Only 1 in 250 graduates lands a job in strategy consulting industry

16 July 2018 5 min. read
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On average, only one in 250 graduates becomes a strategy consultant. This is mainly because the large strategic advisory firms place high demands on potential new professionals and each year there are only a limited number of places at firms set aside for academic talent.

A new analysis conducted in the Netherlands, a country which has around quarter of a million students, has found that graduates who want to enter strategy consulting face an up-hill struggle. Data from past years shows that strategy and management consulting is often a top choice for the future career of graduates, and it has been one of the most popular sectors for students for years. Working in these fields offers a job full of variety, and the experience gained here is seen by many as an ideal springboard for their further career.

Of the two, strategy and management consulting, the prior is more popular. Students aspire to work for seven strategic firms in particular. These are McKinsey & Company, The Boston Consulting Group (BCG), Bain & Company, Oliver Wyman, A.T. Kearney, Strategy& (formerly Booz & Company) and Roland Berger – which are also the globe’s largest strategy consulting firms.

According to Peter Zeeuw van der Laan, a former strategy consultant at McKinsey & Company in the Netherlands and now active as a head-hunter, it is not surprising that academic talents aspire to a job in strategy consulting. As the main reason, he stated, "Strategy consultancy offers a steep learning curve for overall business/management skills that are widely applicable. Many students see this as a very good start to their career, especially since many students do not yet know specifically in which field and / or which industry they want to work. Strategy consultancy also offers good and wide outflow opportunities.”Strategy consulting is the most popular industry to work in

However, for students who want to work in strategy consulting, the choice is much more limited than in other segments, such as M&A, business consulting or, for example, digital consultancy. The global strategy & operations consulting market is valued at around $112 billion by analyst firm ALM, of which the top 7 strategic offices have a share of around 15% to 20%. Other major players in the market include British L.E.K. Consulting, which has a tenth place worldwide; Arthur D. Little, the world’s oldest consulting firm; the strategy practices of the Big Four, with Monitor Deloitte and EY-Parthenon as the most prominent players, and; London-headquartered OC&C Strategy Consultants. Then there are also dozens of strategy consulting boutiques.

1 in 250 graduates becomes strategy consultant

What do students who aspire to play a role as a strategy consultant think is actually important in their search for an employer? Given that candidates are already interested in strategy consultancy, the choice for a specific office, according to Zeeuw van der Laan, is often determined by the prestige and image of the organisation, the click with future colleagues and the specific interests of candidates in the specialisms of a particular organisation (e.g. supply chain, digital, etc).

The competition between top students is also considerable, according to an analysis of 1,000 LinkedIn profiles of strategy consultants in the Netherlands. Result shows that on average only one in 250 graduate academics fulfils the role of strategy consultant. Strikingly, the profile that is most likely is that of beta students. These are students who, for example, have completed the university degree in econometrics, aerospace engineering or physics. PhD students and engineers in finance, mechanical or industrial engineering and economics are also very popular. Remarkably, only 0.8% of strategy consultants come from the economics study program.Wich education backgrounds are most succesful for strategy consulting

Profile of a strategy consultant

When asked which Master's students are most likely to become strategy consultants and which characteristics and factors are important for a greater chance of their dream job, Zeeuw van der Laan pointed out different aspects. First of all, strategy consultancy firms pay attention to the numbers that students have achieved during their high school and university years, and also looking at which secondary activities candidates have performed during their training. In addition, the candidates are presented with cases during their application, with which they must demonstrate that they possess various qualities.

According to the former consultant, these cases can be trained to a greater or lesser extent. "This involves skills such as mental arithmetic/quantitative skills, analytical skills and the use of structure, the availability of business sense and learning ability - does the candidate know how to implement the feedback between case rounds?"

In addition, according to him, there are also more softness criteria that are tested in particular in the personal fit interview, for example communication skills, grit (passion and perseverance), leadership qualities, motivation and company and cultural fit.