What do you do for a living?
I am a senior engagement manager and consultant at a major US Consulting firm with a particular focus on serving clients in the public and social sectors.
How would you describe what you do?
I lead a team of consultants that are charged with solving specific problems for the clients that hire us. We solve the problem, convince the client the usefulness of the solution, and then help them take steps to explore and initiate it.
What does your work entail on this job?
It involves identifying, analyzing, and gathering facts that will allow you to evaluate different courses of action for your clients. You develop a high quality answer and solution that’s rooted in reality and is practical but also that enables you to help build their skills and their capacity to then actually execute a new plan.
What’s a typical work week look like for you as a management consultant?
There’s often a lot of travel involved because we work where our clients are. We don’t tend to work remotely. We believe in being on the ground with the people we are serving. So typically, unless I am serving a client that is in the city in which I live, that means a plane ride early Monday morning, working pretty long hours during the day.
It was commonplace in this job to be asked to do something that you have never done before or never even thought about doing before. Which is challenging just by its very nature.
One day will go anywhere from 12 hours on the low side to 16 to 18 on the long side. In extreme cases, it can go to 20 hours, but that is not common. I would say an average work week is probably about somewhere between 65 and 70 hours. I mentioned we fly out Monday morning. We typically do return Thursday afternoon or evening. I’ve got Friday where I’m home where I work out of home office.
How did you get started in this career or job?
This firm is very well-known, and so I applied through their traditional channels online like everyone else. However, what made the difference for me was that I was able to use my network to build a relationship with people that were already working there. And these people didn’t get me the job, but they did give me the interview and that was really, really important. Because I think this is the type of place where there are somewhere between 15 to 25 very, very qualified applicants for every position. All of whom are not only qualified but look great on paper. So it really helps if you have a personal connection to kind of make your resume stand out.
I really didn’t know what I wanted to do after college and I still hadn’t figured it out. Management consulting appealed to me because I was told a couple things about it, each of which, at least in my case, proved to be true. One was it really helps you become a better problem solver. It helps you take on the unique situation that you find in the business world or even in a government or nonprofit contract. It helps you apply a structure that makes it more solvable so you can attack problems in a systematic way. That was the first thing.
The second was management consulting is about building strong relationships with people that lead to trust and lead to influence so you can make a difference and have an impact. And those two skills, influencing people and structuring and solving problems, if you can apply those two skills to pretty much any job, you will have a bright future.
What do you like about what you do?
You get to work with really brilliant, driven people. I always felt like that we were doing stuff that was important and things that I was always passionate about. We never got hired to go solve some trivial problem for some organization. It’s always a big and important that was going to have a material effect on the future of the organization. And it was usually a very big organization.
The people I worked with were just brilliant. I mean they were just absolutely amazing people. They are just incredibly smart and incredibly driven people that are really making a big difference on the things that they’re working on.
I mean, we didn’t work for any private companies with revenues was less than a billion a year. So it was always stuff that was pretty consequential that we did and that was exciting. I never felt like I would be a trivial worker contributing to a problem that really doesn’t matter.
I really think those are the best things. The other thing I like is it really pushed me. When I got the job out of college I learned more in 20 months in some ways than I had my entire life.
It’s a really difficult job to have, and it was very challenging. And the problems we had to solve really did test your mind. More often than not when I would get into a problem, I didn’t know how to solve it. I had to really sit down and really kind of build some muscles to do it. And that was really hard and exhausting, but at the end of the day, it was really great because it made me a sharper person.
What did you dislike about it?
It was difficult to maintain a work-life balance. It was not only due to just the hours that we worked which were substantial, but the work that we were doing and the standard at which we had to do it, at least for me, took most of what I had. Even when I would shut the laptop on Friday afternoon I was pretty good about not opening it again until Monday morning, but it was still tough to totally turn my mind off on the weekends, just because the problems were so important and the task of solving them was pretty tough.
Even with all the smart people that I had working with the me, it was tough. So it led to some reasonably high-stress levels. It got better over time, but at the end of the day, were still pretty high and it wasn’t sustainable for me.
How do you make money or how are you compensated in this job?
I had a salary and a performance bonus. And in my tenure the salary was still the bulk of my pay. The bonuses were pretty big, but it wasn’t like banking where your salary is a nice big number but your bonuses just dwarfs it. It wasn’t that.
How much money do you make as a management consultant?
In salary I was making about $180,000 and in bonus I was making another $70,000. So about $250,000 total.
How much money did you make starting out on the job?
So in my first year, my salary was $145,000 plus another $20,000. And then my bonus was $40,000. I also got a signing bonus though that first year which was basically $30,000 cash upon signing.
What education or skills are needed to do this job?
You need to be able to think in a very structured manner. You have to be an incredibly strong, logical and professional thinker. You have to be very comfortable with qualitative and quantitative analysis. Sometimes it’s just sophisticated math and analysis, you not doing calculus or anything, but you are doing statistical regression and things you typically learn in a graduate course.
And then on the other side of the coin, you also have to have a record of influencing people to change the way they do business, just by either meeting or influencing teams to achieve an outcome. So it’s simple. You have to be a leader. You basically have to have a record of influencing people to achieve a goal and/or to operate the company. So those are the two things that they really look for; people that don’t get intimidated by any problem and can apply an intelligent structure that allows it to be solvable and implemented. And then two, basically you’ve got to have people that are able to influence others.
There is no set college path. I work work with people of all different backgrounds. A lot of people had MBAs, but I still don’t even think it was half the people. There were many people that went to law school. There were some people that were doctors and had been to med school. There were a handful of people that had graduate foreign policy degrees and even some people that had Ph.Ds and advanced engineering or science.
So the academic backgrounds were all pretty elite, I would say, and all very strong. They all had really strong records of academic achievement, but it was a very diverse picture of achievement. What it really boils down to is that the end of the day, all of the people were really good at the two basic skills I mentioned.
What was most challenging about this job?
One, it was commonplace in this job to be asked to do something that you have never done before or never even thought about doing before. Which is challenging just by its very nature. But in addition to that, we were operating in an environment where we were working for important people that were paying our firm a lot of money, so we had to deliver an extremely high-quality product. And when you do that in an area where you haven’t necessarily done it a bunch of times before, it creates a lot of stress and it’s very difficult. And when you are working for the companies that you were working for that are paying us what they are paying us, the standard for excellence is high and you really don’t get to say “no” very often.
What would you say was most rewarding about job?
One is the skills that I built. I really think I did become a better professional, a dramatically better professional, working with this company, and in ways, it will benefit me and every job I have for the rest of my life. And that’s the first thing. The second thing was the people I worked with were just brilliant. I mean they were just absolutely amazing people. They are just incredibly smart and incredibly driven people that are really making a big difference on the things that they’re working on.
What advice would you offer someone considering this career?
Definitely talk to a number of people that had this job to form your perspective on if it suits you or not. If you talk to five management consultants you’re going to hear many things that are the same, but you’re probably going to hear things that are markedly different from each of the five.
The nature of the job is defined to a great extent by just the personal circumstances that surround your own experience. It’s very defined by the type of projects you work on or by the members of your team and by the personalities of the clients that you serve.
And different people will interpret those in different ways so it’s important for someone that’s going into this field or trying to determine if it’s for them, to really get a number of perspectives from different people and not just take the picture of one or two people here is exactly what they can expect.
How much time off or vacation did you get?
We got a lot of vacation. I can’t remember how much. It was more than four weeks. I think I probably had six weeks of vacation a year and about 12 paid holidays. The trick is making the time to take them. That’s the tough part. They give you a lot of vacation. The trick is taking it. It is possible, but it’s not easy.
What would you say is a common misconception people have about what you do?
I think that people think that it’s largely just strategy and powerpoint presentations, but it really gets into the operations and implementation. I think the bulk of my work actually was very grounded and very much rooted in real conditions on the ground and achieving real impact based on the reality of what these companies and these institutions were faced with. So I spent just as much time getting out into the field as I did sitting in boardrooms talking to executives and doing analysis.
What are your goals and dreams for the future in this career?
For me, ultimately, I want to be in one organization long-term and building long-term relationships with a set of people that don’t change out quite as frequently as they did in management consulting. Also I want to achieve a bit of better balance in my personal life than I was able to do that in management consulting.
What else would you like people to know about this job?
I think that to people that aspire to have a real impact on their career and to really achieve levels of influence and leadership in a major organization, this job will help you become better at that, just because there are the fundamental skills that really will help you build regardless of your experience.