People tend to cite two well-documented reasons, namely travel and the hours, as the reason he or she decided not to pursue a career in consulting. In fact, the travel was the only reason I didn’t want to pursue consulting coming out of undergraduate school. It’s interesting to see how one’s perspective can change with additional work experience and emotional maturity, but I digress…
Travel and what sometimes feels like endless hours in the office are perfectly valid reasons to focus your job search elsewhere, but if you are undaunted by that challenge, there are three lesser talked about things you have to be prepared to take on once you become a consultant.
1. Status Meetings
Most corporate jobs require some degree of sitting through meetings which may not be the most relevant to you (read: boring, inefficient, etc.). What you will find in management consulting is that the frequency of meetings you need to attend, some of which undoubtedly will be less relevant to you than others, multiplies by roughly tenfold. The main culprit to blame for this is the status meeting.
In a business where the stakes can be so high, as in career making or breaking, it is crucial to CYA, as we say in the business, and one way in which this is done is the status meeting. These checkpoints allow everyone the opportunity to understand the progress of the project and if there are any concerns that need to be escalated. To put it simply, this is how you manage expectations through the project so that there are no surprises (e.g. missed deadlines) later on. In some cases you will have a status meeting for a status meeting to prepare for an executive status meeting.
I really wish I was joking about this. I guess you can say the number of status and review meetings required is directly correlated with the importance of the meeting at the end of that cycle. In my previous example, that would be the executive meeting (clearly very important!).
2. Extreme Scrutiny
Everyone associates consultants with a high price tag. With that price tag comes even higher expectations and with those expectations comes still higher levels of scrutiny. If you take offense to people double- and triple-checking your work, it is something you will either learn to embrace or you will find yourself looking for other employment. It makes sense if you stop to think about it – if YOU were paying hundreds of thousands our millions of dollars for a service or product, wouldn’t you want to be sure the numbers were run correctly and the analysis was spot on?
When this scrutiny is applied internally, you should think of it more as a collaborative exercise and less of a result of some sort of distrust. Specifically, if your manager, peer, or direct report can catch a typo or mistake in the analysis, it can be corrected before losing credibility with the client. Just to be clear, increased client credibility => more projects won by your firm => more $ paid to you.
3. Lots of Listening
A few months ago I read the book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey, and one of the principles of this book is listening to understand. What this means is you actually have to HEAR what people are saying to you. It’s not about listening so that you can respond and/or share the latest widget is that you have to sell. It’s about genuinely feeling the underlying
In a lot of ways, consultants are like business therapists, so if you don’t want to hear people talk about their problems, regardless of how irrational or unreasonable the people may be at times, then a different long-term career path might be a better fit.
I say long-term because even if you’re not strong in any of the three areas above AND you don’t want to travel AND you don’t want to work unpredictable hours, people can push through anything for a set period of time. Just know what you’re getting into and plan accordingly.