Consulting as a Career, or as a Springboard to a Career?

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Three seemingly unrelated events occurred last week.

Firstly, the Global HR Director for a major consulting Firm posed the following question:

We have traditionally been able to attract high quality candidates by being able to offer a Consulting career comprising varied engagements, a steep learning curve, early access to top Clients, the ‘glamour’ of travel and ‘exotic’ locations. The pandemic means that they are now more likely to spend a year at their laptop, on a remote engagement, for a Client they’ll never meet with colleagues they’ve never met. How do we now ’sell’ Consulting as a career? (The observant among you will notice the classic SCQ construction – she knows our training well!)

Secondly, I was discussing with one of my ‘coachees’ the pros and cons of an MBA – she was considering a ‘good’ US school but was a little shocked at the cost c$175,000 she said (so was I!).

Thirdly, we have been discussing how Openside can further support the Chartered Management Consultant (ChMC) qualification with the CMI/MCA (we have had the privilege of being involved since its inception). The Chartered Management Consultant award is an initiative intended to formalise, accredit and quality assure the individuals, and thereby the Firms, in the profession – essentially the ‘kite mark’ of quality. Participating Firms have their training programmes ‘mapped’ to the rigorous standards and competencies of the CMI, ensuring a consistency and quality across the profession.

In attempting to answer the question ‘How do we now ‘sell’ a consulting career?’ it occurred to me that the three events are linked. In conversation with the more junior participants on our programmes from big brand Firms, I’m struck by how many of them aren’t really considering a ‘career’ in Consulting. Initially their aim seems to be ’three years, get good experience and training, a good brand on my CV, then look for a proper job’. Additionally, a ‘good’ MBA is becoming beyond the reach financially for the majority.

If that’s the case, I wonder if one approach Firms might take to ‘selling’ a Consulting career is to offer candidates a clear and structured development path, equipping them for both a future in Consulting or in the general business world? Firms might also position the route to ChMC award as an alternative to an MBA – cost free, more practical and experience based, less theoretical (although still with a rigorous and ‘quality assessed’ training path) and on completion giving graduates the choice either to pursue a full Consulting career or to enter the job market with a globally recognised qualification, combining both formal training and ‘hands-on’ experience.

The traditional benefits cited for an MBA, apart from the ‘learning’, are the opportunity to get to know, work and learn with high achieving smart colleagues, along with the boost to your network that those relationships later bring. With a formal development structure, allied to a globally recognised qualification, Consulting Firms could offer the same benefits – a viable alternative to an MBA as a pre-requisite for the aspiring business leaders of the future.

Openside have delivered cognitive and behavioural skills training to Management Consulting Firms worldwide for over 30 years, during which time we have seen multiple in-house training programmes, ranging from ‘outstanding’ to ’non-existent’. The rigorous and comprehensive ‘mapping’ process that Firms will now need to undertake in order for their training to achieve approved ChMC status gives candidates assurance of their future development, could be a key factor in their final decision, and a key differentiator for the Firm. The MCA and CMI have worked long and hard to establish ChMC, and we at Openside are proud that a number of our modules have already formed part of approved ChMC programmes.

There’s no doubt that Consulting as a career will look very different in the future – and actually the travel and locations were rarely if ever ‘glamorous’ or ‘exotic’. The formalising of a career path with a development programme linked to a professional qualification is long overdue, and might be a response to the candidates’ questions – Why this? Why me? Why now? – and to my Global HR Director.