Being An Entry-Level Consultant – What Is It Like?

I had a rough start in consulting. Straight out of my Masters, with no business background whatsoever, I was staffed on a due diligence (DD) project the week after my introductory training. DDs are notorious among consultants as some of the most intense projects since they seek to answer a complex question within the space of two to three weeks. Hardly the space for a beginner. To nobody’s surprise, I was virtually useless, if not a net negative contribution to the team. And I felt terrible about it – stressed, overwhelmed, and disappointed with myself.

But it didn’t have to be like this. Looking back at those times, the issue was not so much the situation, but rather the way I was choosing to see the situation. Beginnings are always difficult because they require fast learning and adaptation to new conditions in often uncomfortable setups. Yet, they are also great for experimentation, personal growth, and one of the few times in life where you are not chastised for making mistakes, but rather expected and encouraged to make them. 

Luckily, soon after my first project, I met a few mentors that changed the way I perceived myself and my role in the firm. Some people have it harder than others. In the hope of helping you have a smoother start, I’ve interviewed a few of my former colleagues on their own experience and learnings from their first year as consultants.

Expert Article by Cristian
How you are likely to feel as enty-level consultant

Overwhelmed‘the moment you start feeling comfortable with something, you’re expected to do the next, harder thing’

The steep learning curve of the first 1-2 years in management consulting is rather unparallel. You will be given responsibility and visibility from day one and will be expected to raise to the challenges you are faced with. Naturally, that means that you will almost always feel stretched to the maximum of your abilities.

 

Learning‘before you know it, you’ll be able to handle situations you never thought you could’

As an entry-level consultant, you’re like to go through multiple projects, topics, industries, countries, clients and teams, all within the space of a few months. This diversity, combined with the different types of responsibility you’ll be given, we’ll enable you to learn a lot in a short span of time. You’re likely to surprise yourself with the knowledge and skills you will have gained just a few months down the road. Keep that in mind to carry you through the tough times.

 

A hiring mistake‘all of a sudden, I was definitely not the smartest person in the room. I thought I was a misfire, that everybody was brilliant and I just got lucky’

Management consulting firms tend to be filled with high-achievers and that can be intimidating at first, especially if you come from a non-target school. However, you’re soon going to realize what a great learning opportunity that is - you are likely to learn more from your colleagues than from the projects themselves. Some will become your friends, while others will be your long-term mentors and go-to experts.

 

Having fun‘lots of fun moments with the team, late at night or during team dinners, we bonded in days as if we knew each other for a lifetime.’

Most consulting firms are adept to the ‘work hard, play hard’ life philosophy and you are likely to bond strong friendships that go beyond the confines of work. Travelling, meeting new people, and encountering strange new situations will all come with their share of fun.

 

Stressed‘I got a bald patch during my first project from too much stress’

Stress is an inherent part of any adjustment period (a few tips on how to minimize it below). A high level of perceived responsibility combined with a low level of skill is likely to make you feel unable to deliver, expected to do what you cannot do or what you deem to be beyond doing. From there you can slide down a vicious circle of concern. When stress is getting the best of you, reach out openly to your more senior colleagues. All of them have gone through similar struggles and they are there to help you.

 

Pampered ‘what got to my head a little bit, as an entry-level consultant were all the perks and the ''consultant life'' of door-to-door travel and stays abroad, and fancy dinners’

Indeed, there is a certain glamour to the consulting life – the business upgrades, the traveling, the prestige of the job, etc. The bad news is that you’re likely to get used to all these benefits really fast (also known as hedonic adaptation) and you’ll soon become the grumpy guy in business class who is too busy finishing his slides to enjoy a glass of prosecco.

What Sort Of Work You Will Do As Entry-Level Consultant

Depends on your role and background experience, but the main point is that you will be given from the beginning the work that is expected to be done by somebody in your role. You will be given responsibility and expected to raise to the expectations of the role as quickly as possible. That’s where the stress is likely to appear.

 

Even if that sounds daunting, the reality is that there are many safety nets around you. You can always ask your more senior colleagues for help and there is always someone reviewing your work and providing feedback before it reaches the client. So the chances of you doing something ‘wrong’ are virtually inexistent.

 

On the project, you will usually be coached by a more tenured colleague in a similar or slightly more senior role. They will show you around and teach you the basics. Some offices also provide a ‘buddy’, a more tenured colleague from your office who can help you navigate the non-project part of being a consultant. They are the ones to ask: ‘How does the firm work? How do evaluations work? What are some of the best ways to find mentors?’ If your office does not provide a buddy, then proactively reach out to one of your colleagues and ask them to be your guide in the firm. They are likely to feel flattered and excited to share their knowledge.

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How To Make The Best Out Of This Period as entry level consultant
  • Don’t stress about preparing for the job before actually starting it. At most, enroll in an Excel course. Otherwise, enjoy life, travel, and spend time with your friends and family. Your schedule is about to get packed really soon.
     
  • Take risks at the beginning. Nobody is going to fire you for the mistakes you make in the beginning. The first six-month evaluation usually does not matter by default, so your focus should be on trying to learn as much as possible about yourself, your work, and your firm.
     
  • Making everybody happy should not be your ultimate goal. To be able to do this work for the long run, identify your boundaries and preferences (e.g., working hours), make sure you stick to them, and politely communicate them to your team and manager.
     
  • Find people who can guide you. These can be more senior mentors – such as Partners and Senior Partners – but they can also be consultants that are two years more tenured than you. Aim to make these relationships as non-transactional as possible and try to think of them as a two-way street where you are both learning from each other.
     
  • Be open, flexible, and coachable. Show others that you are willing to learn, that you react to feedback and you are striving to get better. Compromise is an important element of progress in a corporate career, so your focus should be on things going your way most of the time, not all of the time.
     
  • Exercise critical thinking. At all times, strive to understand why you are doing what you are doing, why is the manager asking for a particular piece of work, how does your work fit in the overall story of the project, and do your conclusions make any sense considering the wider context of the engagement. The most successful entry-level consultants tend to be those that have the best understanding of the context on their workstream and beyond.

Overall, being an entry-level consultant is a memorable experience. The more flexible and willing to experiment you are, the more likely you are to perform well and enjoy your work over the long run. The people you will meet in the beginning are likely to stick with you over the coming years and influence your career. But it’s not going to be easy – and when all else fails and the going gets tough – don’t forget about the power of positivity, of seeing the good in the bad in front of you just enough so you can go past it. Good luck!

About the Author

Profile Picture CristianCristian

McKinsey / Oxford / 100% success rate beyond 4 sessions / top 25% best consultants in the Firm 

  • Professional Experience: McKinsey & Company
  • Languages: English
  • Location: Germany

 

 

I joined McKinsey out of accident. As I was about to graduate from Oxford I was offered a great job which I decided last minute not to take. The job required some sacrifices I was not willing to make. Fresh out of university, I found myself jobless and with no clue which way to go. My girlfriend at the time was applying for management consulting. It seemed like the cherry at the top of the corporate world. It was worth a shot. I practiced hard (including on PrepLounge), got a few offers and chose McKinsey. I was so happy!

Recently, I quit McKinsey. It was a great place, but I decided it was time to move on. Like in a marriage where we just grew apart but stayed friends, we still share nice memories of each other. I now write, I started a professional coaching business and I cause mayhem with my one-year-old son. It’s great a life.

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