If you’ve recently been thinking of a career change or you’re a recent graduate and unsure of where to focus your efforts, it’s worth considering management consulting. This industry is among the most competitive—with leaders like McKinsey and Company, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and Deloitte—but it also comes with many rewards. In addition to lucrative salaries, management consultants also receive first-hand experience helping companies across various sectors.
Whether they need help reorganizing, defining their values, or accessing their digital security risks, consultants are tasked with the fine art of strategy and execution. As a bonus, working as a management consultant vastly expands your network and provides training in expert fields, making you that much more attractive of a candidate when you’re ready to job search.
Sounds great, right? There are plenty of perks—but also some downsides. When we’re not wading through a pandemic, management consultants typically travel Monday through Thursday to the client, catching flights and hotel hopping. The job, too, is, well, to put it lightly: high-pressure, high-stress and high-expectations. You can expect long hours, weekend work, and plenty of slide decks and meetings. Since the job is mostly based on client projects, it can sometimes feel like getting a new post every few weeks or months. For these reasons and others, the majority of management consultants only stay between two and five years to avoid burnout.
To make sure your personality and working style is a fit for the gig, consider advice from former and current consultants. Here, they share signs you will thrive in this profession:
You are curious and a problem-solver.
Tony Hunter, the president of TWH, says the best type of management consultants have an innate, strong and consistent intellectual curiosity. Not only do they ask the right questions, but they are always looking for solutions. This means being a problem-solver is a non-negotiate soft skill for this industry. Hunter says when you couple this hands-on mindset with the ability to understand people and organizational dynamics, you’re in the best position to be successful. “The solutions need to be anchored in practicality, as they must be actionable. This means they should be possible to implement given the client’s existing infrastructure, resources and culture,” he adds.
You are driven by a desire to help others
While the central aspect of the work is solving problems, NYC-based engagement manager Alex Rose says that, inevitably, consultants become attached to their clients. Since traditionally, you are traveling to various parts of the country (or globe) every week for months at a time, it makes sense that many consultants become invested in their projects. Even in times when the working environment is stressful, Rose says consultants and clients tend to have a ‘we are in it together’ mentality, creating a productive dynamic.
“The clients appreciate the hard work/effort that consultants put in for their problems, particularly when working harder than the typical employee,” he continues. “Developing a great relationship with clients quickly transforms the work from solving problem ‘X’ to solving all the major problems for the client.”
Sure, this means more work, but for Rose, it also serves as a way to humanize the client and create lasting professional relationships. “Seeing the benefits to the client are clear and the reward becomes helping the client succeed, not necessarily solving a specific problem,” he adds.
You are a natural salesperson
Before you pull out your briefcase and offer some free samples, Hunter says ‘selling’ isn’t meant in the literal sense for most management consultants. Instead, it’s about presenting an idea of a solution to a client and giving enough convincing information and data that they hop on board. As you can imagine, this can be tricky and frustrating, particularly with seasoned brands that have been in business for decades—or even a century. “The solutions should also create incremental value, solve a challenge or advance an organization’s strategic goals,” Hunter continues. “Effective communication skills, executive presence, and the ability to think on your feet are critical when selling.”
Rose says this can be daunting, but when a consultant has done his or her job, they have evidence to support their recommendations. “Consultants should still be willing to change their minds when presented with new information but shouldn’t be afraid about asserting their initial opinions with supporting reasons,” he adds.
You’re curious about other cultures and customs
Particularly in the Big Four firms but really for all brands, management consulting is an international industry. This means they are often attracted to candidates who are ex-pats, immigrants, or, generally speaking, have an interest in other cultures and customs. As Katherine King, the CEO of Invisible Culture, puts it, people who were raised in multicultural contexts usually have the inherent ability to see and accept the world through many perspectives. “Training mono-cultural employees is fraught with challenges because most people believe they are already cross-culturally sensitive. This is the first hurdle to get past to foster a more cross-culturally agile worker,” she continues. “The cost to organizations of developing global leaders is only visible on the balance sheet of failed relocations. Fully apprehending the losses of cross-cultural management, blunders tangible is even harder.”
You can sleep well anywhere
If you’re a sensitive, light sleeper who struggles to fall asleep anywhere but your bed, consulting might not be the right opportunity for you. As one former management consultant who preferred to remain anonymous shared, to be effective, you have to have the ability to catch Zzz’s anywhere. Even if you are staying in luxury hotels thanks to corporate partnerships, it’s still an unfamiliar bed and place.
“Sleep plays a huge role in your brain chemistry, impacting not only your performance but your sense of satisfaction and health,” he continues. “It’s not the hours of sleep that are most challenging, though, it’s the quality. Most people can’t sleep deeply in a hotel, and when you’re in a hotel four days a week, every week. It starts to add up and wear you down.”
You thrive in uncertainty.
Management consultants are typically assigned (or ‘confirmed’) to a project for a set amount of time. This can range from a few weeks or three months, six months, and so on. The most common frame is around one to three months, based on the client’s contract and needs. Rose says this can create lots of uncertainty since you may not know what project is next when you wrap up another one. “Being placed on a project without any prior content or industry knowledge can be paralyzing for some, but it is energizing for a consultant,” he continues. “Not only do consultants need to embrace the uncertainty, but it motivates them to research to gain the necessary knowledge base. It is the goal of consultants to accept uncertainty, and solve for it, not run away.”
As an example, Rose shared once he had a two-week project evaluating an investment in a trucking fleet. At the time, he knew nothing about trucking, nor anyone in the industry itself. Sounds scary, right? To his surprise, it became one of the more exciting studies he did, since it required him to dive head-first into the content. “While the exact information I learned may not be helpful in the future, the information gathering techniques are replicable, and I furthered my valuation skills by applying them in an unknown industry,” he added.
You consider yourself data-driven
According to King, the ability to use science to make workplace interactions more human has been crucial in increasing authentic validation. In the field of management consulting, this means bridging a variety of perceptions to found common ground for clients, teams, and others. “Many leaders don’t realize that they inadvertently cut their employees at the knees by setting unrealistic expectations,” she continues. “The more science that develops around leadership, the more the numbers show why it’s compelling for people in positions of power to make changes that they so often resist.”
You can work in strange places
Here’s how a typical Monday goes for a management consultant: waking up early to catch a flight to the client. After you read and respond to emails on the plane, you catch an Uber or cab to the client’s office. You work until six or seven, dependent on the project, then take another car to the hotel. You may have time to disconnect for dinner—usually room service—or, you’ll continue hustling as you eat. A few more hours of work before sleep, and then repeat through Thursday. As the anonymous former consultant shares, you can expect to spend an alarming amount of time in cars, at hotels and planes. If you’re someone who can remain productive and on task, no matter where you are, you’ll be able to handle the lifestyle. And as a bonus, he says it’ll give you some free hours if you work while in transit.
Lindsay TIgar is a frequent contributor to Ladders News.