Knowledge is power, as the saying goes. And in the age of information, any businesses, nonprofits, government agencies, or other organizations that do not have as much knowledge as possible of their individual lines of work are at a distinct disadvantage. They risk suffering financial losses, poorly performing workers and departments, and failing to meet their goals. Consultants are professionals who provide expertise to organizations to help them maximize their profitability or effectiveness and keep them running smoothly. Basically they are “problem-solvers for hire.”
- Intellectually stimulating work. Consulting careers are well suited for intelligent people who like challenges and are eager to tackle their clients’ biggest issues.
- Collegial work environment. Although the industry is very competitive, most consultants enjoy working with their colleagues—smart, motivated people who like to solve problems. Many colleagues become lifelong friends.
- Career diversity. There are many career paths for consultants—from management, to information technology, to human resources consulting to specializing in a particular industry such as health care, energy, engineering, or education. Most firms provide services to multiple industries. For example, A.T. Kearney offers management consulting services to 12 industries: Aerospace & Defense; Automotive; Chemicals; Communications, Media & Technology; Consumer Products & Retail; Financial Institutions; Health; Metals & Mining; Oil & Gas; Private Equity; Public Sector; and Transportation, Travel & Infrastructure.
- Geographic freedom. Although many consultants call big cities such as New York, Chicago, and Boston home base, there are opportunities in cities throughout the United States and the world.
- Opportunity to travel. Consultants rack up the “frequent flier” miles. You will have a chance to travel throughout the United States and possibly the world.
- You can be your own boss. After gaining experience, many consultants start their own firms. In fact, the DOL reports 20.1 percent of management consultants are self employed. One example of a consultant turned entrepreneur is Jim Koch, the founder-brewmaster of the award-winning Boston Beer Company. He worked as a strategy consultant for The Boston Consulting Group before making the plunge into entrepreneurship.
- Good pay and bonuses. The average salary for management analysts and consultants was $81,320 as of May 2015, much higher than the national average ($48,320) for all careers. Top consultants can earn $200,000 or more annually. Big firms provide large bonuses ($20,000+) to top performers.
- Great perks. Large firms offer free cafeterias, paid maternity and paternity leave, and complete medical and dental benefits, among other benefits.
- Pride. It’s rewarding to provide advice that helps a client increase sales or improve its bottom line.
- Good jumping-off point. A career in consulting provides a great way to learn about lots of industries and functions. It’s excellent preparation for a career in management, as an entrepreneur, or even as a politician (think 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney).
- Long hours. “If you’re looking for a 9 to 5 job, then this is not the right industry for you,” advises Booz & Company at its Web site. New graduates should expect to work 60+ hours a week (including at night and on weekends). These time demands make it hard to have a personal life.
- Frequent travel. You will travel to where your clients are located—whether it’s across town, in another city, or in another country. Expect to live out of a suitcase for days, weeks, and even months at a time.
- Rejection. It can be frustrating when you provide great advice to clients, but they don’t take it.
- Long path to partnership. At large firms, it will take at least six years of hard work (often 60+ hours a week), plus an advanced degree (often an MBA), before making it to partner, and only a third of entry-level consultants eventually reach this lofty status.
- High pressure and stress. Long work hours, demanding bosses and clients, and constant deadlines and inquiries from clients can add up to high workplace stress.
- Continuing education. Constantly changing projects require that consultants stay up to date on industry trends, information technology, and other resources. To some, this continuing education can be a pain; to others, it can be exciting and rewarding.
- Conservative culture. The work environments of consulting firms typically mirror those of their corporate clients. Expect a lot of structure and formality, and be prepared to dress very conservatively on the job.
- Lack of diversity. The number of women in the consulting industry is increasing, but the number of minority consultants (of either gender) is still small.