. . .

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Consulting - Behind the Doors

A couple days ago a friend asked me why do people want to go into consulting?  In fact, quite a few people in the last couple weeks have asked me "what is management consulting?".  I'll try to tackle the former in this post.

Why consulting?

If you look at the websites of any of the major consulting firms, you'll see the same set of reasons (framed as why you should choose Firm ABC) for why undergrads and MBAs should hop on the consulting train.  These reasons include (not exhaustive):

  • You'll develop a core set of analytical and critical skills.  To a great degree, this is true.  Consulting has given me many opportunities to dig a little deeper - whether it's building a model bottoms up, critically testing assumptions, or practicing how to communicate more effectively.
  • Depending on the staffing model of each firm, you'll gain a diverse set of cross industry and cross functional experiences.  This is true to a certain extent.  It depends on how you define "diverse" experiences.  Yes, you may get staffed on projects with different clients from different industries.  But, for folks just entering the consulting world straight from undergrad, the type of work you will do will largely be the same from client to client (unless you proactively work with your employer to make sure you get the exposure you want).  
  • You'll be contributing to developing unique solutions to important issues for major corporations.  "Unique" and "important" are subjective terms, but there normally is a sense of urgency (either self-imposed or due to pressure from the market) to find a solution.  Again, for those coming directly from undergrad, your contribution may provide support for the final deliverable.  Ultimately, however, the partners will likely already have a solution in mind, and all you'll be doing is building support for it.

There are also the implied (and often the real) reasons for why people want to go into consulting - mainly, most firms pay relatively well (especially when you include everything from salary, bonus, expenses, MBA sponsorship for the lucky few, airline and hotel points, etc.) and prestige / selectivity.

What about the other side of consulting that companies and recruiters don't tell you about?  I've asked interviewers before what they don't like about consulting and I've gotten the typical responses (e.g., long hours).  Some things I've noticed:
  • The hours are long, but also unpredictable.  Having long hours is one thing, but when the hours of the job have no clear boundaries, it becomes slightly more difficult to make plans.  With the "on-call" mentality that is often expected, this creates an unrealistic expectation for consultants to revolve their lives around their jobs, at times making unnecessary sacrifices.
  • The importance of relationships (family, friends, significant others, self, etc.) can get lost in the midst of it all.  Traveling Monday thru Thursday with the hours in between can eventually put a toll on different aspects of one's life.  To the extent that this is relevant really depends on where you are in your life - for the single straight out of school undergrad, all the traveling is probably a bonus rather than a potential thorn.  For others, it can be become an escape (consciously or unconsciously) from issues bubbling at home.  It requires a conscious effort to prioritize the people in your life outside of work and nurture those relationships before it's too late. 
There are certainly more pros and cons to consulting, but that is going to be the case with pretty much any job.  I've only highlighted the key things I've observed based on personal experiences and what I think will ultimately determine whether consulting, for me, is a viable long term career.  

To end on a lighter note, here's a "So you want to be a..." xtranormal clip I found, with a more humorous somewhat true take on what it means to be a consultant.


Post a Comment

Don't be shy, share your thoughts! Just be polite :)