Is Consulting The Right Career For You? My Personal Take

Published: Mar 10, 2009

Why are potential consultants attracted to the field? Most often, their reasons include prestige, high pay, interesting work, travel opportunities, and "all my friends are doing it." Many such potential consultants are stuck between fields, trying to decide if they would rather be consultants or investment bankers or marketing managers or the like. But potential consultants rarely consider whether they would be a good fit for the consulting field. Here, I try to explain some of the pressures and issues of being a consultant.

Not as easy as it looks

Consulting is not an easy job. More to the point, it is not a predictable job. There is no set routine from day-to-day, month-to-month. Each firm, each office, each practice/business line, and each client is different. And the traveling is not as glamorous as it sounds - it is, for me, the most grueling part of the job, because it is so physically and mentally taxing - especially after the September 11 attacks.

With each client, I have to start from the bottom and convince them I am credible and can add value to their business. Some of my projects last only a few weeks, which makes it even more difficult to persuade them of my value Many times, they only decided to hire consultants as a last resort, because circumstances for them have become THAT unmanageable. That means I'm always walking into a less-than-ideal situation from the first day . Clients spend a lot of money for consulting services and are not forgiving of the slightest faults in judgment, and they always want more than what they hired us to do in the first place.

Additionally, hours are consistent only in their inconsistency. One too many days have turned into later-than-late nights. And there's internal competition too. My colleagues in the past have included Olympic athletes, FBI agents, politicians, former CEOs, and a nationally acclaimed investigative journalist. These are people with tremendous talent, vision, and resources. They are also very competitive people who constantly seek to outdo each other and me.

Additionally, I am exposed to so much confidential information at my client sites that I am often faced with very difficult ethical choices. Some of these choices are not so easy to make - a lot of times, they end up being the "lesser of two evils

The "WIFM" (a.k.a., What's In It For Me)

Burnout is a big problem in our field. So many days I wake up wondering how being a consultant will make a difference in the larger scheme of life. God knows I would be a significantly happier person if I were a concert pianist. I suppose God also knows I am wrong to think so - otherwise, I would have been born with some modicum of musical talent.

I am in no way the world's greatest consultant, but I know my clients appreciate my involvement in their businesses. I am repeatedly asked back by clients for new projects, and a number have even written letters of gratitude to my employers. So I know I am a "lifer." I know how much satisfaction I have in helping my clients identify their inefficiencies, vulnerabilities, risks, and unnoticed implications. I know how much more satisfied I am when I help my clients develop solutions and workable strategies. And I know that these efforts will outcome in a better company, which in turn means a better economy, especially when the client has a large market share in industries that can significantly impact the GDP. While I might not be affecting social policies, legislations, or paradigms, I know the work I do makes a difference on a microcosmic level for the people of those companies.

A Postscript

About a week after the attacks on the US, my brother called me. He is a sophomore at Stern (NYU business school). He has not yet chosen a major, and he has found college much more challenging than he expected. Although he always worked hard for his superior grades in high school, he always excelled and did not expect to have to struggle so much. Between the attacks and his difficult learning environment, he began an introspective analysis. He asked himself what he really wanted to do with his life and came to a few conclusions he shared with me on that call.

He decided he does not want to make money for other people, that he wants people making money for him. He also decided money was not going to be his ultimate goal nor the key to his life's happiness. He always talked about joining the FBI while he was in high school, and he started to think about this path again. While he is still undecided about the specifics of what he wants to pursue, he at least decided that his career was going to have to be fulfilling for him as a whole person and not just a satisfactory part of his life. He wants more than just a job. He wants a career that can help him fulfill his life's purposes.

A lot of people would probably look upon my brother endearingly or condescendingly, depending on their disposition, and chalk it up to the idealism of youth. Well, it is true my brother has never faced any major crises or ever known raw hardship. Yet, I do not discount his desire to live life passionately as na?vet?. In fact, I think it is very wise and am really proud of him for having made up his mind about this at such a young age. I think many of us do not ponder such philosophical questions until we feel like it is too late to change the courses of our lives. So I know whatever path my brother chooses will be within this context and that he will have a much higher probability of finding a successful career that will help him live a successful life than if he had not thought about it until later. Likewise I encourage every one of you to think carefully about your life goals and career choices too and whether or not consulting is truly the right fit for your life's aspirations.