IS CONSULTING A WASTE OF TIME?

IS CONSULTING A WASTE OF TIME?

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Summary

The very short answer? No. Although consulting is no longer as popular a graduate destination as it used to be, it is still a valuable career in itself. It also still provides a wide range of transferable skills and a ‘fast-track’ to certain careers. When is it less relevant? When you know what you want to do – if you have a clear idea, don’t keep your options open with consulting, just go for it.

In the last few years, the big tech firms (google, apple, facebook etc) have risen to become the most in demand employers for graduates. Not long ago, the top spots were dominated by the leading banks and also the big 3 strategy consultancies. So has a spell in consulting become less relevant than it was a decade ago?

For me, the answer is no (or perhaps ‘largely not’).

Why a spell in consulting is still relevant

  1. Consulting is a great career in itself. Yes, the majority of people use it as a stepping stone ‘into industry’, but for many it becomes a life long pursuit. And there’s lots to recommend it: variety of interesting problems to solve, super smart colleagues, travel, constant interaction with (often new) people – clients or colleagues.
  2. Consulting skills are as relevant and transferable today, as they were when I started in 2007. Particularly if you aspire towards General Management (rather than deep functional or technical expertise). Simply put, consultancies are training grounds; they refine your thinking. You are taught, coached, pushed and learn to influence and communicate in a sophisticated way. You learn tangible business semi-basics (valuation, strategy, financial modeling…) – which is highly relevant in the UK where graduates from all degrees can enter consulting (perhaps less so e.g, in France where generally consultants have business degrees or in the US where MBAs are more common). These transferable skills remain as sought after as they ever were.
  3. Consulting remains a fast-track. And certain brands in particular (in a similar fashion to the university/school you attended) are a rubber stamp of calibre. After a spell of a few years, you are sought after for opportunities that wouldn’t be thought suitable for those with only a few years experience elsewhere. And the range of opportunities open to you is unparalleled (from startups to scale ups to corporates to PE & VC).
So, what are the caveats? You have nothing to lose through a spell in consulting. Especially if you go into it in order to keep your options open, discover different industries and work out what you ‘really want to do’.

When is consulting less relevant

Therein lies the rub, if you already have a very firm idea of ‘what you really want to do’. Just go do it. You have no need to keep your options open. And you’ll gain the deep industry expertise that consulting rarely delivers and that will allow you to progress rapidly (and if you decide in time that you’ve made a mistake, consulting firms are increasingly hiring people with industry experience so you have a more established entry point at a more senior level than used to be the case).
 
And when you leave consulting, do so with eyes open that you’ll need to learn to walk before you can run in your next company. You’ll likely need to prove yourself in a strategy/project type role, before you can step into something more operational. You’ll need to prove that your skills do transfer, that you understand the business and the industry in minute detail and that there’s more to an ex-consultant than blue sky thinking. Have a look at the article about the importance of getting your hands dirty when moving in-house.
 
 
It seems that more and more people have made up their minds that they want to work in tech, but – even acknowledging the caveats – that doesn’t take away from what a spell in consulting can give you. 
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