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Management Consulting: Your First 90 Days

Your first 90 days at a management consulting firm are crucially important to establish your reputation with your colleagues and especially with the firm’s leadership.

Starting a new job is an adventure. You can be anyone you want. It is not easy but you can completely reinvent your life using your new consulting job as a platform. So it is a huge opportunity. Take it and make the most of it.

During the first few months, you are being constantly observed to see if you will measure up. Management consulting is tough and partners expect to constantly deal with hiring mistakes by counseling out those who will not make it. They want to make sure you are not one of them. Leave them with no doubt that you are one of the greatest people they have ever hired.

Below are some ideas to make your first 90 days at a management consulting firm count.

1. Get to know senior people. 

During your first 90 days in consulting you have a perfectly valid reason to set up 30-minute chats with senior people, which for someone at the senior associate level will be engagement managers, principals, and partners.

Remember 8 months down the road it will be hard to explain why it took you 8 months to set up an introductory meeting. You will no longer be a newbie. Do it when it is perfectly acceptable to do so. In fact, in many management consulting firms after 8 months you will be considered as someone who “was around for a while,” due to the customarily high level of turnover.

You may get staffed on a project right away, in which case you will have barely enough time to sleep and eat. In such a situation you will still have some flexibility on one day of the week and this day is Friday.

Management consultants are typically expected to be at the clients’ offices Monday to Thursday and at the consulting firm’s office on Fridays. On some consulting projects, to further impress the client and get more business from the client, teams stay at the client’s office even on Fridays. However, Friday will be one day when it is generally easier to leave for 2 hours to go back to your office and get those introduction meetings going.

This may be very hard to do during the first 1-2 months because you are new and have no leg to stand on, but after a couple of deliverables, once you have earned some respect and some credit, you can start scheduling weekly introductory meetings to get your name out there.

Why this type of internal networking is important? In management consulting, you have to keep yourself on the right types of studies and these are not always easy to find. To be staffed on the right studies, partners need to know that you exist, they need to know the skills and experiences you bring to the table, and they need to know you are available and interested in the type of work partner is focusing on. No matter how much the staffing offices are involved, it is always better to have a partner asking for you. Moreover, the staffing coordinator may offer a partner a choice of a few people at your level, including you. In such situation it helps a lot if partner likes you and thinks having you on the project will make things eaiser not harder.

Spending some of your time during your first 90 days in consulting diligently getting to know managers, principals and partners will go a long way in helping you to put yourself on the map.

2. Figure out the performance metrics for your level. 

In management consulting things often move with the speed of light. You join, you may be staffed on a project while you are still going through on boarding training and, the next thing you know, you are stuck at a client’s office Monday to Friday and have to deliver on tough deadlines. 

However, you have to find time to figure out what metrics will be used to evaluate your performance at the end of the year, so you can tick off all the boxes. In the good firms, these tend to include intangible things like teamwork, image and so on. They may be intangible, but they are important to track. Do not get sucked into only worrying about the analyses and storyboards. Those are important but you need to be a good team player and that often counts for even more.

3. Do great work.

It is what leaders tell about you that counts, not what you say about yourself. Do an exceptional job and the word will spread.

Management consulting is hard. People will want you on their project team if you are good. You need to over-invest during your first few months with the consulting firm to establish a solid reputation. If you don’t do it, you may set yourself up to be labeled an average performer, or event worse, an under performer, and possibly a hiring mistake.

As Stephen King said, “Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work”.

4. Take care of yourself.

You will be pushing very hard to establish your reputation. However, you cannot afford to burn out. You are new and if you burn out you will be in a lot of trouble.

When you burn out after 2 years at the consulting firm, you can use some of the credit you developed over time to ask for time off or to skip working on weekends here and there so you can recover.

If you burn out when you just joined, you have no credit to use up. This is what I mean by saying that you cannot afford to burn out. 

Start with taking very good care of yourself. Eat healthy food, exercise, take breaks and sleep well.

You also need to include in your life things that make you happy. Whatever that may be for you. I personally recharge by spending time with people I love while we are doing something relaxing such as going for walks, going out for meals or watching a nice TV show with some good snacks. I also find it very relaxing to read. Discover what makes you feel happy and relaxed, and find time to do it. 

5. Display above average performance on your first consulting project.

Try to figure out what more senior people on the project you are staffed on care about the most and make sure you do those things. Different people value different things. 

One thing to remember is to never drop the ball. Even if you are tired and feel you cannot finish the work you promised to deliver, either find someone to finish it instead of you or finish it no matter how tired you are. Refer to MANAGEMENT CONSULTING: 10 INSIGHTS FOR YOUR 1ST STUDY for 10 ideas on how to maximize your chances of being perceived as high performer after your first project. 

6. Don’t rock the boat.

Even if you don’t like the project on which you were staffed, or people you were asked to work with, you should not make it known. If you do, you probably will not get what you want and your reputation will likely suffer a blow from which you may not recover.

Later, when you build up some credit within the firm, you can start influencing which projects you are staffed on and which people you work with. However, during your first few months with the firm don’t demand any special treatment. You will likely create negativity around your name. Your first 90 days is the easiest time to create such negativity because most people do not know you and few will give you the benefit of the doubt.

7. Emulate the actions and communication style of project leaders.

If you are new to the firm, and management consulting, when interacting with clients and senior firm leaders, copy the approach of the person on your team who you know is very successful, but keep in mind that it may need to be adjusted for your level. Use common sense. For example, if partner and a client executive are long-term friends and spend a lot of time making fun of each other, it does not mean this type of behaviour will be appropriate for you if you are a new business analyst who met this client executive yersterday.

But generally, people like people who are similar to them, so if you emulate your project manager, you will give your project manager more reasons to like you. In time you will develop your own style of delivering on projects, interacting with clients and the team. However, while you are new, just emulate those who have already done this many times before, to get a better idea of what works and what does not work.

Beyond the first 90 days with the consulting firm:

I know it is not easy to start a new job, especially if you are new to consulting. You have no leg to stand on, no allies and no credit. You will need to learn fast, not make bad waves around your name and keep steering forward. You will be amazed at how important these first 90 days in consulting really are. If you work incredibly hard and smart, the rest of your ride will be much easier.

Beyond the first 90 days in consulting, I would say the first 9 months are crucial, provided you are not stuck on one long project which can happen in rare cases at even BCG and any other strategy firm. Basically enough people need to know that you are amazing for about 9 months before your reputation crystallizes.

Over-investing during the first few months really pays off. You are establishing your reputation. Take care of yourself so you don’t burn out but push hard in the beginning so you can build momentum for the rest of your career at the firm. You will want that momentum if you want to be a top performer.

Image from Martin Fisch under cc.

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