Written by Doug Wintemute


Management consultants help organizations run more efficiently and effectively. They work in a variety of industries, including technical services, finance, and government. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the profession's median annual salary more than doubles the national median for all occupations. Moreover, the BLS projects jobs for managements consultants to grow 14% between 2018-2028.

To become management consultants, candidates usually need a combination of education and experience. Most employers require applicants to hold a bachelor's degree at minimum. However, many employers prefer a master's degree, like an MBA, which demonstrates applicants' advanced training and experience. This guide covers important information for anyone considering a management consultant career, including common requirements and answers to frequently asked questions.

What Does a Management Consultant Do?

Management consultants help organizations optimize their operations. These professionals may assess their clients' processes, staff, and financial records to diagnose underlying issues. They then recommend new systems, strategies, and operational alternatives to improve clients' businesses and profits.

While many management consultants specialize in one industry, others move between industries and apply their knowledge of best management practices and effective operations generally. They usually interact with management personnel, providing solutions and suggestions directly to them, but they may also interview employees for information, work with production professionals to implement solutions, or coordinate with administrators to gather information, like financial data.

The consulting field offers plenty of movement and growth for professionals who develop their skills through training and experience. Consultants may seek out specialized certification or advanced degrees to improve their credentials. In time, they may develop and manage their own consulting teams or take on more permanent management roles with their organizations.

The field attracts leaders from all industries and professions. Despite facing strict deadlines and pressure to help organizations in critical states, management consulting offers enormous potential for those well-suited for the field. People who can problem-solve and effectively communicate their solutions often find great success in this career.

Key Soft Skills for Management Consultants
  • Communication: Communication skills enable consultants to understand client issues and concerns and suggest possible solutions clearly and concisely.
  • Time Management: Skills in time management allow consultants to limit job-related stress by setting accurate deadlines for jobs, handling tasks efficiently, and staying on schedule.
  • Problem-solving: When faced with unique and complex problems, management consultants need to think creatively to arrive at realistic, lasting solutions.
  • Interpersonal: Management consultants work with many different types of people. They need strong interpersonal skills to empathize and communicate with clients and provide earnest support.
Key Hard Skills for Management Consultants
  • Leadership: Leadership skills help consultants suggest managerial improvements, employ training strategies, and implement new processes.
  • Technology Skills: Management consultants use many types of software and technology in their jobs. They may need skills in web platforms, development environment software, and enterprise resource-planning software.
  • Psychology: Understanding human psychology and behavior can help consultants better assess and evaluate performance issues, individual abilities, and motivation techniques within their clients' organizations.
  • Management: Consultants need a strong grasp on the specific management principles and processes required by each client and industry. They must understand resource allocation, budgets, and operational strategies to provide optimal solutions.

A Day in the Life of a Management Consultant

Management consultants enjoy flexible, changing careers. They work with new clients and industries and face unique challenges with each one. However, their daily duties remain generally consistent. These professionals must gather and evaluate information, look for and suggest improved ways of doing business, and implement and assess changes. The following list explores these day-to-day activities in more detail.

    Typical Management Consultant Daily Tasks

  • Collect information about a client's organization, including operations, finances, and logistics.
  • Speak with managers and staff members to better understand the methods and equipment used.
  • Analyze all relevant records, such as financial documents and employment records
  • Identify inefficiencies and problem areas.
  • Research and develop possible solutions and alternative practices.
  • Speak with management to present or discuss these new measures.
  • Suggest or help with implementation of processes and training.
  • Check in with past clients to track and measure their successes.

Professional Spotlight

Daniel Feiman

builditbackwards.com

Daniel Feiman, MBA is the founder and managing director of Build It Backwards, a consulting and training firm based in Redondo Beach, California. He consults in three areas: strategy (planning and implementation), leadership (development and coaching), and STEP (succession, transition and exit planning). He was previously adjunct faculty at the UC Los Angeles extension department and a visiting professor at the University of Huddersfield business school.

Why did you become a management consultant?
I left commercial banking in 1996 to make a real difference with clients I didn’t feel I could as a banker. Management consulting afforded me the best opportunity to do so.
What initially interested you about the role?
I fell into management consulting almost as a default when I started my practice. It seemed the logical use of my skills, interests, and connections. Thank goodness things grew from there.
What does your typical workday look like?
The short version is: I check my calendar at the end of each day to prepare for the next. Unless I am working directly with a client in the morning, I start the day by checking emails, of course. Who needs me and for what? Then I go to the office, read, write, and research. Call clients, prospects, and referral sources. Build presentations and create material for upcoming consulting engagements.
What are some of the most rewarding aspects of working in management consulting?
For me, the most rewarding part of management consulting is when a client has an "a-ha" moment. You know, when they really see that what we are doing together is making a difference -- a sustainable, permanent difference in the organization.
Some of the most challenging aspects?
Probably the most challenging time is when a client says and does all the right things during an engagement but then immediately goes back to their old habits of putting out fires instead of preventing them after I have walked out. All the work for naught.
Why did you decide to pursue an MBA?
Honestly, I was working in commercial banking with a degree in sociology. I didn’t see that helping my career over time, so I looked at my options. The best alternative for me at the time was to pursue an MBA. I checked out all the top universities in the area, and Pepperdine was the only one that had a schedule I could fit into mine, so I took the GMAT and applied.
How did your MBA prepare you for your current career?
My MBA taught me several things I should have learned earlier in my career, such as the benefit of collaboration on client projects; how to effectively research and write valuable material; how to market better; and how to look at an organization from a systems approach to assess their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats before crafting an action plan.
In your estimation, how important are additional certifications?
I learned a while ago to get paid for what you know, not what you do. Additional credentials [like my CMC (certified management consultant)] demonstrate to prospects, clients, and referral sources that you have gone above and beyond your competition to bring added value to them. They make a difference in my approach, skill set, as well as my knowledge.
What was your career path that led you to this position?
From factory worker (in undergraduate school) to marketing positions with national firms to commercial banking to management consulting. Not a direct path by any means; however, the diversity of experience helped prepare me to deal with the wide range of opportunities the marketplace provides.
What do you think helped you most on your journey to become a management consultant?
My desire to get off the treadmill of the ordinary in order to make an extraordinary difference to clients. Couple this with my late-blooming entrepreneurial zeal, passion for continuous learning, as well as my creativity, and you have the formula for a management consultant.
What advice would you give to students considering pursuing careers as management consultants?
I would start by asking yourself, “What do I want to do for the next 10 years?”, “Do I have the tools, perseverance, energy, creativity, and drive to be an independent agent for change?”, “Can I accurately and objectively assess what is working and not working in an organization?”, “Am I willing to continually learn and apply new techniques?”, and “Can I go into an organization, look the leadership team in the eye, and tactfully explain what needs to be done, with what resources, by when, to what positive results, and at what price?” If you can answer enthusiastically "yes" to these questions, you’re ready to begin.

Management Consultant Salary and Career Outlook

Management consultants enjoy attractive salaries and ample job opportunities. According to BLS occupational data, the top 10% of professionals in this field earn more than $150,000 annually. The BLS also projects jobs for these professionals to grow 14% between 2018-2028. As competition intensifies in many industries, demand should remain high for management consultants, particularly in information technology, healthcare, and the government.

In addition to projected growth, aspiring management consultants should also anticipate change. As industries, organizations, and processes evolve and refine, consultants must stay abreast of those changes to succeed. This evolution should lead to an increase in new positions and opportunities for those on the cutting edge. Read on for more information regarding salary expectations and growth potential for management consultants.

Salary Expectations for Management Consultants

Many professionals share the "management consultant" job title, but their roles and responsibilities often differ considerably, which can dictate their earning potential. Employees' credentials can also influence earnings, with master's graduates typically earning more than bachelor's graduates. Location and industry play a large role in potential earnings, as well. For instance, some employers, like government organizations, face tighter budget restrictions than others.

Because management consultants need a great deal of expertise, more experienced professionals tend to earn higher salaries. The following graphic illustrates how experience can impact earnings in this career.

Average Annual Salary of Management Consultants by Experience, 2020

Source: PayScale

Next Steps on the Career Path

Management consultants may spend their entire career consulting for individuals or companies, or they can pursue other management roles. For example, top executive and financial management roles represent two potential career options for management consultants.

According to BLS employment data, top executives perform much of the same work as management consultants, but from within one organization. To qualify for these roles, management consultants typically need several years of experience. Some employers may also require a master's degree. These professionals make median annual wages exceeding $100,000.

For management consultants with more than five years' experience and the ability to help organizations meet financial goals, the financial manager profession offers an attractive option. According to BLS occupational data, financial managers earn a median annual salary approaching $130,000. The field is also projected to grow faster than management consulting.

Where Can I Work as a Management Consultant?

Job location and industry affect management consultants' functions, responsibilities, earning potential, and available opportunities.

Locations

In management consulting, location plays a significant role in determining wages. Typically, cities and urban centers pay higher wages in response to higher costs of living. These city centers also tend to host more opportunities, because the more densely populated areas have more businesses.

Certain states may also pay more or offer more positions overall because they host a high concentration of specific industries. The following tables examine the country's highest-paying states and states that employ the most management consultants.

Annual Mean Wage by State for Management Analysts, 2019
Top-Paying States Annual Mean Wage

New York $112,280
Massachusetts $110,390
District of Columbia $107,000
New Jersey $106,380
Connecticut $105,480
Source: BLS
States with the Highest Employment Level of Management Analysts, 2019
Top-Employing States Number of Management Analysts Employed
California 103,970
New York 53,370
Florida 48,910
Virginia 47,320
Texas 39,880
Source: BLS

Settings

Similar to location, job sectors and industries affect wages and opportunities. In some cases, wages and opportunities relate to each other, with industries employing fewer management consultants also paying higher wages because these professionals carry more responsibility. The following tables illustrate which industries pay management consultants the most and offer the most positions.

Annual Mean Wage by Industry for Management Analysts, 2019
Top-Paying Industries Annual Mean Wage

Other Personal Services

$152,530
Independent Artists, Writers, and Performers $150,680
Residential Building Construction

$130,490
Highway, Street, and Bridge Construction $127,500
Source: BLS
Industries with the Highest Employment Level of Management Analysts, 2019
Top-Employing Industries Number of Management Consultants Employed
Management, Scientific, and Technical Consulting Services 171,220
Federal Executive Branch 60,760
State Government, Excluding Schools and Hospitals 50,100
Computer Systems Design and Related Services 47,000
Source: BLS

How to Become a Management Consultant

Becoming a management consultant requires dedication and training. Generally, candidates need bachelor's degrees at minimum. Depending on their industry, they may also need specific training in information technology, finance, human resources, or another area.

Management consultants need extensive experience, as well. Qualified candidates usually possess several years of experience in a specific industry. Leadership experience is ideal, but exposure to sales, finance, operations, human resources, or logistics can also help management consultants advance their careers.

Even after acquiring management consultant positions, professionals should keep updating their skills through continued training.

The Management Consultant Job Hunt

Aspiring management consultants may find work through traditional means, such as job fairs, professional organizations, and networking events. Many employers use their staff networks to find qualified consultants, as well.

Candidates can also use online job boards available through Indeed, LinkedIn, Glassdoor, and Google job search. These sites allow applicants to sort by job and industry and set notifications for new postings.

For more focused job searches, candidates can use industry- and job-specific resources. The following organizations curate job opportunities for management consultants.

Management Consultant Requirements

Each employer sets its own requirements for management consultants. Many look for experience and records of success, while others seek education, credentials, or all of the above. The following sections examine potential career requirements in more detail.

Education Requirements for Management Consultants

Required education for management consultants varies by employer. For most employers, bachelor's degrees satisfy minimum educational requirements. Some employers may accept degrees from other disciplines, especially when combined with experience, but business-related degrees offer the most solid foundation for the field.

Some employers look for candidates with specialized training. This training may relate to management consulting or focus more on a specific discipline or field, such as computer science, human resources, or finance. Concentrated learning can provide a competitive advantage for consultants in certain industries.

As the competition in the field increases, minimum education requirements increase, as well, increasing demand for candidates with master's degrees. An MBA, for example, delivers an advanced business education and practical training. MBAs often allow students to declare concentrations, as well, such as MBAs in management and MBAs in consulting.

License and Certification Requirements for Management Consultants

Management consultants do not need certifications, but these credentials can improve candidates' employability. Professionals looking to complement their training and develop their careers often benefit from industry certifications.

The certified management consultant designation from The International Council of Management Consulting Institutes (CMC-Global) and the certified management consultant credential from IMC USA represent two of the most popular certification options for management consultants. These certifications demonstrate specialized expertise to clients and employers.

Required Experience for Management Consultants

Most management consultants need a certain level of experience, which may come from any of several areas. For example, consultants may come from backgrounds in sales, human resources, marketing, insurance, information technology, or government.

Though experience requirements differ between employers, most candidates possess at least five years of relevant experience before becoming consultants. Some may fast-track this process by obtaining an advanced degree, like an MBA. Master's degrees provide highly specialized knowledge and skills and practical training. For some employers, an MBA replaces the need for professional experience or reduces minimum experience requirements.

Resources

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does it take to become a management consultant?
Most management consultants possess a four-year bachelor's degree and at least five years of professional experience. Consultants with two-year MBAs may need less experience, but the overall time investment remains about the same.
What degree is needed to be a management consultant?
Most employers require management consultants to hold bachelor's degrees at minimum, but some seek candidates with master's degrees.
Do I need a master's to become a management consultant?
Not all employers require candidates to hold master's degrees, but many organizations -- especially larger, more reputable ones -- may mandate MBAs or other relevant advanced degrees.
How much does a management consultant make?
Salary expectations vary depending on a range of factors, but the median annual wage for management consultants is $85,260, according to BLS employment data.
What requirements are there to become a management consultant?
Most management consultants hold bachelor's or master's degrees, plus several years of experience. Some employers may require applicants to complete industry certifications, as well.
Who are the biggest management consultant companies?
The country's largest management consulting firms include Accenture Consulting, Capgemini Consulting, Deloitte Consulting, and PricewaterhouseCoopers Advisory.

Professional Organizations for Management Consultants

Additional Reading

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