It’s no surprise that consulting is such a popular career path. The average starting salaries, between $65,000 and $75,000 depending on the company, are incredibly high compared to those of other entry-level positions. The typical college graduate starts out making on average $50,000 per year.
Consultants work hard: They travel about 4 days a week on average to be on-site with the companies they work with. They also work long days, beginning early in the morning and ending sometimes as late as 11 p.m. The job is perfect for young people coming straight out of college who don’t have many commitments outside of work.
Of the 62 percent of Northwestern graduates in 2014 who pursued full-time careers, 15 percent went into consulting. Consulting is a career field in which consultants offer businesses advice on how to better function. Typically, a student straight out of college enters a firm as an associate consultant, or AC. ACs do two to three projects per year in many different business sectors to explore how many businesses work.
“It’s really interesting because you get to see a whole bunch of different companies and you get to travel a lot, which I guess is a good and bad thing,” said Alex Khalsa, a Weinberg freshman studying economics who is considering exploring the world of consulting.
Consulting also offers the chance to learn about many different types of businesses, according to Mark Witte, Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Economics Department.
“It’s kind of like being in college on the quarter system in that you do a bunch of stuff, and then it ends, then you do a whole new group of things, so it’s a great way to learn about a lot of stuff over the course of a couple years,” Witte said.
Consultants not only deal with many different types of businesses, but they learn to deal with whatever problems may come their way.
“[Consulting] is appealing because of how every week, and really every day, can be so different in the kinds of questions you are answering and the approach you are taking,” said Zach Flanzman, a Northwestern graduate (WCAS '14) and consultant at Bain and Company, a global management consulting firm.
18 of the nation’s top consulting firms recruit at Northwestern each year through info sessions, on-campus interviews and other networking events. Typically, so many firms do not recruit at one school, but Northwestern’s proximity to the city makes it an appealing place to recruit at.
“Northwestern is probably one of a dozen schools in the country where every major consulting firm, or at least 90 percent of them, come actively to campus more than one time for info sessions, coffee chats, other networking events, case workshops, whatever it may be,” Flanzman said.
Year-round, Northwestern is hosting career fairs, case practicing workshops – which are example problems a company may face which they have to find a solution to – and other networking events where big consulting firms are invited to talk to students.
“During ‘recruitment season’ I think generally people are very busy attending information sessions and scheduling coffee chats to find out as much as they can about the companies, but also get as much face time with consultants at their target companies as possible,” said Susie Jiang, a Weinberg senior pursuing a career in consulting.
On top of all the invitations, firms also send their Northwestern alumni to campus to talk about consulting and do interviews. The large number of Northwestern alumni in these firms makes for huge events when it comes to networking, since it is convenient for them to go back for an afternoon or evening.
“It felt like generally the two tracts [as an economics major] were consulting or investment banking, and those were the career paths that Northwestern Career Advancement, student organizations, professors and career advisors focused on,” Jiang said.
“[The economics department] definitely portrays consulting and i-banking as the two main paths for an economics major,” Khalsa said. “It’s slightly encouraged, and it’s easier if you want to go into one of those two routes.”
Because of the ample resources available, students most often choose Economics and Learning and Organizational Change, or LoC, as majors if they want to go into consulting. The LoC major teaches to students to understand and manage change within organizations, according to Gail Berger, an Assistant Professor of Instruction at Northwestern.
“The LoC major provides you with really practical tools and perspectives to help you tackle a wide range of problems. It’s not only about understanding the organizational theory, but it’s about developing an analytical mindset to be able to assess problems and then offer solutions,” Berger said.
However, becoming a consultant is not simply dependant on the major students choose. There are a lot of outside factors that go into a firm’s decision to hire potential employees, like their skill set at solving cases and leadership skills. At Northwestern, there are countless resources available to help students become consultants. Northwestern Career Advancement leads many events for students who wish to go into consulting, ranging from practicing cases to interview skills workshops.
“[The recruitment process] can be pretty stressful because all these things and interviews happen over the course of a couple weeks, but the silver lining is that everything is very concentrated and it's almost like you know what you're supposed to be doing at each point in the process,” Jiang said.
In addition, being an economics or LoC major who is good at solving cases is not enough to get a job in consulting. You need to show that you are a leader, that you are driven and that you can bring something new to the company.
Coming out of a school like Northwestern, consulting is an appealing career path because of the opportunity to continue learning in the real world and to be amongst people who are just as driven as Northwestern students.
“I went into consulting because I knew my experiences would be very diverse and the people who I would be working with would be people worth surrounding myself with – smart, driven and fun,” Flanzman said.