Consulting: a common, but varied path

Second-most common post-graduate industry, high-turnover and heterogenous experience

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Cavalier Daily

In 2013, 10 percent of College undergraduates went into Consulting Services — the second most popular industry for students according to the University Career Services First Destinations Report, a report based on survey data of undergraduate plans upon graduation.

David Lapinski, UCS director of employer relations, described consulting as a “catch-all” for University undergraduates, attracting students from all schools and areas of study. Part of its broad appeal is its broad definition, he said.

Consulting firms solve problems for their clients, a wide-range of organizations and companies, suggesting solutions and ways to make their processes more efficient. New consultants, hired out of college, work in teams on short-term projects for several months to a year. Underneath the umbrella of consulting exist many different forms, from federal and commercial consulting to more “boutique shops,” such as education consulting, Lapinski said.

“Consulting is a very open term — … any thing you can think of where there is a problem that needs to be fixed, then there is an area of consulting around it,” he said.

The 2013 University data is consistent with the reporting of other university career centers. According to the Harvard Crimson, the between 8 and 11 percent of Harvard University graduates enter the consulting field following graduation.

Similarly, 11 percent of 2013 Georgetown University graduates entered consulting firms — making it the second most popular route for post-graduate employment — according to a Georgetown University Survey.

Early Recruiting

Consulting companies start recruiting early in the fall semester, often through the Career Services Center. Firms have what Lapinski called a “planned hiring model.”

“They have the money and the resources, the time to come to Grounds and actively recruit University students,” Lapinski said.

The model comes out of necessity, Lapinski said. Consulting firms advertise their associate consultant positions as low-commitment, and often expect young associates to transition, whether to another industry or to graduate school, after about two to four years. Bain, one of the “Big Three” consulting firms, next to Boston Consulting Group and McKinsey & Company, calls itself as “a career accelerator.”

“The experience, exposure and learnings you will gain in a short amount of time will prove invaluable — just two or three years at Bain will open doors that others could not even fathom,” the website reads.

But a constant cycling of new employees requires constant recruiting.

“These firms know they are going to hire people for two, three, four years and then those people are going to move on, … so they have to constantly backfill,” Lapinski said.

By coming to Grounds so early in the year, consulting companies present an enticing option for fourth-year students worried about employment, said Global Studies Program Director Richard Handler, a former associate dean of Undergraduate Programs for the College.

“For fourth-year students, it’s a hard time for them, and they don’t know what to do," he said. "The fact that you have corporate recruiters early in the year offering them a well paying job, that’s seductive."

Lapinski said he understands the pressure students feel to obtain secure employment.

“A lot of students will just take the [job] that’s in front of them, and I can’t blame them,” Lapinski said. “I’m a risk-averse person as well.”

Several students said finding job security early during fourth year is important.

“You hit a little bit of a panic [in fourth-year fall], and when [these] great options present themselves and make themselves very attractive, it’s hard to say no to something like that,” fourth-year Batten student Paige McDermott said.

Consulting firms are seen as a stepping stone into a myriad of career paths, and, in addition to job security, offer training, exposure and a network to many different industries.

“We spend about $10,000 annually per consultant on training and coaching,” reads a Boston Consulting Group brochure.

Long-term Plans

Fourth-year Commerce student Kylie Philbin, who has accepted an offer with the Boston Consulting Group as an associate consultant in management consulting, said her new job will help her “build a tool kit” she can use in the long term.

“Down the road, there is the possibility of me taking what I’ve learned and ... making a real impact at a non-profit,” Philbin said.

McDermott, who has accepted an offer in Deloitte’s Federal Strategy and Operations unit for next year, shares a similar goal.

“Ultimately I’d love to either work in international development or the non-profit," she said. "[Consulting] is a gateway to develop skills that might end up being really helpful in the non-profit sector.”

Kevin Pujanauski, a 2012 College graduate, worked in management consulting at McKinsey & Company as a business analyst before transitioning to the social venture Jail Education Solutions as vice president of business development. Pujanauski said transitioning from consulting to the social sector is “a viable path.”

“[Working in consulting] is an advantage," he said "It helps separate you from a lot of people interested [in] SCR [Social Corporate Responsibility].”

Costs & Benefits of Consulting

Starting salaries for associate consultants also offer a large incentive, Career Peer Educator Chair Molly Cudahy said.

“[Right out of college] it pays more than a lot of other full-time positions,” Cudahy said.

Starting salaries are not commonly in the public domain, but according to self-reported data on Glass Door, starting salaries for well-known consulting firms range from $70,000 to $90,000.

Consulting firms market a simulating, dynamic work environment to students.

Batten Graduate student Kurt Lockhart, who has an offer for federal consulting from Deloitte, said he was attracted to consulting for the “dynamic” setting, which “allows smart people to interact with other smart people.”

“You are not doing the same thing every day,” Lockhart said.

Philbin echoed similar sentiments.

“I was looking for a job that was going to challenge me,” she said.

Charley Adams, a 2012 College graduate who works as strategy and operations consultant at Deloitte, described his job as “a really good place to start my career.” Adams cautioned against tales of the industry’s grandeur.

“It’s not always the dream job it’s made it out to be,” he said.

Consultants are usually strictly confined to an advisory role. Pujanauski said a reason he transitioned out of consulting was to have more control.

“I was itching to be more in drivers’ seat, and less advising someone else,” Pujanauski said.

Anahi Einhorn, a 2012 Commerce graduate, who works in educational consulting at Accenture, recommended interested students speak with those currently employed in consulting, in addition to recruiters, to see the full picture.

“Talk to people who are in the industry so you can really understand what it’s like day to day, not just what the company presents when they are recruiting,” Einhorn said.

No Clear Path

For Pujanauski, consulting’s open-endedness is the job’s main drawback. Consulting offers a safe option, but little inspiration.

“[Consulting firms] give people a clear thing to latch onto and then they can kick the can down the road on what they really want to do with their lives,” Pujanauski said. “They are putting the decision off rather than reflecting on what they actually want.”

Pemberton Heath, a 2012 College graduate who taught at the St. Andrew's School in Delaware, said consulting is not the only path graduates can take if they are searching for freedom, flexibility and security.

“There are a lot of ways outside of consulting to spend two, three, five years productively learning about how you want to structure your career,” Heath said in an email.

Heath said consulting offers “highly useful and standardized skill set.” But she questioned whether consulting was the only way to receive post-graduate training.

“Taking other paths doesn't necessarily come with the same well-branded skill set, but that does not mean you won't be getting worthwhile experience and training,” she said.

Consulting firms may nevertheless present a tempting offer to students who remain uncertain about their career paths.

“You are not really making a decision," McDermott said. "You are just continuing to learn in a different environment.”

The flexibility of the job may be what University graduates are searching for as they prepare to enter the working world.

“It’s … a job that doesn’t silo you into one specific career for the rest of your life,” Lockhart said.

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