How do business consultants research

Get started with business consulting

Working in consulting requires a lot of commitment, but offers young professionals insights into different fields of work, contacts and good starting salaries.

Text: Stefanie Schweizer

They are the first in the morning and the last in the evening in the office, earn a lot of money and like to rationalize jobs. That is the common cliché of business consultants. With an average working time of 60 hours or more, some prejudices cannot be completely denied.

However, it is worthwhile for young professionals to take a closer look at the industry - and discover the potential of management consulting for their own careers. What many do not suspect: The management consultancy is not only looking for IT specialists, economists or lawyers, but can also offer graduates from the humanities and social sciences as well as natural and environmental sciences an opportunity to start their careers.

Advice on biodiversity

"If applicants think that they could advise a CEO on the subject of sustainability with us every day, then I unfortunately have to disappoint them," explains Dr. Frauke Fischer. She is the founder of “Agentur auf!”, A company that specializes in advising companies on biodiversity issues. With her agency, the doctor of biology offers, among other things, to mediate between companies and non-governmental organizations (NGO) and to make the cooperation of both partners more transparent and effective.

Together with her colleagues who have also studied natural and environmental sciences, she shows that you can also score points in management consulting with green specialist knowledge. Young professionals research information on the topics of biodiversity and climate protection here, prepare it for companies or support project evaluations. Although the agency moves with this service portfolio in the field of management consulting, but in a completely different way than classic consulting. “I believe that quality comes before quantity. Presence is not an achievement. What we do in particular requires creativity, and that happens when the brain comes to rest, ”explains Fischer.

In classic consulting, on the other hand, new entrants in particular are expected to show great commitment and willingness to perform beyond normal working hours. The most popular companies in the industry among applicants include McKinsey, Bain & Company Inc. and Global Management Consulting (BCG).

With their work, they contribute to the forecast of the Federal Association of German Management Consultants (BDU), which predicts annual sales of over 36 billion euros for the industry for 2019. The management consultancy offers career starters financial as well as qualification incentives - even if the applicants come from fields that are “atypical for advice” such as the natural sciences or the humanities and social sciences.

Jan Thomas Otte studied theology in Heidelberg, completed the journalism training of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung and then worked for more than five years as a management consultant for a company specializing in management consulting, technology and outsourcing.

“I started at a start-up in sales, very close to the customer,” explains Otte, who now works as a freelance writer, blogger and consultant, among other things. “That's when I learned that the details in the small things can make the big picture.” In consulting, applicants often get started through traineeships. These offers are to be understood as qualification programs that impart the necessary craft for the consultancy work in several months or years.

Green business consulting

At the “Agentur auf!” Job starters usually work in the areas of analysis, planning and project management. At the beginning, junior staff work with the project managers, researching information and scientific findings. The drafting of applications or applications for tenders can also be part of your area of ​​responsibility, which is why applicants should have a strong communication talent in addition to knowledge of the topics of sustainability and the environment.

“It's often about getting a statement across in a way that is easy to understand and convincing,” says Fischer. And for this, expertise is just as important as, for example, “a creative hand to create a meaningful poster”.

Applicants who would like to work in sustainable management consulting should, according to Fischer, also bring openness and creativity. In addition, the ability to take the initiative is an important quality to make progress in this industry. Because the methods used in green consulting are used to redesign existing structures and are therefore often pioneering work.

“We just need team players and applicants who have their own ideas. Since everything develops quickly, we also need applicants who do not stand still, who are able to understand a scientific text, who understand where there are new developments and findings in the context of biodiversity, ”explains Fischer.

Work in an interdisciplinary manner

This means that the tasks for natural scientists are diverse and varied even immediately after starting their career. This can give young professionals advantages with a view to their future careers and is one of the reasons why management consulting is attractive for many as an entry into the world of work. German scholars, sociologists, philosophers and cultural scientists are also in demand in green management consulting.

Whether in an advisory role or in the back office ultimately depends on the respective qualifications and specialist knowledge. But Fischer knows: “The challenge we face on our planet comes from very different areas of society. I believe that the solutions, especially when it comes to sustainability, have to come from different disciplines. "

Humanities and social scientists can also be found in traditional management consultancy, albeit in small numbers. Ultimately, in addition to the qualifications of the specialist degree, it is important to have specific knowledge for the advisory focus. A historian with know-how in IT solutions is able to introduce new software within a company in a structured and understandable way. Or a social scientist can draw on additional knowledge from strategy consulting in order to give new impetus to projects that have come to a standstill.

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Otte knows that it is precisely in the transdisciplinary exchange with other disciplines that humanities and social scientists are attracted to starting their careers through management consulting: “I found it quite beneficial, in addition to the complex theory of studying theology, to economists and IT experts meet who, according to their own statements, are 'binary coded'. What is meant is the ability to decide whether to do or not to do something, with consideration given to it. That is a completely different speed than what I knew from my studies. "

Diverse activities

Which tasks young people from the humanities and social sciences take on in classic consulting depends on the focus of the consulting firm. For junior consultants in a strategy consulting company, this can be, for example, problem analysis, research for solutions and the presentation of the same. The participation and organization of meetings as well as the coordination in the team are often the responsibility of junior staff. In addition, there are project-specific tasks that can vary from order to order.

As different as the daily tasks are ultimately the demands on humanities and social scientists who want to start their careers through the consulting industry. "Humanities scholars are usually strong in communication, can think in a networked way and view issues from different perspectives - these are characteristics that are also very important in our work with customers and in the team," explains Ulrike Hoffmann, Head of Operations in the Insights and Data division at Capgemini.

The group offers management and IT consulting as well as technology services and generated around 13.2 billion euros in sales in 2018. The ranks of the company also include humanities and social scientists. “If possible, humanities and social scientists should have a certain affinity for IT and initial practical experience. We also want to encourage newcomers from other degree programs to deal with the job description of the IT consultant, ”says Hoffmann.

Cultural advice

But there is also a branch of advice in the creative industry that could be of particular interest to humanities and social scientists. The strategic and organizational realignment of an opera house, the development of strategies to increase earnings for a museum, the planning of a fundraising strategy for a university: these are just three examples of concepts that consultants at actori GmbH develop.

The Munich-based company has specialized in consulting, marketing and ventures in the field of culture, entertainment and creative industries. Applicants with cultural expertise are welcome here: “This makes it easier for our consultants to understand the customer's work reality on the individual projects. This makes them more sensitive to the topic of cultural industries, ”explains Hanna Hellenbroich-Schrader. The trained cultural manager is now a human resources manager at actori and “a typical career changer in HR”.

The tasks that young people take on in cultural counseling ultimately also depend on the professional qualifications that the applicants have. New cultural advisors also work on a project basis and are (jointly) responsible for planning new concepts and strategies. Hellenbroich-Schrader confirms that a mixture of creativity and affinity with numbers is often required:

“Most of the employees at actori have a business background and have knowledge and work experience from the cultural and creative industries. However, there is no explicit one course that automatically qualifies as a consultant for cultural institutions. "

Training to get you started

The consulting industry opens up potential avenues for specialists in the natural and environmental sciences as well as the humanities and social sciences. Young professionals from niche subjects who are planning their career entry via management consultancy can play that into their cards.

According to statistics, natural scientists and humanities and social scientists are among the less represented disciplines, but companies from start-ups to corporations are at least outwardly open to accepting these applicants. With the help of further education and training or trainee programs, the companies qualify graduates in the natural sciences as well as the humanities and social sciences for consultancy work.

“In fact, missing skills can often be acquired in training programs and individual training courses. Among other things, we offer a special entry-level program for scientists, engineers and mathematicians at Capgemini Invent, our consulting unit for digital innovation and transformation. Here, beginners can deal with the exciting challenges our customers face in various industries and subject areas before they specialize in a certain area, ”explains Hoffmann.

Well paid and networked

Anyone who manages to become one of the 124,000 management consultants in Germany (BDU, 2018) can draw great advantages for their future careers. Otte also mastered his entry into the free market economy through a management consultancy and knows about one of the most striking advantages of the industry. “The consultancy offers financial security,” he explains. “I know enough humanities scholars who are on the road with annual contracts of around 20,000 euros gross in their first years of employment. Compared to years of demanding studies, that is simply not enough. "

In addition to the money, the advice also offers insights into other fields of work, which can be particularly interesting for those applicants who are not yet sure where exactly the professional journey should actually go. In addition to additional experience and skills, they have the opportunity to find their personal hobby and expand their knowledge accordingly.

“Applicants refine the skills they already have and, according to actori, are able to respond to different customers, give presentations, work out and solve complex questions,” explains Hellenbroich-Schrader. In addition, young professionals quickly make important contacts with each other, as well as company-wide and industry-wide.

These can be decisive for the further professional career, for example when changing to another branch of the economy. A study by the Nuremberg Institute for Employment Research (IAB) shows: In the fourth quarter of 2016, every third job nationwide was awarded through contacts.

From junior to senior

"Every management consultancy designates the positions to be assigned differently - whether junior or senior. I entered management consulting as an 'analyst' and was then promoted to 'consultant'. Today I work as a 'manager' for a competitor, ”says Otte. In the green management consultancy, junior staff start as project staff and can advance to project management. The same basically applies to cultural advice. “As a rule, our consultants start out as junior consultants and then have the opportunity to develop into senior consultants or even project managers,” explains Hellenbroich-Schrader.

Regardless of what the entry position is called, the benefits applicants can derive from it for their career sometimes also depend on the size of the company. In a start-up that is active in management consulting, junior employees generally earn less than in a large, established corporation. However, thanks to the mostly small number of employees and the flat hierarchies, young professionals can quickly gain insight into other fields of work.

The contact between boss and employees is often closer, so that start-ups can recognize more quickly when the potential of employees extends beyond the area of ​​consulting. "If someone has an idea, there is a customer and he or she sticks behind it, then he has every freedom with us," confirms Fischer. For junior staff, the internal change of the field of activity is therefore lower-threshold.

Bring in specialist knowledge

Small and medium-sized management consultancies often offer topic-specific or specialist services. This gives career starters the opportunity to apply their specialist knowledge practically and at the same time to expand their skills in “hands-on” mode.

“You learn within a very short time to work with high quality with the courage to take the gap. You learn the ability to take criticism in this way and to deal with it constructively, to build up new knowledge relatively quickly, ”says Otte. Furthermore, small and medium-sized companies are usually very well networked in their sector and offer junior staff contacts from a broad network.

The latter is of course also offered by starting a career at one of the large consulting firms. In addition to the qualification programs for applicants, corporations also offer the opportunity to work internationally. Furthermore, young professionals learn to deal with a high workload and great pressure.