The Pros and Cons of Working at a Top Consulting Firm

Amid the intensity of recruiting for consulting, few stop to think what it will really be like once they’ve achieved their mission to get into a top-tier consulting firm. With their eyes on the prize, and a single-minded focus, many gloss over the details of what day 1 and 300 will look like. I’m included in this category, and only truly realized what I was in for once I stepped through the office doors. Overall, it’s been a phenomenal experience. However, I do wish it had been clearer exactly what to expect once I signed that full-time offer letter. So, 10 months into my BCG career, I’m here to tell you what I view to be the 3 best and the 3 worst aspects of the consulting life.

Author Ian
What is good about working at a top consulting firm?
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Pros

Here are the Pros of working at a top consulting firm:

Hard work really does pay off, and the expression “no pain, no gain” couldn’t apply better than in this context. Since you’re expected to essentially “do everything” you’re also going to learn everything. You will quickly become adept at handling complicated client situations, presenting to large groups of high status individuals, thinking strategically about world-sized problems, communicating clearly both orally and in writing, and making slides that look like they’re from Machiavelli’s own hand. You’ll look back at your first meetings, notes, emails, and slides, and be horrified at how bad they are compared to now – and this is just after 6 months on the job. Expect to be top-tier.

If you work in the same office, day in and day out, with a reliable and predictable commute, you won’t experience much new. The difficulty of weekly travel is rewarded by the experience that it brings – it’s hard to see the world from the comfort of your home. While you won’t always be sent to the most glamorous cities, you will always be sent to investigate and learn the inner workings of the world’s most influential companies. Furthermore, when you do get sent to exciting places, it’s all expenses paid and no expense spared. Anything you don’t get to see on the company dime, you can still probably see for free – just in exchange for a portion of your accumulated airline and hotel points. Expect to be a high flying frequent flyer (and stayer).

If you can handle the pressure of presenting to some of the most senior people of the firm on a topic you learned about only a few weeks prior, you can do anything. You will learn to not sweat criticism or questions from the big dogs, you’ll brush off mistakes, and you’ll be calm and calculating under time constraints; you’ll become tough. As a result, if and when you leave the consulting life, whatever comes next will either be a breeze or be healthily stimulating – either way, you’ll know how to handle it. Expect to be able to handle anything life throws at you.

Cons

Here are the cons of working at a top consulting firm:

This isn’t news: working at a top-tier firm is incredibly hard work. You will have late nights. You may have all-nighters. You will work some weekends. Weekday plans are generally off the cards, though BCG does do a good job of making sure you can keep some personal commitments (if you’re left with enough energy). BCG Australia is one of the most generous MBB regions, and even then, their target is an average 55-60 hour work week for consultants. Their ambition is to get consulting workloads down to 55-60 hours a week! Expect to be tired.

Roughly 80% of cases are travel cases. In my experience, “keeping the consultant in their home office” is nowhere near the top of priorities for staffing (nor should it be). The glamour of travel gets old fast, and you’ll start to dread the Sunday afternoon cut short or the 5am Monday wakeup. You’ll soon have mastered the art of arriving at the boarding gate at final call. Every. Single. Time. Expect to be flying weekly and living out of a suitcase.

You are working with or 1 level removed from CEOs and senior executives for Fortune 500 companies. Your piece of work generally has the potential to impact hundreds of millions of dollars of value. If this isn’t high-stakes, I don’t know what is. You are expected to simultaneously think big and be acutely attentive to detail (a type-o in a final deck is disastrous!) Thanks to the impact potential a typo can have on client relationships, small mistakes are highlighted as major shortcomings. Expect to be stressed!

3. About the Author

Ian

MBB | 100% personal interview success rate (8/8) and 95% candidate success rate | Personalized interview prep

  • Professional Experience: Boston Consulting Group, Appian Corporation
  • Languages: English, French, Portuguese, Spanish
  • Location: USA

Ian started his career at Appian, an IT Consultancy, where he realized how great a company they were (great people, interesting work, and great company and personal growth prospects). He signed on the dotted line and, 4 years later, he had been promoted twice, moved to Australia, and learned a plethora of valuable skills (Client and project management, leadership, database design, IT architecture, coding, etc).  This experience built the foundation for who he is today both professionally and personally. Ian joined PrepLounge as more of a "side hustle". He read a lot about personal finance and it has also been drilled into him to have diversified income streams. 
However, what started as a 1 or 2 session week gig turned into something far more - it turned out that he gets immense joy and satisfaction from teaching! Now, he focuses a lot more on what he loves to do - contracting/consulting has now ironically become the "side hustle"!

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