Discussion about careers in consulting

I recently facilitated a panel of guest speakers on the topic of “Careers in Consulting for All Majors”, with panelists from diverse academic backgrounds. One panelist majored in Psychology, another had degrees in Political Science & Law, and the third came from a Musical/Theater program. Yet, no matter their background, all of them landed into the world of consulting.

So, what is consulting?

Being a consultant means learning the ins and outs of running a business in an effective and profitable way. Regardless of your major, if you’re a creative problem-solver who is interested in different types of business models, then being a consultant might just be for you.  Consulting is a broad term that can have a variety of meanings depending on the industry. For example, you can work as a marketing consultant helping companies create and optimize their marketing campaigns or as a software consultant, designing software systems for an organization.

However, although the term has many applications, it’s generally used to refer to management or strategy consulting, the practice of helping companies increase their efficiency and profits by addressing the operational or strategic challenges they’re facing. The panelists that I spoke with came from local Seattle management consulting firms (The Spur Group & Point B), as well as a national fundraising and development consulting firm (Campbell & Company).

What do consultants do?

Consulting roles can vary greatly depending on the type of consulting firm you work for and the companies you work with. For example, if you work for one of the large management consulting companies (such as McKinsey or Deloitte) you’ll be following a fairly structured career path, starting off as a junior consultant and eventually moving up to a senior consultant role. At smaller consulting or boutique firms, you’ll generally focus on a particular industry from the beginning (such as healthcare, technology, or fundraising) and work exclusively within that industry. The panelists from The Spur Group discussed how they are usually assigned a project to work on at first, but if you develop skills and interest in a particular industry, then you can request to work on those projects in particular.

What are some of the benefits of working in consulting?

One of the main benefits of being a consultant is having the opportunity to learn about multiple industries and business models. A career in consulting allows you to gain an ability to quickly spot operational and managerial problems and come up with creative solutions to solve them. And although travel can be a challenging part of the job, it can also be an exciting one, giving you the opportunity to see new parts of the country. Consulting will also improve your public speaking skills, teaching you how to build impressive presentations and communicate your point effectively to any type of audience.

What advice did the panelists have for undergraduate students?

A lot of the discussion was based around gaining experience in project management and creative problem solving. As a student, you have a lot of opportunities across campus to get involved and gain that experience – consider joining a case competition or innovation challenge, or perhaps taking on a leadership role within your student organization. The panelists also talked about the importance of understanding how businesses work, but that you don’t need to be a Business major to do that. Think about reading more industry related books and magazines, attending networking events with business leaders, or applying to the Entrepreneurship minor.

At the end of the day, consulting can be a challenging field, but it’s also an exciting one that presents many opportunities.  If you want to learn more about how to start a career in consulting, I suggest reaching out to UW alumni who are currently consultants and conducting an informational interview – you can find and reach out to alumni through the LinkedIn Alumni Search Tool.

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By Alison McCarty
Alison McCarty Assistant Director & Career Coach Alison McCarty