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Help. Want to get out of consulting...

 
#1 Help. Want to get out of consulting...
04/04/2009 01:08

Struggler

Hi,

I’m looking for some advice and thoughts as I want to get out of consulting and wondered if anyone else had been through this?

I joined a good strategy house (non-MBB think RB, Mercer) 6 months ago having worked in the Pharma grad-scheme for 2 years previously, after graduating from University. For what it’s worth I have had received excellent reviews for all my projects and yet am really unhappy. I've tried to figure out exactly why and aside from the stupid hours and travel I think it’s the constant sense of not really knowing what I’m doing and never been able to have a 'day off'. I have this sinking feeling every morning I switch on the blackberry and too many 2am taxi rides home. And I’ve been feeling like this since about month 2, just surviving day to day.

I’ve stashed enough cash to survive for a while without a job but I’m worried that my CV, or indeed I, would look weak having not lasted longer than half a year in a consulting firm. Also my ego frustrates me as I’d love to get a promotion and prove I really am getting good reviews and wasn’t asked to leave. Ultimately, I have no idea where to go and in the current climate I’m not sure there’s much out there.

I really hope this hasn’t come across as moaning or complaining as I feel have been lucky, I just wanted to give you some honesty and then hopefully get some impartial advice.

Thanks

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#2 RE: Help. Want to get out of consulting...
04/04/2009 01:24

Gold to Struggler (#1)

I think at this stage its important to consider what you would rather be doing, occupation wise. This isn't something anyone can tell you, otherwise you'd end up in a similar position. In this current market the vast majority of industries won't be hiring for the forseeable future. My gut instinct says continue to ride it out at least until the economy kick starts again.

You dont sound comfortable at all in any case. Could you further clarify what you meant by "I think it’s the constant sense of not really knowing what I’m doing" ? Evidently you wouldnt have been recruited if you werent capable of handling the difficulty! Is it a case of you not finding the work interesting (change in industy coverage might help perhaps), or are you suggesting you dont see how your work fits in with the bigger picture?

I cant help but ask though, were you not aware of travel requirements and long working hours?

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#3 RE: Help. Want to get out of consulting...
04/04/2009 02:22

Struggler to Gold (#2)

Thanks Gold, you’re spot on that I don’t feel comfortable. And as you asked to clarify I’ll try and explain a bit further. When I say the sense of not knowing, I mean the kind of bluffing to a client who’s been doing something for years and yet I’m presenting to them on a subject I know very little about. Plus demanding clients expecting answers quickly and lack of certainty as to what that subject is until 5 minutes before. Work is interesting and I understand the bigger picture - I can do it (if I have to) and even be well reviewed for it but it makes me uncomfortable. Maybe I could liken it to sitting an exam everyday and in the last five minutes realising you’ve missed a page of questions you’ve never come across before. I’m sure that sounds stupid as a simile, so sorry - I’m just trying to explain.

I was absolutely aware of the travel and time commitments and whilst I do find them annoying, if it was just that I really feel I could put up with it. Collecting air-miles and hotel points is always nice too. Although I do think someone telling you what it is like in advance and actually doing it are quite different things.

I’m considering going back to the industry I came from although I would have the problems I mentioned before.

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#4 RE: Help. Want to get out of consulting...
04/04/2009 08:57

R2D2 to Struggler (#3)

Dear Struggler, you do seem a bit down don't you? Fear not though, you are by no means the first person to find themselves working for a consultancy and in this position.

This may be of small consolation but you wouldn't be where you are if you weren't a talented and capable individual. The fact that your employer is confident enough to put you in situations that they know aren't within your comfort zone speaks volumes about your ability. Perhaps this is not so much a need to change career as a need for a confidence boost? It's an unfortunate fact but many consultants are not "experts" at all in the assignments they are given, they just simply happened to be an intelligent body available at the right time.

Ultimately, you will have to make a conscious decision as to whether or not you can see yourself being comfortable with your job but my advice to you right now is to try and ride it out for 6 months more and see what the economic position is in September. If you can't stomach that suggest that you start looking now. It is quite liberating often to have a couple of interviews and relaise that you haven't been sold into slavery.

Chin Up!

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#5 RE: Help. Want to get out of consulting...
04/04/2009 10:09

MBB to R2D2 (#4)

Struggler,

I agree with Gold that it one of the things you should be thinking about is what other career you might do. The other thing you should be thinking about though is "what would it take for you to stay and be happy". If you come to the realisation that you might want to leave and in fact can leave, then it might pay to take a few more risks at work in order to make yourself feel comfortable.

This could for instance involve pushing back more firmly on the hours people are asking you to work (I did this when I came to the realisation that it was just a job and there were others out there I could equally well be doing if this one didn't make me happy).

In your case however it feels like you are least comfortable with being seen as a "fraud" particularly by your clients. I think there are three things you can do to help with this and if you are genuinely feeling like you want to leave, you should do them, even if you think it might risk p*ssing people off:

1) Work out how you (personally and as a company) might actually be helpful to your clients (both individuals and as a whole organisation). When you have this straight in your mind you should feel more comfortable with focusing (both psychologically and in practice) on those aspects of the work and not on the areas where you feel uncomfortable (like telling experienced people how to do their job when you think you don't know anything about the subject). The answers to this question will vary from study-to-study, and I'm sure there are people on here who can help you with possible answers that aren't simply "knowing more about the industry than my client".

2). When you can't see a way in which you or your firm are adding value, say so to your managers or partners or whoever. Not in an accusatory manner, but to see what they think and to make sure they are thinking about it. This might be seen as being difficult, but if you are respected in the firm, it might be seen as asking the really helpful and important questions - "why are we doing this work?" and "how can we actually make it successful?"

3). Once you've got the above two questions straight, you then need to work out how to deal with the clients. If you feel unprepared, there are a few things you can do:

(a) nail the details on the areas that you have been working on so that you are 100% confident (you say you are good at the "bigger picture" but at a more junior-level, being bullet-proof on the basics is key).

(b) be prepared to say "I don't know" when appropriate- if you are happy with the quality of your work and have established your own credibility then the best thing to do is to be confident in admitting ignorance - while offering a way forward (e.g. "this isn't something I've worked on yet, so I can't give you a firm answer, but my initial thoughts might be...").

If at the end of the day your client is being a jerk and making unrealistic demands, then this again is a conversation to have with your management - a conversation that is perhaps harder in the current economic climate, but is perhaps easier if you know that you will leave if you cannot make the lifestyle sustainable for yourself.

So - I don't think I'd give up yet - as R2D2 says, "Chin up". But you should work out what else you might be doing (e.g. talking to other firms or individuals) to make you realise that your firm needs you as much as you need them whilst at the same time taking a more active rather than passive role in shaping your work and lifestyle.

Hope that helps.

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#6 RE: Help. Want to get out of consulting...
04/04/2009 12:11

Struggler to MBB (#5)

To the posters above,

Massive thanks for your thoughts and responses. Some excellent advice; I might take a look at what other jobs are out there just to avoid feeling trapped. I think confidence is a big part of my problem and the points above to make myself feel more comfortable I’ll experiment with.

Maybe I’m just not cut out for this pressure but I’ll keep going a week at a time. If I get sacked that doesn't seem that bad!

I was wondering if I having one year on the CV really would look much better than 6 months?

Thanks again

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#7 RE: Help. Want to get out of consulting...
04/04/2009 15:10

George Clooney to Struggler (#6)

well.. if I see 1 year I will think "ok he gave it 1 year and moved on".. if I see 6 months I'd go "hmm something must have gone very wrong"

This doesn't mean you cannot explain yourself in a future interview but it will raise questions as to whether you are cut out for a high pressure job or whether you were doing a very bad job in those 6 months

having said that, there is no price on happiness.. if you are feeling like this is not for you, start looking for other options - and follow the other posters' advice on what you can change at work

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#8 RE: Help. Want to get out of consulting...
04/04/2009 16:35

Gold to George Clooney (#7)

I see exactly what you mean with the clarification there Struggler, you certainly have my sympathy! As has been said above, i think it pretty much comes down to your own personal judgement. If you feel you can bare it, and feel there is at least potential for things to get better - stick it out until the next recruitment cycle and re-evaluate.

As for the CV question, i would have thought staying with the firm for a year would reflect better on you. I dont profess to be an expert in applications, but if you did choose to leave nowcould you not drop a line in the cover letter explaining the circumstances?

Lastly, as a sort of go between - you could perhaps actively seek alternative employment whilst staying on with the current firm? That way your giving yourself a little more leeway, and not completely shutting the door on consulting?

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#9 RE: Help. Want to get out of consulting...
04/04/2009 19:01

Britches to Struggler (#6)

You are allowed to have a couple of short term positions on your CV without it being seen as a bad thing. The longer your career experience, the more room you have - as a rule of thumb, one short employment in every five years wouldn't be a problem. As long as you can explain each employment period, you will be fine - e.g. "I realised after a couple of weeks that my understanding of the job was incorrect, so I moved on quickly and have learned to clarify my assumptions more thoroughly during the interview process by listening for the messages I don't want to hear as well as those I do". That is far more compelling to me than someone sticking it out for a year in a job and having nothing to show for it.

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#10 RE: Help. Want to get out of consulting...
06/04/2009 10:25

Mars A Day to Struggler (#1)

Lots of excellent advice here Struggler. My one concern would be that you sound -to me at least - on the verge of depression. If you are really so uncomfortable that it is disturbing your sense of well being as an individual, then it's best to go even if you don't have a job lined up.

But I agree with pretty much everything the others have advised.

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#11 RE: Help. Want to get out of consulting...
06/04/2009 12:47

anon to Mars A Day (#10)

6 months to 1 year seems a bit short, my advice, set your self a two year target to leave, get that good experience on your CV and use it when an upturn comes, I'm sure in the long run whatever you do this experience will benefit you - think of it as doing your national service in the old days, couple of years pain then move on, remember it's just a job, nobody is shooting at you, push back when you need to but have your eyes on the 2 years marker, have some interviews to keep you sharp at interviewing, you may even be able to take a pay-off and jump ship

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#12 RE: Help. Want to get out of consulting...
06/04/2009 12:50

Struggler to Mars A Day (#10)

Thanks Mars, you've given me quite a few good pieces of advice along my consulting journey so much appreciated.

I have been feeling low - my partner and family have said they're concerned about my mood and I just brushed it off. I don’t want to sound melodramatic but if even the way I’m typing is suggesting it then maybe I need to re-think.

It’s funny – if you would have told me a couple of years ago that I’d be in a top strategy house, on good money with great reviews I’d have been delighted. Now I need to figure a way out...

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#13 RE: Help. Want to get out of consulting...
06/04/2009 13:11

Mars A Day to Struggler (#12)

Struggler I think everyone posting here can sense there is something serious at issue here - hence the lack of sarcastic posts. I mention depression not because of the way you are typing - I'm reading between the lines on this one - but by the point YOU become aware of it yourself and admit it you'll have a far more serious - and debilitating - problem to deal with.

Is there someone at the firm you could confide in? Generally speaking talking about this to a senior will be seen as weakness, but maybe you have a mentor you don't actually report to? Samaritans could help too - they're not just there for people who feel suicidal, they're there to talk about whatever you want. I think you need to sit down with someone and talk it all through, someone you can be open and honest with. You'll arrive at some conclusions yourself by identifying what is making you feel this way. Chances are it could be something outside of work altogether - home life happy? Health ok?

The last few weekends I've consciously switched the blackberry OFF. Made a huge difference. Try it now and again if you can.

One final piece of advice - I don't want to slog this: you aspired to be somewhere, and someone, and achieved your goal. The fact you have decided it's not right for you, or might not be right for you, carries NO stigma. Well done for getting there, and proving to yourself and others that you can set high standards for your goals and achieve them. This says a lot about you. But you are looking for ANY exit rather than something you WANT - so chances are you'll wind up in a similar situation. You need to spend some time thinking through what really gets you out of bed, and what you want to spend your life doing. If that means scraping a living as an artist in Paris then get to thine easel. DO NOT LET THIS GET ON TOP OF YOU.

Life is not a rehearsal - you get one then it's over, so don't waste it being unhappy.

You know where we all are - let us know how you are getting on.

Sermon over ;)

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#14 RE: Help. Want to get out of consulting...
06/04/2009 13:11

ex consultant to Struggler (#12)

when was the last time you had a holiday? - try taking 2 weeks off - might help your perspective

in terms of confidence - remember you are not advising the client on how to run the company per se - just on that particular bit of analysis

the fact you have industry experience should give you a boost - at least you have seen things from the other side

also you are probably the new person in the office with not many new people coming in due to recession - never easy - once more newbies get recruited you will feel a bit better

is there a grade manager or someone friendly at your firm you could talk to?

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#15 RE: Help. Want to get out of consulting...
06/04/2009 13:37

Jaffa to ex consultant (#14)

Stop being a little pup. If you don't want to work the long hours, just don't work them! Grow a backbone and don't be pressured into putting in the'obligatory' face time.

Your ego doesn't just annoy you, it probably annoys everyone you work with. 6 months? You know nothing.

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#16 RE: Help. Want to get out of consulting...
06/04/2009 13:56

what? to Jaffa (#15)

talk about missing the pt..

dude - learn to read he is not being arrogant

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#17 RE: Help. Want to get out of consulting...
06/04/2009 13:57

ex-consultant to Jaffa (#15)

as the poster said it's not the hours that are the problem - pay attention

"little pup" heh - this isn't boarding school mate

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#18 RE: Help. Want to get out of consulting...
06/04/2009 20:16

Old Harrovian to ex-consultant (#17)

Where's my fag?

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#19 RE: Help. Want to get out of consulting...
07/04/2009 16:08

B all U can B to Mars A Day (#10)

Struggler,

I can identify very well with the situation you describe and the way you feel about work.

I've often felt the same way in my 5 years in consulting and have learnt the following lessons to help me cope:

1 - When I'm really stressed, I don't focus.

2 - When I'm not challenged, I get restless

3 - When I'm working too hard, I forget to organise things with those that are dear to me.

I've then also figured out what I need to do to help me deal with each of the above situations. Most of which is REALLY obvious stuff.

What's good, is that by identifying the cause and dealing with it, I feel a lot more in control.

One final bit of advice - go for an interview or two! I keep my CV in the market and often pursue opportunities that I'm interested in, but unlikely to take. Why? Because I find it gives me a lift to meet smart people and go through the interview. If I get offer the role - great confidence boost - maybe even the right opportunity.

Good Luck!

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#20 RE: Help. Want to get out of consulting...
07/04/2009 17:48

The Doctor to B all U can B (#19)

@ B all U can B - you sound like an ex-colleague who has a compulsive disorder with applying for jobs. No offence, but sort your life out properly or, like her, you'll end up a nervous wreck without any job. 20 hours of therapy to sort things out with a professional now will be cheaper than 200 hours later.

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#21 RE: Help. Want to get out of consulting...
08/04/2009 08:26

B all U can B to The Doctor (#20)

Dear Doctor, I would suggest trying to help out the OP, rather than criticise those that are.

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#22 RE: Help. Want to get out of consulting...
08/04/2009 16:08

R2D2 to R2D2 (#4)

Dear Struggler,

I don't know whether or not this helps you but like many of my colleagues that came to consulting from industry, the first year is harder than expected. In my case I found the reason for this was the mind set that is required in consultancies is often almost 180 degrees to that of industry.

To explain: first - don't look for validation, just make your decisions and get on and do it. You are already intelligent enough to not read this as a license for anarchic behaviour. Second - don't be afraid of standing up for yourself once and awhile and saying 'no thanks'. Again I suspect you already have a gut feel for when this appropriate. Third - do not let your working life ruin your whole life. The two things are not the same and each deserves equal attention. I find that all phones, computer etc. come with an on/off switch - how convenient :)

If you can make the switch in your head from industry to consulting you will do fine. If not, move on and do somthing you do enjoy.

Good luck.

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#23 RE: Help. Want to get out of consulting...
09/04/2009 13:30

Derek to R2D2 (#22)

As ever, good advice fom Mars.

Does your co have a counselling / legal service, free to staff? I have used these a couple of times in the past and they can be pretty good, especially if you can see them face-to-face, although phone support is also good. They are very practised at re-framing issues and inspiring new thinking and solutions.

Details will be held by HR / on the intranet and you can always say you are enquiring on behalf of a colleague etc.

As others have pointed out, if you continue to "suffer" it will have a greater long term impact than doing something about it now.

Good luck

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#24 RE: Help. Want to get out of consulting...
10/04/2009 08:52

Struggler to Derek (#23)

Thank you all for your responses. I will keep you updated - I am going to try and take some time out on holiday when I roll off soon. That should give me some head space to plan my next moves.

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#25 RE: Help. Want to get out of consulting...
12/04/2009 19:25

ex-consultant to Struggler (#24)

Struggler,

For someone who just moved from consulting - I will suggest start exploring options now and start looking out actively at the start of 2H 2009, By the time you find the right job, sign the dotted line and join - you would have spend more than a year in your current job.

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#26 RE: Help. Want to get out of consulting...
12/04/2009 20:52

Poruri Gopal to ex-consultant (#25)

Hi,

Its been enlightening to know the tough or unknowable aspects whilst working for a consulting firm.i found it very insightful and helped me to rethink whether i should go for consulting jobs.But then even after this conversation, i found that i like consulting because of the variety of assignments.I might be wrong as a novice who wants to go into consulting.But the thoughts of struggler and gold has prepared me to a certain extent to know what kind of pressures i might face in a consulting job.Thank you for your knowledgable insights and feelings to be known to people like me who want to take up a career in consulting.

Thanks

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#27 RE: Help. Want to get out of consulting...
27/05/2009 23:41

Poppy to Struggler (#1)

Hi

You are on a bit of a downer at the moment - and as collegues have previously posted, this would be a good time for you to reflect on what you really want to do. Have you considered accessing the services of a career coach? Everybody raves about them.

Clearly you have a conscience and are ethical - why not consider a career in the public sector? With your proven experience and excellent skills Government Chief Executives would love to employ people like you...........should you eventually decide to change sector, you may never look back.

Good luck in whatever path you decide to take

Poppy

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#28 RE: Help. Want to get out of consulting...
28/05/2009 08:48

Angel to Poppy (#27)

I think your solution is simple -

Get out of your current positions as soon as you can.

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#29 RE: Help. Want to get out of consulting...
03/09/2009 12:39

Boozer to Struggler (#1)

Hmm, your post really struck a chord with me and I think some of the replies missed the point.

You said the key reason you feel unsure was that you felt you didn't know what you were doing, that the client gut across the table knew more than you.

I have to say that I've been doing this for 12 years and depending on how you manage your career it can take a long time for that to go.

If you specialise in one area you can get to the stage where you have real deep functional or industry knowledge and that can add a lot to a client, and to your idea of self worth.

What is more difficult is the generalist approach where you are basically applying your intelligence and a problem solving process to any given problem. With this career you just have to accept that the guy across the table will always know more about the subject than you, but that your job is to bring a fresh perspective and analytical clarity to the problem.

It sounds like you might be more comfortable with the former than the latter - but either way - we all have to start somewhere and your confidence will grow the more projects you do.

I hope you didn't leave and give it more time.

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#30 RE: Help. Want to get out of consulting...
03/09/2009 16:06

Struggler to Boozer (#29)

Thanks Boozer, your message is well timed as I was planning to give an update.

Well, I’ve made it a year now. It was tough but the second 6 months was a little easier than the first. By way of thanks for the comments above, I will make a few follow-on posts covering what I’ve learnt to make the consulting life easier and then where I am at.

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#31 RE: Help. Want to get out of consulting...
03/09/2009 16:23

Struggler to Struggler (#30)

I found several different methods of improving my work situation, many of which were derived from the comments you all kindly shared above. Whilst I’m sure these will not work for everyone I wanted to share what I have learnt, below, in case someone else should find themselves facing similar difficulties:

1. When I go home on weekends and on most nights too – I switch my blackberry and laptop off. I don’t even turn it on until walking out the door the next morning. The only exception is if I have explicitly agreed to do a piece of work in my ‘free time’…

2. I no longer offer to do extra work in my free time. I do not suggest it or even hint at it, senior players (partners, principals, managers etc.) will take merciless advantage and the more I do it the more they expect me to. When there is that awkward silence or a question if I could help with another piece of work I just bite my tongue and keep my desire to please them in check - if I deliver on time in full for the core project that is often enough.

3. If I don’t need to be somewhere then I am not there. I go home. There’s always some work I can be doing but if I hang around the client site I’m easy pickings for the principal – out of their sight, out of their work-disseminating-mind.

4. I take time off and stick to it. As far as my firm is concerned I am not even in the country – and won’t have internet or phone access during time away.

5. However long you have to crunch numbers/build slides is exactly how long it will take to complete. There will be ENDLESS drafts, iterations and senior posturing. So whilst your work should be good you’re crazy if you kill yourself to make it perfect. Get version 21 done, chill and then share it, let the corrections flow in and repeat.

6. I am not a partner or even a manager, nothing will fall apart if I’m not there and someone can easily do my work if they have to. I try to remember this.

7. I try to always be polite and supportive, particularly to junior team members. If someone has to occasionally ask me to do extra then no problem, I will. If people are good enough to respect my non-work life most of the time then I’ll help them out the rest of the time.

8. I assert myself more.

9. I now know many Seniors who are likely to work me harder than Pharaohs worked their Egyptian slaves. I stay the hell away from them; I can’t control all my project choices but I can influence it.

10. I try not to worry. I often fail, but I try. Worst case I have enough money stashed to survive for a few months without consulting.

These are broad rules and not always applicable but often worked for me. I’m sure many will have alternative views.

I want to be clear that I still work long hours and very hard, there is seemingly no getting around that if you also wish to perform well in reviews. All I try to do is work smarter.

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#32 RE: Help. Want to get out of consulting...
03/09/2009 18:04

Muddler to Struggler (#31)

Struggler,

I think that there are many gems of wisdom in your list.

Congratulations on seeing out a difficult period.

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#33 RE: Help. Want to get out of consulting...
03/09/2009 18:05

Muddler to Struggler (#31)

Struggler,

I think that there are many gems of wisdom in your list.

Congratulations on seeing out a difficult period.

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#34 RE: Help. Want to get out of consulting...
03/09/2009 21:59

War Horse to Muddler (#33)

Very good philosophy Struggler. I don't work in the consulting game now (thankfully) but your words of wisdom apply just as much to me now I am out in industry as before.

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#35 RE: Help. Want to get out of consulting...
20/10/2009 19:28

JAC to Struggler (#31)

Thanks for the tips, struggler. I feel that I am in a similar situation and your tips are very useful for me. I must bear them in mind.

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