Strategy consulting is one of the most competitive and lucrative destinations for bright graduates, but it is also often misunderstood. Luckily, we’ve compiled a guide to help you understand the ins and outs of this prestigious sector.
What Makes a Good Strategy Consultant?
1. Be Intellectually Curious
If you’ve managed to convince yourself that your entire reason for getting a degree is to get as many high-paying jobs out of it as possible, we’ve got some news for you: The people who became the best consultants in the world started out wanting to have a really good time. Consultants are not just high-earning individuals; they’re people who wanted to pursue their interests, and who found a job that would enable them to do so.
2. Be Committed To Your Own Development
Working as a strategy consultant is not just about using your brain, though most people in the industry wouldn’t want you to know this. There’s a reason why you’ll bump into the same guys at a number of prestigious conferences every year, and why they regularly write papers, edit books, and speak at the same events as you: they’re committed to the continued development of public policy thinking. Being a strategy consultant is not something you do on the side (like being a consultant for your local council); it is – without exception – something you do full time, for the entirety of your career.
3. Be Able To Communicate
Unlike most jobs, in strategy consulting, you’ll be judged on your ability to communicate. If your supervisor finds you lacking in this department, they will make sure you know about it – repeatedly. This can be inconvenient, but it doesn’t have to be too bad. Learn to communicate well, and your supervisors will reciprocate.
4. Be Able To Explain Yourself Well
An extension of being able to communicate well, this is usually more of an obstacle to people who are not used to expressing themselves in writing. If you are at all nervous about having your work critiqued, then we recommend that you get used to the practice now; it’ll save you a lot of heartache later. Remember: If you’re a consultant, you will be evaluated (and compensated) based on the results you bring in, but your work will never be judged by itself. You will always be judged on your ability to communicate your work – and that means justifying it to others.
5. Look For The Meaning In Everything
The fact that people want to be strategy consultants proves that they enjoy the intellectual exercise. Whether your job is to present a client with an idea, or to evaluate a project for a government ministry, your job will never simply be to produce words or tables. No, it will be to produce an idea, which will be judged for the quality of its thought.
If you could not care less about the intellectual exercise (which has allowed thinkers such as Herbert Simon, John Nash, Friedrich Hayek, and Jürgen Habermas to gain fame and recognition), then you need to find another line of work.
If you are someone who wants to push the boundaries of their thinking (and help others do the same), then consulting is an ideal match.
6. Become Familiar With The Size Of The Industry
Some people make the mistake of joining a strategy consulting firm without knowing that there are only about 12 of them in the world. Some of these are called “strategy consulting firms”, while others are called “management consulting”. The price differentials tell you all you need to know.
7. Set Realistic Expectations
Unfortunately, strategy consulting is not the most intellectually stimulating work out there – but neither is working in a lab or on a trading floor. It is a profession that is largely defined by the fact that it is the result of a tradeoff: in exchange for a high salary, you give up the seemingly-endless intellectual development that professors experience. We don’t recommend you join a strategy consulting firm if you are looking for a lot of intellectual stimulation early in your career.
This is not to say that you won’t grow intellectually while you are employed as a strategy consultant. It just means that you need to make sure that the amount of intellectual development you are getting is worth the financial cost, and that you have other sources of intellectual stimulation.
8. Know That The Work Of Strategy Consultants Is Not Always Glamorous
Your days are mostly filled with mundane tasks such as formatting, collating, and the like. Your boss will likely ask you to work on weekends, and long hours are inevitable. Even when your work is creative, you’ll be sitting and staring at a computer screen for large chunks of your day. There is no escaping the fact that your job will be tedious and hard.
Know that your work, while beneficial, will not always be interesting. However, we have found that it is often more interesting than it seems.
9. Be Curious About Political Institutions And Public Policy
Most strategy consultants enter the industry from prestigious universities, and it is extremely rare to find a recent MBA graduate who did not study economics, politics or law while they were a student. Despite the fact that consultants are often “objective” about their work, remember that the work they do is unlikely to be objective. This is what makes consulting a fascinating tradeoff: if you can be objective enough about your subject matter, then you can actually help political institutions and public policy to become somewhat more.
10. Balance Your Time
Unfortunately, when your job is to help stakeholders realize their goals, their goals are unlikely to be compatible with your personal goals. So, you need to learn to balance your time between your personal and professional life (if you can even separate the two).
Learn the art of prioritization.
11. Apply To Strategy Consulting Firms That Offer Training (Or Provide Training Yourself)
The size of the strategy consulting industry is one of its biggest problems. In all but the largest firms, there will be a noticeable discrepancy between the level of your peers and the level of the partners and directors. This leads to a situation where there is a huge discrepancy between the output of junior consultants and the output of senior partners.