We all know it’s smart to ask questions about a career during recruiting; however, when I was recruiting with the Big 3, I often found it difficult to balance showing that I was truly committed to consulting while getting answers to some of my trickier questions. One of these questions was if it would be possible to carry on a social life while pursuing a management consulting career. I had built lots of strong friendships in college and had been involved in a number of “extracurricular” activities, and I couldn’t imagine life any differently. Because I was too wary of asking this question, I went into my Bain internship (and later, full time role) hoping for the best. Thankfully, I wasn’t disappointed. The short answer is, yes, you can have quite a vibrant social life, and I hope to offer a few tips on how to do so while juggling your consulting job.
Be involved, but be selective
If you’re like me, you’re probably quick to commit to anything that sounds remotely interesting. In college, I was a chronic over-committer. While this led to some stressful weeks, overall there were few consequences. In the “real world,” however, you typically don’t have as much flexible time no matter your job; thus, you have to be very intentional in how you spend it. Do your research and find activities in your community that will allow you to build your social group. While you might not be able to join the running club, hold a board position for a local non-profit, play with the recreational sand volleyball club, AND become an officer for your university’s alumni group all at the same time, you probably can choose one or two of these. Take some time to ask yourself how you relax or how you have fun, and choose a group or two that will allow you to do that while making friends.
Be the initiator
Once you meet a few people you think you’d like to be friends with (or if you’re lucky and already have friends in the area), be the one to initiate hanging out. Your job likely will keep you a little busier than your non-consulting friends, but in my experience others rarely took the time to organize hanging out. If you initiate, it’s a win-win — not only will your friends be grateful for you getting them all together, but you also can ensure social events happen at times that work with your schedule. I had a friend a year ahead of me at another Big 3 firm who organized a weekly get-together at a local bar. He planned it for Thursday evenings, when he knew he’d be back from traveling—he’d step off the plane ever week knowing he was immediately going to hang out with friends.
Don’t forget your consulting peers
Entering a consulting firm is a bit like starting college — you have a class of peers from around the country (or world) who are all eager to learn and eager to make friends. An advantage over college, though, is that your firm has already thoroughly vetted the people in your class. While large components of recruiting are intelligence and competence, the Big 3 also pay close attention to personality. You may have heard this termed the “airport test”—the interviewers ask themselves, “If my flight was cancelled and I was stuck in an airport for 5+ hours with this person, would I enjoy the time I spent with them?” Obviously, everyone has different personalities and is drawn to various types of people, but it’s nearly guaranteed that the people in your class are extremely interesting and good conversationalists. When I started my full time job at Bain, I was struck with the amazing consistency with which good personalities had been recruited. Sure, there were some fellow Associate Consultants I met who were very, very different than I was, but I still had some pretty incredible conversations with them. Chances are, you’ll really like your class of peers at your firm—across the board, watching my friends at all the firms, I’ve seen this to be true. So even while you’re busy getting involved in activities outside your firm, don’t forget to build relationships within it too.
Get smart about managing your time
This might seem like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how easy it is to let unproductive hours slip by during the day. Unfortunately, your workload doesn’t get reduced by wasting time, so your social hours are often the first thing to go. I found that I usually lost the most time when I was on travel cases— there are a lot of interruptions on travel days, so I had to teach myself to take advantage of every spare moment. I learned to work on the plane as soon as I took my seat, until the flight attendant told me to put my laptop away. Then I would strategically save work I could do on paper while we were taking off (for example, sketching out slide designs). After that, I would wait for the first “ding” on the intercom system that meant we’d passed 10,000 feet and could use laptops again, whether or not the flight crew announced it. I’d opt to take Ubers or taxis rather than rent a car, often gaining an hour or more a day since I could work during commuting time. These uses of small time add up quickly, and you will find that you frequently can free up hours each week.
You should be encouraged that you can indeed maintain a very healthy social life while being a management consultant; in fact, my consulting peers are some of the most socially active people I know. Take some time to strategically plan and manage your free time and friendships, and you’ll likely be happy with the outcome. Hopefully the provided tips are a good starting point—use them to get your feet under you, then figure out what works best for you.
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