The Pros and Cons of Working in Management Consulting

Management consulting is a highly sought-after career path, but it's not for everyone. Professionals who lack a strong work ethic or who can't sustain long hours tend to be unsuccessful in consulting. It's not a 9-to-5 job, and you may feel like you are “always active”, as you are expected to be on the road a lot, and it can be exhausting. But if you have the right skills and attitude, consulting can provide almost limitless exit opportunities for those who don't want to stay in the industry forever.

We spoke to several current and former management consultants to develop some of the unspoken pros and cons of work that outsiders may not know about. Consultants often spend much of their time at a client's site, and while many customers will stay out of the way, this is not always the case. You get a new group of bosses with each client, and you need to create your own work structures and be responsible for their impact. Today, senior executives have immense commanding powers and, as a result, capture virtually all of management's economic returns. So, in this people-first environment, how can you identify a consultant who will be the right partner? Here are just three things to look for. On the plus side, working in a top-tier consulting firm can provide almost limitless exit opportunities for those who don't want to stay in the industry forever.

You can design your work to a large extent, and firms like McKinsey can avoid sticking to any particular trend. But consultants who arrive late need a unique concept to strive. However, there are some downsides to working in consulting. McKinsey's competitors followed suit, such as when Bruce Henderson of the Boston Consulting Group published advertisements in the Harvard Business School student newspaper that sought to hire “not just regulars but, instead, academics Rhodes Scholars, Marshall Scholars, Baker Scholars (the top 5 percent of the class). This mindset reduces the view on the type of people who have access to work in elite consulting firms and, ultimately, who succeed in society. Those who have stayed in the industry complain about the high turnover rates in consulting, because people use it as a springboard for a different career path, as well as the large number of employees who leave to return to business school.

I agree with the idea of trying to stay on the “worthless consultant list”, but the problem is that people have a preconceived idea of consultants and those with bad experiences just aren't interested in listening. According to this ideal, in a language finally adopted by the Business Roundtable, “the primary duty of management and boards of directors is to the shareholders of the corporation”. So if you imagine stability and structure, consider a career somewhere else.

Léo Poitevin
Léo Poitevin

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