I've been a consultant for 25 years now, and I'm here to tell you that it is not what you think it is. Back in the late 1990s, I started my career, unwillingly as a consultant. I found a job at Price Waterhouse after coming out of grad school, and it turned out I really enjoyed consulting. Having said that, there's a lot of reasons why you should not be a consultant, but to be fair, there's a lot of reasons why you should as well.
To start, let's talk about the positive aspects of being a consultant. First and foremost, as a consultant, means having a big impact on organizations. Working internally at an organization and having the same skillset, will provide you with an edge in the internal team. If you're an outside consultant with the same skillset, you’re the expert.
What companies typically hire consultants because they want to go through some sort of change, and they're looking for direction and advice. Through this business transformation, they need a coach.
As a consultant you will impact how big, massive, influential organizations throughout the world operate. That can be very exciting. For example, many of the clients we work with at Third Stage are for-profit companies that produce excellent resources. They manufacturer amazing products. Others are nonprofits that are furthering society, and government entities that are helping people. There's a lot of indirect end results that are beneficial within this role and career.
Most of the issues that consultants are asked to fix are very challenging but rewarding. There are complex problems that need to be solved, almost always while on the job. The constant learning of new industries, how businesses operate, operational, organizational, and technology dynamics will give an edge to the competition. It really is a space where mastering it may never come full circle but having the experience and working with all kinds of people, go a long way.
The benefits out way the cost.
By being a consultant, it will oftentimes set the foundation to be successful in whatever career you might pursue post consulting. If you have worked with helping some leading organizations throughout the world solve complex problems, you're going to be a lot more marketable, and desirable to other businesses. There is a possibility in the future you don't want to be consultant anymore. Travel is tiring, the stress is overwhelming, and long hours catch up to you, whatever the case may be, the background is important.
Now, if you're intrigued by emerging technologies, as I am, consulting can be fascinating to learn. As I mentioned before, you’re constantly learning about new industries, businesses, and cultures. Whether it’s artificial intelligence, data analytics, robotics, machine learning, or ERP systems, you're constantly forced to learn so you can have that knowledge to advance your skillset.
Being on the cutting edge of where technology is headed and understanding how technology works within complex organizations is very important to the growth of being an effective consultant.
I just talked about some of the good aspects of consulting, however there are many downsides and risks associated with this career path as well. First, it’s a lot of hard work.
Professionals that lack strong work ethics or can’t sustain long hours, don't typically succeed in consulting. If you value the 40 hour-work weeks, and 8:00 to 5:00 work-life balance, and weekends off, and holidays off all the time, consulting may not be the best.
There's a lot of pressure that comes with the job as well. Client demands that can catch up to you and if you're not prepared for that, or if you don't want to work hard, it's not going to be a good fit for you. If you're really value a lifestyle balance, or work life balance, more than career exposure and long-term growth potential, then consulting is not the right choice for you.
If you've watched my videos for some time, or you've gone deep into my YouTube channel, you've probably seen me talk about some of my experiences working for the big system integrators. A downside, in my opinion, would be the big consulting firms in the industry. If I were to summarize what some of those challenges trace back to, a lot of it is politics, especially for the larger consulting firms like Deloitte, Accenture, KPMG, and Capgemini.
There's a deep seeded political dynamic that can be very unhealthy and stressful. Which was the case for me. That was the main reason why I left the larger consulting firms. They typically are focused on protecting big revenue streams with big clients and projects. When there's that much money at risk, it drives a lot of unhealthy political dynamics internally within the consulting organization.
To give you a couple examples, oftentimes you aren't completely transparent with the clients because that revenue stream needs to be protected. I know I spent a lot of hours and meetings with other team members trying to figure out how we were going to put a positive spin on really bad news. We spent most of our resources on trying to make ourselves look good, rather than focusing on how to solve the client's problems.
This can be a very stressful thing if you're not ready for that, or if you don't like that sort of ecosystem. In my case, I didn't like it, so that's why I moved on. Politics and the stress that comes from them, can be enough to keep you away which is understandable for some individuals.
No matter how irrational it may seem, whenever a client has a problem, it becomes your problem. As a consultant, there are high expectations. Customers have some sort of problem that they don't feel like they can address themselves, so therefore, they're hiring you as a consultant.
Oftentimes, this situation is very difficult and stressful because the client has some other dynamics at play that are undermining their abilities to solve this specific issue.
For example, organizations that are trying to implement new technologies, don’t know how to deploy them. It's not because the consultants don't know how to deploy technology either, it's actually because there's internal, political fighting, and an unhealthy culture. There are broken operational processes and things wrong with the organization that isn't necessarily the fault as a consultant, but it becomes their problem because now you've got to figure out how to solve this problem that you didn't create and have little control over.
Many consultants really struggle with that dynamic. I always try to set expectations with consultants we hire, by saying that if you want to be a good consultant, and you want to be effective, you need to think about how you can be a better therapist to your clients.
Ultimately, the value of consulting is listening to and understanding your client's problems.
One of the biggest keys to success is what I often refer to as, the finesse of consulting. It's more of an art rather than science. That is the soft skill of consulting.
When I was first starting my career in my early twenties as a consultant, there's a lot I didn't know. There's still a lot I didn't know, but I knew even less back then. One of the ways I overcame that lack of knowledge and experience, was by really mastering my finesse and knowing how to ask questions, read clients, and becoming somewhat of chameleon that can effectively adapt to different situations.
Those soft skills are something, they're very difficult to teach and if you don't have them, it could be very difficult to master or develop. It’s like trying to teach someone to be a good singer. They can rehearse, learn to read music, etc. – but ultimately, they need to have some natural talent. It is all great to have the hard, tangible, technical skills, and understanding of business processes, but do you also have those soft skills? If there are a lack of soft skills, or demonstrating those soft skills, you may want to rethink a career in consulting.
Now, the final disadvantage I'll point out here is the fact that for many larger consulting firms, the pace of advancement is very slow. You must demonstrate a certain amount of tenure before you can move up within the organization. In fact, I grew very impatient, especially being in my early to mid-twenties, early in my career, to where I felt like I could do a lot more than what I was being allowed to do at one of the big consulting firms.
If you're looking at one of these massive consulting firms and value quick upward advancement, be sure you really think through that dynamic. Big consulting firms are designed to ensure that no one fails on the project.
They've really mastered this whole science of bringing in college grads that don't know what they're doing and putting them in a position where they can't fail. Part of this assurance process is slowing upward movement of employees. The big tech companies are going to make sure that you move up only after you're 100% prepared for that next step in the process. If that's something that does not sound appealing or you value challenging yourself, the good news is there is an option. You can go to a smaller or mid-tier consulting firm.
The challenge there, of course, is if you don't have consulting experience, it's going to be harder to get a job with one of those firms. This something to keep in mind as you consider a career in consulting.
This all begs the question, is consulting right for me? It honestly just depends (spoken like a true consultant) on your personality and what your goals are. If you like to work hard, you have those soft skills that help you be an effective consultant, you like to learn, you're interested in different types of businesses and problem solving, consulting could be a great career.
However, if you like more drawn to predictability and stable work environments, then consulting may not be a good career for you.
I hope this has given you a sense of whether consulting would be the right fit for you. I encourage you, if you are interested in learning more about consulting for a company like Third Stage, I've included our recruiting contact information here. For more information on more of a deep dive of consulting and what It takes to become one, you can check out our 2021 Digital Transformation Report. If you have any questions regarding consulting or your career path, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me directly. I am happy to be an informal sounding board as you move through your digital transformation journey.