The Trade-Offs Inherent in the Life of a Consultant
The life of a consultant is structurally different from that of a typical manager. To use an image, I would say that the consultant is a bit like the improvisational actor. At each performance, his or her legitimacy is at stake. Unlike the manager — who often replays the same role — the decor, but also the public, changes each time for the consultant. Here, the distinction must be made between the specialist and the generalist consultant. For the specialist, each performance takes place before a different audience, but the recited text remains generally the same. Only certain intonations and some cuts in the initial scenario are to be anticipated. But for the generalist consultant, especially in one’s early career, all of the content and context are different for each new assignment.
A consultant will more often evolve out of his “comfort zone,” i.e., all of the issues that he or she is able to master at a specific time. This type of context can be particularly stressful for people who prefer to excel in their field of expertise, their comfort zone.
In practical terms, the job of consultant often results in business travel. You will not systematically be brought to travel thousands of kilometers from home because this will depend, first and foremost, on the business model of the firm you choose. On the other hand, it’s quite possible that you would be forced to travel hundreds of miles from your home on a recurring basis. The activities of consultants, indeed require most of the time a greater proximity to customers. However, these customers may have their offices, their plants, or their branches around the world. Thus, I ask you a simple question: would you be happy with a life where you leave your home on Sunday evening or very early Monday morning, not returning until, say, Thursday night?
The Choice to Make
There are a number of very practical parameters on which a candidate to consulting must position her or himself upstream, beyond the question of travels.
- The kind of relationships with his/her colleagues in an environment which may be very competitive
- Tack of visibility in his career in the medium and long term, etc.
In all cases, it is not to answer “yes” or “no” to these questions. For example, “I do not want to work in a competitive environment, so I will not go for consulting careers.” It is important to position yourself on this set of concrete parameters to discover and clarify your choices. For example, some of you will be reluctant to do the long business trips. Others would be willing to accept these travels but say, for one or two years, maximum in their life. Others would consider that business travels are the opportunity to discover other cultures and other countries; they would feel stifled to stay in their current home area.
According to your choices, and your limits, you kill two birds with one stone. You can, indeed, not only validate your motivation for consulting careers, but above all, you will be able to learn more about the profile of the consulting firm that would suit you best. This will be a first step to targeting a specific consulting firm.
Take the Time to Anticipate Your Life in Management Consulting
Finally – last but not least – this step for projecting you into a firm begins with a search for information, typically on the Internet. But it must continue with targeted discussions in your personal and professional networks. These activities are time consuming. For example, merely to delve into its alumni network to identify stakeholders to contact takes a crazy amount of time. In addition, nobody will force you to do so, so the number of people who actually take action on these basic steps to become a consultant is very low. Then, the main challenge at this stage very upstream of your interviews is to make a personal decision. Gone are the days where you chose your University just by virtue of its ranking! So take the time to project yourself into your next professional step… as a professional !
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