We talk so much about the trials and pitfalls of consulting that we thought it would be interesting to discuss the things we like about the consulting and professional services industry. Although it can be a challenging career, it can be a fulfilling and rewarding profession.
1 – What first attracted you to consulting?
- I was interested in consulting right out of college. What attracted me most was the idea of the variety of going to different clients and getting an assortment of locations rather than sitting at the same desk day after day.
- I remember discussing that in a couple of college recruiting interviews. As I look back on it now, it seems a little superficial, but that was really what drew me in to the consulting world.
- Once I got into consulting, I experienced that variety, but also the newness of every experience. Every time we started a new project there was a buzz around ramping things up, getting the right team members on the team, meeting the people at the client and getting our hands into the meat of the project.
2 – Do you still feel that excitement
- Yes, I do. It’s both excitement and nervous energy.
- It can be scary. It’s like the first day on a new job where you worry, what if I’m not a good fit at the client? What if this work is over my head? All that stuff goes through your mind at some level.
- But more than that is the fun of seeing who from your firm will be assigned to the project. Sometimes it’s someone you’ve worked with before and sometimes that’s a good thing, sometimes not so good. I’ve actually been assigned to projects with someone from the firm that I’d heard had a reputation of being difficult to work with. And after working with them, I realized they weren’t so bad. That taught me to have an open mind and not to accept other people’s judgments.
- But the other thing that is exciting is the challenge of a new project. You always go into a project with the attitude that this is going to be the greatest project ever!
- Maybe that’s an exaggeration, but you do go into a new project knowing that you’ll be learning something new; whether it’s a new industry or unique business practices or maybe just applying previous knowledge from your past projects.
3 – What are your favorite aspects of consulting?
- As superficial as I said it was, I still like the variety. I left consulting for about 5 years, and really tested that philosophy. I worked at two different companies; and at both jobs I had a nice office with a door and the family pictures and everything. But I really got kind of bored being surrounded by the same 4 walls every day.
- And it’s not just the variety of clients and locations. Consulting offers a variety of task assignments also. For example, I remember being assigned to do some IT assessments for a client that was considering acquiring some other companies. I traveled around the country visiting the companies they were considering buying, interviewing their executives and touring their IT departments. These were very different companies with completely different approaches to manufacturing and IT. I could never have gotten exposure to different types of companies like that outside of consulting.
- I’ve also had opportunities to sell and get involved in developing sales proposals. I used to think of a slick car salesman when I thought about sales, but selling in consulting is much more about developing relationships and helping solve problems than being some hard-core negotiator.
- You also often get some interesting work when you’re between projects. One time, I was able to lead up a team to develop a whole new practice within our firm.
- Another aspect I like is the fact that you’re usually working on high-profile projects. A client usually has consultants come in and help them on their big projects that they don’t have the expertise to do themselves. It’s not always the case, but quite often.
- But whether you work on high-profile jobs or not, in most cases, you’re creating something new rather than maintaining existing systems. And that’s always more interesting. You get the chance to create something new rather than work on maintaining something that someone else built, which doesn’t give you the same opportunity to be creative in most cases.
- And finally, getting back to the shallowness, I would have to say that I like the pay. I’ve found that consulting pays above average. Even if you leave consulting and go to a client-type of business, they will often pay a premium to get the advantage of your consulting experience. You come in at a higher pay scale and the future percentage increases give you more leverage to move higher up the pay scale.
4 – You mentioned before that you left consulting for about 5 years and realized that you missed it – what did you miss most about it?
- One thing I missed was the ability to impact change. Even though I was hired in a manager position, I really didn’t feel like I was in a position where I had the influence to make an impact on decision making.
- Both of the jobs I worked outside of consulting hired me because of my consulting experience and wanted me to implement some standardized procedures that they were lacking. I treated those assignments as projects and was able to implement some procedures within a few months.
- Once that was completed, we went into kind of a maintenance mode. There were very few new and exciting projects to do and I felt that I was just there monitoring and overseeing things. It wasn’t much of a challenge once I had made the changes they wanted.
- I realized that that’s a majority of what the employees at clients do – maintain their existing systems.
- They bring in consultants for the interesting stuff. Even when client employees are involved in those attractive projects, the consultants move on and the clients stay and maintain the new system.
- Also, consulting is very project-based. You’re working with a team and you’re all marching towards a deadline; you develop a sense of camaraderie with that team and you’re all single-mindedly heading in the same direction. That’s what I feel makes it seem more interesting.
5 – Do you think it requires a certain type of person to enjoy consulting?
- First of all, if you don’t enjoy it, don’t do it. Some people get into consulting for the money and as I said, it can pay well – but if you don’t enjoy it, you probably won’t do well and be successful.
- That being said, there are some specific traits
- Flexibility. A good consultant can adjust to changes in the course of action on short notice. Projects change and priorities get adjusted all the time. The more flexible a consultant is, the higher the chance is of being successful
- Also, it’s important to like being challenged. Clients often bring in consultants because they don’t have the expertise for the project they’re doing. So a big part of being a consultant is solving problems and coming up with creative and challenging solutions.
- I think I’ve mentioned this before in one of our podcasts, but I still remember early in my career, I was working with a client employee and he asked me what consulting was like.
- I explained to him that I go from client to client and learn about their business and find out what problems they have and develop solutions to their problem.
- He acted as though I was crazy. I thought anybody would like that. And that was where I realized that consulting isn’t for everyone. Everyone has their own interests and things they like to do.
- So yes, it requires a certain type of person to do any job and you should really make sure whatever you’re doing, that you have the right skills and personality for the job.
6 – You’ve also talked in the past about difficult clients – are the clients a good reason to like consulting?
- Yes, as odd as that seems, it’s really part of loving the challenge. There are different types of difficult clients. There are very demanding ones. They want to make sure they’re getting value for all of the consulting dollars they’re spending.
- They are the type that keep you on your toes. They’re the ones that I like because I never let my guard down.
- There are also difficult clients who either don’t like consultants or think they’re easy targets. But difficult people exist everywhere. I usually accept them as a challenge and try my best to convince them that I’m worth my billing rate.
- Difficult clients like that aren’t as common as I may have indicated in some of my writings and our previous podcasts. I’ve tried to talk about dealing with tough clients so that new consultants are prepared when it happens.
- Sometimes the challenge is a tough job and sometimes it’s a tough client – not all are bad, but you need to learn how to deal with the occasional tough client every once in a while.
- And it can be rewarding when you win them over and convince them that you’re adding value.
7 – What about the downsides. What are the things that would cause someone not to like consulting?
- One thing that people may not like about consulting is that travel is often involved. It depends on the consulting firm you work for, but you could end up traveling as much as 80%. Most firms will let you know up front if it requires that much travel. But even with a small local firm, there could be an occasional trip involved. If you’re unable to travel extensively, you may want to find a firm that doesn’t require travel.
- Again, it goes to the type of person. There were times when I got road weary, but in general, I liked the travel. Seeing new cities and adding to the variety.
- Also, sometimes you get pulled from a project before getting to see the end. If you have a specialized skill, they may need you to come into the project midway and only work on it for a set period of time. You’re off to another project before seeing the project to completion. Some people don’t like that. They like to have the satisfaction of seeing something to the end and you don’t always get that luxury.
8 – Any final thoughts?
- Whether you spend an entire career in consulting or just a couple of years, there are a lot of benefits to working in the consulting industry.
- One of those is networking. As a consultant you meet a lot of people. There are lots of fellow consultants you end up working with, you also meet a lot of clients. You’re also more likely to attend conferences, training and other meetings where you can really build up a healthy network.
- There are also a lot of opportunities to learn. By working for multiple clients, you learn how many companies within the same industry have different approaches to solving the same problems. You also work with people with deep experience and can learn a lot from them. Consulting can give you a real jump start to your career, even if you only do it for a couple of years.
- Finally, I don’t think there’s ever a dull moment. This goes to the variety that I talked about, but there is always something new to be working on and learning that, to me, keeps it exciting and challenging. You rarely get into a rut for an extended period of time.
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Music: Kevin MacLeod – Incompetech.com