Most Business School students have at least once in their academic curriculum considered a career in consulting. Indeed, we often hear all about the benefits of such a profession, but what does it take to pursue a career in consulting? Students’ knowledge of consulting (the career, the recruitment process, the selection, etc) is based on received ideas and myths but are they true? With the aim of understanding this misconception of consulting careers, we decided to interview Marie Pommier, a young working woman who knows the consulting sector very well. Before recently joining a consulting firm, she was a head-hunter specialised in strategy consultant profiles.
Myth 1: Consulting is a Man’s world
In spite of the prejudices, there are as many women as men, if not more, at the bottom of the pyramid in consulting. At the junior level, both genders are equally represented. Nevertheless, ratios are rapidly reversing when climbing the ladder. From the rank of manager and onwards, the workforce becomes increasingly male. At the level of Partner, women are particularly rare (15% in Paris).
Why? Unfortunately, women are still more likely than men to quit their consultant activity after having children. After thirty, a noticeable gap appears in the consulting world since the life balance is not ideal and many women prefer to find a less demanding profession to spend more time with their children.
Women, it is your time to shine. Well aware of this problem of parity and the criticisms affiliated to it, consulting firms are fighting back. A wide range of measures have been taken to favour the integration and the thriving of female employees, especially across the recruitment process. Actually, nowadays, it can even be “an advantage” to be a woman if you want to apply for a job in consulting.
As a head-hunter, Marie Pommier has observed some positive discriminatory behaviour towards female applicants: “In consulting, firms are very picky in terms of schools but I have sometimes seen women from EMLyon or EDHEC being interviewed, while their qualifications and diploma were not supposed to fit the firm they were interviewing for.”
Also, the most prestigious advisory firms take concrete actions to retain their talents. These include long maternity leave and flexible hours for new moms (McKinsey), in-house nurseries (Kea Partners), training to vanquish timidity in meetings (BCG), not to mention the numerous women's professional networks and sponsorships.
With the growing empowerment of women in today’s society, consultancies are implementing solutions to keep women in higher positions. This is particularly true in big consultancies. But does it mean it is better to choose a big consulting company today to start a career?
Myth 2: It’s always better to choose the biggest and most prestigious firm to start a career
“Choosing one on the big four companies or one of the top strategic consulting firms like BCG, McKinsey, Bain Company is for sure a great starting point in your career,” explains Marie Pommier. These big firms will open the doors to a great career and any jobs you seek if you consider to leave consulting later on in your career. They will allow you to build a great expertise and a great network.
However, big firms are not the only entry to a successful career in consulting. Indeed, before choosing your consultancy you should answer all of these questions first and Marie Pommier insisted a lot on that during the interview. Do you want a big name on your resume even if it means being an anonymous person in a big firm? Do want to acquire a specific expertise in one field in particular? A great methodology? Do you prefer to have a privileged relationship with your manager and your client? If you are looking for a strong methodology and a name on your CV, then go for a big company. However, if you want to specialize early on or if you cherish the client/consultant relationship, then you may want to look at smaller consulting firms, also known as a “boutiques”.
Your wellbeing in the firm will determine your involvement, your progress and then your career. Asking all the right questions at the beginning of the recruitment process will definitely help you find the consultancy firm that best suits you.
You may reply that, indeed these criteria do count a lot but they are not the only elements to take into consideration… School also matters greatly when it comes to consulting. Well let us see that now.
Myth 3: School matters
True, this statement is clearly not a myth when it comes to consulting and it turns out to be undeniable, regarding our talk with Marie Pommier.
As head-hunter, she always had a specific grid while screening profiles, stating what schools were acceptable or not depending on her clients in consulting.
BCG, McKinsey, Bain & Co, etc... only acknowledge alumni from the top 3 French business and engineering schools: HEC, ESSEC, ESCP, Polytechnique, Les Mines and Centrale Paris.
On top of that, management consultancies, who do accept people from more various backgrounds (meaning the top 10 maybe and not less), have fixed salary grids depending on where you graduated from!
But why? Why can’t someone from a "lower" school try the recruiting assessment with people from Parisian Schools? As Marie Pommier said, “an HEC student is not necessarily cleverer than someone from Edhec,” but the clients from these big firms only come from top schools and they are more confident when their consultants do too!
Myths always feed one part of the truth but they need to be qualified. Yes, women leave consulting earlier than men and yes, a big firm and a prestigious school will eventually boost your career, but at least now you know everything and you can make up your own mind.
Your career in consulting will first depend on you, on your motivation and determination.