5 most important things I've learned over 5+ years in consulting

Getting a little bored in quarantine, so I figured I'd put a post together. I've been in the rat race for 5.5 years and was recently promoted to the manager level at a big 4 (think S&, EY-P, Deloitte S&O). As I reflected on the past 5+ years, I thought about some of the most important things I've learned.

Without further ado, below are the five most important things I've learned over the past five years:

1. Half of your job is to do your job at a high level, and the other half is making sure other people know

In a competitive environment like consulting, everyone is doing great work. In my experience, what I've seen is that for the highest performers, everyone knows what they've done, and they're known as a "go-to" person. When I was early senior, the partner on the account I worked on used to constantly make us create case studies that would be presented to leadership and our practice regarding the project. At the time it was a huge pain in the ass and I didn't get it – now I do. I've seen plenty of people get screwed at review time because at the end of the year it wasn't well known what they did internally and externally.

2. You only must be up to a certain point in IQ, what separates the highest performers are those who have a high IQ and even higher EQ

You absolutely need to be intelligent to be successful in consulting – that is what helps you build credibility both externally and internally. However, for the individuals I've seen that have consistently been the highest performers, they all have one important quality in common – a unique ability to work with clients and teams who fit all over the personality, background and working style spectrum. Additionally, each one of these individuals is people are very well-liked and incredibly personable. You'll learn that if people like you it makes everything in this business a lot easier

3. People will remember how you make them feel, not what you do for them

To put it simply, people want to work with those who they like and consistently provide more leeway and opportunity to them. As a manager, I don't typically remember the mistakes those on my team to do, but I do always remember when somebody was willing to stay late or put the work in on the weekend to make the project a success

4. This lifestyle is fucking brutal, find a way to make it sustainable

All meme jokes aside, this is a hard job, and I completely understand anyone who determines this job is not for them. The long hours, constant travel and unpredictable schedule can make it difficult to manage your personal life. Find some things that can make the job sustainable for you – Join a gym in your client site, travel to other cities on the weekends to see friends, plan fun activities in your home city once you're back – whatever can take a little pressure off and make you feel closer to home

5. It's a marathon, not a sprint

Since I've joined the firm, I've seen so many junior resources flame out after 1 or 2 years because they don't like the specific project they're on or think they're getting pigeonholed. Frankly, if you can continue to show up every day, have a great work ethic and willingness to learn you'll continue to progress (at least to Manager). Additionally, a lot of people get upset over a missed promotion, getting impatient about the next promotion, etc. I would encourage you to enjoy the journey – one or two years won't matter in the grand scheme of things

Would love to hear other thoughts as well

Comments (28)

  • Associate 2 in CorpDev
Apr 24, 2020 - 2:03pm

Great list mate.. but one of the most important things I've found out is that a lot of the work is BS.. there is no worse nightmare than having to implement consultant suggestions and to find the idea was wrong, assumptions were unreasonable when you dive into details, implementation isn't feasible, and the list goes on.. Consultants do best in consulting really, and that's it..

  • Associate 2 in CorpDev
Apr 26, 2020 - 11:11am

Hope that was a rhetorical question so as to avoid you coming across as dense: Cause I am an alumni of one of the firms son..

Most Helpful
Apr 25, 2020 - 9:45am
rickle, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Great post. I particularly like point 2 about EQ. This isn't limited to consulting, but rather applies to most careers. The many people I know that have reached a senior level in their respective industry ALL have a high EQ. Some of them are brilliant. Others are smart enough. But they all have a certain way about them. This includes engineers, CPAs, attorneys, bankers, corp leaders, consultants, IT folk (surprising but true), etc.

And as a senior person myself, if I was building an organization today I would ID the young people who were smart, got the job done, and most of all, had leadership qualities. People want to be around them internally and externally, at work and socially. Those are the ones that make for great organizations..

The rest are necessary but very replaceable. Hub and spoke. I'll take the hubs all day long.

  • Analyst 1 in IB-M&A
Apr 28, 2020 - 2:24pm

Could you provide more color on what you mean by leadership qualities? As someone who is relatively introverted and doesn't like drawing attention to myself, I feel as if I am more in the spoke category both personally and professionally. How do you think one can go about developing these qualities that obviously are incredibly important?

Apr 28, 2020 - 6:00pm
rickle, what's your opinion? Comment below:

You don't have to be an extrovert to be a leader. There are quiet leaders who "lead by action". As a junior employee, always do excellent quality work. Be on time (or early) for deliverables and/or yourself to meetings. Do what you say you will do. Be appreciative. Be helpful to others. Take on more responsibility. Get on some group projects and take the hard stuff and help organize the group. Be a facilitator. Under promise and over deliver (never the other way around)

All of those things are qualities of leaders. You don't have to pound your chest. Just be thought of as the go to guy who will make a project happen on time and within budget. And be essential tot he cause. Others will want to work with you and you'll ultimately be a group leader. Rinse and repeat.

  • Works at Bain & Company
Apr 25, 2020 - 2:36pm

Great post - I'm curious as to what made you stay in consulting? From my perspective the job seems to only get more grueling and intense the more senior you get (taking 4-5 flights in one week and never seeing your family). Furthermore there's something about the job that feels a bit unsatisfying for me - Maybe it's knowing you can make more elsewhere or make the same with fewer hourse elsewhere, feeling like your pulling shit out of you a** most of the time (still better than what the client would come up with), or something else. Wondering if you ever felt the above and what led you to stay?

  • Manager in Consulting
Apr 26, 2020 - 6:32pm

I think there's a few things that have led me to stay in consulting: - People: The people I work with daily are great and I can truly say that they're friends, not just colleagues. Sometimes the work can be tough, and clients even tougher, but when you work with people you enjoy, the 12, 14, 16 hour days are a lot easier - Compensation: Frankly, coming from a big 4 strategy group you don't have the same exit opportunities as an MBB (even if you're under a specialty area), and at this point I haven't been able to find a job that isn't a pay cut or a lateral move. If I was a direct to EM at Mckinsey, I'm sure the answer would be a lot different - Political capital: Consulting is a small world and once you build a reputation it really sticks with you. I worked really heard during my senior associate years and was able to develop a lot of political capital which makes my job a lot easier. If I were to leave and go to a competitor, it'd need to be a compelling package to give that up. As others will say, it really becomes who you know, not what you know - Learning curve: Being a first year manager, there's still a lot of things for me to learn and I still feel challenged. If I didn't feel I was being challenging and growing as a professional, it'd be time for me to leave

To your last point, I will say it never gets any easier. I'm not sure if I'll be in it for the long haul, but I truly believe those who make it to partner really love what they do and are passionate about it - I'm not positive that I do or am

  • Intern in CorpStrat
Apr 28, 2020 - 11:26am

Did you consider taking a leave for b-school before reaching manager? Despite title I am joining a big 4 strategy group in Western Europe after interning there and even if rare sponsorship is on the table and some people even go for it without it. Not the most common path but from what I have seen it does help secure better exit opps at manager level.

Apr 26, 2020 - 6:00pm
Another planet, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Point 5. is a good one. I hear so many of my colleagues saying things like "if I don't get promoted at the next cycle I'll quit", which doesn't make sense as an extra 6 months is nothing compared to anyone's career that spans decades.

I would add to the list an advice I received from a Principal in BCG a few years ago. He told me that if I wanted to make it to manager I had to act like one so that the promotion would only be a formality. So push yourself to think, act and deliver as if you were already at the next level. Too many consultants get stuck in that loop of "being a consultant" so that they never stretch beyond their role.

Apr 28, 2020 - 1:34pm
consluttant, what's your opinion? Comment below:
Another planet:
I would add to the list an advice I received from a Principal in BCG a few years ago. He told me that if I wanted to make it to manager I had to act like one so that the promotion would only be a formality.

not mbb but this is literally how our review system is structured. if your boss isn't saying you're already acting at the next level at least to some degree you are not getting promoted.

Apr 29, 2020 - 5:15am
Another planet, what's your opinion? Comment below:

In my previous non-MBB consulting boutique the review was structured in the same way you mentioned. I think it's not an obvious one to grasp if nobody tells you, so I was quite grateful that I was clearly explained that.

  • Prospect in IB-M&A
Apr 26, 2020 - 8:07pm

I'm applying to strat consulting jobs FT later this year and by talking to people the vibe I get from consulting is that you have to be REALLY smart to get in. Like I'm talking book worms smart. Whereas I don't get that vibe with investment banking. Firstly is it true you have to be academically really smart to get in/do well in consulting? If not/so why?

  • Analyst 1 in Consulting
Apr 27, 2020 - 10:57pm

I think consulting usually attracts people who are a bit more cerebral than banking does. It doesn't necessarily mean they're smarter, but I think the work involves a bit more critical thinking - you're not just searching for reasons to sell a company for the highest possible price to cash out via commission; instead, you're advising a company or an investment fund on how to navigate an uncertain and novel scenario. I think this rewards personality types that are marginally less bro-ish and may present as more intellectual.

Apr 28, 2020 - 1:38pm
consluttant, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Excellent post, should be required reading

1 is extremely true in my experience. I've always been pretty good (or lucky) at this but see people who are afraid to brag about themselves get left behind.

4 what I'd like to add is if you go MC / TC the work is less stimulating but it's a LOT more sustainable... I'm MC and work 40-50 hours most weeks, with the occasional 60 when a deliverable is due. If I were strat I think I'd get burnt out.

Another thing I'd like to point out is as you get more senior, you can be a "delivery guy" or a "people guy." Some of the most successful directors I know are not the strongest at delivery (no slouches though) but can put together effective teams like wizards and have strong client relationship skills. Direct contrast to other successful guys I know who brute force it with industry expertise and smarts and win work despite their client management skills. Food for thought.

Apr 29, 2020 - 2:34pm
Klavin, what's your opinion? Comment below:

This might be a dumb question, but what is the difference between Management Consulting and Strategy Consulting?

MBB refer to themselves as top "global management consulting firms", but people consider them prestigious/desirable to work at because they want to be "strategy consultants". (even though a decreasing percentage of MBB's work nowadays is considered pure strategy)

Apr 29, 2020 - 3:08pm
consluttant, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Agreed MBB considers them the same thing. At big 4s, including mine, strategy is actual strategy (business direction, new markets to go into, pre-deal M&A, some tech strategy) and MC is more operations focused (how do we implement the strategy, how can we improve our processes, which technology should we be targeting once we have a tech strategy in place, etc). Cost cutting measures such as where do we have inefficiencies and where can we trim the fat can fall under either category depending on scope.

There is a lot of overlap and I've been on strategy projects as a management consultant. There's also a bit of overlap between MC and TC - I don't do tech implementations but I've been on a few projects recently around tech vendor selection and helping the client think through their data problems & strategies to correct.

My experience as an MC is that I work a lot less hours than my strategy peers and get paid a good bit less. However, I think it's more sustainable in the long run even if I am a bit jealous on salary.

Apr 29, 2020 - 8:35am
bca, what's your opinion? Comment below:

I think points 1 2 & 3 are applicable to all industries. I wish I had known points 1 and 3 earlier in my career. it bugs me because they are so "political", but I've learned you'd be naive not to think it isnt taking place everywhere. I think their is a healthy balance of work output/quality & politics, but at the end of the day "people promote people they like and know who they are"

Apr 30, 2020 - 12:16pm
peter.davies, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Voluptatem quia dicta praesentium occaecati illum asperiores. Ea deserunt qui neque provident error dolor. Et omnis quia doloremque.

Nihil a dolor ipsa sed minima dolorem natus. Doloremque exercitationem dolores ipsum sed. Ut hic voluptatum odit et quis.

  • Manager in Consulting
Apr 30, 2020 - 4:29pm

Accusantium autem ut labore dolorem illum molestias totam. Optio autem nulla ut qui.

Optio neque corporis fugit hic voluptatibus quae voluptas. Velit beatae molestiae sit dolores. Voluptas qui est est et commodi. Fuga perspiciatis aut aliquam voluptatem esse quidem.

Est blanditiis nulla qui fugiat ad repudiandae harum qui. Occaecati maiores repellat tenetur debitis. Odio eum consequatur maxime earum omnis et dolor nemo. Dolorem tempore qui doloremque. Non et natus perspiciatis voluptatibus omnis quae aut. Ipsam magni sint cumque et ut. Eaque temporibus sint aliquid quaerat voluptates et praesentium ab.

Start Discussion

Total Avg Compensation

June 2022 Consulting

  • Director/MD (48) $270
  • Principal (23) $268
  • Vice President (42) $244
  • Engagement Manager (88) $221
  • Manager (138) $167
  • 2nd Year Associate (138) $137
  • 3rd+ Year Associate (101) $129
  • Senior Consultant (302) $129
  • 1st Year Associate (488) $117
  • Consultant (532) $116
  • Engineer (4) $110
  • NA (12) $109
  • 3rd+ Year Analyst (122) $109
  • 2nd Year Analyst (277) $98
  • Associate Consultant (151) $96
  • 1st Year Analyst (943) $85
  • Intern/Summer Associate (159) $81
  • Intern/Summer Analyst (435) $67