Sometimes the culture of a particular city and region can be an important factor in a job search.
Understanding the local language, the local consulting firm culture, and the geography of where you’re working can significantly affect your experience at a job.
The Importance of Culture
Fortunately, most consulting firms have an extremely global culture, with an ease of transferability between offices. Generally, there isn’t too much of a difference in terms of growth progression and career path between offices.
However, there’s no escaping the fact that every location in the world comes with its own unique culture. If you’re working in Shanghai, there will be a certain local flavor in terms of the working style, the kinds of things that people do for fun, the things people do outside of the office, certain methods of management, and different ways of providing feedback.
At the very least, it’s wise to understand the basics of a culture before committing to a particular region to do consulting work in, even though most people will acclimatize to cultural differences over time.
The Advantages of Speaking the Local Language
In terms of language, for certain regions like Europe or Asia, speaking the language is almost mandatory. If you’re working in an office in France, speaking fluent French would be a prerequisite in most cases. If you’re in China, you should know how to speak Cantonese and Mandarin. For India, a good working knowledge of English is fine, but Indian offices are picking up more and more work in the Middle East and Asia, so knowing more of the international languages is definitely a huge advantage.
The Benefits and Challenges of Cultural Diversity
One of the reasons consulting firms like to hire people from very diverse backgrounds is to make sure that every office globally has diverse interests and tastes. Among the other qualities consulting firms look for in a worker, consulting firms look for diversity; they don’t want their workforce to have skill sets and worldviews tied to any single region.
However, I could imagine a scenario in which a worker from India joins a Boston Office, and everyone else at the office bonds over the Red Sox or the Celtics or anything else that’s uniquely part of the New England culture, and is unable to relate as an international worker can be a disadvantage. Similarly, if an American of European joined a Mumbai office, he or she probably wouldn’t be able to relate personally to India’s obsession with cricket.
Overall, cultural differences won’t be a very big problem because consulting firms are so global and diverse. But one needs to be well aware of a lot of the softer issues, even while just picking a geography, because at the end of the day, consulting is a client-facing business, where you need to connect with a lot of people, network with your clients, and ultimately connect personalities. Many times, a working knowledge of the local geography, and of what things are happening nearby, can be beneficial in terms of making the client believe, understand, and feel that you understand his or her problems.
So while you’re evaluating working in location A as opposed to location B, keep the importance of office culture, language, and local geography in mind.