The Truth About Being a Management Consultant

“A management consultant is a man who knows 101 ways to make love but doesn’t know any women.”

If there are more than five jokes about your profession, you will have a hard time finding anyone who doesn’t already make a strong judgement on what you do for a living. Indeed, only few professions trigger as strong a reaction as management consulting – people love it or they hate it. But surprisingly, many people don’t really know what consultants actually do.

Management consultants join a company as outside experts for a certain period of time – between a few days and several months – and are tasked with providing a solution to an existing problem that the company and its employees can’t solve on their own. Who hasn’t been stuck in a mess only to have an outsider’s advice make all the difference? This solution will be worked upon in cooperation with the company and its employees.

Just having consultants coming in and providing knowledge is very 1980s. Management consultants leave after a concept is worked out and bought into by the client, milestones and clear actions are defined, and everyone knows who is responsible for which to-dos to solve the problem. Sometimes they are also engaged to implement their own results, but that is less common.

As a consequence, the basic skills of a management consultant are a strong analytical mindset and excellent communication skills plus enough resilience to deal with constant traveling and high volume of work. The big consultancy companies invest a lot of time and money in assessment centres to find the suitable candidates of each generation, usually among the top 5% of graduates, and even though the majority have a background in economics, the profession is open to people of all fields, be it English literature or Psychology.

Bashing consultants has always been very popular. Just some months ago German Rocket CEO Oliver Samwer stated that only those afraid of responsibility should choose a career at McKinsey or BCG. 

It’s time to have a look at the reasons why someone should step into the world of slides and frequent flyer programs. Of course, it’s a biased collection of reasons derived from personal experience.

You experience constant change

One of the biggest perks of being a management consultant is the constant variety you face. You get a profound glimpse into different industry sectors and functions. You can start the year working for a big pharmaceutical company in Switzerland and end it with a logistics supplier in the Netherlands. You can use your years in Consulting to explore which area appeals most to you so you know where to continue your career in post-consultancy times. In my 8 years at McKinsey I worked across about 50 cities, in 6 countries, and on 4 continents. If you are a person that loves or even needs change to be happy, you will really enjoy this way of life.

You learn a lot – most of all teamwork and problem-solving

You are forced to learn quickly, to adapt to new alternating situations in no time and it teaches you how to approach a problem – every possible problem. Most importantly you will learn to cooperate with others. With each project you are mixed up with new colleagues so if you aren’t a good team player after years in a big consultancy you will never be. While school and university teach you to organise yourself, working as a consultant will teach you to be part of a team and – when the time comes that you reach the level of a project leader – to manage a team. 

You develop core values

Consultancies are structured in a hierarchical way and you need to show that you earn promotion. Imagine this: you work on a paper and have it returned to you five times while the final version is due at 8am the next morning. Not only will your paper be the best paper you can deliver, processes like this will provide you with a healthy dose of humility and self-discipline, valuable virtues beneficial for your future work and also private life.

You learn about business etiquette

Despite the hierarchy, consultancies offer a great amount of transparency. You get the chance to spend time with professionals on a very high senior level and benefit from exchange with more experienced generations. From the very beginning you learn how to move around people with huge economic power and get familiar with their etiquette and communication styles. You also realise that no matter how experienced, successful or rich someone is, in the end we are all just people.

You make friends

Kindergarten, school, university – modern life puts us in peer groups. As a consultant for a top-tier consultancy you are one of 100 to 200 young professionals starting every year. Young people of the same age with different backgrounds but with one thing in common – you have all passed the tough assessment centre. You know you share this experience right from the start and even if you have personal differences, you can rely on the drive and professional attitude of each person. I worked closely with about a dozen new people each year so if I invited all of them for a party today, I would need a sizeable venue!

You benefit financially and academically

Being a top-tier consultant, you earn reasonably well and you can save money for whatever is important to you at a later point in your life. In my case, it helps to know I could go through a dry phase if my company would fail. Additionally, top-tier companies give you the opportunity to gain your second university degree – a master’s or Ph.D, so that you can pursue your academic goals without sacrificing your professional life.

All in all: it’s an investment

All of the above are investments in your personal and professional future. Just two years in a top-tier consultancy will furnish you with skills and a network that you can turn to for future plans. It is most certainly no coincidence that the founders of successful startups and quite a few board members in larger corporations had previously worked as consultants.

If you would like to read more jokes on management consultants, click here.

Christoph Hardt

Christoph Hardt

Founder of CoMatch

Christoph Hardt worked for McKinsey & Company for almost 8 years after his studies, in the end as project manager. There he supported junior consultants by mentoring and by taking part in recruiting. During a McKinsey project in the Netherlands he met Jan Schächtele, together they founded COMATCH in October 2014, an Online Marketplace that matches independent management consultants with companies in need for external support. Christoph holds several teaching assignments in B2B marketing & sales. He is married and father of a daughter.