the cfa designation hold any value in the management consulting field?


  • MG

    What is the average age of individuals joining management consulting firms after their MBA

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  • Brad Coble

    Your description above on this sit is exactly what I do on a daily basis.  I am looking to transition in the same role to another company.  But the issue I am having is my resume does not reflect this nor do the opportunities I see drive in this direction they start out that way then they go to the IT/Technical aspect that I do not have the experience in.  Can you help with that issue.

  • Brad Coble

    Your description above on this sit is exactly what I do on a daily basis.  I am looking to transition in the same role to another company.  But the issue I am having is my resume does not reflect this nor do the opportunities I see drive in this direction they start out that way then they go to the IT/Technical aspect that I do not have the experience in.  Can you help with that issue.

  • Denver Business Consulting

    Great article. Consulting is one of those terms that everyone thinks they understand, but that seems to mean different things to each. Some understand consulting to be anything but “implementation”, strictly limited to advice and guidance.

    I think you do a great job of showing just how varied consulting roles can be.



  • Joel A. Montilla


  • Tim Metelmann

    This is very interesting, I’m self-studying on what it means to become a management consultant. I’m deciding on doing a bachelors in business administration or in international business – from what I’ve read, you can even land a great job with only History as a major. I’m still fuzzy on that, however. 

    Any suggestions on which course would best suit this career pursue will be welcomed. Cheers from Manila, Tim Marcus Metelmann.

  • jennyrae

    Tim –

    Thanks for your note. History is an option, but usually not an intentional choice if you’re thinking of heading to consulting. Focus on something where you can build quant skills and something that will more likely lead to better internships…and either of your first 2 options are the best choices. Feel free to drop us a line via email…

    Jenny Rae

  • Thanks for this great website! You’ve included some great information for potential consultants, and you cleared up many of my questions.

    PS I can tell you practice the McKinsey “Up and Out” mentality, because you used to work for them, but now you have a great website that helps others work for them. Thanks again :)

  • Biertje002

    Hey .. I’m an licenced architect in Chicago with 16 over years of domestic and international experiences. The economy sucks as everyone knows and 50% of architects are unemployed i in the country. The salary for architects aren’t glamourous either. Hence, I’m looking to switch to a different field and am wondering how someone with a masters in architectural degree could fit into the “realm of management consultancy” … any thoughts.? What’s my next step if I were to pursue another masters in Mgmt consultancy…

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  • Mck

    First, learn how to use cap-lock correctly.

  • jennyrae

    It would be tough to answer your question without seeing your resume. Please use the Contact form above to shoot us an e-mail.

  • jennyrae

    We can help. Contact us directly by e-mail through the Contact form at the top of the page, and we can work with you from there. Thanks for commenting.

  • jennyrae

    Are you still on the journey to management consulting? Your request is what we are here for. Please e-mail us directly through our Contact form or purchase the Consulting Job Hunt which will provide you with a wealth of resources that will be helpful throughout the process of breaking into consulting, and it will enable you to be in communication with someone directly by e-mail and Skype to help create your plan.

  • jennyrae

    Thanks for your post, Blaine! We are happy to help, and we love what we do! Glad you’re enjoying the site.

  • jennyrae

    There are several other factors we would have to consider before advising you correctly. Can you send us a bit more of your educational and work background using the Contact Us form at the top of the page? We’d love to help.

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  • Archit


    Does IT consultant (working as Business Analyst in software companies like Infosys, TCS, NIIT) can move to the core Management consultancy role in companies like Mckinsey. Please through some light on this.

  • Jimhar.

    I have just returned from a 10 year stint in China and am eager to start a consulting business here in Canada. My wife is a Chinese business woman and very successful at that. I am just not sure how to get started. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

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