This article is meant to give you some insight into the reasons for and against the consulting lifestyle. You can find this (and more) as part of the '6 Steps to Success' guide, available to all registered members (and what do you know, it's free to register..)
I'd like to begin by outlining some of the key benefits of being a consultant.
- Challenge – You will always be put into challenging situations, that will help you grow personally and professionally.
- Learning – The learning curve doesn’t end. Expect to work in a number of different industries (Aerospace, pharmaceutical, manufacturing, etc.) and different functions (Human Resources, Information Technology, etc).
- Environment – Getting a consulting job is tough. For the most part, you will be working with the smartest, most motivated students around. Don’t underestimate the importance of your work environment on your own success.
- Networking – consulting is one of the few industries in the world where they actually encourage you to pursue new opportunities after 2 years. So you will develop a network of highly intelligent & motivated colleagues, who will eventually be working in pretty much any field imaginable. It makes it that much easier to transfer into a new industry if you decide that consulting’s not for you.
- Prestige – in the business world, consulting is a very well respected job, right up there with investment banking (but better of course, let’s be honest here).
- Travel – you will get to travel to some incredible locations. A manager at Oliver Wyman was describing a project he was working on in London, where he’d jetset to Switzerland for some skiing over the weekend.
- Salary – at an expected starting salary of $70,000 plus $5,000-$10,000 signing bonus and a substantial bonus at the end of the year, you can stand to make $90,000-$100,000 in your first year. Note that in Canada, a big chunk of that will be lost to taxes.
Okay, sounds good, right? But the reality is not always so rosy. There are a lot of cons to the consulting lifestyle as well. The biggest complaint by consultants is not that they don't love what they do - rather, it's that they're not willing to live the consultant lifestyle anymore.
- Challenge – that’s right, challenge is there again. You will never be in your comfort zone. In fact, most consulting firms will move you to a new project if they feel that you are too comfortable in your role. And let’s face it – comfort is awesome. Feeling like you’ve been thrown into the deep end may be great for growth, but it’s bad for your sleeping habits and your sense of self-worth.
- Environment – so, remember all those amazing colleagues I told you about you? Well guess what, if you’re at a top consulting firm, you’re going to be competing against them. For students who are used to being number 1 at everything, this can be a big hit to the ego. Further, you will be in an environment where you are constantly managing relationships – your colleagues, your boss, your client, and even your significant other. This will get very tiring!
- Hours – the least glamorous aspect of consulting. At a top firm, expect to work 60-80 hours a week. More importantly, they’re unpredictable hours. If you get a call from a client at 3am, you’re going to get up and work on whatever they need you to do.
- Lifestyle – good luck buying fruits and vegetables from the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto if you’re staffed on a project in the US. Expect a difficult lifestyle – staying at a hotel sounds glamorous, and it will be. For around a month. Then, the novelty wears off. Consultants complain about the difficult of maintaining close friends and even relationships because of the long hours and unpredictability of the consulting life. Relatively few consultants switch to other firms - rather, they either stay with their firm or leave the industry completely.
- Prestige – most people you talk to will NOT know what consulting is. This is a fact. You can talk about “doctor for companies” and “I model” all you want, but the reality is that your family will probably have no idea what you do for a living.
- Salary – sure, making a $70,000 salary sounds great. But average that out over 70 hours a week at 50 weeks, and you’re talking about a $20/hour salary.
But then again if you're motivated, you're willing to make the sacrifice, and want to capitalize on one of the most challenging and rewarding career paths out there, then there's no better time than when you're a fresh graduate, with minimal committments to the real world.