Is Consulting Right for You?
Consulting is known for its long hours, tight deadlines, constantly changing projects, and lots of travel. But it’s also a great way to learn new skills and develop varied interests, or to have a job where no day is quite the same as the last. Honestly, consultants can have a bad reputation. As a popular phrase saying that “consultants take your watch and tell you what time it is”, the image of consultants may not be always positive. However, the industry has survived despite these stereotypes and it still continues to attract top talent across the world. Why? While there are many reasons, we attribute it most to the way consulting develops its people. Consultants are exposed to a wide variety of experiences and are taught how to apply lessons learned in other situations to the ones at hand. Moreover, consulting instills in its recruits an extraordinary amount of discipline and technique that they would be hard-pressed to gain at such an intense and focused level elsewhere.
Consulting can offer you incredible experiences and career prospects—but it does also ask for a significant investment of your time and energy. If you’re thinking about consulting, here is what you should consider as you make your decision.
1. Travel Agents know your name but you won’t run into Ryan Gosling at the airport
Yes, consultants travel all the time, and no, it’s not glamorous. Don’t get me wrong: It can be fun at times, and there’s a certain amount of self-discovery that occurs when you’re eating alone at Cheesecake Factory in some random town, but you have to be prepared that your Monday–Thursday are no longer yours to schedule as you please. You will learn to methodically plan your Friday–Sunday to squeeze in family, friends, doctor’s appointments, haircuts, and any other semblance of a personal life. If you’re in a relationship or have kids, it makes it even harder to leave that physically behind every week. Of course, most firms try to accommodate special circumstances, but travel is still a major part of the job description. You’ll find ways to make it fun, though.
2. Flexibility is not only a requirement for yoga
When working in industry, you would write yourself a to-do list for the day, and more often than not, you would do just that and enjoy the specific, tangible work and develop a close relationship with the people you worked with and for.
Fast forward to consulting, where you can barely plan your schedule for the next week, you have yet to see again people you work with during my first few months, and the work you are doing includes everything from supply chain analysis projects to operations assessments. Consulting can be a great way to gain expertise in all kinds of areas—but it also means that you have to constantly adapt and be as flexible as possible with your aptitude, time, and work style.
3. Dust off your elevator pitch
Consulting is really the art of making connections—not only in terms of the work, but perhaps more importantly, with people. Developing solid networks, both internally at the firm and externally at the client, is crucial. Within consulting firms and on client sites, you are constantly convincing to people that you are and would be a valuable asset to a project. The job also requires you to share ideas, explain concepts, and present findings almost on a daily basis. You’ll be working on teams of people you may have just met, but you must show clients a united project team to ensure that their projects will be executed seamlessly. If you run into the SVP in the elevator and she casually asks how your team’s recommendations are coming along, you’re going to want to make sure you can calmly summarize things the same way your teammate did when she met with her peers that morning—or five minutes ago. This does not imply that introverts need not apply but you will have to learn how to push yourself out of your comfort zone and become an effective communicator like she has.
4. Start your engines
This one isn’t consulting-specific by any means, but it is important to highlight here. To set yourself apart, you have to be a self-starter and know how to efficiently manage your time. There’s no dearth of opportunities within firms waiting for you to seek them out—somewhere to volunteer, some proposal to write, some article to contribute to—but that, combined with your client work, can equal some late nights and long weekends at the office. It can be intense and overwhelming, and it’s easy to feel burnt out quickly. But finding the balance between asking for new experiences, managing your time, and preparing for the occasional long night or weekend will help you take full advantage of consulting.
Consulting will help you develop a great number of skills. You will be constantly challenged and asked to do things that you may never have done before. Last but not least, consulting requires more than just the desire to do it to succeed.