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Why Consulting Is a Revolving Door for MBAs

New Bloomberg data show most B-school students who go into consulting after graduation aren't in it for the long haul.

Of all the industries MBAs could end up in, the largest single chunk of them flock to one: consulting. But Bloomberg data show that they're not likely to stick with it. Even though consulting is the most popular of the three industries that claimed the majority of business school graduates this spring (financial services and technology are the other two), it's also the one MBAs are most likely to move on from a few years later.

For its 2015 ranking of business schools, Bloomberg surveyed more than 12,700 alumni of full-time MBA programs and found that only 37 percent of those who had gone into consulting after graduation were still working in the field six to eight years later. That's the lowest retention rate of any industry in the survey. Finance and tech jobs had a comparatively better hold on B-schoolers: 73 percent of students who graduated into finance jobs stayed in finance, and 72 percent of grads who got technology jobs did so. 

"Consulting firms know that the young talent they work so hard to lure in with all the perks and travel and flexibility will probably leave sooner rather than later," said Tony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education & the Workforce. "It's not a world anymore where the employers are going to take care of you. Everyone is a free agent today." 

The fact that MBAs seem to treat consulting as a strategic but short-term stop on their career journey isn't necessarily hurting the industry. In fact, unless an employee is on track to become a partner, she may be more beneficial to the firm when she leaves. "Many consulting firms have resources in place to help individuals make transitions and keep extremely strong alumni networks with people who leave the firm," said Julia Zupko, assistant dean and director of career development at the Yale School of Management. 

Among MBAs who enter consulting after graduating, 13 percent have moved into technology jobs by the time six to eight years have passed. Ten percent end up in financial services, and 5 percent go into health care. If those relationships are as strong as consulting firms hope, that leaves consulting firms with a powerful network of former consultants spread across a group of growing industries. 

"Consulting firms want their alumni to continue to give back to the firm. They're not offended if people choose to leave," Zupko said. "They view it as a long-term relationship."

Watch Next: Where Do MBA Grads Want to Work Now? 

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