There are plenty of resources out there about the pros and cons of consulting. Perhaps more on the pro-side. Here, we want to offer some of what we think are the downsides and hard truths about working as a consultant.
- One of the biggest issues in a consultancy is the un-diverse educational background. The hiring habits of firms mean that all consultants tend to be quite similar. Consultants are generalists or MBAs hired from top universities. This means that they have similar and highly coached ways of operating and thinking. For many people, this is less interesting than working in an environment with a variety of colleagues. As the guys at StrategyU say, “an elite degree is not the same as talent and wisdom”.
- Management consultancies also believe that global institutions fix problems. They assume that the best answers will be top-down and can be fixed by the big players already in the game. There is also a belief that the consultancy will not only find an answer, but it will be the correct one. The management teams of businesses naturally consider these solutions correct forever and always. In reality, their complex business probably needs a higher degree of adaptability. Just like the consultants, they won’t want to change anything that seems to be working – they have bosses too! This can actually limit flexibility in changing circumstances or generate negative incentives at lower levels in the long-run. Despite this problem, remember, consultants are not responsible for EVERY corporate problem.
Have a look at what the guys at StrategyU say about this:
- An ethical downside of being a consultant is the human implications. Advising the firing of management teams or even just reducing the workforce can weigh on consultants’ conscience. This is an unpleasant part of the job and is typically a big part of any profit margin project.
- The working hours in consulting bother lots of people. Consultants are often on call 24 hours a day. This is invasive. Moreover, it is frustrating that this demand is not compensated as well as industries like investment banking which have similar hours. These hours also do not tail off emphatically as you become more senior. However, where it is the culture to work long hours in a bank, consultancies are more willing to let people go home at a reasonable hour, where it is possible.
- Lots of consultancies have an up-or-out culture. At most firms, after two or three years, you will advance in seniority or you will know it is time to leave. You might leave permanently or with the view to gaining experience in industry and returning. In addition, poor management of this process often creates excessive and unhealthy competition in the race for an offer to stay. Consultants’ love for “impact” has made this even more problematic. In the rush to avoid being asked to leave, consultants are prone to making useless changes.
- Finally, the travel is notoriously demanding. Young consultants often enjoy travelling far and wide to reach clients, but this grows boring with time and encourages an unhealthy lifestyle. Make sure you are equipped to deal with it! In addition, as people start their own families, this simply becomes a more painful experience.
To conclude, it isn’t all plain sailing. In your first two years as an analyst, these cons are particularly accentuated. For many, two years is enough! For others, the professional rewards, exit opportunities and salary is more than enough to stay in the industry.