The ANALyst

Leverage, optimise, synergise

The Eternal Truth


A few consultants-to-be have been asking me a lot of questions lately; “Is consulting really that bad? Surely there must be some good sides to consulting! Can perception (of students) really be that different from reality?” etc. etc.

This post will aim to provide an objective view of what I think about consulting – both good sides and bad sides. Before we delve into it, let me reiterate that this is my personal opinion based on my experience and may differ from the opinions of others.

1. The Consulting Industry

The Good

The concept of consulting is a noble one. Consulting originates from the Latin word “Consultare” which refers to “giving advice”. In its purest form it refers to the process of giving unbiased advice to your clients based on your knowledge and experience. Clients have typically been in their business for many many years, and know it a lot better than any consultant ever will. However, the client can often not look at itself from an outsider’s perspective. It’s akin to visiting a doctor when you are sick. Your doctor probably doesn’t know you as well as you do yourself, however he/she is able to diagnose your illness and suggest remedies based on his/her experience and skill. Consulting is very similar. The consulting firm typically includes people who are experienced in diagnosing problems in a particular sector through their previous experience in the same industry – either as a consultant or employee within the industry.

The Bad

The execution, in real life, sadly does not mimic the concept as well as it should. For starters, the “experts” may not really be true experts. This is much more common in the larger generalist firms as opposed to the smaller boutiques. This is equally true in strategy, operations and technology houses. The generalists typically have a model, whereby they recruit college students as Analysts/Associates etc. These college students are typically expected to move up the ranks to partnership level (sometimes an MBA maybe mandatory. College students typically have no experience of the industry; hence for a consulting firm to be credible advisors, it needs to have lateral hires from the industry throughout its hierarchy. This does not happen as much as it should. Typical project teams consist of far too many “career consultants” and new college hires. Industry experts are often not seen after the project has been sold.

The Ugly

Giving unbiased advice to a client often means sometimes the advice maybe counter productive to the consulting firm. For example, there maybe two options that the consulting firm is in a position to recommend and theoretically, it should recommend the option that is best for the client, even if it comes at a cost to the consulting firm (through the lack of follow on work). However, overzealous partners in their quest to attain/beat targets often recommend options that may not be optimal. We haven’t even discussed cases of cost overruns due to misquoted and wrongly resourced estimates in large business transformation projects. This results in the client ending up on the losing side.

2. The Work

The Good

As an Analyst/Associate straight out of college, you are generally not aligned to an industry sector. This means that “you get to have a play around”. In your first two years, you typically get projects in different sectors so that you get a fairly broad experience. You learn a lot about how different businesses operate and about working within a client environment. The work is typically fast-paced and you move onto a new project every couple of months.

The Bad

You work long hours – very long hours! Before people cry foul, I do know that this varies by the firm and the client, but here I am just talking about my experience. Not only do you often work weekends, it is usually quite a stressed out environment where you are always rushing to meet deadlines and mini-deadlines. Projects are often short staffed with very optimistic timelines, hence, you the analyst, get to bear the after effects. Now, if you are in college, you are probably thinking “yeah whatever, that’s fine”. After two years of this, I doubt you would be singing the same tune.

The Ugly

You will often find that the work you are doing can be classified as “grunt work”. Making excel models and power point presentations. Not exactly what I would call rocket science. Contrary, to popular perception, you are not really thinking about the client’s problem and trying to innovatively resolve it. You spend most of your time researching on your firm’s internal resources and copy-pasting it to a new slideshow. Combine this with the possibility that the partner may have asked you to create the slideshows based on the wrong options anyway.

3. Travel

The Good

Firstly, you get to travel all around the country and even internationally. Therefore, you end up visiting a lot of places you perhaps wouldn’t have otherwise visited. In the process you rack up plenty of airmiles and hotel points – more than you will ever need. You also get to sample some of the best hotels in the country.

The Bad

As a consultant, it is possible that you end up travelling on all your projects. Which means, flying out on a Monday morning and flying back on Thursday evenings. There goes your personal life. If you have a family, you see them only on the weekends. Secondly, you can’t choose where your project is going to be. It may not be in a big city – it is quite possible that you get sent to the middle of Kansas for six weeks. Happens all the time. Moreover, just because you’ve spent six weeks in Kansas doesn’t mean you get to go to Vegas next time. You may end up at Montana for another six weeks.
Next comes food, your eating patterns and diets are completely ruined. Food is like an afterthought really. You eat when your EM or client says you can eat.

The Ugly

No, you do not automatically travel first class. Domestic travel is by coach, unless you have racked up enough miles to get a status or mileage based upgrade. You invariably have a screaming child next to you on most of your flights. Everything that can go wrong with connecting flights, usually does go wrong.
The hotel situation is slightly better, although I have been through an instance where I came back from the client at 10 pm to find out that my room has been allocated to someone else and my luggage put in the store room. No kidding – this has happened!

4. Networking

The Good

Working with different clients and on different project teams affords the opportunity to meet lots of different people and all the associated benefits that come with this. This is one of those aspects with no real negatives, at least none that I have encountered. I have met many amazing people through my time as a consultant and is probably the one aspect of the job that keeps me going.

This was my attempt at giving a realistic picture of life as a consultant in as concise a manner as possible. Please feel free to share your own experiences and/or disagree with mine should your experience be substantially different.

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July 25, 2009 Posted by | Consulting | 11 Comments