January marks my 5th month of working in consulting since I started my job back in September as a newly hired college grad. I work for a large accounting firm in their consulting practice, and have been part of a supply chain project for the last couple of months. Right now, I am part of a work stream that is heavily involved in a systems implementation, and let me tell you, it's been quite a learning curve since I've started this job less than half a year ago.
To give you a bit of a background on my academic history, I studied Accounting and Supply Chain Management in school, and my path to consulting progressed naturally since I started recruiting more heavily for accounting opportunities as early back as my freshmen year. It took me a series of internships at various firms, a lot of networking, and much self-reflection to get to the role I have now. Consulting is often glamorized as a profession, and although I do agree that there are some great perks to it, there is also a lot of hard work involved. I really wanted to give my honest opinion of what it's been like working in a job that many only have a vague idea about.
To be honest, when I first started heavily recruiting for jobs back when I was in school, I never really knew what "consulting" entailed, no matter how many recruiters and actual consultants I talked to for months on end. So many of my friends all aimed to land a job in this area, and it seemed to be the prize that a lot of people were gunning for. Even after a couple of months in this industry, I can admit that I still don't know the consulting business like the back of my hand because getting to that point is something that takes time and a lot of experience. People ask me all the time what I do on a daily basis, and that will be detailed later on when Melissa and I do a "Day in the Life" series. For now, I've summed up a few of the key things I have learned in my short time time as a "consultant", whether you're interested in entering this profession yourself, or are just curious about it!
1. You drive the success of your career. In the world of consulting, it's often up to you to find your next project, which ultimately shapes your professional resume and expertise. If you want to gain exposure in a certain industry or want to work in a specific location, you have to find a way to get there given your existing resources and network. Chances are, people won't internally hire you or want you to be a part of their team if they do not know you're available or interested, so speak up, ask questions, and offer assistance! I fully believe that everyone is capable of reaching their career goals and potential with hard work and determination, but I do think that both luck and timing play a factor in all of this as well.
2. Making the best use of time spent "on the bench" is a priority. The phrases "on the bench" or "on the beach" are commonly used in the consulting and professional services realm as the period between projects, where you are not on a billable project or client engagement. This period often frees up the hours in your day, giving you the ability to spend more time on other activities, like internal projects/proposals, business development work and firm initiatives. While some people may look at this time as a period to just "chill" and stay invisible or under the radar to avoid more work, others fully take advantage of this time flexibility to work on achieving their personal and professional goals. Don't get me wrong, I think it's absolutely okay to take a few days to recharge after rolling off of a stressful engagement, but it's imperative to stay focused and motivated to get to the next step of your career. I think this time on the bench mirrors the holiday and vacation breaks I used to have during my time as a student. I chose to do a few internships throughout my college summers, but also took the time to travel and explore, helping me to achieve a variety of goals that I had set for myself before. It's all about balance!
3. Small talk is a great skill to have. I don't think this comes as a surprise to many, but networking still plays a big role, if not even bigger than college and recruiting, in the working world. Consultants do a great deal of traveling for their engagements and switch projects and teams much more often than a traditional corporate role. It's only been 4 months and I have already been on 2 projects and am involved in 3-4 other firm initiatives. This means constantly seeing new faces on client sites, familiar faces on airplanes, trains and subways, and new members from the teams of their own companies at firm-sponsored events. Small talk is very important in these situations, but building relationships from series of small talks is really the key to success. I think people sometimes have a misconception about "small talk" and there is a negative stigma attached to it. But my experience proves this to be false given that I have learned a lot about people after talking for 10-15 minutes, and topics from previous conversations are brought to light again in future ones. If you listen and show genuine interest when speaking to someone, you will develop relationships that dive below the surface. What I've also learned is that 9/10, you will probably interact with this person again some time in your career- tomorrow, next year, ten years? Who knows...so be nice to everyone!
4. Client interaction and impressions are important. Not every consulting project will be client-facing, but it’s important to do good work in either case since you are representing your team in whatever role you play. I am currently in a position where I sit face to face with clients and stakeholders every day for hours upon hours in multiple meetings. The way I present myself, from my introduction and greeting to the confidence projected from my voice when I speak, plays a large role in how I am perceived. At the end of the day, I am hired along with my team to help present and implement a solution to a problem, and clients want to ensure they are getting what they paid for, including valuable resources (us) used from planning to implementation. Dressing appropriately, prepping accordingly for meetings, and understanding the material and processes are key to leaving a positive lasting impression.
5. The Corporate World is much smaller than you think. I've always believed in the 6 degrees of separation, the theory that "anyone on the planet can be connected to any other person on the planet through a chain of acquaintances that has no more than five intermediaries". But to be honest, it's never as freaky as the concept seems to be until you actually experience this for yourself and realize that your web of friends and networks are way more interconnected than you ever thought possible. I've met people at bars half way across the world who went to my same high school and graduated 10 years before I did, but still had the same math teacher as me. I am now co-workers with people I've known since elementary school, but have had vastly different paths for the last 15 years. Even Melissa met one of my close friends I lived on the same floor with in Vienna, Austria while she was in London during her work training since they now work for the same company, though in different departments. Seriously guys, this world is much tinier than I ever imagined, and it freaks me out a bit! I guess the lesson to all of this is that your reputation carries your career, and it is really important to act and make decisions that contribute to the kind of person that you want to be, but also the person that you want other people to see you as. Whether you're in consulting or not, down the line, you will bump into people you've met before, whether it be in the same office you've always worked at, or on the streets in another country while on vacation. People will mention you in their conversations to friends and colleagues from everyday conversations, and you never know if something good (or bad) can come out of that!
6. Everyday is completely different. I have definitely had jobs and internships in the past where I felt like the roles and responsibilities I had were stagnant, and I was doing the same thing day in and day out. However, the last few months have been a huge learning curve for me because every day is so different that it takes some time to adjust to this kind of work style. It's a very fast-paced profession, and the people around me are always on top of their game. It's been quite interesting to learn from them and to have such motivated people as my mentors, since I already see substantial growth in my professionalism and ability to adapt over the past couple of months. As I mentioned earlier in this post, I look forward to doing a day in the life post, where I take you along with me through a "typical" week. Stay tuned!