Why Consulting?

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Sometimes, when struggling through yet another case interview practice, candidates might wonder: "Why consulting again?" Indeed, many other job opportunities have straightforward interviewing and hiring processes that don't require hours of practice and coaching.

Below is a recap of four key reasons consulting provides a truly differentiated career opportunity. Generally, as the higher the prestige of a given consulting firm, the greater these benefits.

  1. Compensation
  2. Learning
  3. Network
  4. Subsequent opportunities

1) Compensation

Compared to many jobs directly out of undergraduate or MBA programs, consulting is rather lucrative. Certainly, some fields such as investment banking can top it, but the consulting salary beats out most others. Add in bonuses, 401(k) contributions, profit-sharing, and other benefits, and the compensation difference can grow further.

Sometimes consultants (particularly during a very challenging case) will compute their dollars per hour compensation, or the ratio of what they're getting paid to their billable rate. While these figures might not look as impressive as, say, an engineering firm, some unstaffed time can bring the figures back into balance.

Looking at the compensation at Partner banking over a million dollars annually as compared to the compensation of a professional 20 years into a corporate job makes the figures all the more appealing.

2) Learning

Consultants learn a lot--fast. It's essential for their career success and survival. A consultant can learn much about many different types of industries and business challenges through their variety of casework. These lessons enhance your overall business judgment.

The variety also provides an opportunity to sample many different kinds of work to see which is the best fit. The other fun upside to this variety is the different challenges provide real intellectual stimulation and keep the job from getting boring.

Consultants often get the opportunity to tackle areas of responsibility that are much greater than those normally afforded to people with a given number of years experience. As a result, they get to think about and work with issues that their peers may not get to see for years.

Many consulting firms also invest significant dollars in their knowledge management and training programs. Consultants enjoy the benefit of a firm's collective knowledge through well-organized online knowledge management platforms that cover a host of business topics.

Multiple day trainings off-site at each step in the career path in appealing destinations such as Cape Cod, Cancun, and Barcelona are common investments at top firms.

Consultants also learn a lot because consulting firms employ an apprenticeship model. Consultants often work alongside some of the smartest people in business, so they pick up lots of tips, tricks, and thought processes from some of the best business thinkers available.

The project-based approach also means that consultants have the opportunity to team with many different types of work personalities. So consultants master more than just Excel and PowerPoint; they also accelerate their acquisition of soft skills.

The additional hours worked also results in more learning happening per day. I have heard a number of hiring managers and headhunters remark that a year of consulting experience is worth 1.5-3 years of traditional industry experience.

Finally, consultants learn quickly through robust evaluation and feedback cycles. Consulting firms often have some of the most sophisticated performance management processes in the world. Consulting firms are in the business of renting out brains--so attracting and developing world-class business brainpower are mission-critical priorities.

At many companies, the review and evaluation processes are broken or largely an annual formality to ensure that a paper trail exists when someone needs to get fired. At such firms, you might hear a manager say, "You were outstanding in every way, but I can't give you a 5 [top performance score] because we just don't ever really give out 5s here."

At consulting firms, however, employees often receive 3-9 page documents detailing their performance with actionable recommendations for improvement. The review frequency also exceeds that of most firms. Reviews come at the conclusion of every engagement. Additional reviews aggregate and calibrate the results across engagements.

3) Network

Consulting firms also provide a stellar network after several years of work. The upside to huddling with brilliant colleagues in a client conference room for 10-13 hours a day means you grow close with your coworkers. These comrades know you well and are often all too happy to provide introductions to other opportunities.

Established firms also have dedicated alumni relations departments who provide useful resources and networking opportunities for consultants after they have left the firm. Consultancies invest in this area knowing that many of their new clients can come from former consultants.

4) Subsequent opportunities

Perhaps most importantly, consulting is a great springboard to many other opportunities. For instance, consultants at top firms have very good odds at getting into the top business schools. Many firms will also sponsor business school for consultants who agree to return.

A consultant can often see the promise of these subsequent opportunities right away. Sometimes, mere days into a consultant's career, she'll already receive phone calls from headhunters looking to place them at other opportunities.

Strategy departments of corporations particularly love to hire former strategy consultants. Private equity firms also enjoy recruiting former consultants. Finally, clients who love working with a particular consultant may want them to come work for them directly.

Consulting also provides a powerful resume stamp of pedigree that makes many other professionals stand up and take notice. Just as a Harvard or Stanford on a resume catches people's eye, so does a McKinsey or Bain.

Like a top school, part of the attractiveness comes from the learning that you did while there. The other part of the draw comes from knowing that you had what it took to get in the prestigious spot in the first place.

Finally, note that "why consulting" is a common interview question at consulting firms. Generally, you'd be ill-advised to rattle off these somewhat generic four reasons (particularly the compensation part). Ideally, you'll want to focus in on the more noble reasons for your interest in consulting and connect them to your personalized broader career plan.

The additional benefits of compensation, learning, network, and subsequent opportunities come at a cost, however. The first challenge is getting in. The case interview process is often counter-intuitive and takes a lot of practice in order to do well.

The second challenge is continuing to grow and develop amid potentially strict up-or-out policies. The third challenge is coping with the additional hours and travel demanded by the consulting lifestyle.

But for those committed problem-solvers willing to pay the price, consulting can be an ideal career choice.

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