Choosing your first job is really hard. A big part of why is because you really don’t have a gauge to measure against—sure there may have been a summer internship or two, but even then they act as only a glimpse into what full time work might entail. I knew I was really interested in consulting, given my interest in travel and working on interesting problems… but I often found conflicting stories or information online. My actual experience turned out to be a little bit different than what I had envisioned before becoming a consultant. These are the top 10 myths of management consulting:
1. The hours are insane and unpredictable
It’s all relative. Relative to your friends in accounting—you will definitely work hard. That being said, consulting projects are generally planned well in advance and have specific timelines and goals… it’s not like banking where a last minute M&A offer can destroy your weekend. Most of my weekends in consulting were protected and if I wanted to do something and gave my team advance notice—it could happen.
2. You don’t control what projects you get put on
False. One of the first things that happened when I joined was a meeting with my staffing manager about what sorts of projects I wanted to be put on. The only two limitations were that initially I was expected to be put on a project with more people from my home office (to get acclimatized) and of course project staffing would have been limited to projects that the firm actually won (one of the perks of going to a higher tier firm is that on average projects are all very cool).
3. Dress code is more casual than Banking
Not actually true. Especially at the entry level, you spend significantly more time in front of clients as a consultant than you do as an investment banker. Client-facing generally means having to be more formal (though Fridays at the office are almost always casual). My first project was 4 months of a suit and tie every single day.
4. You’re at the mercy of your engagement manager
You don’t really have a boss as a consultant. The engagement manager’s role is less so to micromanage, and more so to make sure everyone has an independent work silo that they can accomplish to a high-degree of quality. Your engagement manager is more like a coach. The only caveat is that sometimes the engagement manager can be the real bottleneck, especially if you’re waiting to have work reviewed.
5. You can’t do private equity after consulting
Super false. Private equity is one of the most popular career paths out of consulting and Is actually gaining a lot of traction in PE circles. That’s because a lot of returns generated these days don’t come from simply LBO’ing a company—but from actual improved management and strategy. Firms are beginning to recognize this and are bringing on more consultants in an effort to boost returns.
6. It’s your ticket to a good b-school
False. Yes, there’s no doubt being a management consultant is a huge leg up when applying to B-school… but without the other elements, it’s not going to happen. You need to make sure you’re staying active in your community or with other initiatives, and also make sure you kill the GMAT. Remember — it’s about who you are, not your job.
7. The difference between firms is large
At the top tier, no. Everyone is competing for the same set of contracts. There are often slight differences in the focus or type of work (larger companies tend to skew towards McKinsey and BCG while Bain has a very well established private equity practice). At the end of the day it’s about where you find the right fit… or who ends up giving you the offer!
8. Your first project determines everything
False. Your first project will definitely establish a reputation with your first engagement manager… but the beauty of consulting is that you’ll work with a lot of different teams and engagement managers. Even if you don’t find one that you click really well with immediately, you’ll get plenty of other chances to work on other projects. There’s no such thing as someone who works well with everyone… so don’t sweat it if your first project isn’t everything that you wanted—not the end of the world.
9. Your home-office location is irrelevant
False. A lot of the time I heard that your home office isn’t really important, ultimately it’s just where you end up spending your weekends. While that might be true when you become a seasoned consultant and have a network of partners/engagement managers that you enjoy working with… it definitely isn’t true initially. Your first few projects and the people that you’ll have the opportunity to be closest to will be from your office.
10. You have to stay general your first few years
False. If you really know what you love and want to work on, you can definitely request it in your meetings with your staffing manager. For me that was strategy projects (the industry or location didn’t bother me so much). As a result I ended up spending 80% of my time on strategy projects of some sort. Of course, if you know what you’re interested in specifically before you enter the recruiting process, you should try to focus your attention and effort on the companies that focus in that era—e.g., An interest in Pharma means a focus on ZS Associates
As a final caveat… at the end of the day, it’s important to remember that everyone’s experience is unique. At Mckinsey they have a saying “Make your own McKinsey” — meaning the firm is big and diverse enough that you can have the type of experience that you want.
There’s so much information out there about management consulting. It’s hard to tell what’s reality and what’s fantasy a lot of the time… especially when you’re looking at entering the workplace for the first time. I definitely noticed a big difference between what I had heard and what I had actually experienced!
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