Ambition dying, dead, or just on hold?

Hi guys

I posted earlier about my miserable time in consulting (Thought Consulting was My Dream...I Hate It).

Two months after my original post, I still dislike it and have made the decision to quietly seek other employment, hopefully lining up a job reasonably quickly.

My reasons for seeking a way out are (1) generally disagreeable managers (and this seems to be fairly consistent in the firm) and (2) long hours with too little control over my personal life. There are also other quibbles, including (3) my feeling poorly suited for this job due to my introverted nature, (4) travel that never seems to end and (5) working on projects that have nothing to do with my longer-term aims (and hence not moving me forward well).

But my reasons for writing are to ask about whether anyone else has had a similar experience insofar as their ambition is concerned: I feel mine is dying or dead. I see all these people (mostly at the senior ranks--many junior people act better than I can hope to and are just paying their dues) giving their hearts and souls for their jobs and getting little other than money in return. They're miserable (or so they seem to me), have no control over their personal lives and don't seem to take any pleasure in their work--or really anything else.

I've had a tough personal situation in 2013 (brutal end of a significant relationship, family member dying) and am seriously contemplating taking a breather--whether that's crossing my fingers that I get laid off and can coast for a few months before starting a job search, or getting a low-key job in middle office, corporate finance or fund accounting with a big pay cut but 40-50 hour weeks. I want to focus on my relationship(s), read a lot, catch up on movies and push forward some of the personal learning I've gained (a positive amidst all the negative) in 2013. I have low living expenses (~$30k/year after tax) and would be happy with $70-80k (from low 6 figures now). Hopefully I could be back where I am now in 3 or 4 years in terms of salary.

What's wrong with me? My GPAs were all 3.9+, I passed all three levels of the CFA exams on the first go, went to a top Ivy League school and have always pushed myself hard. But before hitting 30, I already feel tired and like maybe career doesn't define me anymore (and shouldn't have earlier on).

Has it just been a bad fit and I'm generalizing my dislike of the job and the lack of control to a lack of willingness to work hard at all? (Part of me thinks this is the case because when the hours aren't stressful, 12-14 hour days, including some time on the weekends, really don't seem bad at all). Or has my ambition died? And is that a bad thing?

Can anyone else relate? And what did you end up doing about it? I'd love to hear from you guys because this board is filled with Type-A overachievers like me--I can get the Type-B answers quite easily from some of my friends (and am tending in their direction more and more).

Thanks

****************

UPDATE (Aug 8/13, 9:20pm EST):

Thanks everyone for the very thoughtful comments. To address what a lot of people have said, I work out quite regularly (4-5 times per week--squash when I can, usually running outside/cycling inside), have enough hobbies (reading, watching movies, playing video games from time to time), go to church/church group when I can, and have confided in most of my friends, g/f and family. Obviously the hobbies have suffered in this job.

I'm quite certain that what's wearing me down--apart from my personal situation this year--is the lack of control I feel over my own life. Basically, I'm (relatively) happy working 12-14 hour days in another city, even with jerks, but I internally freak out when I'm asked to work over the weekend or late into the evening because it's like they're taking what little I have left--what little I had to look forward to--away from me. (That it's last minute usually doesn't help--basically I have no power to anticipate anything.) It makes me feel so powerless. There's no finish line--only the company's wishes and my obedience!

No amount of money or prestige is worth that for me...

I'm also contemplating out and out quitting--I get the feeling my employer might appreciate this because they have made comments on several occasions that I have to be either 100% in or 100% out--and I'm definitely not 100% in. I think that could mitigate some of the reputational risk (not that anybody knows me 3 years into my career--and I'm from finance and would probably return there, not from consulting). I have extensive savings so the bigger problem post-quitting would be finding a new career-quality job inside of a year or two (though I could last longer financially if needed and am not above working at SBUX/shoveling snow for a while to keep my savings about flat and to gain a new perspective--plus I could leave it off the resume). The upside is that instead of trying to desperately find whatever I can get while I'm employed, I have time to make sure it's a good fit and this shitshow isn't repeated. That's really important to me--I think after 3 years at one firm straight out of school, 6 months at another doesn't scream job-hopper; but if I jumped 6 months later from another one, that could be trouble.

Any more thoughts? I'd love to hear from someone who quit without another job lined up and has successfully managed that (or not successfully, if the case might be.). Thanks so much everybody--really appreciated.

Comments (55)

Aug 8, 2013

You sound as if you may be a little depressed. What hobbies bring joy to your life? Do you like working out/exercising? I would recommend starting to exercise/workout as this is a positive way for your body to release natural endorphins that will get you feeling much better and/or participating in another enjoyable hobby.

From what you have wrote, you have accomplished great things and are earning a solid salary. If I were you I would be banking as much money as I could and if you do decide to leave your consulting job, start investing that nest egg on your own while looking for other opportunities.

Aug 8, 2013

^yup. You sound depressed. I went through it in school, and I can tell you that there isn't an easy solution to this.

On the contrary, I think taking MO/other "demotion" job would only make things worse.

You've been putting away the better part of your paycheck - why not take off travel for a little? The best experience I had was spending a few months in Ecuador/Galapagos one summer. It won't help you professionaly, but as you're coming to find, that's not the biggest thing.

Aug 8, 2013

Just a few suggestions that worked for me (you may already be doing these things).

1. Exercise regularly. This has the biggest impact IMO. It sucks getting up earlier in the morning to run/swim but once it becomes a habit, you actually look forward to the endorphin rush.

2. Clean up your diet. No more processed shit or gluten (bread, beer, pasta, etc.). Just eat a lot of protein, fruit, and vegetables.

3. Supplements. Multi-vitamin, B vitamin, vitamin D, fish oil, 5-htp, and maybe some St John's Wort or Theanine for good measure.

Last thing I want to add. Talk to some close friends and family. It'll help more than you think. Hope you feel better man.

    • 1
Aug 8, 2013

Sounds like you're a bit too bright to be taking a middle office / fund accounting role. Surely there are other more stimulating options with less hours than your current job. Would echo Beast Mode and GoldPeak. You need to do some more "self-discovery".

Aug 8, 2013

Hold on till you've been there at least 12-18 months, you will appreciate the difference it makes to the jobs you can get now, and in the future.

After that, if you're still sick of it, get the hell out and reclaim your life. You sound pretty burned out, and the main reason for burn out is not the hours or tiredness, but feeling that what you're doing with your life is wrong. A job doesn't define you, go and do whatever makes you happy.

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Aug 8, 2013

I agree with allthegoodones. I get up between 4:45-5AM 4 days a week and get my workout before work.

Best way to start the day and you will be feeling good in no time!

I served 4 years in the military. I would love to be where you are at now! It may seem bad but stick it out for 2 years man. Save your money and try your hardest to always have a positive mindset.

I would recommend reading studying Napoleon Hill. My favorite philosopher and this may help you realize things about yourself. Mastering self is something everybody should be pursuing but a lot of people don't even take into consideration. If you master self everything will start coming easier. I would strongly suggest working out and studying Napoleon Hill. Specifically: Think & Grow Rich.

A positive mindset is something you need to actively enforce to your subconscious mind until it becomes a habit.

Aug 8, 2013

^^ If you begin to work towards mastering self everything will begin to come easier is what I was trying to say.

Mastering self is a lifetime endeavor that is hard to fully accomplish and I realize I am not even close to it but have been actively studying Napoleon Hill for a good amount of time now.

Aug 8, 2013

All the above, and replace coffee with tea. You'll be caffeinated and focused but without the jittery/grumpy feeling. And also, realize that you have set yourself up well...just follow through and find the next thing to move on to. You came this far, finish the job.

Aug 8, 2013

I don't disagree with the above posters at all, but there is another way to look at it as well.

As I've been out of school for a few years now...I am familiar with the feeling. To say that you are getting "burned out" may be true, but it is not a sufficient. What does "burned out" mean anyway?

After a few years in industry, you eventually get bored...and when you get bored, you start to second guess yourself. Time goes by and you sort to feel cheated a bit. You busted your ass in school, than in industry, to get to where you wanted...then you get there...and think "is this it?" It is a little anti-climactic, then you begin to wonder if working hard to get to the next level will only result in the same feeling.

In addition, you start wish that you could get all that free time back that you invested in your career. Most everyone I know in the industry who I've talked to about this agrees that they have similar feelings.

The important thing is to do something that you find interesting at the minimum, otherwise you will never be good at what you do. If your interested in your work the rest falls into place.

Please don't quote Patrick Bateman.

Aug 8, 2013

I asked a new partner if she would be buying a fancy car (some do, some don't) and she said no, she'd rather retire one year earlier than have a fancy car. And she's brilliant, driven, and built our practice so it was interesting to hear that perspective. Take it for what it is worth.

I have no good advice, I've sacrificed physical and mental health for my job and still mostly enjoy it, but I've certainly felt like you at times (to a lesser degree) and I keep going for some reason :) Even though I already knew it, I think I will be taking Allthegoodonesweretaken's advice and give it another shot. SB to him for feeling like you have control in your life.

TT

Aug 8, 2013

You Sound depressed alright.

Take up a sport - squash or tennis or at least get an exercise program and follow it like everyone has suggested. You'll be amazed how good running will make you feel after a few weeks.

On the other hand, you're single, youve got plenty of spare cash - go bananas. Go out and get laid. Buy some stupid stuff - giant tv or go on a proper holiday (patagonia in Argentina or safari in Tanzania).

Either way, meet up with your best friends and let them know you're not feeling the best. Much better than talking through it with them than strangers online.

Aug 8, 2013

I agree with the above comments about exercise and how that can help with depression, or just raise your serotonin levels, but what about the spiritual aspect of your life? We are more than our titles, paychecks, and the cars we drive. What are you doing for other people? For your community? Helping others is a huge energy boost. Some suggested reading - CS Lewis - Mere Christianity, anything by Tim Keller or Lee Strobel... I wish you the best!

Aug 8, 2013

Yoga = Buddhism and Babes. Can't go wrong compadre.

Aug 8, 2013

I've added this comment in an update to the original post so new readers don't have to read through everything to see my developing thinking:

*********

Thanks everyone for the very thoughtful comments. To address what a lot of people have said, I work out quite regularly (4-5 times per week--squash when I can, usually running outside/cycling inside), have enough hobbies (reading, watching movies, playing video games from time to time), go to church/church group when I can, and have confided in most of my friends, g/f and family. Obviously the hobbies have suffered in this job.

I'm quite certain that what's wearing me down--apart from my personal situation this year--is the lack of control I feel over my own life. Basically, I'm (relatively) happy working 12-14 hour days in another city, even with jerks, but I internally freak out when I'm asked to work over the weekend or late into the evening because it's like they're taking what little I have left--what little I had to look forward to--away from me. (That it's last minute usually doesn't help--basically I have no power to anticipate anything.) It makes me feel so powerless. There's no finish line--only the company's wishes and my obedience!

No amount of money or prestige is worth that for me...

I'm also contemplating out and out quitting--I get the feeling my employer might appreciate this because they have made comments on several occasions that I have to be either 100% in or 100% out--and I'm definitely not 100% in. I think that could mitigate some of the reputational risk (not that anybody knows me 3 years into my career--and I'm from finance and would probably return there, not from consulting). I have extensive savings so the bigger problem post-quitting would be finding a new career-quality job inside of a year or two (though I could last longer financially if needed and am not above working at SBUX/shoveling snow for a while to keep my savings about flat and to gain a new perspective--plus I could leave it off the resume). The upside is that instead of trying to desperately find whatever I can get while I'm employed, I have time to make sure it's a good fit and this shitshow isn't repeated. That's really important to me--I think after 3 years at one firm straight out of school, 6 months at another doesn't scream job-hopper; but if I jumped 6 months later from another one, that could be trouble.

Any more thoughts? I'd love to hear from someone who quit without another job lined up and has successfully managed that (or not successfully, if the case might be.). Thanks so much everybody--really appreciated.

    • 1
Aug 8, 2013

I quit the rat race before I even joined it. I knew that I couldn't do what other people do, I couldn't put in the 16 hour days and not go nuts. I work in spurts, I'll be very productive for an hour or two and then burn myself out. No way I was going to be able to crank a spreadsheet all night long.

The key to pulling off the 9-6 lifestyle is that you need to have productive, rewarding hobbies outside of work. I frequently play basketball and I'm very involved in NY's underground electronic music scene.

I suggest you avoid working at SBUX where you will also hate it - find something else, you have so many options. There are plenty of firms outside of the bulge bracket where you can be challenged and have a work-life balance.

Aug 9, 2013

The price is easy when the promise is clear.

Do you have a mission statement, analyst2012, like a list of written goals. You need to know where you want to be in 5 years, and know if you are ready to pay the price in term of sacrifices. It is not rocket science, really.

Aug 9, 2013

Hey man, I can relate 100%. I was exactly in your shoes at the end of my consulting days and your depression is 100% due to your current job and the issues that come with the lifestyle. The grass is a lot greener on the other side of the fence in this case, trust me. Feel free to PM, happy to call or skype - got time on Sunday afternoon CET?

Aug 9, 2013

To add to this: this isn't a choice among binary options of "work hard, have a career" and "don't work hard, have no career". Especially in professional services firms you may literally get worked into the ground in really bad teams and may be much better off moving to something more sustainable, where you actually make much more $ over the medium term. Changing environments will definitely help you get your "career mojo" back also.

Aug 9, 2013

What's your social life look like? You mentioned your friends who are 'Type-B', do you have people in you social circle who can relate to you (peers at your firm, for example).

I started working in consulting a some months ago. To be honest my first two projects didn't quite do it for me, but I really like my third (that I'm on now) because I like the people. I think this is important

Past that, I also have finance experience, so I understand the contrast in lifestyle between finance and consulting. I-banking is work hard, party hard. I imagine Sales&Trading (where I do not have experience) is party hard, party hard. But Consulting on the other hand, can just be tiring. I mean airports suck and hotels aren't much better. But my manager is helpful and kind. I can chat my friends elsewhere in the firm online, and most weekends I go home to hang out with my roommate, who is truly my best friend. This is a lot of what keeps me happy with the lifestyle

Aug 9, 2013

Hey analyst2012, I'm going to take a slightly different tack then the above posters, as I think I can relate to your situation from another perspective with very different advice: Just suck it up. You noted that you worked at one firm for 3 years, and you've been at your current firm for about 6 months, suggesting that you're, what, 25-26 years old? You're clearly in what's now being called a "quarter life crisis" and you know what sucks during a quarter life crisis? Everything. Happened to me between the ages of 23-27 and I can assure you, there's no actual, constructive solution to your problem in its entirety. There's only "suck it up", because - take my word for it - it will eventually get better. Maybe your current firm is especially shitty - the reality is that some firms are shitty - and you can find a new job (which may be a good idea - not all firms are shitty), but don't expect that single change to fix everything. It won't. Neither will taking time off to do whatever you want. You're just going to have to suck it up until it starts getting better. It will.

"My caddie's chauffeur informs me that a bank is a place where people put money that isn't properly invested."

Aug 21, 2013

Suck it up ... this is the best piece of advice on this thread ... applies to the original poster and a few of the others who have had a tough time out there.

I was similar to the poster in that I had great grades & test scores, went to a top school and did exceptionally well there, and raced through the CFA exams on the first try during my first job in AM, and then--after b school--found myself as a very young associate at an MBB firm and was worried I was in the wrong place ...

... I knew nothing about the content on my first projects, I didn't know how to be a consultant, how to write good presentations, take feedback, drive insight in an ambiguous setting, manage perceptions, have little control over my wlb and regularly put in back to back 18 hour days, in short, it was brutal for me. Much harder than I thought my 'dream job' would ever be.

I was lucky to get some great advice from a more senior consultant when I was a few months in. I complained a similar complaint to him that I have been hearing on here (e.g., my manager is mean to me and doesn't have time for me, I don't know how I'm adding value, is this the right thing for me) and he of course realized I was struggling: he simply said I had to "gut it out for a bit" and that things would get better.

Seemed ridiculously simple, advice, but it was necessary at the time. I (and many of you) had been conditioned for relatively easy success and I didn't know what to do when I put in months on end of my hardest possible work and didn't see meaningful results. The answer of course was that in the real world (i.e., not in school) it takes a hell of a lot more effort to do well, and the rewards often come in a lumpy, non-linear fashion.

So ... I took his advice, toughed it out for a bit, worked on a few crappy projects and was a middling performer (which btw was incredibly hard for me given how hard I was working and my prior successes at a top 5 school) at first, but did not quit, while most of my peers did give up in a way relatively early on and were gone after 12-24 months.

Now, fast forward a few years later, I have managed to figure out the job / industry and become quite good at it, falling into the 'top performer' category as we call it in consulting. At my firm this means I can basically do whatever I want (e.g., take a LOA or transfer offices easily [which I just did recently], and work in choice industries with people I like). Today I manage teams of 2-5 incredibly bright and accomplished people, I only do projects in my industry of choice on meaningful strategy projects (haven't done a non-strat case in over a year), and if I want it, I'm on the fast track to partner. Best of all, is that I have CEO's who genuinely look to me for advice on their toughest business problems, which is the hope I had when I took this job in the first place. It's been an amazing ride and I feel incredibly lucky to be where I am at a relatively young age.

In my opinion, the main thing that distinguished me from my peers (who were also very bright, hard working and had been very successful before coming to my firm) that didn't make it here was that I was willing to put myself through a bit more pain and discomfort than they were ... or that I was willing to 'suck it up' for a while.

My advice to you would be, assuming you are in a reasonable position with a reasonable firm, that you look to do it to the best of your ability for at least 18-24 months before you move on to the next thing, you might be surprised how the experience changes over that time

    • 1
Aug 9, 2013

My two cents: I understand that you are pretty frustrated and depressed by your situation, however you don't want to act out of frustration and depression.

Firstly, knowing you don't care/don't want to be promoted at your firm should be quite liberating. Realistically, I have never seen anyone fired from a consulting firm, "Counselled out", sure but fired, no. What does this mean for you? Start trying to make this job more tolerable. Push to be on cushy internal assignments, Ask for an LOA or extended vacation. Start pushing back a bit to make your lifestyle work. Coast a bit. This isn't great for your rep but it is no worse than quitting out of the blue. So chill out, the worse that'll happen is that after a couple of months people will start signposting that you need to leave, but you knew that anyway so what does it matter.

Use the above to make consulting a bit more tolerable than it is now and take some time to plot your next move (spend a couple of hours a day doing research on your next move while slacking on your actual job). It is much, much easier to get a job while already employed. Even if you have the cash to sit out a year or two, getting a job with a two year gap on your CV is not trivial. So take some time now to plot your next move now. Spend time during the working day researching MBAs, new jobs etc. Talk to recruiters and network with people in industries you find interesting. Doing this from a position of strenght gives you a lot more credibility than doing while unemployed, so take advantage of that.

If you really decide you want a couple of months off, try to get some leave in before you start your next job.

    • 1
Aug 9, 2013

Sounds as if you've just burned yourself out. You've been an overachiever your entire life and have now reached a point where you're putting in the hours but getting very little back in return (aside from money). I'm sure the work is uninteresting and doesn't stimulate you, and you've realized that the way your office is setup, you may as well be a mouse in a maze or hamster in a wheel. It's quite depressing. I think everyone goes through some variation of this unless they're doing something they truly enjoy or are working a job they may not love to support a family/lifestyle that means more to them than anything. It's called "work" for a reason after all, right? And in your case, this type of work isn't for everyone. I myself developed an ulcer and hypertension because I stayed way too long in an abusive work environment (and the recession hit). But I thought quitting would have made me a pussy, so I sucked it up. The beauty of your situation though is that no job is ever permanent.

If I were you I'd consider sticking around for the least amount of time so as not to have a blemish on the resume-say, 18 months to 2 yrs-and then take some time off to recharge if you don't find a more laid back job during that time. Figure out the type of work that would make you happy (happier-because it's still work as long as you're on someone's payroll), and come back when you're ready. I went through the same thing and used my savings to spend a few months in Central America (not recommending this). It was so cheap down there I got to live really well without taking much of a hit. I also met fantastic people-many of them ex-bankers, consultants, and biglaw attorneys turned backpackers, not unlike yourself-who gave me great perspective and insights on really enjoying life for a change. I realize the prestige chase doesn't mean much long run-we'll all be forgotten when the dust settles unless we end up as masters of the universe. I'd personally rather work a mid to back office role that pays about low six figures in a low tax, low cost of living area, with plenty of time to pursue things that interest me, safe in the knowledge that I can bail whenever I hate it with just the snap of a backpack, lol. YMMV, though.

It's not the end of the world at all. I assume you're single w/ no kids? Do the minimum time while looking elsewhere. No one can tell you what the best job for you will be, but it IS OK to experiment a little and try different areas/industries. With the skills you've built up to this point, you could pretty much jump between anything and not raise any red flags, while putting together a really interesting adventure/story/trajectory. It'll also be alot easier since the pressure to network aggressively won't be affecting you-you can genuinely talk to people and ask the questions you want without fear of reprisal. That comfort will show and make a huge difference. Best of luck to you.

Aug 9, 2013

You're going through a learning process of reality. Feel the misery of having no control over your life, witness the masses of corporate zombies slaving their lives away for no purpose, and realize that burning ambition that's flaming in your heart and pursue it.

But...you need to witness hell before you know what heaven feels like. One day, you'll get to a point where you run the show and call the shots, but you will always, always be at the mercy of a greater force. I know first hand how excruciating it is to have people who have insignificant titles yet hold inflated amounts of power to roadblock the progress of your ambitions (political red-tape, /cough).

You just have to learn to digest the misery and derive strategies to work through it, or work around it. Such is life, it's painful at times, but it also adds color to the otherwise bland, lifeless canvas.

Aug 9, 2013

Keep your job for now, and look for a new one right now that will give you control over your life. you could get lucky and find one in 3 weeks, or it might take a few months, but if you are employed, you will find one.

you said something to the effect of 'they're taking away what little hope you have'. so basically, you do have hope -- the hope of a new job that doesn't suck. there are plenty (dare i say most??) jobs that won't make you work 12-16 hours a day, where people don't make unreasonable demands. you said you're fine making less than 6 figs, so what you are looking for is definitely out there. you mentioned that you wouldn't mind going back to your old job...so reach out to your old boss. talk to recruiters, etc.

don't screw yourself now. there's a light at the end of the tunnel...keep running towards it. the second your are out of this job your life will get so much better...the problems you have are pretty well-defined, so fix them, and don't blow up your life unnecessarily because you couldn't tough out a rough couple months while you found something better.

Aug 10, 2013

Don't have much to add, but holy shit this the most down-to-earth thread I've read on WSO...ever

Aug 10, 2013

I think that's because this thread contains actual vets from the street, not some college kid with the handle: GekkoIBwannabeBateman13.

Please don't quote Patrick Bateman.

Aug 10, 2013

Thanks everyone for the very thoughtful comments--and I'm glad also that I'm getting through to some people who find themselves in similar positions (or about to make the leap into a similar workaholic job). To them, I just want to say that my being the way I am, I had to make this "mistake" for myself--if I were still stuck making my old salary, someone telling me I'd hate this wouldn't do it for me. If you can take advice without making your own mistakes, take it--but if you can't, make the mistakes but try to chart an escape plan beforehand.

My girlfriend talked some sense into me--don't quit, but keep applying for jobs. In the meantime, I think a couple of areas I can work on are (1) learning to let go (I'm going for counseling next week, partly to continue working on the "personal situations" I outlined earlier, partly to ask for coping mechanisms in a job where I feel powerless until I can find a way out), and (2) pushing back/coasting more. Part of the reason (2) is difficult is because I feel guilty wasting company time--must be those darn Christian values. But if they're working me as hard as they are, they're not really entitled to that over-and-above time anyway (at least, not legally).

Does anyone have tips for mitigating the short time period on my resume through a comment in my cover letter? Or any other such tips? I can't really network much because I'm on the road 4-5 days per week. Thanks again!

Aug 11, 2013

I would suggest seeing a therapist

Aug 11, 2013

Hey man - Sounds like you're going through a rough patch. It's okay to admit that you are and tell your boss that you would like to take a few months off. I'm sure they'll be able to accommodate you. There's no need for rash decisions on quitting. You may find that after your break, you are ready to get back into it. Don't burn your bridges too soon. Give yourself time and space to heal.

Aug 11, 2013

Reading this post in way makes it feel almost as if I wrote it. After my first three months, I was seriously starting to believe that I wasn't a good fit. I wanted out, and I wanted out bad. However, I told myself to hang in there, and that things will get better after I get used to everything that consulting entails.

Fast forward to now and I'm in my current role for almost thirteen months. I still feel same as I did three months into the job. Waking up in the mornings is the worst, and I'm tired of coming home late at night unfulfilled and unhappy. I'm not sure that I'm growing anymore, and I've decided to reach out to my friends and a few recruiters to look for a new job. I think I may have a lead so I'm crossing my fingers that it comes through. This isn't ideal, but I really need to recharge and work towards my long term goals (realized that I want to be in investment management) so I set an internal deadline for myself that if unable to find a new job in a few of months, that I'm going to quit and live off of my savings. My friends think this is crazy...The money just doesn't motivate me as I thought it would. Maybe it's different in their case since they're making bank in the medical field. In the meantime, I just signed up for the Level I in December, and I'm using my free time to look into several graduate school programs as well.

Fortunately, I have a few great coworkers that either got hired the same time I did or are my seniors by a couple of years. This definitely made work a lot more bearable as I could talk to them about anything. Hopefully, you have something similar to this or at least 1 other coworker where you can talk about anything with.

I wish I could be as of more help and provide sage advice such as the ones provided by the previous posters above. I just thought it'll be helpful to know that there are others in the same boat.

I'd love to get an update in the future on how things go.

-RF

Aug 11, 2013

analyst2012 and RunFarther, your posts are a much needed reality check. For the better part of the last month, I have been obsessed with MBB recruiting, going over cases, networking, etc, to the extent that I have spent almost zero time on my other obligations (I'm a PhD student who should be really focusing on my dissertation not only to graduate, but also to have a back-up plan in academia or the public sector..). Makes me realize that consulting is not the magical world that fits my career goals perfectly...

Also, I found this article below linked through another website, which seems to match up with OP's mention of "lack of control"
http://tech.mit.edu/V130/N18/dubai.html
The author says regarding clients: "They sent us vague requests for proposal, we returned vague case proposals, and by the time we were hired, no one was the wiser as to why exactly we were there"

For those of you currently working at MBB, how often do you find yourself in a situation in which there are very ambiguous questions and goals? I think I would find that particularly frustrating if I was spending 60 hours a week trying to answer a problem that the client or my manager has not clearly defined..

Aug 12, 2013

phdeconomist, if you are uncomfortable with ambiguity MBB really may not be for you. Some studies kick off with a clear end goal, but most of the time you actually course correct as you get intermediate answers. This is not necessarily because smt is going wrong, but because as you start to understand the situation goals change. Or of course you could have an indecisive client :)

PhDs have a tough time adapting to consulting for various reasons. Loss of control, adapting to 80/20 analysis and potentially unnecessary work are 3 of the most common reasons.

Aug 12, 2013

There are many firms that don't hire PhDs for reasons baykus cites. A few more:
- Issues with PhDs being managed by people younger than them
- Possible adverse selection issues, in terms of which PhDs enter recruiting
- Have to pay more to PhDs but don't get incremental value
- They don't always culturally assimilate
- I would characterize of "loss of control" as "needing to be very nimble", i.e. ,having to be able to explain at all times what's going on (rather than checking once a week with a PhD adviser), having to move in real time from a 30,000 foot discussion to a in-the-weeds, discussion, etc. -- no room for ivy-tower types

As I see it, anyone who makes for a good PhD hire would have been just as good a hire out of undergrad, if not better.

Aug 12, 2013

I'll have to challenge the "no incremental value from PhDs" point. There's a reason places like McKinsey make a conscious (and expensive) decision to specifically recruit PhDs:

- PhDs bring significantly stronger analytical rigour than undergrads, and even MBAs. While this is not always needed, when you do need it it's killer. Most non-PhD consultants wouldn't know what statistical significance is if their lives depended on it.
- PhDs prevent monoculture and provide fresh insights
- PhDs can bring in people with a lot more maturity and ability to engage with high-level clients
- For a range of industries such as Pharma, you actually need a PhD (or MD) on your team if you want to have a clue what you're talking about

Just so we're clear - I've known quite a few PhDs who entered consulting. Some have stuck for a longer period, some shorter. Those who left after 1-2 years did not leave because they couldn't hack it, they were all doing quite well. It's just that they were old enough (or not living with an MBA worth of debt) to realise they had other options that they preferred.

Best Response
Aug 13, 2013

A bit late to the game, but just wanted to chime in. My story's super long but it basically parallels yours quite closely.

I had been gunning for equity research and/or M&A banking the the greater half of my college career. Senior spring rolled around and I didn't get offers from anywhere except a consulting firm - one of the Big 4. I would be working in the M&A Advisory group, doing mainly due diligence. This wasn't an issue for senior-year me: I was ecstatic to have received an offer (with decent pay, although below industry average), I liked M&A, I liked due diligence (don't ask), and I had become really enamoured with consulting the more I heard about the offers that my friends were getting from McKinsey, OW, BCG, you name it.

I started in September 2012. We had a 2-week-long training session. I met a ton of great folks, drank the Kool-aid, and was super excited to start. I did training with the experienced hires due to a small blip in my schedule, so I was chatting it up with future MDs and VPs. I bought myself a fancy rollerbag (no, it wasn't Tumi), a new laptop bag, a new wardrobe. I was set to take on the world. I wrote down a long list of goals and ambitions, which included:
1. See an M&A deal out to completion
2. Work on a project in the Media & Entertainment industry
3. Find a mentor

Work started. The project I was scheduled on fell through. I had trouble integrating with my peers, many of whom had been working there for a year already (I was the only new hire in that particular office and group). My managers didn't understand some of my personal needs, such as the fact that I was a semipro dancer on the side and I could *not* just skip out on a large performance just to make some petty edits to a pitchbook. I thought I would be doing M&A due diligence - company analysis, making recommendations. Instead, I was put on projects for IT integration, people & change, etc. Nothing that had anything remotely to do with revenue/performance analysis, which I had been promised on day one. The firm constantly pushed Associates to put themselves forwards for new business, but I never got a project that I applied for. I reached out to every single Manager and Director within Media & Entertainment, many tried to get me onto their projects but there was red tape at every corner.

Not one of my projects got past the proposal stage.

The straw that broke the camel's back came in January of 2013. I had just suffered some personal troubles, so it was already hard as hell to wake up in the morning and get myself to work (depression, family member hospitalized, friend attempted suicide, got scammed by a landlord, etc.) I was just pulled onto a project that would require flying out weekly. My first task was to create a plan for the Work Plan.

Me: Sure thing. What's a Work Plan?
Senior Associate: It's basically a plan that explains how we'll create our deliverable.
Me: And what's our deliverable?
Him: An Integration Plan. A plan for how we want to integrate this company's IT department with it's new parent company.
Me: And you want me to make a... plan....
Him: For the Work Plan, yes. Just a rough sketch.
Me: You want me to make a plan for a plan for a plan.
Him: ... um, yes.

I lost it.

I sent out 300 cold emails that week for a complete different industry (PR). Got a few interviews. Decided that no matter what happened, I would quit at the end of February, even if I was jobless. I couldn't stand the shit at my Big 4 anymore. I landed an internship at a PR agency and quit mid-February.

The internship was great. It ended at the beginning of May and I was once again without a job. Sent out another 200 cold emails or so. Landed a contractor position in my little dinky hometown. Moved back, took the job. Being paid on the poverty line (25k salary). I used to be an ambitious dreamer too. I wanted to be a CFO, to be a VP of Marketing. I wanted to rise to the top of a PE firm, to work at a Microsoft or an Apple.

When I moved back, I was crying every night. From 70k salary to 25k salary. From being in a "prestigious" industry (management consulting) to a "frivolous" one (PR). My Ivy League peers sneering at me because I didn't end up making anything of myself and had to go home with my tail between my legs.

But you know, just because life is hard and you've fallen on hard times doesn't mean ambition is dead. It's still there, just hibernating. I'm working on MBA apps now. Making plans to start my own business. Freelancing on the side. Connecting with mentors and industry professionals. I'm HAPPIER working in PR than I ever was in consulting. I find more POTENTIAL in PR than in consulting. The fact that I graduated from an Ivy League [equivalent] with a quantitative degree but am interested in a very creative and writing-based career is interesting to potential employers.

I don't think of the setback as a downfall. Just a trough in the path. As with day trading, if it goes down, it has to rise eventually. Our time will come. If you hate your job to the point where it makes you miserable, quit. Don't "wait it out" and don't "suck it up" if it's not what you want. Everyone says to prioritize financial security over all else, but seriously. We're young. If not now, then when? When you're 30 and realize you don't want to be in a dead-end career anymore?

Go for it!

Currently: future psychiatrist (med school =P)
Previously: investor relations (top consulting firm), M&A consulting (Big 4), M&A banking (MM)

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Aug 13, 2013

Nice write-up. Personally, I have a similar story with starting at a "high status finance gig", making lateral moves, with lots of ups/downs and really dark times...trying different things, and finally getting to a great place and better than where I started. The journey was a REALLY rough one though.

Looking back on it, I think you'll see it the way I did: if your 20's go by without some serious defeats, your not taking enough risk...precisely when you can afford to do so.

Life begins where your comfort zone ends, my friend.

Please don't quote Patrick Bateman.

Aug 13, 2013

Great post. I think you are one of the more interesting people on WSO and wish you would write more often.

Aug 13, 2013

@chicandtoughness - one of the best replies I've seen to date. Thank you for sharing your experience.

Too many young professionals chase after the allure of wealth and "prestige" in the industry, only to burnout, become depressed, and realize that wonderland was just a mirage. When you lose sight of pursuing what means the most to you, or when you blindly pursue things just because others are doing so, you've already lost.

Aug 14, 2013
SirTradesaLot:

Great post. I think you are one of the more interesting people on WSO and wish you would write more often.

I wish I had the time to come onto WSO more often! Work ends at 6pm, but I'm involved in so many side endeavours that I end up coming home at 10pm every night. Oh, to be back in college where I could stay up until 3am playing video games and puttering around on the Internet without worry...

@DBCooper - absolutely agree. Better to take risks (and see potential rewards in the future) now, rather than wake up one day in your 40's with regrets, wishing you had let loose a bit and taken that leap of faith.

For anyone who's stuck in a similar situation - don't be afraid to push the boundaries a bit. Obviously do it with your head on - if your only complaint about a job is that you're not getting to talk to C-suite individuals and you're being paid 10k below industry average, then maybe you should reassess. But if your job makes you miserable, if you hate it, if it has averse effects on your mental and social wellbeing... then yes. Make that leap.

As cliche and teenie-bopper as it is, you really do only live once.

Currently: future psychiatrist (med school =P)
Previously: investor relations (top consulting firm), M&A consulting (Big 4), M&A banking (MM)

    • 1
Aug 14, 2013

I don't claim to have seen everything. But most of the problems that come up in threads like these could have been solved for one reason, and that's choosing the job that's the right fit for you rather than the one that pays the most money or has the most prestige. The interview process sheds so much light on what the workplace is like and what the people you will be working with are like. Yet people continually ignore the warning signs.

Aug 15, 2013
chicandtoughness:

Awesome post. +1. Helped me come to a decision for my own career.

Aug 15, 2013

Tbh it sounds like the expectation was much higher than warranted for. Yes proposals fall thru 90% of the time (we had this one project on pipeline for all 4yrs I was there). New hires always get less priority over others getting staffed (I had like 25% utilization first year). Then you get on projects that's not in your area if interest (which is mostly a function of your group not having enough work), and you find it dubious. And I don't even get the work plan one. Taking a stab at it means find a old one, rehash it (you don't have to be an expert) and then your manager or someone will make edits. There are many more to touch one.

Whether you do consulting or banking, as an analyst you are bottom of the pyramid and expected to anything asked for (including missing your dance practice, doing things that you may not like, etc.). It's client services, it's unpredictable, staffing is unstable. Not sure why you are going to MBA, but going to another firm or similar industry won't change anything. You don't need MBA to start a business.

Aug 15, 2013
SirTradesaLot:

Great post. I think you are one of the more interesting people on WSO and wish you would write more often.

I completely agree

Aug 15, 2013
Take_It_To_The_Bank:

I don't claim to have seen everything. But most of the problems that come up in threads like these could have been solved for one reason, and that's choosing the job that's the right fit for you rather than the one that pays the most money or has the most prestige. The interview process sheds so much light on what the workplace is like and what the people you will be working with are like. Yet people continually ignore the warning signs.

Disagree. In the finance / business world, most of the time the interview process gives you a taste of what to expect through a distorted lens. It varies between a mix of BSDs slapping your ego around and politically correct jargon preaching about how the firm cares about "nurturing talent and good people".

To any partnership, unless you're one of the big P, you're just a cog that's easily replaceable. And if you expect the firm to "appreciate your hard work" or give you "special treatment cause you're just so damn good", you're drunk on naivety.

Choosing a job that's the right fit for you is a luxury many don't have. Choosing a job that's the right fit for you is a privilege that's usually earned through hardship, misery, and sacrifice to narrow down the options, which gives you a higher probability of choosing your "fit" as you accumulate experience in what you "don't like".

In the early stages of one's career, go in with the mindset to learn, squeeze out what you can from the firm, leverage the resources they offer to the best of your abilities, then wave goodbye and seek greener pastures at a higher, better place.

Aug 15, 2013
abacab:

Tbh it sounds like the expectation was much higher than warranted for. Yes proposals fall thru 90% of the time (we had this one project on pipeline for all 4yrs I was there). New hires always get less priority over others getting staffed (I had like 25% utilization first year). Then you get on projects that's not in your area if interest (which is mostly a function of your group not having enough work), and you find it dubious. And I don't even get the work plan one. Taking a stab at it means find a old one, rehash it (you don't have to be an expert) and then your manager or someone will make edits. There are many more to touch one.

Whether you do consulting or banking, as an analyst you are bottom of the pyramid and expected to anything asked for (including missing your dance practice, doing things that you may not like, etc.). It's client services, it's unpredictable, staffing is unstable. Not sure why you are going to MBA, but going to another firm or similar industry won't change anything. You don't need MBA to start a business.

I can agree with the fact that I expected more than I should have, and while that was erroneous I don't believe it was *wrong*. I simply chose a career without really thinking about how I worked best - in what kind of environment I would be most productive. Some individuals are fine with taking shit for 2 years if it means great payoffs (monetary or otherwise). I'm not taking shit, period. I will pay my dues and I'll work my ass off, but I won't be disrespected in the way that I was (didn't want to talk about that on here, kind of confidential.)

And seriously. Who the fuck creates a plan for a plan for a plan. Consulting is bullshit.

As a contrast, I am now working bottom-of-the-pyramid at a PR agency. Yet I've taken on initiatives that someone of a VP level would be doing. I've sat in new business meetings, I've actually said something at bake-offs besides "Oh, here's some numbers we ran through the Excel machine", and I have much more responsibility than I would ever get as an associate at a Big 4. And if I need to leave early for any reason - dance, networking, panels, personal day - I do it and everyone understands. Work/life balance.

Currently: future psychiatrist (med school =P)
Previously: investor relations (top consulting firm), M&A consulting (Big 4), M&A banking (MM)

Aug 15, 2013
Toshi83:
Take_It_To_The_Bank:

I don't claim to have seen everything. But most of the problems that come up in threads like these could have been solved for one reason, and that's choosing the job that's the right fit for you rather than the one that pays the most money or has the most prestige. The interview process sheds so much light on what the workplace is like and what the people you will be working with are like. Yet people continually ignore the warning signs.

Disagree. In the finance / business world, most of the time the interview process gives you a taste of what to expect through a distorted lens. It varies between a mix of BSDs slapping your ego around and politically correct jargon preaching about how the firm cares about "nurturing talent and good people".

To any partnership, unless you're one of the big P, you're just a cog that's easily replaceable. And if you expect the firm to "appreciate your hard work" or give you "special treatment cause you're just so damn good", you're drunk on naivety.

Choosing a job that's the right fit for you is a luxury many don't have. Choosing a job that's the right fit for you is a privilege that's usually earned through hardship, misery, and sacrifice to narrow down the options, which gives you a higher probability of choosing your "fit" as you accumulate experience in what you "don't like".

In the early stages of one's career, go in with the mindset to learn, squeeze out what you can from the firm, leverage the resources they offer to the best of your abilities, then wave goodbye and seek greener pastures at a higher, better place.

They aren't going to tell you what the job is like to your face. You can infer that from the way your interviewers conduct themselves and respond to your questions.

You don't have to throw away the first three years of your career in a job that sucks. Most who choose to, do so with $ signs in their eyes and some ill-conceived notion of prestige.

Aug 15, 2013
chicandtoughness:

I can agree with the fact that I expected more than I should have, and while that was erroneous I don't believe it was *wrong*. I simply chose a career without really thinking about how I worked best - in what kind of environment I would be most productive. Some individuals are fine with taking shit for 2 years if it means great payoffs (monetary or otherwise). I'm not taking shit, period. I will pay my dues and I'll work my ass off, but I won't be disrespected in the way that I was (didn't want to talk about that on here, kind of confidential.)

And seriously. Who the fuck creates a plan for a plan for a plan. Consulting is bullshit.

As a contrast, I am now working bottom-of-the-pyramid at a PR agency. Yet I've taken on initiatives that someone of a VP level would be doing. I've sat in new business meetings, I've actually said something at bake-offs besides "Oh, here's some numbers we ran through the Excel machine", and I have much more responsibility than I would ever get as an associate at a Big 4. And if I need to leave early for any reason - dance, networking, panels, personal day - I do it and everyone understands. Work/life balance.

EOD it sounds more like a bad fit/expectation mismatch. But if you got treated badly, that only gave you a sour taste. In the same time, you can't say you will bust your ass or pay the dues, but then refuse to do the minimal or call out for work/life balance. It just doesn't go together. And it's great that you are doing something more 'significant' now, and in consulting sometimes you never get it early on, but most times once you build enough trust you get your exposure. Tbh, there are 4 levels above you in a team and I don't know why you'd expect to go make a big contribution on a bake off meeting. If you even got to show up, you should be happy about it. But again, mismatch in expectation. Maybe it's an entitlement issue as well. We had this analyst, ivy league grad, etc. Didn't want to do anything cause it was too menial for him (am I supposed to do the data cleansing for you when I am above you?) and was busy texting all day. Was the only person I know who actually got pushed out in good economic times.

But regardless, you are out of it. Happier somewhere else. I am just not buying the shitting on the job (both you and guy on top), when it was clearly you failing to cut it.

And yeah workplans are whatever. I always made one in the beginning of an engagement, never to update it again. Sometimes clients want it, sometimes its for QA, sometimes its for team lead to get an idea of how long it might take. Taking an hour to make it doesn't destroy anyone's life's worthiness.

Aug 16, 2013
abacab:

It's not the time investment that got me. It was the fact that the inefficiency made me want to bash my head in. No reason why I should draft up a prelim plan for a prelim plan. One too many steps. I would have gladly taken a first stab at actual workplan. But to say something like, "Just jot down a few ideas for the workplan, and the big kids will take it from here" (when it was really as simple as finding the damn template and replacing a few words) is degrading and inefficient. I guess large corporate life wasn't for me. Too many hoops to jump through.

Au contraire, I did quite more than the "minimum" and I did indeed bust my ass the first few months, taking requests for last-minute pitchbooks at 2am, giving up weekends, losing a part-time contract - was supposed to meet with a client to finalize an LOA but instead had to stay in the office and wait for a manager to finish making spelling edits to my pitchbook (there were none), trying to put in my requisite 16 hours at the office while bolting for the restroom to throw up every 30 minutes from the stomach flu (maybe TMI, but whatever). I don't mind menial, but I do mind negative ROI.

To put things in perspective, I worked 16 hours days at my i-banking position as well and never complained, because the shitty hours and ass-busting I was putting in at least had some positive - albeit miniscule - ROI. Hence why I don't mind paying dues, but the dues have to be doing towards *some* return.

Currently: future psychiatrist (med school =P)
Previously: investor relations (top consulting firm), M&A consulting (Big 4), M&A banking (MM)

Aug 16, 2013

^

Your negative views towards consulting may be due to the fact that you worked at a low-tier consulting firm that specializes in lower end of work such as IT implementation consulting, ops, etc.

If you worked a day in consulting at a top shop, such as MBB, OW, Parthenon, Booze, LEK, Roland, or even Deloitte S&O, you wouldn't be saying things you are about consulting. Since you say you worked at a Big4, I am guessing you worked at PwC's Tech Consulting practice or something similar at E&Y. (Read: not Deloitte S&O)

Over 80% of the engagements at most of these lower end shops (Accenture, E&Y, PwC, etc) do mind-numbing work, such as SAP implementation consulting, due diligence, writing up crap documents here and there such as business requirements document, doing data entry in excel, and 'testing' IT systems on client site. I wouldn't judge the whole consulting profession or the industry based on your 5 month stint at the low tier implementation firm you worked at. The difference between 'high end' strategy consulting (MBB, OW, Booze, etc) and 'low' end implementation consulting (PwC, E&Y, Accenture, etc) is akin to the difference between IBD and Operations at an IB.

Aug 16, 2013

I can relate. I began a career in S&T out of college. Worked for a great firm and loved it at first, but when the economy got hit things began to change. I started to get really depressed because I didn't see a future for myself in sales trading anymore. I'll give the short version, but I decided to pursue a completely different masters degree (after 5+ yrs trading) in New Orleans and had an awesome year doing so. I networked pretty well and got a job at a RE development firm there which was great but didn't pay well. A combination of not feeling safe in NOLA and wanting to be back near friends/family in NY was the reason I quit that job and moved back north. I am now applying for MBA programs. Definitely thought I could work my way up but I am caught between being overqualified and under- (in this economy nonetheless) to get my foot in the door into distressed real estate investments. My advice: don't quit your job unless you have something lined up! Wish I had stuck it out in New Orleans long enough to get apps in, but then I may not have realized an MBA is my best bet and wasted time in a dead end situation. Still not living a fairy tale but I can say I am no longer depressed, I am motivated again, I am doing something that my heart is in, and I have enough savings that I am not freaking out jobless. Just have to figure out how to explain my situation on my apps...

Aug 31, 2013

UPDATE: Thanks everybody for the very thoughtful posts. This week my sister basically told me to man up and take control of this situation before I'm coached out and do irreparable harm to my reputation for passively-aggressively trying to get 8 hours of sleep when I'm on the road. So I did.

I sat my manager (the one I like better) down and said that this wasn't working for me. He was surprisingly understanding, and agreed to transfer me back to the mothership and work me less hard so that I have time to get out. He even offered to be a reference if I need one. I'm not sure how long it will be before I wear out my welcome, but I'm totally intent upon getting the hell out as quickly as possible, both as a favour to myself and to my company. This was actually the best possible outcome I could foresee--I was accepting of the possibility that I would have to resign on the spot and be on the next plane home, so what he did for me is very much appreciated.

I'm basically looking at analytical jobs. I've realized through my work in consulting that dealing face to face with the client regularly is not for me--I'm an introverted nerd (a well-dressed one and a relatively social one...but an introverted nerd nonetheless) so I know my strengths and weaknesses. Best to play to my strengths. The main bites have been from the investment industry, where demand for my CFA background is strong, but I'm getting a little bit of interest in corporate finance, and will be applying to corp dev/corp strat as well. Wish me luck!

And a transferable lesson for others: if life really, really sucks, DON'T just suck it up. Maybe don't do what I did unless you have good reason to believe that your boss will be relatively understanding, but there are always other options. There's a lot of opportunities in between bartending and consulting/banking, so don't let everyone else tell you there isn't. Yes, I could find myself unsuccessful in my search in a few months--but I don't regret this. I've basically avoided the worst of any reputational hits, reduced my stress and given myself the chance to start afresh somewhere else, so my risktaking has been rewarded as much as it could have been at this stage.

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Aug 31, 2013
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Currently: future psychiatrist (med school =P)
Previously: investor relations (top consulting firm), M&A consulting (Big 4), M&A banking (MM)

Dec 7, 2013
Dec 8, 2013
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