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Seeking Advice on Coping with Stress at My Consulting Job

entry level stress
Edited on Mar 18, 2024
7 Answers
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Anonymous A asked on Mar 16, 2024

Hi everyone, 

I am writing to you today to seek your valuable advice on a matter that has been causing me significant stress at my current consulting job. I joined a Tier 2 in October last year (post MBA role), and since then, I have been facing some challenges that have taken a toll on my mental well-being.

 Since December, when I got staffed on my first project, I have been experiencing the following stress symptoms. I am finding it difficult to handle the time pressure associated with the tasks assigned to me. I have almost always delivered in time, but the constant pressure and uncertainty is taking a mental toll on me. I have been experiencing frequent emotional breakdowns when the pressure is high. I have not received any major negative feedback, however just the anticipation of work and pressure makes me anxious. I constantly think of questions like how will I be able to delivery xyz in 4 hours? How will I be able to work 12 hours on high intensity? Also worth noting is that most of my work has been from home, including my current DD project.

The current DD is my second project, and the stress seems to be mounting. I keep wondering if I will be able to survive the next two weeks of the ongoing due diligence. 

I would greatly appreciate your guidance on how to cope with this stress or whether it would be wise to consider an exit from this job. I trust your insights will help me make the best decision for my career and well-being.

 Thank you for your time and support.

 

(edited)

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Alberto
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updated an answer on Mar 18, 2024
Ex-McKinsey Associate Partner | +15 years in consulting | +200 McKinsey 1st & 2nd round interviews

Stress is your body telling you something is not right. Always listen and act on it quickly when working in consulting.

Your situation is very common for consulting new joiners. You can try:

  • Protect sleep, healthy food and exercise as much as you can
  • Share what you feel with your manager, peers and HR. Ask for help on something very common at this profession
  • Ask for external help (coaching) to deal with that
  • Think twice about your fit in consulting. You will learn skills with time but the pressure will also increase as you get promoted

Best,

Alberto

Check out my latest case based on a real MBB interview: Sierra Springs

(edited)

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Hagen
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updated an answer on Mar 16, 2024
#1 Bain coach | >95% success rate | interviewer for 8+ years | mentor and coach for 7+ years

Hi there,

First of all, I am sorry to hear about your negative experience in your current job!

I would be happy to share my thoughts on your situation:

  • First of all, managing stress in a high-pressure job like consulting requires both short-term coping mechanisms and long-term resilience building. I would advise you to start with mindfulness exercises, breathing techniques or meditation to help manage immediate stress and anxiety. These practices can help you stay centered and reduce the impact of pressure on your mental well-being.
  • Moreover, time management and prioritization are key in consulting to increase your long-term resilience. I would highly advise you to use tools and techniques for effective time management. These can help you manage your workload more efficiently and reduce the feeling of being overwhelmed.
  • Lastly, open communication with your team about your workload and stress levels is crucial. Seeking support and setting realistic expectations can mitigate the feeling of constant pressure. It's important to remember that consulting is a team effort, and leaning on your colleagues for support is part of the job.

If you would like a more detailed discussion on your specific situation, please don't hesitate to contact me directly.

Best,

Hagen

(edited)

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Cristian
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replied on Mar 17, 2024
#1 rated MBB & McKinsey Coach

Take a sick day off. 

Seriously, this should be the first thing you do. Talk with your manager, tell them you're not feeling well (which you clearly are not, but you do not need to go into detail when you tell them), and take time off. 

This time will help you bring things into perspective. 

Next, you need to realise that everybody goes through this in the beginning. I had similar experiences and I'm sure many others will confirm it as well. With time, you're going to get more and more comfortable. But for that to happen, you have to hang on, to seek sustainability, and taking a small break, even in a seemingly intense context, is a life saver. 

Then, you've been pushed into a very difficult context with having to do 2 DDs as a new joiner one after the other. Once this project is done, speak with your staffer and ask for a transformation project or anything that has been going on already for a longer period of time (or is due to take long). Don't go on short projects for a while. 

Here are also two articles with a few more tips on how to manage your beginning months in consulting:

Write to me if you need help. 

Best,
Cristian

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Ian
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replied on Mar 18, 2024
#1 BCG coach | MBB | Tier 2 | Digital, Tech, Platinion | 100% personal success rate (8/8) | 95% candidate success rate

Hi there,

First: Hire a coach - you're trying to train without a trainer.

Second: You are not alone. Please remember that this job is hard for everyone. It is brutal. Long hours. Tough work. That's why it's selective and that's why it pays a lot and brings prestige.

You need to think: Do I want to be in the marines? Am I made to be an elite troop and all the sacrifice it takes? Or, would I just be happier as regular infantry.

If the answer is no (not worth it), then quit. It's ok to say this isn't for you.

However, if the answer is yes, then you need to take action...

 

 

You are being paid $, correct? And you don't want to lose the job, correct?

Use aforementioned $ to hire a coach! Seriously. A coach can help you improve your weakness areas and turn your performance around.

The first 10 months I really struggled. Then it got much better. Most of your peers are also struggling.

Pick yourself and get a can do attitude. No one ever told you this would be easy. 

I highly recommend you read my consulting survival guide

Here are a couple of snippets from that guide, based on what you've said:

  1. This job is inherently stressful, and you are not going to be the first person to struggle with stress. Consulting firms have mechanisms in place to try to keep consultants from burning out. If you are struggling, reach out early.
  2. You need comrades - your people for the really good and the really garbage days. Find them and stick to them.
  3. There will always be pressure, but not every task will make or break the bank. If the success or failure of the project relies solely on the one slide you’re making, there are bigger issues going on.
  4. Keep a one-page version of the case story up-to-date every couple of days.
  5. Always bring solutions, not problems.
  6. You learn so much more when you are fully transparent about what you don't understand.
  7. You will do your best work once you are okay with being fired.
  8. Your Project Lead/Principal is not inside your head. Learn how to communicate and guide their attention to what they need to know. Work to their style and your life will be easier.
  9. You have to stand up for yourself. And people will respect you for it (98% of the time).
  10. People’s perception of your performance is just as important as your performance.
  11. Communication is as important as content. Communication isn’t what you say, it’s what they hear.
  12. Being good at the qualitative aspects of consulting (presentation, communication et  c.) Is significantly more important than being good at the analysis/excel/quantitative side of consulting.
  13. Consulting is a confidence game. Always have a strong opinion, lightly held.
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Pedro
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replied on Mar 17, 2024
Bain | Roland Berger | EY-Parthenon | Mentoring Approach | 30% off first 10 sessions in May| Market Sizing | DARDEN MBA

I've felt a great deal of stress when I started. This is normal. 

However, I know each person reacts in a different way.

I hope there is some positive aspect (and relief) while you are doing all of this.

I also hope are are reaching out frequently to your manager and peers, seeking for help. Ultimately remember that they are there to guide you and making sure you don't fail at this point in time. 

However, if this is really taking you to the edge, you should seek professional help. While I may tell you that many (if not most) people feel just like you when they start, it is also true that the half life of a consultant in a firm is about 2-2.5 years (i.e., 50% of people leave their firm in 2-2.5 years).  And most of that is volunteer, people that for some reason realize they don't want consulting or are not made for consulting.

The reason why I mention professional help is because a professional is better equiped to evaluate whether you are reacting within the boundaries of a healthy stress response vs. you are going a dangerous route.

Finally, I strongly believe that the fact you are working remotely is aggravating significantly your situation. Being present with other people you can resort to by simply walking 10m (and that can figure out you need help from just looking at you) can really be a game-changer!

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Dennis
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replied on Mar 18, 2024
Ex-Roland Berger|Project Manager and Recruiter|7+ years of consulting experience in USA and Europe

Hi there,

this sounds familiar. I made similar experiences when I started in consulting and I was seriously doubting whether I was in the right place. In hindsight, the elements that caused me the greatest deal of stress were

  • always being too slow (I wasted hours trying to create slide designs that looked “presentable”, pondered on how to word the bullet points on slides, got lost in desk research trying to find information that “exactly fit” to what I needed, tried to be super accurate in all estimations)
  • not being able to fully envision what my deliverable is supposed to look like (to ultimately decide when I was properly done with the task)
  • feeling apprehensive to ask my manager for clarification or additional explanations (after the initial brief)

It got significantly better for me after about 5 months and then I ended up staying in consulting for over 7 years. So not all hope is lost.

If the above issues resonate with you, here are a few things that might help you reduce the strain:

  • create a repertoire of slide templates for yourself - reference the final documentations of you previous projects/proposals (and other things you find on the intranet) and see how your team decided to design the slides for different topics and purposes - especially when it comes to DD projects. You can use such templates to get a headstart on your own slide deliverables
  • talk to your team members or other colleagues - particularly the ones who have been with the firm for a while. If you struggle with something, ask them for advice first before you go to the manager (or to nobody because you are afraid)
  • proactively schedule bi-weekly feedback touchpoints with your manager to see where you stand (and to also communicate to them what you feel you need more of/less of)
  • don't be afraid to ask more questions if something is unclear to you - you are still considered a “newbie” so people will actually expect a lower output from you compared to seasoned consultants
  • always provide advanced notice to your team if you think you cannot finish your deliverable by the agreed upon time - also tell them what the underlying reason is and what alternative you propose

If all of this doesn't change for you and the stress level remains insurmountable, just remember that consulting is not the only career path out there. It might just not be the right fit for you - no harm in that.

I hope that helps a bit to provide perspective

 

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Florian
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replied on Mar 18, 2024
Highest-rated McKinsey coach (ratings, offers, sessions) | 500+ offers | Author of The 1% & Consulting Career Secrets

Hi there,

Sorry to hear!

One thing to highlight is that you are not alone in this and I would say 80% of top-tier consultants go through similar periods during their tenure at least once.

My main advice:

Seek support

  • Each firm has hotlines you can call to discuss these matters
  • Include your firm mentors in this discussion
  • Ask your project lead and colleagues how to deal with this (they have likely gone through the same already)

Lastly, I wrote a book exactly on that topic, called Consulting Career Secrets where I help young consultants create a striving yet sustainable career. Check it out!

I have also run a workshop for PrepLounge about the topic of work-life balance in consulting. You can watch it here: https://youtu.be/4VK8wL_xsmQ?si=NFxzJVXt4q-Xg7cJ

Take care!

Florian

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Alberto gave the best answer

Alberto

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Ex-McKinsey Associate Partner | +15 years in consulting | +200 McKinsey 1st & 2nd round interviews
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