I am glad you asked. So many students come into their first year completely unsure of what career they wish to pursue afterwards. During some of the initial management consulting meetings at our school, approximately 150 students showed enough interest to attend. This is out of a class of just over 500 students. Looking around, I was stunned. How was I going to compete against my classmates here and students across the country for such few jobs? The answer? Knowledge (understanding what consulting is) and preparation (preparing for interviews and the career). Let us address the first part, knowledge.
In business, consulting means giving advice for pay. It means being hired by a corporation to identify an issue, determine how to fix it, and address the problem and solution with the corporation's counterparts. The following are important aspects of a consultant's job description.
Every consultant has several responsibilities. Some will play out immediately, some will occur as the consultant becomes more senior. Here is a good summary of responsibilities.
If you have not already, you will soon talk to someone who says they want to work at a consulting firm for two years, no more. After that, they want to move into industry. The high prevalence of this mindset, in fact, yields consulting firms that feel transitory in nature. People are always coming and going. There are several reasons for this.
What is the net effect of all this? You get to work with and learn from far more people than you would at a typical corporation during the same number of years. Of course, do not get too attached to these people - they may also leave the firm, leaving you by yourself...
For those of you who have not traveled for work, it is grueling. Many leave consulting solely because the life of constant travel is unrelenting. There are three travel modes, and each company typically sticks with one of the following.
I cannot state enough how important it is to understand travel when considering this career path. I highly recommend the Vault MBA Career Bible, as the authors do a tremendous job dissecting the issue and posing questions to the reader to ascertain how able they are to handle this career.
Consultants work a fair number of hours. Expect around 60 on average. For those traveling 4 or 5 days a week to a client site, expect 70-80 (you are on the client site, what else are you going to do?). Around deadline time, expect more. Anywhere between 70 and 100, depending on how badly you are crunched for time. What does 60 hours per week mean? 9AM to 9PM, Monday through Friday. Or, 12 hours a day Monday through Thursday, 8 hours on Friday, and some time over the weekend. 60 hours feels far greater than 40 hours, so for those of you coming from 40-hour/week jobs, be ready for the adjustment.
Are you comfortable with ambiguity? Can you handle new situations with little help and handholding? Can you figure out what needs to be done on your own, do it, and validate your own results? These are important questions for an aspiring management consultant.
Scope control is a major aspect of this. Have you ever heard of the 80/20 rule? It is typically known as "80% of the work takes 20% of the time". Consulting transforms this a bit: "Address the 20% of issues that derive 80% of the value". In essence, do not try to "boil the ocean", or create such a massive scope that you have no chance of success. Every consulting firm should teach you their way of managing scope during your training; ponder its use during business school as well.
As a consultant, you will remain fairly anonymous. Almost every major consulting firm has a written policy of anonymity. You are not allowed to reveal who your clients are. After all, no major corporation wants the world to know that they need the help of a consulting firm. Even as a partner, you will never be listed in the front page of the Wall Street Journal for a deal you may have done - that is reserved for corporate executives, bankers and private equity shops. As well, you will rarely meet with the CEO of a major corporation. Expect to be working closely with someone whose rank falls between regional operating manager and divisional vice president, for example.
I came to business school expecting, quite naively, that a consulting job would not be too difficult to get. Soon I was convinced otherwise otherwise. Please be sure to read other sections of this website to better understand just how time-consuming the consulting process really is.
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