What is the work culture and environment like in consulting firms and what does it take to succeed in it?

consultingchallenges qualitiesofaconsultant
Edited on Aug 28, 2019
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Anonymous A asked on Aug 28, 2019

I am currently working at a startup that's a few years old and am starting to feel demotivated at work due to a couple of reasons. 1) There is a lack of clarity in terms of what I should be doing and how I should do it; 2) I don't find the work that I am doing particularly interesting or impactful; 3) The job pays me much less than what my current skills and qualifications demand; 4) There is a lack of clarity in terms of career progression.

It is a very startup-y environment and you often have to fight to get your voice heard, but even then, given that it is a product company, the older employees who are close to management have a majority say in everything and are given much more responsibility/power/attention across the firm. I don't see much much of a career path for myself here.

I graduated from top tier universities for both Undergrad as well as Masters (graduates of my university are at all the major top tier firms in consulting, investment banking, etc.). I have always been extremely keen on strategy consulting as a career choice.

Would like to know whether anyone at any reputed strategy consulting firm has ever faced the problems I am facing? Do you constantly have to fight for work (such as persuade management to give you good projects or fight to get your voice heard) without much direction and support?

How much of being successful in entering management consulting and progressing in it depends on your ability to be more persuasive than the person next to you, and how much of it is dependant on your actual deliverables?

Would love to hear thoughts on this!

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Vlad
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updated an answer on Aug 28, 2019
McKinsey / Accenture Alum / Got all BIG3 offers / Harvard Business School

Hi,

I will probably disappoint you but it's the same skills required everywhere. You are either running from something or trying to achieve something. If you are facing problems with communication - you'll have the same issue everywhere. It's much better to learn how to communicate better.

Several points about consulting:

  • If your client is happy - you will progress. And in most of the cases it's less about deliverables, and more about communication, persuasion, implementation, etc
  • There is no clarity on the daily tasks. You need to problem solve and deliver more than expected
  • There is a hierarchy - in other words, the partner will always have the last word no matter how good your idea is
  • Career progression is very straightforward, moreover, there are many shortcuts if you are a top performer. However, the up or out policy is strict. And again it's less about your deliverables but more about networking with the right people (assuming that the deliverables are ok and the client is happy)

Now answering your second question - how to succeed:

Analyst / associate level

  • Having a good DGL / career counselor, etc. (Each company has different names). This is a person who guides your development in the company, collects the feedbacks on you, and presents your case to a promotion committee. Make sure to have a person who is organized enough to collect the feedbacks in time, who is a nice person in general and who has enough authority in the company (i.e. Senior partner - the more power he has - the better)
  • Choosing the project you work on smartly (i.e. collect the feedbacks on each and everyone prior to accepting the project)
  • Perfect technical skills (Excel, PPT, Problem Solving)
  • Good feedbacks on you from the client. Thus try to make friends with your clients (Both senior and non-senior role. Even a bad feedback from a blue collar can ruin your career)
  • Ability to manage your own standalone workstream with minimum supervision. TOP performers bring the end products that impress others
  • Being proactive - helping the team with daily routine, scheduling, etc. Participating in the office initiatives
  • Establishing relationships with your managers and partners. Ideally, you should have multiple senior partners to be excited about you and to support you)
  • Being lucky!

Manager level

A lot of the above, plus:

  • Having your client happy - this is the most important! If the client is happy - everything else will work
  • Managing multiple partners who have different opinions. Since partners have a busy schedule it becomes very tricky to synchronize them and to align the viewpoints
  • Good feedbacks from your team - having a happy team is important. Unfortunately, sometimes it's a trade-off between having your client and partner happy
  • Telling about your success on projects to others - I'm personally not a fan of this kind of selling, but I know many people who made a career using this skill

Principal level

A lot from the above, plus:

  • Having multiple clients happy
  • Having a long list of partners supporting you (More than 10)
  • Contributions to the development of the company (Knowledge, office ops, etc)
  • Selling the projects. If you manage to sell to existing clients or even bring the new clients - you are the champion.

Partner level

A lot of the above, plus:

  • Sales, sales, sales

Best!

(edited)

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Vlad

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McKinsey / Accenture Alum / Got all BIG3 offers / Harvard Business School
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