Having spent a large part of my consulting career in my twenties, since I joined the Firm just shy of my 22 birthday, I personally know what it was like to successfully manage a young image. I was generally the youngest analyst, associate or engagement manager on a team, and a very young principal leading teams. I recall several times managing teams where the youngest person was older than myself. Those kinds of situations invariably raise challenges in controlling one’s image and client perceptions. In this podcast, I outline 7 things which can be done to control ageism, and begin by defining how younger and older consultants differ in the signals they send.

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12 responses to How “Age” Impacts Consultants & Applicants

  1. Hi Isabelle,

    I am happy to answer your questions.

    One thing to note is that the circles you will travel in as a consultant will almost always be polite. I have seen very, very few clients who are rude to consultants. Outside this circle is a different issue altogether.

    For example, Turkish executives are very polite, but when you step onto the streets and bazaars your age and other attributes will be perceived differently.

    Almost every day I pass this billboard on Bay Street: “Chic is not what you wear but how you wear it.”

    So, I would say do not dress down, but be comfortable with what you wear. I strongly advise female clients to wear full dresses and belts since suits make them look very young and junior. Make-up, nail-polish etc is all fine provided you do not make it the centre of the discussion. Do not draw unnecessary attention to it but by all means please dress well.

    There is only one rule and it is simple: do not be distracting to the culture and customs of your client.

    If you follow this rule, you are fine. In Muslim countries you MUSt respect the local culture. I know some consultants who used to challenge this notion but it is disrespectful. We would not anyone being disrespectful to our culture so this applies both ways. If you wear a scarf in a Muslim country, it is fine, tolerated and appreciated by the client. Just do not wear to much of the local traditional outfits as this may seem condescending.

    Culture is probably the biggest issue and mention it in another podcast about racism. In just one example, dark skinned partners will never run a Korean, Chinese, Japanese office etc., in the immediate to medium-term future. That is just the way it is.

    Every part of the world has this issue, and you need to identify and manage it.


  2. As everytime, great podcast, very informative on consulting.
    You talk a little about clothing. What do you advice for women about make-up/nail polish? Are there rules ? I know that in some industries, women aren’t allowed to wear any make-up/nail polish whereas in other industries, they have to. This doesn’t seem to be a crucial question but can a “fancy” clothing have an (indirect) impact on career in consulting? Also, what about religious clothing? Does an European consultant wear a scarf in muslim countries when working with clients?
    Also, as a consultant, do you take attention of colors (ex. white in China) with clients?
    In brief, is culture an important consideration in consulting?
    Thanks a lot.

  3. Hi Demel – that is not a bad idea. A podcast on how to turn around a poor consulting image is worth exploring. Michael

  4. Bitterly true! I wish I listened to this podcast much earlier! I joined the firm for two weeks and did all the mistakes you mentioned here – @@ I introduced myself all around my educational background, how exciting the research was at school, and of course fit in with suits/shirts all day long…Therefore I am pretty sure that my image is quite set as “young”. Now, can you make a pod cast on how to turn-around this image if it is already set? 🙂 Thank!!!

  5. Hi Gudipati – Thanks for the note – we will put something together shortly. Michael

  6. Echoing Lizzy’s comment (and request), I think this also ties in with how one approaches networking – it is about perception management. The central take-away (for me) is that you can, to a large extent, direct how someone engages with you because, if you are self-aware, you control the signals you send. The challenge is in understanding how others perceive you. Maturity and poise are learned responses – and I think that’s where experience (often correlated with age) makes a huge difference.

  7. Hi Lizzie, I have had many experienced hires join my team in their late 30’s and in 2 cases early 40’s. I can and will present this podcast. Michael

  8. This was interesting to me, coming from the reverse position. I am looking to enter consulting as an APD recruit. I am in my late 30s. I am not easily intimidated. I don’t mind being an individual. I have the ‘guts’ to make jokes to diffuse situations etc etc. But I am worried about ageism going the other way. I don’t want to be seen as the oldest person in the room. I look younger than I am, by the way, but I’m not sure that’s the point! You’ve covered how not to seem too young; do you have anything to suggest about how not to seem too old?! Thanks.

  9. Pradeep,

    Good points, but if you really think about it, even the most benign/safe advice can backfire if applied incorrectly. So, this applies to all advice.

    More specifically, there is a tendency for junior people to be too professional and too automatic when engaging senior people, and the ability to make a joke (assuming you pull it off well) shows that you are not intimidated by them. It does not always work, but it works more times than it fails.

    Moreover, imagine what would happen if I did nothing? It would be a licence to continue treating me badly.

    The reality is that the scene was set for such a bad relationship, that very little could make this worse. Orit Gadiesh, the Bain Chairwoman talks about a similar defining moment where she had to do something out of character just to fit in with the client. She also used a joke. Read about it on the HBS website.

    Of course, you need the skill to read situations, but that is for another podcast. That said, there is a reason not many people do it, it takes guts.


  10. Thanks for the excellent advice for young consultants. Some of the strategies you describe take a lot of guts to execute and if executed without conviction can backfire bigtime, for e.g. the line “if you’d like, i can come back in 15 years”. I think one has to be careful while playing such mind games and needs to know the audience well enough so that it isn’t viewed as immature ending up reinforcing the person’s bias on ageism.

  11. Thank you Rana.

  12. Thanks for this thoughtful and engaging podcast!

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