I came across management consulting by chance. My close friend was a management consultant and she used to tell me how interesting her work was. She routinely regaled me with stories about the client issues, analyses and impact they were having.
She also shared with me interesting books and articles, and forced me to take a more structured approach to my thinking.
I remember her warning me how difficult it is to get in. The outstanding grades one needs just to get invited for interviews, as well as case interview skills on estimations, brainstorming and hypotheses, plus the stamina and alertness required to successfully handle rounds of interviews.
Moreover, even once you are in, the work can be tough, especially when deadlines are approaching. This results in many people leaving management consulting to get a better work-life balance. The churn in consulting is very high.
I remember she sometimes would not sleep 2 days in a row, working 48 hours straight. Of course, this was not necessary and was driven by the study partner who wanted to prove to everyone how exceptional he was by working all-nighters and expecting the same from his team.
Still, she seemed to like the work very much while my all-nighters were not that pleasant.
Yet despite all the negative information I fell in love with management consulting and committed to joining a management consulting firm one day.
When I finally got in it was just as great as I expected it to be, if not better. It was tough in the beginning. I was a business analyst so you could not be more junior than me unless you were an intern, in the research team or an administrative staff. However, the work was interesting.
I worked with mostly amazing colleagues and eventually, after a lot of hard work, had exposure to more senior executives of large international organizations.
I would wine and dine with billionaires, present to top political figures and extensively travel internationally as part of my job.
Overall, I would recommend management consulting as I think it is a great platform to start one’s career.
Similar to my own journey, you may be thinking about making the switch, but are not sure if this relationship will. I am here to say that it will. You just have to take the plunge and ride out the inevitable surprises that occur.
Management consulting, along with financial services, is among top choices for most MBAs and other candidates. This despite the fact the image of management consulting is not always positive. As some people say “management consultants take your watch and tell you what time it is”.
You also may be considering management consulting but are not quite sure yet if it is the right path for you. You may want to know why people join management consulting and why they stay. What are the key reasons why someone chooses management consulting?
The answer is probably slightly different for each person. I can’t speak for everyone but below will share with you what were the reasons why I chose management consulting and still love the work. I am committing for the long term. We are going house hunting soon.
1. A wide variety of driven and intelligent coworkers. In management consulting you always work on different engagement teams for different clients. You are a part of a massive organization with so many exceptional people at each level, whether it is at the level of a business analyst, associate, engagement manager or associate principal. Working with so many people introduces a lot of diversity into your life and makes work more interesting and exciting.
It also allows you to build a network of individuals within the firm that you truly like, respect and trust. Those are like-minded individuals who are after similar goals to yours.
Moreover, you learn a lot from people you work with. In fact people say you are an average of 5 people you spend the most time with.
If you are driven individual, you may feel demotivated and isolated if you end up working outside of management consulting as the quality of your colleagues in most cases will not be as consistently high as in management consulting.
If my relationship is with management consulting, then I see the people I work with as the friends of my partner. And he has a lot of interesting friends.
2. Your reputation reflects your performance. This benefit is the result of benefit number one. If you are good, it will be well known in the firm. Because you work with so many different people, no one person can damage your reputation or take credit for your work, the situation which is more likely in other careers.
It does happen a few times, but it eventually evens out and is never so damaging. The culture does not permit it.
For example, if you join a bank after your MBA you will likely have one boss who will most likely try to dump as much work on you as possible and to give you as little credit as possible so he or she (and it is usually he) can keep more credit for himself.
Moreover, there is some envy involved. Some senior executives in banking really had to work through the ranks to get the role you received by securing an MBA. There is less of this in management consulting so you tend to be with more like-minded people.
3. In management consulting you have more control over your development. If you are proactive you can get yourself onto the engagement, which will allow you to develop the skills you want to develop.
Moreover, in management consulting you are the product of the firm. It is in the firm’s best interest to keep your skills level up to date and help you build yourself up as a professional.
In fact, this benefit is one of the most alluring when it comes to management consulting. I cannot think of any other line of work readily available to MBAs in which organization will be as incentivized to invest in your professional development.
You are in a relationship where both partners want to see the other succeed. That is a keeper.
4. Management consulting culture is exceptional. Consulting firms tend to have positive environments focused on developing people, with approachable leadership. It comes back to the organization’s view of you as an asset, not just as a resource. Hence, a lot is invested in your professional development and the organizational environment is usually more supportive.
5. You get to see the world. The extent of this depends on the management consulting firm you join, your efforts to network within the firm (so you know when opportunities to work in exciting places arise and people know that you are available and have necessary skills to be picked for those opportunities) and your luck.
However, on average, you will get better opportunities to travel and see the world in management consulting versus in other industries.
I remember when I was just starting out my career before my MBA. My friend wanted to cheer me up and invited me to tag along on a weekend business trip.
I was sitting in an airport catching a flight to nearby city where my friend was attending a conference. We were in an airport cafe and I distinctly remember thinking that some day I want to live a life which will allow me to travel to different cities, countries and cultures. This was before I realized I wanted to be a management consultant.
Fast-forward just few years, I was working for a large consulting firm, I was at the very same airport, at the very same café, catching a plane with an engagement partner to go to an exotic location where our client planned to build a new business.
So you see, my relationship with management consulting leads to many exciting trips to exotic cities.
6. You get to test-drive different jobs. In management consulting you will end up working on various engagements, which often will be very different in nature. You may end up working on projects in different industries and even in various geographies.
You may be doing a study to enhance customer satisfaction for a media client, prior to being staffed on an engagement for a banking client helping them to determine if they should enter a new segment, which will be followed by a study for a large retailer that plans to enter an emerging market.
My God! Think about the exposure this level of diversity of work brings to your life. Especially if you are a young person who just graduated and not quite sure what you are passionate about.
Being exposed to so many projects in various industries is such a wonderful opportunity to try out things and see if you can find something that, in words of the legendary Steve Jobs, makes your heart sing.
Many people never discover why they were born. I think management consulting can help you find what makes your heart sing. I cannot say that I found it yet, but I know management consulting brought me much closer to discovering it and is helping me accelerate my professional development while I am searching for “why”.
7. Consultants get a lot of perks. You accumulate a lot of air miles, which you can use for personal travel. Your cell phone cost is covered by the company. You can expense meals, travel and accommodation when you are out of the city on studies. Management consulting firms have well oiled administration machines and onboarding teams that help management consultants stay on top of everything.
8. Management consulting is known for its output driven culture. In management consulting the output you deliver is more important than face time. You have the flexibility to work remotely when needed as long as the work gets done.
When you are working from the client’s offices, the face –time culture becomes more important but still not to the extent it is abused in banking.
9. Higher job satisfaction. I worked in management consulting and worked outside of consulting and can say that a significantly higher proportion of my management consulting colleagues found their jobs interesting versus my colleagues in industry.
In fact, I only knew one person during my days in the industry that seemed to enjoy his job, or at least he told me he did. But he was in his role for a few months and he was in a coveted leadership position which any driven person will find interesting, at least for a while. Even I would find it interesting,
10. It makes negative elements that are common in any job more tolerable. It is interesting how when you enjoy your work, negative things are more tolerable. I remember my project team landing in a strange country for a series of meetings only to discover that our baggage was lost, and as a result we had no business clothes for our meetings.
Moreover, the airline had no idea when they could return it.
On another occasion I found out around dinner-time that I had to write a business case that was due the next morning. I knew I had to pull an all-nighter. That was not stressing me out. I felt I needed more time and the time I had would be insufficient.
There was also a time when I was driving for a meeting on a highway in a storm and was not able to see anything and yet was still driving since I had to get to an important meeting.
Those types of experiences would be highly painful in a job you hate or don’t care about. Yet those painful experiences exist in any job.
At least for me, management consulting work is so interesting most of the time that I was driven by an adrenalin rush during those difficult situations. So it was not pure logic that was driving me to suffer through those experiences, as it would be the case if you hate your job.
I actually had energy to do difficult things. I had internal drive, in addition to logic, which made these experiences significantly less painful.
11. Management consulting vacations are more relaxing. As a consultant you can time your vacations so it takes place between engagements and you can completely disconnect from your work for 2-4 weeks. Comparatively, when I was working in industry, I never actually had a vacation.
When I was on vacation I was still required to check my emails each day. If there is a crisis I had to fix it. I basically worked remotely and whatever work was not done while I was away accumulated, which resulted in coming back to mountains of work in addition to already extremely heavy day to day workload.
Management consulting is a good choice if you would like to learn a lot and are not sure which industry excites you the most. It’s a bonus if you are willing to be in a service job where you always have to be nice to clients who don’t have to be nice to you, can deal with uncertainty and lack of routine and willing to work harder than people do in average jobs.
My view is if you have a good enough profile to try out management consulting, go after it. In the worst-case scenario, you can stay for 2 years and learn a lot. In the best-case scenario you will find a career that is so much better than most other alternatives available for MBAs.
You will find a career that will accelerate your professional development and your search for what makes your heart sing.
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Image from Moyan Brenn under CC license