It’s very valuable to have an honest introspective conversation with yourself about:
A. Do you want to do consulting?
Given that you’re reading this, I assume the answer to A is yes. However, B is crucial. Really ask yourself why.
Is it because you like competition and want to win? Is it because of prestige? Is it because you want your Starwood points and want to travel? Is it because you want to get into a top firm like Accenture or BCG that will help you get into a top business school like Harvard?
It’s important to know what the answers to these questions are. What are the REAL reasons you’re doing consulting?
Personally, I cared about the learning curve. There are other jobs that pay you more–investment banking, sales & trading – but I love the learning curve, the skill sets and analytical toolkit to take apart problems and find great solutions.
For others, it could be a whole range of other things.
Understand what you want out of consulting. This will help filter the companies you should apply to.
Here are 6 important dimensions to consider:
“I want to join consulting to travel around the world”
#1 Amount of travel
There are companies like AT Kearney where your engagement with a client will last 6-7 months. You fly out Monday morning to the client office, come back Thursday evening, and spend Friday at the home office.
There are other companies like Parthenon where there’s no such rigid structure. A lot of Parthenon’s business is local. We may go to a client’s site for 2-3 weeks, but then spend a good month back at the home office. During my stint at Parthenon Mumbai (the Asian Headquarters), I’ve worked on projects in 15+ countries, to the extent that all the pages in my passport filled up because of the continuous travel. This experience is very different from Parthenon associates at our US offices where travel is mainly within the US.
If you want to get into consulting for the travel, make sure you speak to enough people in the office you’re applying to in order to find out the exact nature of travel.
“I want to be on a steep learning curve up front in my career”
# 2 Case structure
Do you want to be under tremendous pressure during your first two years of consulting, or do you want to slowly and steadily increase your workload? Some firms have a single case model, where an analyst will only be on one client and project at a time. This allows the analyst to get some breathing time and develop stronger ties with one client at a time
Juxtapose that with a multiple case model like Monitor’s, or Parthenon’s where each consultant works on at least 2 cases at one time. The learning curve is unmatched in such cases, and you’re ready to handle a lot more pressure, albeit at times with a skewed work-life balance!
There are pros and cons to each.
“I want to be in a very close knit mentor-ship environment where I know most of my peers”
#3 Big or boutique firm
There are consulting firms where employees don’t even know names of all the partners of the firm. Although you develop close relationships with your immediate working group, the sense of oneness rarely exists among the gigantic office just like any corporate giant). The advantage of such a big office is that most processes are in place, there are more resources to leverage, and you have the option to work with a variety of people, especially if your working style does not match with a previous manager.
In a boutique firm, you sink and swim together. People are very close knit and develop strong ties with colleagues. The disadvantage of boutique firms is that they may not always have the resources that a big firm has at its disposal. For example, McKinsey, Bain and BCG all have “research centers,” which do significant amount of desk research for their analysts. Parthenon being a boutique does not have such a resource at its disposal. On the flip side, associates at boutique firms get much larger responsibility because of the leaner structure and are involved in the entire process from creating the sales pitch deck to the execution. There have been times when associates have sold a case, something rarely possible in a big structured consulting firm.
“I want to get into a top B school and have my MBA sponsored”
#4 Ladder to Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, INSEAD and LBS
One of the most common reasons why students pick consulting is to get into a top B school. If this resonates with you, check the track record of these firms in getting their associates at the best schools. As a rule of thumb, check from where the firm recruits for its post-MBA positions. It’s generally a good indicator of the the relationship the firm shares with the school.
” The money and perks are great”
#5 I want to retire at 35
Although consulting pays well, if you want to retire at 35, this is certainly not the profession for you. There are various job portals such as Glassdoor.com, which provide an indicative pay range for consulting firms. Some of the premium subscriptions of the Vault guide are also helpful in depicting a good picture of the remuneration range.
“I want to work in XYZ industry/ I want to be a generalist”
#6 I want develop expertise in a particular industry
Although most consulting firms have multiple industry verticals and encourage their associates to grow on the generalist track, there are certain consulting firms that have developed a niche in certain industries. For example, Parthenon Mumbai has a dedicated practice in the field of education. Many applicants applying to Parthenon do so to get some expertise in this industry. Monitor has a dedicated practice in social sector consulting. Some McKinsey offices, like Detroit, have a strong focus on the auto industry. Bain Delhi, has a strong focus on government projects. Booz & Co. does a lot of defense work. ZS Associates does a lot of work in sales force optimization and pharmaceuticals. Analysysmason does a lot of work in the telecom strategy space.
Select your consulting firm depending on what skills you bring to the table and what industry you want to be exposed to.
You need to decide on these things before you jump on the consulting bandwagon. It’s important to do the research so you know what you WANT out of the job, and which firms are appropriate.