Management consulting companies were on the whole, very general in their outlook, and this was especially true of the top firms, such as McKinsey, Bain, and BCG (MBB) Consultants.
A consultancy company would be hired based on its history and track record, even if it had no specialist knowledge of your business sector.
While there are still large numbers of generalist consultants, the focus has moved to more specialist and technical skills-based consultancy. The large firms have diversified their business, creating specific divisions for projects specialized projects.
Digital and tech consulting has seen the most significant growth, with McKinsey Digital, Bain Vector, and BCG Gamma, all dedicated to this specialist sector.
All this means a lot of jobs available for individuals who perhaps would have never had the opportunity to work at a leading management consulting company in the past. For those lucky new recruits who make the transition, they can trade in the limited remuneration from academia or tech startups for something like the Digital McKinsey salary! Check this site for more details.
The Changing Industrial Landscape
Go back just 30 years, and the differences in technology are startling. The Internet existed, but it was the home of computer geeks, while connectivity was at dial-up speeds of just 56k. The World Wide Web was just about to be invented, and the world of business was still centered around traditional forms of communication.
Jump forward to 2020, and technology is everywhere. Online retailers such as Amazon have boomed, social media is now a thing, and fintech is revolutionizing the financial world. The speed of change has caught out many who have fallen by the wayside. The pace of change appears to be unstoppable and accelerating.
Businesses that were transitioning through this period faced massive challenges to remain competitive. They needed to adapt and change to survive. Those who embraced the technology have thrived, taking advantage of target marketing made possible through massive data collected about their ideal customer.
All this innovation meant that the generalist business consultant lacked the skills the technology-based companies required. The days of a consultant being a pure thoroughbred MBA, high achiever is passing into the realms of history. New consultancy skills are necessary to match the changing environment and maintain market-share.
The MBB that were traditionally generalist consultancies has been forced to adapt to survive.
Large consultancy firms, such as McKinsey, had been built on the generalist style of tackling problems. The specifics of a particular company and its practices could be learned on the fly, problem-solving methodologies applied to the issue, and a solution given.
As the importance of technology exploded, consultancy firms found their generalist model didn’t fit the customer’s needs. In danger of being left behind, the top firms such as McKinsey could not afford to ignore these projects.
The Generalist Consultant
The education and growth-path of most generalist consultants working with the large companies all followed a similar route.
- Excellent grades from a top-flight university or institution, such as Stanford and MIT in the United States, or Oxford and Cambridge in the UK. The subject was less important than the grades, but engineering was preferable.
- Next, an MBA from a recognized and respected business school, such as Harvard, and Wharton in the US and the London Business School in the UK.
There is no doubt that the people coming through this process were highly intelligent, and in the generalist role, they offered value to many projects.
But in the changing business world, with tech leading the way, it became increasingly difficult for the consultant to learn the business’s technical details on the fly. Learning one of the many software programming languages or the intricacies of cybersecurity as you went along just isn’t feasible.
Specializing in a specific area of consulting became inevitable if you wanted to survive.
To cater to the new world of technology, consultancy companies sought new staff members with specific technical expertise. Whereas generalist consultants typically followed a set path, described above, gaining expertise in technology could be achieved in different ways;
- A Ph.D. in a relevant field, and generally a related academic or research background.
- Work experience in the industry.
- A combination of qualifications and experience.
Consultancy firms are seeing the benefits of hiring programmers, IT engineers, and IT security specialists directly from academia or tech companies. They had realized that candidates with excellent technical skills could learn the problem-solving skills of being a consultant. In this new digital world, the MBA has become less critical than specialized knowledge.
Recruitment practices in the consultancy industry have also changed to reflect the new requirements. McKinsey, in particular, has switched to using the Digital Assessment during screening tests. Its older Problem Solving Test was similar to the test for MBA candidates, and it actively screened out technical specialists.
In with the New
Traditionally, top-flight consultancy jobs with the MBB would be difficult without an MBA. It was never impossible, but candidates without a good MBA were definitely put off.
The closer focus on technological skills has forced a change in attitude. Consultancy firms do not have the capacity to teach these skills, and therefore need candidates that come with this knowledge.
This is excellent news if consultancy has been on your radar as a career path, but you didn’t think you qualified without an MBA. Your skills are a sought-after commodity, while problem-solving methodologies can be taught on the job.
Time for a Career Change?
If your skillset is in technology, but you always wanted to work in consultancy, then hopefully, this short article has set you thinking.
The old rules no longer apply, and leading consultancy firms, such as the MBB, are actively recruiting individuals with technology skills. They need to do this to remain competitive and relevant to today’s customers.
Even if you don’t have an MBA, so long as you have the tech skills they are looking for, there could be a new career just around the corner.
If you have excellent technical skills, in programming, IT networking, cybersecurity, or something similar, the MBB might want to talk to you. There’s nothing to lose by applying!