Business Consulting for Beginners

Mark is from the UK and asked for my advice about getting into business consulting. He’s 24 years old, is completing a Master’s in International Relations and has some work experience teaching in Asia.

My own suggestion would be that when you lack experience in consulting, your should first try working for a larger organisation. With a Master’s degree you might qualify for entry-level work with one of the larger consultancies (e.g. PwC, Ernst & Young) . These are great places to learn from others and in larger companies you’ll see all aspects of business and management. These companies also offer training and development. Another option, especially for Canadians, is the Public Service, which is looking to rejuvenate its workforce and has a Post-secondary recruitment campaign,.

Two blogs that I would recommend are:

Brazen Careerist

Consultant Journal

Any other suggestions? [Mark – feel free to join in]

10 Responses to “Business Consulting for Beginners”

  1. Christopher Mackay

    With a Master’s degree you might qualify for entry-level work…

    If this statement, which I’m in no position to disagree with, isn’t indicative of larger, societal issues, I don’t know what is.

  2. Tim Davies

    It it’s the process, rather than the big money of business consulting that’s the attraction – then I would look out for opportunities to work in a consulting/project management role in the UK voluntary sector.

    Whether it’s taking on the 1/2 time six-month contracts delivering small projects, or getting on the associate consultant lists of as many community development agencies as possible – there are a surprising number of ‘third sector’ consultancy opportunities. People may not specify that they want a ‘business consultant’ – but business consultancy of a sort is certainly what is needed, and what you’ll find opportunities to provide.

    In working on a range of work across the third sector I’ve found many opportunities to build contacts that could lead to a jump into wider business consultancy… but, when the opportunities have arisen, I’ve found the voluntary sector is really where I can find the most interesting projects.

    Coming from the other angle: I’d personally avoid the big consultancies at all cost. The incentive structures, work patterns and lifestyle they build don’t make it easy to ‘get out’ and get into work you really want to do later on. They may offer an easy route for the graduate – but from watching the experience of my peers I’m not sure it’s either the best route for the long term, or the most rewarding in the short term…

  3. Gilbert Babin

    There are some good books on the subject.

    Also some good books on how to start a consulting business.

    Probably good to study Consulting Ethics a bit.

  4. Karyn Romeis

    I’d be interested to learn more about the “larger, societal issues” that are bothering Christopher. Does he think it’s wrong that someone with a Masters’ should have to take an entry level position at all? Does he think it’s wrong that it should take a Masters’ to get into those particular organisations? Does he think that this is an indication of how a Masters’ has been dumbed down? I’m not trying to pick a fight, it’s just that he writes as if those issues are self-evident, but i think it would benefit the conversation more if he unpicked them a bit, because we can’t always assume that other readers see things from the same perspective.

    As an aside, I received an invitation to a online conference called Positive Deviance that might be of interest to Mark and others like him.

  5. Dave Ferguson

    I find Peter Block’s Flawless Consulting a great way to think about how a person can work as a consultant. He talks about three possible roles for a consultant: the expert, the pair-of-hands, and the collaborator. Each is a valid role, but you and the client need to be clear on which role is relevant to the engagement.

    My own experience hints that I often get the job because I’m seen as an expert in some area, but that in many projects I end up as a pair of hands: the client believes he knows what he wants done and how; my charge is to get it done.

    (This isn’t always my choice, mind you, but it’s one way the world works.)

    Collaborative engagements, I think, appear after you’ve developed a network of past partners and clients.

    Mark, I’d encourage you to imagine a potential client asking, “What can you do for me that has value for me, and how do I know you’ll do it?”

  6. Christopher Mackay

    Hi Karyn,

    I suppose I’m of two minds about this; on the one hand, the idea that someone with 5 or 6 years of post-secondary education is only qualified to start raises my eyebrows. Shouldn’t we be expecting more of this level of education? People with bachelors’ degrees should be filling those entry-level positions. (Then I remember some of the CVs that have come across my desk…)

    On the other hand, I’ve heard too many anecdotes about MBAs who were barely qualified to write their names being given authority over people with many years’ experience (but no magical piece of paper). Doesn’t a company that blindly values a degree over experience really say that it values inexperience — or youth — over experience?

    This all reminds me of the old joke about the guy with the MPhil who, in desperation, lowers his standards and applies for a job at McDonald’s. “We don’t have any positions for someone with your level of education”, the manager tells him: “all of our people have PhDs.”

  7. Mark

    Hi everyone, I thoroughly appreciate all of the advice, keep it coming! I would also like to thank Harold for posting my email on his site.

    I do not mind starting at the grass-roots, I understand competition is tough and I want as much experience as I can get. I don’t want to cut corners as I feel from past experience one can learn just as much at the bottom as they can at the top.

    I am interested to know how you all got into this line of work.

  8. Harold

    Fairly simple for me – 21 years in the Army; university job in a department that closed after 2.5 years; followed by a stint with a DotCom startup (now bankrupt) which ended with me being unemployed.

    Since I had worked as an internal training consultant in the Army and as an external consultant later, it was a natural progression, and I had to put food on the table. A job would have meant a move and major family disruption, so I/we opted for the riskier independent consultant route (five years ago).

  9. Karyn Romeis

    And I started in the world of third party corporate IT and soft skills training, mainly freelance. After 11 years of that, we moved to England where I had neither the reputation nor the contacts to go freelance, so I went to work in a further education college for two years. I found the strictures of curriculum stifling and teaching to the test didn’t sit well with my conscience, so I went back to the corporate world. Initially as an in-house IT trainer, gradually introducing soft skills back into my portfolio.

    Two and a half years ago, I moved into learning design/consultancy.

    I’d like to focus more on the analysis/consultancy side, but opportunities have proved scarce. I haven’t yet plucked up the courage to go freelance again. I do find that the market place is far more conservative than we (in this space) would like it to be.

  10. Karyn Romeis

    Oh, and I meant to thank Chris for his elaboration. I think you’re touching on that very valid point of the relevance of education in terms of preparation for the workplace. The debate around that waxes and wanes in this space on a regular basis!


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