Starting a Career in Consulting?

A university student, named Ryan, and I graduated from the same high school, although 9 years apart.  Recently Ryan noticed my name on the alumni network website and contacted me to learn more about consulting as a possible career option.  Ryan just finished his third year at a small liberal arts school on the east coast of the US, where he is majoring in Economics with secondary concentrations in Psychology, Philosophy, and French.

Ryan sent some questions about careers in consulting, along with his introductory email, and I thought my responses were worth sharing on my blog.  So here, you go…

How did you initially get involved in consulting?

As an undergraduate business student at SFU, I started to get involved in “case competitions”. These were competitive team based challenges against business schools/students of other universities. The skills and process required for a case competition is very similar to the work of a management consultant – and I enjoyed it.

I started to do some of my own small scale consulting creating workshops on team dynamics and interpersonal relations, as well as facilitating strategic planning sessions for the leadership teams of non-profit organizations.

One of my business professors then brought me into the consulting group he worked at, on a part time basis (a day a week). After 8 months, I left to pursue some other work dear to my heart. Shortly thereafter, discussions started about me joining that consulting group on a full time basis, which I eventually did, immediately after graduating. I spent another 3 years there, before joining the global consulting firm I currently work with, almost 2 years ago.

Prior to this career I had over 15 different jobs, while spending 7 years doing my undergrad, so I’ve always liked the variety and learning that comes with a wide ranging set of work experiences. Consulting allows you to work with a variety of companies and in order to be good at your craft, you must always be learning.

What is a typical day like for you at Right Management?

Every day is very different – which I love about my role. I have a great deal of flexibility, which is often common for consultants, however, it really depends on a number of variables. My role being one that is focused on business development (sales / brining in revenue) means that when and where I work is fairly flexible as long as the revenue is coming in and I am meeting my sales targets. I also have an amazing manager who allows me a great deal of autonomy – personally, I can’t stress enough the importance of having a good boss!

To avoid avoiding your question, my days are often spent in meetings or calls with clients – or emailing with clients. I attend networking events and read about what is going on in business globally and locally. I create budgets to estimate the cost to a client of buying our services and write proposals. I work internally with team members to ensure service delivery happens – and to a high standard.

My job is to help clients get clear on “where they are now” and “where they want to be in the future” – and to then collaboratively create a plan to get them there (involving our products and services). Sometimes this is a very short transactional process (15 minutes) and sometimes it is very long and complex (sometimes lasting 2+ years or more).

My role is very client relations focused and revenue focused – so all my activities are in service of those two “results areas” that really matter in my role. I want lots of clients, happy clients, and to ensure our firm is getting paid fairly for our expertise and the value we create.

What is your favourite part about the consulting industry in general?

The constant learning, variety, and flexibility. It allows me to work in a way that aligns with my personal values. My personal mission statement is to “grow myself to help grow others” and consulting, teaching, and coaching are perfect ways for me to experience a great deal of satisfaction and fulfilment from my work.

I really enjoy meeting new people, building authentic relationships, helping people, being creative, belonging to a team of smart and passionate people, and constantly learning more and more about effective communication, sales, consulting process, business, social systems, team dynamics, customer experience, marketing, networking, public speaking, etc.

What advice or recommendations would you offer to a university student aspiring to pursue a career in consulting?

Consultants will have expertise in an industry (e.g., manufacturing, healthcare) or a function (e.g., marketing, information technology, human resources). All good consultants should have expertise in the “process” or methodology of consulting. Consulting is essentially about building trusted relationships with clients and creating value through solving problems or helping maximize opportunities for your clients.

It will be helpful for you to get some clarity around your focus – what industry or function. Big firm or small firm. Internal consultant or external consultant.

Ryan and I will be having coffee later this month and I look forward to our continued conversation, as he explores consulting as a career option.