What does it mean and take to be a management consultant?

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Management consulting is an interesting field, partly because you can never really know what to expect! As an entry-level consultant, you may work across different functions and industries that you have never interacted with before. This may seem daunting – but there are a few things you can do to prepare.

Before you join:

Develop a mindset of curiosity.

Get into the habit of asking questions, figuring out how things work, why they don’t work. This will serve you well on different projects as you familiarize yourself with new contexts every few months!

Learn about various management consulting organizations.

What do they do? What are they known for? Do you know anyone in your networks who works there and can speak to you about them? Knowledge is power! Based on what you learn, you should be able to narrow down on specific skills that would be valuable to practice, e.g., working in Excel.

Practice speaking and presenting.

As a management consultant, you are a (valuable!) member of the team, and you will be expected to speak up – in internal team meetings, at big client presentations, at office events. If you are not accustomed to this, this can seem difficult at first, but practice makes perfect. 

Broaden your story. You may be a great student who gets all As – but what else do you bring to the table? Is it leadership? Entrepreneurship? What extracurriculars and/or internships have you done so far? While you can, it is a great idea to expand your profile to build skills that would be valuable to you in your role as a consultant.

As an early-tenured management consultant

Network.

Especially during your first few weeks, make sure to network with and talk to the people you’ll be working with. It can seem intimidating to reach out initially, but it will be worth it. Building on relationships will help you be more successful at work – and these relationships, be they with mentors, sponsors or peers, can be valuable assets even after you leave the company. Talk to people who’ve done what you’re doing before. They know what it’s like, and can be tremendous resources once you’re on the job. You will be helpful to them too! Remember – relationships go both ways, and you need to approach all relationships also keeping in mind how you can help them.

Be aware of your presence.

Your gravitas and your body language can go a huge way in how others perceive you and your ability to do your job – and how you perceive yourself! Think of pitching to clients or presenting to the leadership at your office. Someone who seems more confident will automatically demand more attention (even if they actually are not that confident – fake it till you make it!)

Reach out for help when you need it.

A new job can be intimidating, and you might feel a pressure to succeed and figure out everything by yourself. Don’t succumb to this! Remember, there are many resources available to you, and there is no harm in reaching out for help when you need it. You might end up wasting valuable time if you mess something up after spending a lot of time doing something the wrong way, when a simple question could have guided you in the right direction.

Underpromise and overdeliver.

This was great advice given to me by someone when I was about to start, and it makes a lot of sense! Managing expectations is something that you will pick up along the way, and these two simple actions will definitely help.

Plan ahead and plan your time.

Use the end of the week (or day) to plan for what you want to achieve the next week (or day). You’ll thank yourself for it – and so will those you work with! Emails, phone calls and meetings are an unavoidable part of our work day, but can be huge distractions that cause us to lose productivity. Here is a great article on Forbes that talks about the cost of these distractions. The earlier you figure out a system for dealing with these, the more productive you will be.

Take initiative.

Yes, volunteering to plan the next office retreat can mean hours that you could have been sleeping instead, but participating in office and team building initiatives will help show that you are more than just your job – you are a member of the company. So take the chance to participate in office initiatives and trainings – take on new projects, and never turn down an opportunity to learn. This also applies to taking initiative to own your journey – when you do something, ask yourself how you could do it better. When you finish a project, plan some time to reflect on what went well and what you could improve going forward.

Manage your energy. 

It can seem attractive to put in fifteen hours of work a day, seven days a week, but the fact is that you will probably be less productive in those hours than someone who spent less time but more energy on their work. Learn to manage your energy, both at and outside of work – and this includes getting enough sleep and exercise. Don’t neglect your hobbies, and make sure that you are also keeping up with your network outside of work.

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