12 Things No One Tells You About Being A Management Consultant

"It's all about deliverables"

1) There’s the type of work they say you’ll be doing…

A lot of big shiny terms will be thrown about to entice you into the world of management consultancy. Phrases like ‘global strategy’, ‘performance optimisation’, ‘acceleration of growth’ and ‘company insights’ – all intended to conjure an image of you as part of a suited superhero task force flying around the world turning big companies around with your maverick business know-how. ‘We’ve got 5 minutes before this company blows… Only YOU can help us, Simon!’ 

2) …versus what you will actually be doing 

The actual nuts and bolts of the job are a little less sexy. Helping to improve the way a company runs could boil down to streamlining their mail-out system. Which could lead to six months of you, muggins, sitting in a room doing data entry, for which your company will charge you out at around 400 quid a day… 

3) ‘Opportunities to travel’ can mean many different things 

‘Travel’ is often held out like tempting fruit to aspiring management consultants. Far-flung destinations like Mumbai, Shanghai and New York might all be mentioned in the initial recruitment drive. But the reality, as one former management consultant told me, is ‘more likely to be Hull, where I spent six months in a room with no windows.’ One well-known consultancy also promises to fly their new intake to a conference in a cool foreign city in the first six months, but as a person who actually went to this conference put it, ‘it was two hours outside that city, in a soulless conference centre. We literally could have been anywhere.’

4) There are so, so many acronyms 

An ex-management consultant tells me his favourite story about his old job is from his very first week, when someone on his team used an acronym to describe a task. ‘What does it stand for?’ he asked. ‘Oh we don’t know what it stands for’ the teammate replied, ‘just what it does.’ From SMEs to AOBs, EODs and PTLB-Ms (we made one of those up) acronyms are your new best friend.

5) The hours are luck-of-the-draw  

For every person in the graduate intake who gets a nice, six-month-long London project with hours that allow them to knock off at 5.30pm every day, there’s another battling it out in a Croydon business park doing 7am to 9pm days broken up with awkward dinners at the nearest Pizza Express with a senior manager they’ve spent all day with and have absolutely nothing left to talk about. In most cases London graduate A and Croydon graduate B will be earning the same as each other. Best start buttering up your boss the week you get started.

6) White wine hangovers are an inevitability 

With lots of ‘optional’ networking events (‘optional’ of course means your absence will be noted down forever if you don’t go) oiled by cheap white wine and minimal snacks, embrace the inevitability of the two-glass weekday hangover.

7) There will be business eels

The world of consultancy has a tendency to attract serial ladder climbers – i.e the man or woman who breezes up to you at an event full of charm, only to brush you off when they realise you’re too junior to be worth the face time.

8) There will be wooing

If you work for a big management consultancy firm, every six months a flashy ‘we still love you’ event will be laid on to keep you on board.  

9) If it’s not ‘in scope’ it’s not going to happen 

Because ‘I’m sorry we won’t have time / can’t achieve this’ feels both clunky and places the blame on you the consultant, the phrase you should always employ is ‘in scope’ – as in ‘this isn’t in scope for us.’ You can always practise this at home. ‘I’m sorry [boyfriend] but this washing up really isn’t in scope for me.’

10) And remember, it’s all about deliverables 

These are the thing that are ‘in scope’ that you can deliver to the client in the given time. ‘Let’s focus on the deliverables’ you should say, preferably with a jacket or tie-smoothing motion.

11) You’ll probably also end up blue sky thinking about the bigger picture in every day life 

Management speak will inevitably creep into your everyday lingo. ‘How was your chat with your Mum?’ ‘We resolved quite a few issues, the takeaways were….’ 

12) If the job doesn’t end up being for you…

To borrow a phrase from the profession, there are tonnes of ‘takeaways’ to power you through a future job – the flexible approach that comes from jumping from project to project, knowledge of how a business runs, organisational and planning skills, the ability to launder socks in a Premier Inn sink…

Special thanks to all the management consultants (and former management consultants) who helped with this feature

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