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Is consulting for you? Successful INSEAD alumni share their industry insights

With a total value of around $250 billion, the global consulting sector is one of the largest and most mature markets within the professional services industry. In this article, INSEAD's Global Consulting Lead offers some perspectives on the industry and how the INSEAD Master in management (MIM) can help to prepare you for a successful career in consulting.

In short

What makes a career in consulting so attractive?

“Consulting firms have a very interesting value proposition,” says Stephane Ponce, Associate Director and Global Consulting and Project Lead at INSEAD. “They offer you great exposure to senior executives from leading sectors, and the opportunity to work with them on their most difficult challenges. In consulting, you will learn a lot – and fast – from experts in the field, clients, and peers, and you will gain the consulting toolkit that is so useful no matter how you want to develop your career.”

Being a consultant also boosts your career outlook: “People who leave consulting have great career options,” Stephane says. “It is not rare that clients [who are usually Fortune 500 companies] will approach you and propose you to join their companies. Consulting also helps you to get into private equity as you will work closely with funds and can develop a great network and reputation over time. The fact that there’s a huge INSEAD consulting alumni network in many companies will also help you for your next career move. 

However, it’s important to stress that you need to stay in consulting for a sufficient number of years to be considered as an attractive candidate for other sectors. Three to five years is considered a good timeframe to develop enough knowledge and experiences to be eligible for exciting positions in the corporate world. 

A good number of our alumni have decided to climb up the ladder in consulting. As of now, we have more than 300 INSEAD alumni who are partners at MBB [the Big Three consulting companies: McKinsey, Boston Consulting Group, and Bain & Company].” 

Is consulting for you?

Consulting is a demanding profession, and you often have to travel and work long hours. “It fluctuates depending on the nature of the project or location, but do expect to have a challenging job that will stretch you intellectually,” Stephane confirms. 

Consultants typically work 50-80+ hours per week, facing very high expectations, tight deadlines, stressful environments, and an “up or out” policy in some firms. However, you will get to work with bright colleagues and be at the forefront of what is particularly hot in the business world, such as digital transformation and innovation. 

“It is important to be able to adapt rapidly to different projects, and this is where curiosity and the ability to quickly pick up new knowledge kick in. If you like to learn and, most importantly, you can deal with ambiguity, then you will have a great time in consulting,” Stephane says.

Zornica Zafirova, INSEAD MBA ’13J alumna and Engagement Manager at McKinsey & Company, says, “Ever since I joined consulting, I have worked in six countries on a variety of topics from market growth and strategy to operational excellence and capital productivity. So, it is something I really enjoy.” (0:48)

Who are consulting firms looking for?

“There are two core skills that consulting firms highly value: hard skills and soft skills,” Stephane says. “Hard skills refer to analytical, quantitative, and problem-solving competencies. These skills are crucial to be able to do the job. But soft skills are even more important: they refer to client relationship-building, presentation and communication, and the ability to transfer knowledge and to influence others without having authority.” (2:10)

When it comes to specific areas of expertise, Stephane says, “What is particularly in high demand at the moment is expertise in digital transformation and operations. Operations encompasses performance improvement and supply chain management. Client companies are looking to innovate and be ahead of others, which includes developing new ways to launch their products and exploring new business models.”

How the INSEAD MIM prepares you for a career in consulting

With its strong academic foundation covering a wide range of business topics, combined with experiential practical blocks and skills workshops, an emphasis on digital and big data, and its international focus, the INSEAD MIM might be one of the best educational programs to prepare you for a career in consulting.

“When I got my offer from McKinsey, I knew that this is going to be a very different career and what was great is that this journey has been a very natural continuation to my experience at INSEAD because just like INSEAD, life at McKinsey is very dynamic, very international, and gives me the opportunity to reach my full potential,” says Zornica. (2:23)

INSEAD’s Career Development Center (CDC) also provides invaluable support, from CV writing to personalized preparation for the interviews to help you articulate your unique value proposition. “As a career changer, I thought the Career Development Center was extremely helpful,” says Dominik Utama, INSEAD MBA ’09J alumnus and Principal at Bain & Company. “They ran group sessions or even one-on-one coaching sessions on how to write a better resume, on improving my interviewing skills, and they have someone looking after consulting and having those relationships with the consulting firms. And they can advise you on which consulting firms you should apply for.” (1:04)

Consulting firms usually follow a very structured recruitment process, which encompasses a series of progressive interviews as well as asking you to work on a case where you can demonstrate your problem-solving skills on a real-life business scenario. The CDC team offers a wealth of resources to prepare for each step. 

And don’t worry about chasing prominent consulting firms for a job – at INSEAD, they come to you! “Our department works with 130 consulting firms globally,” Stephane explains. “There are around 25 consulting firms that come on campus every six months to recruit actively across locations, and there are also lots of other companies with which we have a very strong relationship.” (1:28)

Recruiters hold INSEAD in high regard and often hire from its impressive pool of graduates. Karen Quanborough, Global Recruiting Director at Accenture Strategy, says, “INSEAD students have a real resilience and a very flexible mindset – both of these attributes really work for us because [in] the markets in which we operate, individuals need to be very agile to adapt.” (1:46)

In short, if you’re thinking about pursuing a career in consulting, the INSEAD MIM gives you a great chance to succeed, with a robust curriculum that focuses on developing both soft and hard skills, an effective career center that gives your personal brand a boost, and ample opportunities to network with the world’s top consulting firms.

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