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 »

  1. […] This post was Twitted by steveshu […]

    Pingback by Twitted by steveshu | July 25, 2009 | Reply

  2. Your writeup is very thoughtful and balanced! Good starting point for consultants-to-be, and you intimate where some of the key variations may be. FWIW – I think the work diversity in consulting can one of the off-the-charts, good to great aspects of consulting. It is probably the #1 or #2 main driver for me first entering and re-returning to consulting from the operating company side. One thing I might add about consulting that tends to drive some consultants out … a consultant usually does not get the benefit and downside of living with the client results. This can be an unsettling feeling for many. When I left consulting for the first time, it was in a large because I wanted to (at risk of diminishing the true importance of consulting) stop “sitting on the sidelines” as an advisor.

    Comment by Steve Shu | July 25, 2009 | Reply

  3. As overdone as it is, I think the major “good” for me is the people. Compared to my client experiences, my fellow consultants are a bunch of very personable, extremely capable people. I find it hard to imagine another kind of company where I will get that kind of people experience. Maybe its a failure of my imaginations, but it is what keeps me in consulting, despite the very accurate downsides you mention ANALyst.

    Comment by Consultant Insider | July 26, 2009 | Reply

  4. ANALyst, so true on many counts!

    1. Many students have no idea what the ‘flashy’ world of the consultant actually entails.
    2. Many clients could have actually done the work the consultant did if they just applied methodical problem solving techniques.
    3. Many fresh recruits will be cutting, pasting, and Excel’ing for many a year and going nuts in the process.
    4. Many jobs you spend your guts/late nights/early mornings on will never see the public light of day or won’t be implemented.
    5. You will work with a lot of a$$hole$ and have to smile gratefully as you eat $hit from all of them.

    I found however that the good included:

    a) Accelerated learning in different areas,
    b) Osmosis of excellent thinking techniques, and
    c) Gaining a disciplined approach to problem solving and solution implementation.

    Keep the posts coming.

    -$£ick Rick

    Comment by $£ick Rick | July 28, 2009 | Reply

  5. Great post Analyst. Keep them coming!

    Comment by Cory | July 30, 2009 | Reply

  6. Very nice post! I am a current MBA student and I you gave us a very thoughtful inside picture.

    Thank you
    Sunil

    Comment by Sunil | August 16, 2009 | Reply

  7. This was indeed a great post ! I am looking forward to start the application process to many consulting firms. I am seeking many things from a job and i think consulting can provide those needs. First of all, i am very eager to learn and the learning curve in the consulting sectors seems incredible. Also, i would like to develop new problem solving techniques and apply them to a broad selection of problems. And i am looking to work with very capable and intelligent people. I have been way too deceived during my bachelors degree, too many people not giving a F($*.

    Is it possible to give us an insight as to what specific consulting companies work in which specific fields ? (For example, i have heard that Bain does a lot more PE than other consulting firms, etc..)

    Thank you!

    Comment by Jay | September 12, 2009 | Reply

    • Hi Jay,

      Well firstly, all the best with your job hunt. It will be an interesting process. Might be a good idea to brush up on answering cases!

      As to your question, around what firms work in which fields, its a hard question to answer because like all questions in consulting the answer is – it depends! Most large consulting firms like MBB, Deloitte Consulting, Roland Berger (mainly Europe), Booz etc. like to call themselves generalists. Different offices of these firms have clients in different sectors. NY or London offices for example will have a large financial sector presence whereas a Texas office is likely to have a large energy sector presence. Similarly DC offices will have large Federal practices. This again is generalisation, because while NY offices have large Financial presence it does not mean they do not have a presence in other sectors.

      Perhaps you might want to check with Steve Shu or Kevin Gao, if they have another version.

      Comment by banalyst | September 13, 2009 | Reply

      • Hey! Thanks for your quick reply. I will try and do more refined searches to what kind of consulting my local offices focus on.

        I’ve started practicing for my fit and case interviews which are scheduled for mid-oct. Do you have any tips as to solving case interviews ? I’m an engineering student, and my business knowledge level is quite low… I’m already signed up on the Management Consulted website and ordered the “consulting interview” guide when it first came out. Do you have any other tips or websites i could use ?

        Thank you!

        Comment by Jay | September 13, 2009

    • Hi Jay,

      Consulting firms hire a lot of engineers. Being an engineer you are unlikely to be tested on your theoretical knowledge of economics/accounting/management (these are almost never asked). Fit interviews are basically behavioral and the interview would want to know how you will react to difficult situations. It is important to give thoughtful answers here. If you are surprised by a question, it is ok to take a few moments to think about it rather than blurting and stammering.

      In case interviews they will look for your problem solving ability. How do you approach a problem, how logical is your thinking etc etc.

      Feel free to ask anymore questions you may have.
      All the best with your interviews.

      ANALyst (I almost entered my real name by mistake – luckily I spotted in time)

      Comment by banalyst | September 15, 2009 | Reply

  8. Hey! Thanks for your help!

    I’ll keep you updated as i go through the different steps of the recruiting process. Could be helpful for other readers too!

    Comment by Jay | September 17, 2009 | Reply


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