DISCLAIMER: All opinions & thoughts are solely my own unless stated otherwise. The persons who contributed to this post were fully aware of my intentions for the post before publication. The following content is not affiliated with any specific consulting or advisory services firm and should not be taken in any related manner.
Hey hey, party people! I hope you’re all doing wonderfully! Today’s blog post is one that I’ve been WAITING to post for a year now. I’m proudly publishing this on my one-year anniversary at my job / company, and I can’t wait for y’all to read through everything, but firstly, I’d like to give a special shoutout to some sweet friends of mine - Anjali Nagaraja, Mahima Kumbhat, & Sri Tankasala - who are also my fellow pandemic intern buddies turned full-time coworkers! The four of us have come up with a list of advice to all those who are thinking about going into consulting right out of school - we hope you find some value (& potentially some sympathetic laughable moments) in what we share!
I think one of my favorite things about being out of my undergrad has been to share what I’ve learned in my job. Consulting, I’ve come to learn, is one of those jobs that aren’t talked about when you’re in university - especially management consulting. Now I won’t be able to explain *every single thing* about what management consulting is as I’m still very much a baby in this world, but I will give my best effort to share what it’s like to be in the role as realistically (as a virtual platform will allow) as possible.
This is going to be a long one, so in a true business fashion, let me lay out our agenda for these next few minutes:
What is Management Consulting
What is Management Consulting?
I’m glad you asked! Management consulting is one of those careers that have just broadened their entry-level hiring scope to the undergraduate realm. At its essence, a management consultant is an individual who advises senior leadership at varying companies in different industries on how they should move forward in their strategic endeavors. (That’s a pretty way of saying they’re problem solvers, right haha) I’m specifically a consultant in the Mergers & Acquisitions advisory space, so the “problems” I interact with on the day-to-day involve divestiture, acquisition, integration, & due diligence work.
Consultants can be staffed on several projects at one time depending on the demand from the client / project. Some deals require 100% utilization from their team members while others only require ad hoc support which allows for the consultant to have more bandwidth to take on other deals. There are two umbrellas of deal work: due diligence vs. project work.
Due diligence work is a high-intensity deal usually spread across 6-8 weeks where your objective is to support your client in valuing a potential transaction. These weeks are PACKED with rigorous data analysis, client interviews, aligning with other internal support teams, modeling all your findings, and delivering a thoroughly researched report to your client. This kind of deal work tends to be a sprint compared to its counter. You typically work with only 2 or 3 (at most) other people during this time meaning work distributed among the team tends to be heavier than project work. It’s quite normal to be working anywhere between 50 - 70 hours in one week (although this is highly dependent on how efficient you & your team can work - don’t expect to be able to breeze through tasks when you first start…BELIEVE US on this!!).
Project work has a much longer-term deal lifespan. Its timeline can stretch anywhere from a few months to over a year depending on the needs of your client. These projects tend to have a much bigger team staffed on them because of the bandwidth required to cover client functional work streams as well as legal preparation in the *anticipated* transaction to not only go public but to be completed as well. This kind of deal work includes several phases compared to due diligence as the goal is to prepare, support, & stand the client up leading towards & through the transaction. Because this kind of deal requires EXTENSIVE planning & discussions with all senior leadership of the target business, your work as a team falls under a more even-paced work / life balance routine with a few intense weeks sprinkled in on occasion. Working hours per week tend to be anywhere from 40 - 50 (again, depending on your team).
Due to the pandemic, traveling as a consultant now looks completely different than what it was before. Based on what we’ve heard, travel is slowly becoming more & more implemented again but is no longer seen as a requirement of the practice. I’ve traveled a couple of times to meet with my team, and I gotta say it can be quite fun (it’s fully work-expensed, how could you not love that?!). But, I love the hybrid model & extreme flexibility in our role. I think I can speak for all of us that working from home has been a blessing in several ways. With the nature of consulting, remote working has always been our way of doing things. Our teams usually aren’t located where our home offices are, and with the ever-changing environment we’re in every day from fire drills, client interviews, working sessions, data analysis, etc., we’ve always needed to be fluidly adaptive to what’s given to us.
Alrighty now that we’ve got a fair foundation of what the role is, let’s get into the list of lessons the 4 of us have learned over our first year!
1. The little things matter
Brush up on your people and professional skills. This includes written and verbal communication. Colleagues / clients pay very close attention to these skills and the way you conduct yourself can really affect your growth and movement in the company / project.
2. Speak up
Don’t be shy to share your opinions with your colleagues on tasks, strategies, etc. If you cling too closely to reservation, people will walk all over you and think that you’re not interested in consulting / your role on the team.
Your ability to network and build relationships is arguably as important as the quality of your client's work in consulting. Networking allows you to learn more about the experiences of others, what they do, and how they got to where they are now. It also may land you in unique project opportunities that you wouldn’t have seen otherwise.
4. Anticipate your manager’s needs
A lot of where you can add value is by being able to anticipate your manager's needs. Due to the dynamic nature of consulting, being able to know what your manager needs and deliver it before they ask is a valuable skill. It’s one thing to deliver what’s asked / expected of you, but this kind of anticipation that requires a deep understanding of a person as well as the project’s highest priorities.
5. Make yourself skillfully dangerous
Make it your priority to learn how to add value in numerous ways. You may get put on a deal that’s completely out of your skillset but both your firm and client expect you to add value regardless. Even if it’s only taking effective notes or handling the internal logistics, don’t allow yourself to sit back and pass up the opportunity to challenge yourself.
6. Genuinely learn your product & make it a service
Study and "templatize" whatever you do when possible. While it seems like client work is uber specific, if you learn how to "templatize" your work and offer it as a service, that immediately becomes your IP and your ticket to a lucrative exit op or promotion.
Advice by yours truly:
7. “It depends” is a valid answer
Sometimes we get caught up in two polar ends of a decision-making spectrum: giving an answer immediately vs. wanting to explore all areas of thought before deciding. After being on multiple due diligences and projects, I’ve learned the power of saying “It depends” rather than throwing out a number or idea and running with it. Remember that your work impacts the greater picture of seeing a multi-million / billion dollar deal go through. Know your “why” behind every answer, but in the time of preparation, it’s okay to not give your definitive call on something.
8. Prioritization goes beyond established deadlines
Data requests, tasks, meeting requests, deck preparation, modeling - the list goes on & on. Not everything is urgent to get out the door and sometimes what has a closer set deadline isn’t always the highest priority. Fire drills (a matter that needs immediate attention / turnover) happen all the time and will require precedence over tasks that might be due the next day. Learn to be adaptable in this kind of situation.
9. Asking questions is a skill
I’ve always struggled with cohesively asking a question. I’ve learned (the hard way) that questions easily answered with a “yes” or “no” definitely do not prove to be effective whatsoever. In consulting, you’re chasing down a specific problem that usually is floating in some sort of ambiguity and it’s your job to ask the proper questions to lead to your north star answer. Picking up this skill requires tons of practice that comes with experience (I’m genuinely still trying to get better at this).
10. Lean on your support community
This job can be very demanding, especially right out of college. I had a really rough start my first few months, but having this group of people really helped me push through those long nights and chaotic weeks. We’ve grabbed dinner, played tennis, and simply enjoyed each other’s company in various boba tea & coffee shops pouring into one another. Although we interned during the pandemic summer and had a virtual-only start to the firm, we’ve always made time for each other. Don’t be hesitant to reach out to your peers. We’ve never been staffed on the same project & most of the time our teams are based on the opposite ends of the country than where we are but don’t let the distance deter you from cultivating these kinds of relationships.
On that note, I want to give another voice of appreciation to you…Anjali, Mahima, & Sri. Y’all have helped me grow since my start at the firm, and it’s been absolutely beautiful to see how all of you have grown as well. I’m proud of the strong individuals we’ve challenged each other to become. I admire all of your work ethics deeply, and cherish the friendship we’ve made over the course of a year! So here’s a cheers to us four and all the future consultants out there!!((:
If you’re considering / wanting to explore management consulting as a potential job, please feel free to reach out to any of us on LinkedIn! We’d love to chat or give more insight into what we talked about above.
Good luck my friends! You've got this((;