Should Everyone Work in Consulting? At Least for a Few Years?

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Some say a year or two in the military is good for developing career skills, especially on the coping and survival sides. A few years in consulting too can be a good way to learn the skills that will help you in life and a career – without the guns.

I admit it; I have a bias. Andersen Consulting and later, Accenture*, was my home for many years. For me, it was a great run where I learned a lot, made a ton of friends and helped clients around the world.

Life as a consultant is full of both variety and challenges. Consulting for a big firm with big projects is a shortcut to understanding how big and small organizations really operate regardless of one’s age. No doubt, the life of a consultant is not for every one and you might be saying, “I would die before I ever became a consultant”.

You might be saying consultants borrow the clients watch to tell them what time the time. You might be thinking a consultant is a man who knows 99 ways to make love, but doesn’t know any women. You might believe that a consultant is someone who is called in at the last moment and paid enormous amounts of money to assign the blame.

Before the jokes continue, I know CONSULTING IS NOT FOR EVERYONE. This is not a recruiting post for a big consulting firm. But whether you want to or not, if you want to last more than a few months in a consulting firm, you do learn certain skills there as a matter of course. The same skills are not drilled into you in every job but they sure could come in handy. Here is why everyone (especially those right out of college) should consider spending time at a consulting firm:

  • You learn how to manage a project. Project management skills are highly under-rated. Once you learn how to manage a project successfully, everything is possible including house remodels, multiple kid’s summer camp schedules and in-law visits.
  • You learn how to travel. Sure, after a very short time the travel sucks but in the meantime you have learned how to pack, how to deal with gate agents and schedule changes and how to get on the upgrade list. (Although one quickly learns that getting on the list and getting the upgrade are very different things.)
  • You learn there is a “WAY”. That means there are rules and ethics in a consulting firm that are non-negotiable. The “way”, once learned is a good code of conduct for a career.
  • You learn that you have to bill your time. Yes, someone is paying for your time so you need to do something worthwhile for the organization. When that concept dawns on you, the thought process changes. There is no busy work.
  • You learn that deadlines are something not to be missed. A deadline is a deadline. There are no incompletes or do-overs. Deadlines are met if it means staying up all night – for many nights.
  • You learn how to give a presentation, how to really work spreadsheets, how to build on PowerPoint and how to work in a matrixed organization.
  • You learn how to juggle. Chances are, you will be handling many projects or clients at once. This concept resembles life.

Sure there are other skills that one learns in a consulting firm but these are the ones that will serve you well regardless of the path that your career takes. And, these are the skills that will make you a happier and more effective person. Who doesn’t want to be that?

Every role, every job has pieces that you take with you into your next job or that you take home. The learnings from any job are one of the big reasons why we like certain jobs more than others. A few years in a consulting firm is just ripe for the skills picking.

*My assertion is that time spent in a consulting firm is developmental. Accenture is only a good example and one I know best. The skills named here I suspect are learned at every consulting firms large and small including McKinsey, Accretive Solutions, Deloitte, E&Y, IBM, Bain, JWT and thousands of others.

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