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Why is consulting so popular?

A look at skills gained in consulting, why it appeals to young alumni

<p>Each year, a large percentage of the University's graduates get job offers in consulting, a field that is broken down by financial consulting, technological consulting and management and litigation consulting.</p>

Each year, a large percentage of the University's graduates get job offers in consulting, a field that is broken down by financial consulting, technological consulting and management and litigation consulting.

With job recruitment season fully underway, many of the University’s fourth-year students are looking to secure offers before they receive their degrees in the spring. Each year, consulting jobs remain a popular career option for recent graduates and attract a large percentage of students regardless of their school or major.

The value of consulting

In its most basic form, consulting involves providing businesses with third-party advice on how to solve problems. Jennifer Harvey, associate director of the Business Career Community in the Career Center, said consultants help businesses with their toughest challenges.

“[Consultation] could range from developing a new strategy to entering a new market,” Harvey said.

Though the field of consulting is an extremely broad one, there are many subfields within consulting, such as medicine, management, litigation, engineering and technology.

“There’s a very wide range of consulting firms,” Commerce Prof. Robert Kemp said. “A firm’s specialty depends on its expertise.”

Economics Prof. Kenneth Elzinga said he often draws a specific distinction between management and litigation consulting for his students and advisees.

“In [management consulting], a company has a question. For example, should my firm diversify into a new product line or begin selling in a new geographic market,” Elzinga said in an email statement. “A management consulting firm will be brought in to address that question. In the case of litigation consulting, often a firm has a regulatory or legal problem — or seeks to avoid such a problem — and will enlist a consulting firm to analyze the economics behind the regulations or the lawsuit.”

While consulting has been an attractive option for students over the past few decades, Kemp said the problems companies face are increasing in complexity as technology and business strategy continue to develop.

“The world is changing so fast,” Kemp said. “I think firms really need that objective and unbiased help more often today than they used to.”

Harvey said many students see consulting as a great way to start their career.

“It creates access to a lot of different industries, a lot of different business functions,” Harvey said. “So if you’re looking to explore and have a diverse experience during your first year in the work force, it’s a really great way to do that.”

Additionally, consulting provides employees with opportunities to further develop their critical thinking skills.

“The presentation skills, the working with clients [and] the professional competency that you gain provide a great foundation for your career,” Harvey said.

In order to succeed in consulting, Elzinga said it is important to have strong analytical skills.

Consulting requires “in many cases, strong quantitative abilities; the ability to write coherently; a willingness to work in teams and share the credit for your work with others,” Elzinga said.

Once one has risen through the ranks, consulting requires a talent in presenting analysis in a way that persuades the client “that you and your team have thoroughly understood a problem and came up with the optimal solution,” Elzinga said.

Popularity among recent graduates

Based on numbers from Handshake, the Career Center’s online portal for student employment, 1,100 students expressed interest in working in management consulting after they graduate. Additionally, 685 students expressed interest in technical consulting.

Elzinga said there are several different reasons why consulting is so popular among recent graduates.

“[T]he pay is attractive; the work is intellectually challenging, and the work often is done in small teams who are assembled by the consulting firm and assigned to address the problem,” he said.

Kemp emphasized consulting as a natural fit for recent graduates.

“What you want in a career is a simple goal: to be happy,” Kemp said. “What you don’t want to do is get too narrow too quick. I tell students to look for a very broad based opportunity that will give you the chance to really examine yourself. Consulting is one of those wonderful opportunities.”

Within the College, Harvey said of those who have indicated they are employed, 17 percent indicated they are employed in the consulting industry.

According to the Commerce School’s 2015 destinations report, 18 percent of graduates with a Bachelor of Science in Commerce employed in a service industry were employed by consulting firms. Their average base salary was $70,900 with an average signing bonus of $8,466.

Preparation at the University

The Commerce School provides students with knowledge to go into fields such as financial services, management and consulting. Kemp said the Commerce School effectively prepares students for employment in any of these areas after graduation.

“It gives students that foundation to look at the world critically from a value-maximizing perspective,” Kemp said. “We do a lot of casework, we do a lot of hands-on experiential learning. There’s not a better classroom than today’s world.”

While the majority of the University’s students who enter consulting are Commerce students, this background is not necessary. Harvey suggests consulting firms often look for a liberal arts background, though the Commerce school and the Engineering school provide students with crucial technological and analytical skills.

The Career Center also provides students with skills necessary to succeed in consulting. This help comes primarily in the form of industry-specific counselors in fields such as engineering, science and technology as well as creative arts, media and design.

“[Counselors] are responsible for developing programs that better prepare students for these particular industries,” Harvey said.

One of the largest events put on by the Career Center is the Consulting Symposium, which takes place at the beginning of every fall semester.

“The purpose of the symposium is to bring students together to learn about the industry of consulting,” Harvey said. “Also, it gives students some opportunity to learn more about the recruitment process for a lot of firms.”

This year, Harvey said 513 students expressed interest in the event and approximately 270 students attended. In addition, 12 different consulting firms came to the University for the event.


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