6 Challenges of working as a Management Consultant

I’ve been fielding a lot of informational interviews lately with undergraduate and graduate students who are interested in consulting. I enjoy these conversations and helping students along their career search journey.

Inevitably, students (rightfully) will ask a question about the challenges working in the consulting industry. I’ve compiled a list of challenges that consultants often encounter in their career. This list is by no means exhaustive, so please feel free to share your additional ones.

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Bad Project – Not all projects are amazing. Furthermore, while some projects can sound sexy (Strategy, M&A, etc.) there are lots of challenges and difficulties that can derail even the coolest sounding projects. Companies don’t pay firms a lot of money to solve easy problems, they pay them to solve complex and challenging ones. Projects can be bad for lots of reasons. Tight timelines, unreasonable demands, not enough resources, and the list goes on. If you work in this industry long enough, you’ll be guaranteed to have one.

Difficult Client –Clients are investing lots of money into consultants to solve difficult problems. As such, they demand results and progress, regardless of its reasonable or rationale. At some point, you’ll have a client who despite the circumstances and constraints is incredibly unreasonable or irrational with their demands. Despite this, you’ll have to figure out how to best meet and exceed their expectations, even if it seems unreasonable.

Tough Team – Hopefully, you end up at a firm where you fit in with the culture and around people whom you like and respect. While many firms put care and thought into assembling project teams, you’re not going to like or work well with every single person you meet.

Curveballs – Things change quickly in consulting. M&A Team Lead role you signed up for suddenly changes to you being the entire team. The role where you thought you were managing five resources only has 3 resources due to the project budget. Curveballs and changes are routine in this job

Demanding Travel – For most consultants, travel is a part of the job. While policies differ firm to firm (local, regional, national) there is always the chance that you get stuck with a travel schedule that stinks. Maybe it’s because you have to go to North Dakota for 6 months. Maybe you’re doing cross-country flights with redeye’s back on Saturday mornings. Or, maybe you have to fly out Sunday nights. At the end of the day, consultants go where the business (see $$) is, and if the $$ is in North Dakota, you’ll be headed there shortly.

Not being able to make personal plans. Ever. – If you’re traveling Monday-Thursday it can be hard to make plans during the week. Furthermore, I’m sure you want to go home for Thanksgiving to see your family, but since you don’t know where your next project is going to be its hard to know where to book your flight home. The uncertainty and unpredictability of consulting can make it difficult to make personal plans (see live a normal life) It can make the most normal of things (ex: scheduling a doctor’s appointment) a truly difficult task.

Here’s the thing: Every job has its ups and downs. Similar to picking a significant other, picking a job is like means taking the best and worst of your selection. Sure, some of these scenarios are crappy, but if you can navigate through these situations (and make the best of them) there’s a high likelihood you’ll enjoy the profession.

Furthermore, the nature of consulting is temporary – you’re on a project for x amount of weeks and months and then you move onto the next one. The good news is that if you encounter any of these challenges there is always an end in sight. The next project serves as an opportunity for a fresh start. If you do this long enough, I’m confident there will be more good memories than bad ones. In my next post, I’ll examine some ways to manage these situations.

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