How to Get Promoted in Consulting Firms

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There are three key secrets to getting promoted in a consulting firm. Here is one of them:

"Do what is needed, not just what is asked."

In your first few weeks and months in consulting, you will typically be assigned tasks.

This is just temporary to make sure those who interviewed you did not make a mistake!

How your career progresses from this point forward will vary quite a bit depending on the client you serve, your manager, your firm, your office and numerous other factors.

Your responsibility will fall along a spectrum with tasks on one end and outcomes on the other.

It is the difference between a manager saying, "Please analyze sales records for the last three years and test these hypotheses." vs. "You have been assigned the XYZ division, figure out how to grow it by 50% over the next three years."

So the question is: how do you transition from a task-orientation role to an outcome-oriented one?

Sometimes you'll get a manager or partner who will just throw you into the deep end and you'll have a ton of responsibility right away. Other times, you will need to prove yourself before you transition over.

Here's the key to making that transition. When you are assigned tasks, focus not just on what was asked of you, but also on what is needed to help the client achieve the goal.

What typically happens in the middle of an analysis is you discover something unexpected. Perhaps the data indicates your team's (or client's) initial hypothesis is totally wrong.

Just like in a case interview where when you discover something unusual and you have an "Oh, that's interesting" type moment, you are usually within striking range of uncovering a major insight.

Now you have two options when you reach this point.

The first is to just finish up your task assignment.

The other is to finish up your task assignment (what you were asked) and then refine the hypothesis based on the new information, and test it analytically.

(This is doing what is needed...e.g, anticipating and doing the natural next step, before it is "assigned" to you.) When you present to a partner or manager, out of every three or four  presentations you deliver, there will often be one slide within a presentation that will contradict the hypothesis the partner and manager had in mind.

This slide will get everyone's attention.

And once they digest this conclusion, the partner will usually start thinking, "Hmm... if that's the case, then I wonder if X is true."

Now if you are just doing what is assigned, most likely the manager will look to you and say, "Why don't you look into this deeper level analysis tomorrow."

If you are doing what is needed (not just what is asked), you would then say, "You know, I was thinking the exact same thing.... and if you turn to the next slide, you see it shows that X actually is true."

It is this magic moment that your reputation in a firm jumps up a notch.

I had many, many such presentations at McKinsey where a partner would see a slide, reach a natural conclusion, and automatically wonder if a revised hypothesis was true... only to find that I answered that question on the next slide.

Once you do this often enough, your managers and partners come to realize that you can solve problems independently.

The role of those review meetings suddenly changes.

Before the meeting's focus was on the manager or partner reviewing your results and driving the next step in the analysis.

But, once you switch over to being an independent problem solver, the meeting's role becomes one where you are simply keeping the manager and partner informed -- so they can answer basic questions from the client about your part of the project intelligently.

Once again, it is very important than you transition from a task-oriented problem solver to an outcome-oriented, independent problem solver.  And the key to that is to "do what is needed, not just what is asked."

This is one of three key secrets to rapid career progression in consulting.  You can find the other two keys in the HSMC program.

You can learn more about HSMC by clicking the link below:


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