Why does everyone in strategy consulting seem so . . . goofy

I am trying to find the right way to frame this. I am a sophomore student who has been interested in the field for over a year now, but I continue to run into red flags in investigating this field. First, a bunch of consulting companies came to my top university and many of them bragged about how many vacation days their company gives. Why is that one of the things you are most proud of about your job? Second, I have heard many rumors about politics in the field, and I think I am tasting that a little bit. Everyone seems very fake. Third, quite frankly, they don't really seem like winners. In my impression, I haven't seen many guys in it that stand confidently with good posture, that go to the gym, and that carry themselves with an air of badassery. I get the feeling they all do cooking as a hobby, or are vegan. Come on. Listen, I am a brilliant problem solver, I love the idea of traveling absolutely nonstop, and I like working with people. no matter how hard I try, I cannot figure out which career pursuit best fits my needs. Hence, consulting seems like the natural best way to get a taste of tons of industries and still remain at an elite level doing elite work among elite peers. But for some reason, the people in consulting continue to tell me I may not fit in the profession, even if I would do phenomenally well at the work. Am I really just talking to the wrong people? Or is it an epidemic of the field as a whole?

 
anon24534

Sounds like you’re not passing the airport test and it doesn’t shock me from this post

I think this response is a little shortsighted considering these are posted as intimate thoughts and observations on an anonymous forum. I’m very savvy with people, but it comes from a place of authenticity. It isn’t hard to be liked when you treat everyone well and can read a room. Additionally, I am still trying to understand the field and its people before I consider going into it; I’ve only been talking to professionals in the field and chatting with my university’s career resources people. Right now I have a summer internship lined up in wealth management; I have put in no interviews or applications yet for consulting. I’m trying to understand whether I would want to be pursuing consulting for next summer, and the above is my dilemma.

 

Well have you pushed more on why they think it’s not a good fit for you? If so, what have they said?
 

A couple points on things you said.

1. Politics. There are politics in every job—especially jobs like consulting and banking. Those companies are selling a service which means a lot of selling and shmoozing of clients which ends up being a part of internal culture a bit obviously.

2. I’m not sure who you’ve met and what firms they are at but the vast majority of consultants at top firms I know are incredibly smart, confident, and take care of their bodies. But also, consultants are not navy seals lol. Most are nice people and by the sound of it you want them to come off as people who exude “I’m smarter than you” vibes. This is the main thing that concerns me about your post because it makes me think those are the vibes you give off

 

Dont worry - not passing the "airport test " with some mid tier goof is a good thing. Guys like the above.
Consultants will fake niceties - "how was your weekend ? You took your dog our for a walk? AWWWW? This is their whole personality. Unless MBB - they are goofs.

 

50% chance this is a troll post...

If this is serious though, here's my thoughts on each.

1. Vacation days are a legitimate perk that you'll be happy to have (if the company actually encourages you to use them). I'm sure there are other things they are more proud of, it's just a very real benefit that's having a positive effect on their WLB.

2. Politics exist in every single corporation, but it's amplified when every single person is an overachiever who wants to beat out the other person for a promotion. Some firms will be worse with this than others, so definitely try to get a read. Again though, every high-caliber profession will have a degree of this, so might as well get good at politicking early on.

3. People in consulting are going to be somewhat nerdy on average (not necessarily a bad thing, just true). Firms recruit firstly for 'your horsepower' and second if you fit in, imo. All extremely competitive fields will have a nerdy atmosphere. Look at most IB or PE shops or top law firms. This isn't to say you won't find some guys who "stand confidently, go to the gym, and carry themselves with an air of baddassery," in fact, most firms have coaches who will help you with executive presence.

General advice, knock down your ego. You'll fail the airport test 10/10 times if you assume you're the smartest, coolest person in the room and everyone is so lucky to be around you. Confidence + humility, not douchebagery.

 
2024undergrad

50% chance this is a troll post...

If this is serious though, here's my thoughts on each.

1. Vacation days are a legitimate perk that you'll be happy to have (if the company actually encourages you to use them). I'm sure there are other things they are more proud of, it's just a very real benefit that's having a positive effect on their WLB.

2. Politics exist in every single corporation, but it's amplified when every single person is an overachiever who wants to beat out the other person for a promotion. Some firms will be worse with this than others, so definitely try to get a read. Again though, every high-caliber profession will have a degree of this, so might as well get good at politicking early on.

3. People in consulting are going to be somewhat nerdy on average (not necessarily a bad thing, just true). Firms recruit firstly for 'your horsepower' and second if you fit in, imo. All extremely competitive fields will have a nerdy atmosphere. Look at most IB or PE shops or top law firms. This isn't to say you won't find some guys who "stand confidently, go to the gym, and carry themselves with an air of baddassery," in fact, most firms have coaches who will help you with executive presence.

General advice, knock down your ego. You'll fail the airport test 10/10 times if you assume you're the smartest, coolest person in the room and everyone is so lucky to be around you. Confidence + humility, not douchebagery.

Can respect this answer a bit, and I understand the necessity you feel for such a breakdown/response, but I think you miss what I am trying to get at with the question. It has nothing to do with nerdiness, I happen to be nerdier than 75% of people I know, and I go to a renowned college for nerds. You must admit, before addressing the question, that the kind of person who pursues consulting is very different from the kind of person who pursues IB, no? Not solely from which one they have been more exposed to either — that the disposition of their personalities and goals must be fairly different, no? So then, with this question, I am addressing the nature of the general archetype consultant vs the other, more financially inclined, prestige-type WSO jobs. In a general expression intended to invite conversation, why do consultants, at least the ones closer to my age, seem like they all consume copious amounts of soy?

 

Consulting is a significantly more academic thinking type job than banking. I can tell you I have a close family member who worked at McKinsey and then moved to banking after his MBA, that he found banking significantly easier than consulting. In consulting, you over the course of let’s say an oil and gas case, are supposed to become more educated on the issue than the executive who has been there for 10 years. That can be incredibly difficult and stressful. You have to often pretend/are expected to be an expert on things when you actually aren’t. He said banking was much more execution focused. The only thing he really needed to be an expert in was finance and M&A. It was a lot less stressful (despite the hours) because he didn’t feel the need to be as smart to be a successful banker.

Because consulting is about problem solving and not just financial modeling, etc. it attracts people who are more intellectual and therefore usually nerdier 

 

As someone who has had oversight of employee compensation plans for portfolio companies, I would like to clear something up about "unlimited vacation" policies. Unlimited vacation policies are designed to benefit the employer, especially with respect to companies that have high turnover (like consulting and law, where these schemes are common). The benefits to the employer are, in order: (1) no requirement to compensate churning employees for unused days, (2) reduced administrative expense related to tracking (software, HR staff), and (3) broad empirical evidence that, statistically, employees take the same or fewer days off under "unlimited" vacation policies (and employees who abuse policy can still be terminated under at-will employment).

The fact that employees think it is a "perk", and hence a relative recruiting inducement, is an amusing #4.

 
  1. You will wish you had more vacation days when you start working. Or maybe you won’t but most people do hence the sell.
  2. There is less politics in consulting than corporates - tends to be a bit more of a political meritocracy. If you’re good you don’t really need to “play the game” that much. Can’t speak to IB or PE although anecdotally similar.
  3. A lot of the rest of your comments seem to focus on your view of what a “winner” should do/act like/present like — think you should look at why you think these things (as they’re largely unhelpful for your life and arrogant) and largely ignore them in making a decision. There will be people you’ll get along with. Also - I can tell you I would not be my authentic self presenting in front of a bunch of students for an event I’d probably been asked to go to and CBF!
 

How do you think the culture/people are when we hire a large amount of academic overachievers with a large share of STEM backgrounds? 

If you look for people that fit your description (which is also fine, don't get me wrong) you rather find them in banking. Also not at the top names though - loads of my friends at the top BBs are also on the nerdier finance spectrum. 

The type of "bro" you mentioned I found mostly at campus events of mid-market banks (i.e., the type like Lincoln, Baird, Blair).

 

Strategy/management consulting has long positioned itself as an extension of school.  Vacation days, lots of networking events at work, and a career path that's mostly sold as "we'll get you positioned ideally for the job you really want".  I've seen this at both the college and MBA level.  In my MBA program, several of the firms even had recruiters with offices at the school and the full time job of that recruiter was to spend time at that school and get to know every one.  It's all a not-so-subtle way of saying "come here if you don't feel ready to be a full adult yet".

That might sound negative, but I don't intend it that way. I think it's interesting and had some appeal to me in a few moments.  

But I do think it explains a lot of the behavior described in OP's post.  It's a field that (all else equal) will attract some less mature folks who like to talk more than they like to work.  It also attracts a lot of great people, I'm just saying the average will be affected by this.

 

So if Tom Brady were a consultant?

The type of person your referring to is rare in the corporate world, especially within consulting 

Those people are more common in sports, real estate, business owners, sales, military, fashion

 

I think some of these comments are overly harsh. OP - I don't think your questions are invalid, but your three questions (PTO, politics, "looking like winners") come across as a bit shallow (especially commentary around "everyone is probably cooking for a hobby, or vegan") which is probably why you're getting some flak. Then again, agree that there is a 50% chance this is a troll post :)

I'll take the bait and address all three:

1. On the PTO front, a few things to understand:

  • There's an old saying in consulting recruiting: "McKinsey's greatest competitor isn't BCG or Bain, it's Goldman." Top UG or MBA talent who are interested in a professional services job typically gravitate to three fields, called the "holy trinity of professional services" by HBR: consulting, investment banking and law. Therefore, recruiters at consulting firms are not just trying to explain why their firm is the best consulting firm, but why consulting is a superior career path to IB and law. Consulting is probably the most "chill" of these three fields (assuming we're talking MBB/T2 Strategy Consulting, BB or EB IB, Big Law) which is likely why you're hearing about the PTO flex; I've heard far more frequent horror stories of vacations getting cancelled / missing kids bday parties / etc. in IB and Law than in Consulting.
  • Most materials for OCR is produced by HR so take them with a grain of salt

2. Politics - every firm has politics. Everyone is a bit fake. This is true in any industry. My wife used to work in fashion and noted that "The Devil Wears Prada" isn't THAT far off from reality. That's one you're just going to have to get past and I wouldn't characterize consulting as any different than other business industries; in fact, I would say it's more of a meritocracy than IB and definitely more than corporate.

3. "Lack of winners" - might want to learn to express this one more subtly :). I have many thoughts on this one and don't fully disagree with you:

  • IB is considered the best path to riches (just look at the volume of posts on this site about Ivy League > BB IB > PE > H/S/W MBA > PE as the path to follow) so will naturally attract people who are very outcome oriented. As such, I find IB tends to attract more athletes - as a former NCAA athlete (one of the real sports, not fencing or track and field), I have very few former teammates in Consulting but MANY in IB / broader finance. Those athletes are probably the more "suave, in-shape, cool" people you mention.
  • IB (and Big Law to an extent) tends to also attract more people from affluent backgrounds than Consulting. Far more Greenwich / Darien / New Canaan types in Manhattan IB circles than in Consulting. Those folks who grew up at private schools, country clubs, etc. are more likely to have the "polish" you mention.
  • Overall, this is a very subjective question / comment and answers above are my observations and nothing more. 
 

Amusing, I know you think you get on with people fine - but you’re abrasive post combined with defensive replies combined with professional consultants clearly telling you the EQ side is an issue…well, you can see how the pieces sum here. Instead of trying to change perception on all of consulting, take the feedback critically and see what you can do to improve it.
 

yes, there are weightlifters in consulting. Very common to hit the gym after work and then get beers late at night. 

 

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