• Ed

How to become a ... Management Consultant

In our new series we will be speaking with a range of professionals about their career, education and their top-tips for students. This week we are delighted to present an interview with Alice, a management consultant based in London

Hello Alice, thank you for your time today. So, what is a management consultant?

Hello! First and foremost, a management consultant is a problem solver. My job is to talk to clients – often heads of departments, CIOs (as I work in tech) and project/programme managers – about their knottiest issues, figure out the best next steps and help implement them. I specifically help design and stand up IT organisations, particularly large scale public sector ones that need robust tooling and processes to provide tech to their users well.

I’m a Senior Manager in the firm I work for, which also means I think about trends in my sector, what the next big projects will be and how we win them, and how we make our business an inclusive and exciting place to work for our people.

It sounds like you have to keep your finger on the pulse. What do you think might be the future trends we'll see?

Good question. Cloud is becoming real for my clients now. They are realising that you don't just move all your 'applications' to it, but rather pick the end to end 'value streams' that cloud will be most useful for and transition accordingly. So I'll be interested in how you structure your IT operating model or organisation when you've done that, and the impact of doing that on the processes you have in place to support your users. I'm excited about Blockchain becoming more pervasive though. At the moment it's too costly - financially and environmentally - but as that cost comes down, I think we'll be managing lots of different kinds of assets using distributed database technology.

What would you say is the best part of your job?

Saying ‘the people’ is lazy, yes? Ok. There are times when you’ve got the right knowledge and experience for a tricky job, you’ve done the groundwork, got the data, spoken to the right people, pulled together a proposal and know how to make it happen – and the client loves it. I live for those days.

What are the most challenging aspects of your profession?

It’s easy to spread oneself too thinly. I’m prone to saying yes, but it’s awful to let people down when you don’t actually have the time to do everything. There are lots of opportunities to try different things; but I’ve had to learn to prioritise really effectively.

Do you have any tips based upon your experience of your interview?

I went into the interview process (there were about 4 stages) thinking I knew what they wanted to hear and presented a false version of myself. I got away with it until I got to the Partner interview, wherein about half way through I broke down and confessed that I’m just a massive geek who wants to work in IT. The Partner was delighted, and hired me on the spot.

The technology industry has often been perceived to be a male dominated environment.   Do you feel things are moving forward in the right direction and is there still work to be done?

Tech certainly can be male dominated. I've been sat in meetings when I've realised that I'm the only one in the room who isn't a white man in a blue checked shirt. Sometimes it gives me an advantage in standing out, albeit I sometimes have to prove myself more than I think my male colleagues do. But the industry would benefit hugely from a more diverse workforce. There is tons more to do at all levels to change this, from encouraging women to go for promotions and industry awards, to making it normal for girls to get into coding. Things are certainly moving in the right direction, but yes, there is an awful lot more to do to level the playing field. 

It's important to remember that Computing was initially a female-dominated profession - I'm about to read an analysis of this called 'Programmed Inequality' by Marie Hicks, but for a lighter introduction I'd recommend watching the film Hidden Figures.

Duly noted. Moving on to your education, what was your experience of school?

I liked school. I went to state Catholic schools in South East London. I was never the most popular – as I said, I’ve always been a geek – but I had good friends and got good grades. Sixth form was the breakthrough though. I had a fantastic set of teachers who really pushed me and made me realise my potential. I wouldn’t be where I am today without them.

Which A levels did you study?

History, Government & Politics, English Language and Literature and General Studies (!). Also an AS in Computing…those were the days.

Which subject was your favourite?

History by a tight margin. Not exactly the classic career path for a management consultant specialising in IT.

Which university did you attend and did you enjoy your time there?

Oxford. I loved it – it was the making of me.

It took a while to figure out what on earth was going on, and it was daunting that the others seemed to know from the get go. I often felt incredibly mediocre compared to my new fellow-students, and the tutorial approach was absolutely mindblowing to me. Going from classes of 30 to a one-to-one hour long conversation with an Oxford don was my first term baptism of fire. I’d say it took me about a year and a half to realise that I deserved to be there (I just needed to actually do the reading!), and from then on it was still hard work but much less anxiety-inducing. I also had the benefit of going to a small college with an absolutely fantastic bunch of people, many of whom I still hang out with on a regular basis more than ten years on.

Did you join any societies outside of your academic studies?

Erm, embarrassingly, I joined an a capella group (there are a strangely high number of these at Oxford – google “Oxford Out of the Blue”). I got to perform at the Edinburgh Fringe. But in retrospect, it was a rather odd choice for a geeky indie kid. I was also my College’s Student Union rep, but I was mainly in it for the t-shirt.

Free perks are great. What are the top perks of your current role?

More t-shirts, tote bags, a mug and lots of pens...But on a serious note, depending on the clients I'm working with at any one time, I have great flexibility in where I work - as I write this, I'm at home with my cats for company. And as someone who loves learning, I like having access to industry journals, conferences, and a subscription to the FT.

Did you plan to enter this profession when studying your A levels?

No! I was going to be a rock star. Or a journalist.

If you could go back in time and give your 16 year old self some advice, what would it be?

Keep working hard, don’t underestimate yourself, go for anything you want. You’ll probably nail it. And if you don’t, it isn’t actually the end of the world.

(To be fair, that last point is one I’m still trying to learn.)

Finally, if someone was interested in joining an organisation similar to yours, how could they find out more?

It goes without saying but read the website of the organisation you want to join; mine has a whole Careers website dedicated to outlining what we do and the different types of career paths. At interview we'd expect someone to have read as much of the website as possible. I'd also recommend using the News search option on google to find out if the organisation has been in the press lately, but use what you find judiciously!

Thanks for your time Alice!

You're welcome and good luck to students sitting their exams this year!

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