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    What consultants at McKinsey, BCG and Bain actually do

    Are you tired of hearing “every day is different” when you ask consultants what they do? If you want a more detailed answer, you’re in the right place. Here we outline how consultants at top management consulting firms spend their time, and how they work on client projects.

    Key takeaways:

    • Top organizations hire consultants to solve their most challenging and complex issues.
    • Consultants must first understand and define the problem, then develop and test hypotheses before making a final recommendation.
    • Consultants spend most of their time performing a variety of tasks. These include computing analyses, creating presentations and dashboards, interviewing clients, conducting research and participating in problem-solving sessions.
    • Consultants are also involved in office activities outside of client work, such as research, recruitment and volunteering.
    • Consultants work in teams made up of Partners, Junior Partners, a Project Manager, Analysts or Associates, and expert support.
    • For the majority of the time, consultants follow a hybrid model when working on projects: one to three days per week based at the client’s site and the rest of the week based either from home or the office.

    Consultants solve big, hairy problems

    To be a great consultant, you have to love solving problems. Clients hire consultants to solve the most pressing problems that are top of mind for their CEOs. These can span across traditional themes like profitability, growth, and restructuring, as well as more contemporary areas such as sustainability, digital, advanced analytics, and diversity and inclusion.

    Consultants work with a wide variety of clients. They can range from big corporations to governments, investors and non-profits, but rarely include startups and small companies. Rather than asking their staff to work on their most complex and interesting problems, big companies outsource these questions to a top consulting firm. So as a consultant, you will only do this type of complex and important work.

    When working on client projects, consultants must first understand and define the problems they are trying to solve. This in itself can involve a fair amount of analysis and discussion. They must then collect relevant data, such as survey results, case studies, and firm-owned or client data. As the quality of this data can be variable, it’s important to gather as much of it as possible.

    Consultants then need to analyze the data they have gathered and develop an initial hypothesis or answer, which will then be debated by the team, tested with clients and subjected to further analysis. At the end of the process, a final recommendation – supported by both clients and consultants – will be made.

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    Consultants perform a variety of activities

    Consultants engage in a variety of tasks, including:

    • conducting problem-solving sessions
    • crunching data
    • making slides or dashboards to communicate findings
    • completing desktop research
    • performing interviews with clients and industry experts

    The goal for each of these activities is to contribute to building the final recommendation and solving the client’s problem.

    The diversity of tasks means that a typical day for a consultant is always varied. You might spend your time working on an Excel spreadsheet, fine-tuning an Alteryx model, running back-to-back interviews, or developing slides for a big client meeting.

    Traditionally, management consultants always communicated in PowerPoint slides or ‘decks’, which were used in both problem solving and communicating results to clients. It wasn’t uncommon for consultants to produce hundreds of slides in just one project and, as a result, they often became absolute wizards with PowerPoint.

    While decks are still in use in most cases, some client communications are now delivered with more dynamic tools, such as Tableau and Power BI, which enable greater levels of interactivity in the presentation of information.

    Consultants make contributions outside of client work

    In addition to client work, consultants are often involved in other activities that either support the development of the firm or simply add some more fun to the mix. Consultants might contribute to developing the firm’s research and intellectual property, play a role in recruitment efforts or take part in other initiatives for the firm. These extra activities allow consultants to pursue their additional interests and work with an even wider variety of stakeholders.

    Consultants travel and work in teams

    Consultants usually work in teams of two to six, depending on the number of work streams or elements there are to the client’s problem. A consulting team serves only one client at a time and consists of a Project Manager and a number of Associates or Analysts. Depending on the project goal, the team may also have specialized client-facing consultants, such as sector or functional experts, data scientists or engineers, or design staff. The team may also include a Junior Partner, who engages with both the client and the team a couple of days a week.

    Consulting is a client-facing job and the client’s success always comes first. Being on-site at a client’s office allows consultants to solve the problem in close collaboration with the client. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, teams typically worked from the client’s site between Monday and Thursday and then from the office on Friday. Sometimes this required travel on Mondays and a return on Thursdays. Nowadays, the majority of projects are performed in a hybrid model of one to three days a week at the client’s site and the rest of the week from either home or the office.

    For an in-depth look at life at each of the top-3 management consulting firms, take a look at our articles on what it’s like to work at McKinsey, BCG’s working culture and the culture at Bain.

    What’s next if you’d like to join a top management consulting firm

    Do you think a career in management consulting could be right you? If you’re looking to join a top consulting firm like McKinsey, BCG or Bain, CaseCoach has resources to guide you all the way through the recruitment process, from crafting your resume to preparing for your final interviews.

    Our Free Resume Course provides resume and cover letter templates, along with specialized advice for students, MBAs and experienced professionals.

    The Interview Prep Course contains all the material you need to ace your case and fit interview, including video lectures, sample interviews, case material and practice tools.

    CaseCoach’s team of coaches includes former consultants and interviewers with McKinsey, BCG and Bain. They are available to deliver case and fit interview coaching and mock interviews in a realistic setting to put your preparation to the test, providing personal feedback and practical advice to help you ace your interviews.

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