What is strategy consulting?

Following our post earlier this week on consulting here’s a guest blog post from one of our graduates, Tom Redpath, all about strategy consulting – it gives a really good insight into what’s involved in this job role – Rebecca

Strategy Consulting is a competitive career to get into, but offers a wide variety of opportunities as Tom Redpath, an Edinburgh Alumnus explains.  Tom graduated from Edinburgh in 2012 with a 2:1 in Economics and Accounting, he currently works as a Consultant at OC&C in London.

What is Strategy Consulting?

Describing my job can be quite a challenge. The standard “So what is it you do?” question can be quite daunting for a Strategy Consultant. I find myself wondering “What am I allowed to say?”, “Can I tell them about my client?” and “Can I tell them what that CEO is really like?”. And that’s before the temptation to let them know the true story behind that article they read on BBC News…

For me, the best way to describe my job is as a cross between Sherlock Holmes and Gordon Ramsay in Kitchen Nightmares. Like Sherlock, we are responsible for forming fact-based hypotheses using all the information available. We need to be quick, make the connections no-one else makes and be the ultimate problem solvers to fix charities, governments and private organisations around the world. We work behind the scenes with the real decision makers, and only a small group of people know what we really did. Like Gordon, we surround ourselves with passionate, talented people who are comfortable working in a pressurised environment and making split second decisions – our decisions impact thousands of lives, they have to be right.

How did I get into it?

By the time I reached the end of my 3rd year, I had a long list of careers that I didn’t want to do when I graduated. But, sadly, no real idea about what I did want to do.

I spent most of my time at University involved in Sports Clubs, Societies and whatever else was interesting – I found that I was gravitating towards roles that developed organisations; fixing the boat club or expanding local social enterprises was incredibly fun and I knew that I wanted to help people, but without becoming a Medic I wasn’t sure how I’d do that.

Then a friend mentioned Consulting and I started working my way through the various disciplines, Tech, Finance, Economic, Energy, with none appealing before stumbling on Management and eventually Strategy Consulting. Here was a job that I could do immediately after graduating and have a big impact on various sectors, industries and organisations, while travelling the world, without more exams!? Sign me up.

It’s an incredibly competitive industry with a semi-unique case study approach to interviews, but with a combination of extra-curricular roles, a solid 2:1 and a lot of case study practice, I was able to get interviews with a number of top firms and successfully hired by OC&C.

My Day to Day

My job varies significantly. The average length of a project at OC&C is around 5 weeks, so I can be working in retail in the UK one month, then looking at the US travel industry the next, and manufacturing in Russia and China after that.

The heart of what we do is problem solving, so we spend our time creating solutions through quantitative and qualitative analysis. This can be through internal data, interviews with experts, management and customers, consumer research, press research or interpreting 3rd party research.

A typical problem could be “We want to expand our charity to other cities in the UK – where should we go?”. To answer that, we’d interview the management team to understand what it takes to run the charity, we’d gather demographic information to determine which cities need the service the most, then we’d look at who else was doing similar things – do we want to compete? We’d speak to councils or funding bodies to determine which cities would be financially viable and anything else we thought could provide a valuable new insight.

With all that information we would provide advice and recommendations for the charity: “Here are the top 5 cities you should expand to, the order to do it and who you should speak to, and be careful to avoid these issues”

It’s fun and incredibly rewarding when you see your advice making a real difference, it’s also a perfect job if you don’t really know what you want to do with your life at 22.

Top Tips for Anyone Applying

If this sounds an interesting job to you, make sure you check industry sources such as Vault* and read up on everything you can find on Case Studies.

The key to success at the application stage is highlighting passion, commitment, leadership and ability to problem solve in your CV. Academic expectations are incredibly high (2:1/1st) and are therefore not a real differentiator for most consulting firms. We are interested in experiences that make you stand out, whether that is sport, volunteering, politics, arts or work experience – we look at everything on its own merits

Once you pass the first CV screen stage, it is vital that you practice the consulting ‘Case Study’ style interview (see Ace the Case and company websites for more detail) – these are completely different to most interviews you can expect as a grad and will require a lot of practice


Looking for vacancies?

OC&C, as well as several other strategy consulting firms such as Oliver Wyman, Simon-Kucher, Bain & Co, Arthur D Little, and AMR are all currently advertising roles on MyCareerHub.  You can follow these employers on MyCareerHub to keep up to date on any opportunities they have.  Strategy Consulting firms also often run competitions to give you a feel for what the job would entail, and to allow them to spot potential future talent.  OC&C and Simon-Kucher both have competitions open at the moment, find out more on our latest Competitions Round-Up.

*University of Edinburgh students can access the complete Vault database, to which the Careers Service subscribes, on the Careers resources channel in MyEd.


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