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Strategy consulting: is it that bad?

#1 Strategy consulting: is it that bad?
15/01/2010 00:04



I noticed that a lot of the posts here complain about working in strategy consulting (e.g. long hours, lack of work life balance, lack of job security, unpleasant colleagues/clients).

As a non-consultant (who is interested in entering the industry), can I ask you whether these views just express people venting their frustration (perhaps after a rough day/meeting), or is it the case that the gloss around strategy consulting (working on key projects, working directly for senior management of major corporates, etc...) quickly fades away? If the latter, can I ask what makes you stay in consulting (compensation, prestige, job prospects?)

Thank you.


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#2 RE: Strategy consulting: is it that bad?
15/01/2010 08:31

Very experienced consultant to Mike (#1)

Mike, I'm going to try and give you an honest, unbiased opinion, if there is such a thing!

I don't think it's just people venting their frustration. Speak to any experienced consultant (as opposed to the Big 4 data monkeys and the like) and you'll hear the same story again and again.

Just think about it for a moment.

Project based assignments = unstable pipeline of work and usually short term deadlines. Clients paying high daily rates = they expect you to be awesome and really graft hard for them. Consultancy budgets = first to be chopped when a client is having a hard time. Working for senior management = very high expectations. Key projects for the client = pressure on you to get things done and get them done fast. The one key thing that "strategy consulting" does not mean, however, is being paid huge amounts for doing nothing. Do not believe what you read in the press. Management consultants work hard, and typically they do it because the client can't get things done in time or aren't smart or innovative enough to do it themselves.

What do you think all the above adds up to? Whispering sweet nothings into Bill Gates' ear on his private yacht? Giving Warren Buffet the benefit of your experience over a candlelight supper? Taking calls from Richard Branson on your mobile phone because he's not sure about his next move?

No. What it adds up to, more often than not, is busting your ass on a poorly scoped and under-resourced project, where some public sector middle manager "client" thinks you are being paid a fortune (which you are not) and wants everything done yesterday - all to a gold plated standard and probably several times over following the feedback he will give directly to your partner, who will in turn relish the opportunity to let you know what a pathetic little cretin you are and how you should have done it differently (which he will be telling you with the benefit of hindsight and the client's feedback thereby meaning he is by definition "correct" and you are by definition "wrong").

Ooh, and don't forget the "up or out" policies too. Or firms with 40% annual staff turnover. Chaos. Man, I could go on for hours.

Answering your last question, why do some of us stick it out? Inertia and fear of change I guess (ironic isn't it?). A lot of consultants are insecure types.

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#3 RE: Strategy consulting: is it that bad?
15/01/2010 09:37

ZB to Very experienced consultant (#2)

A superb response. Thoroughly accurate, detailed and objective.

I would add that working for these firms for 10 years plus is incredibly rare and most move into industry, own business or change direction completely.

Is it worth it: moot point. If you have slugged it our for 10 years plus beleive me you resume will look impressive and attractive to a multitude of potential employers and also the contacts you develop should stand in you good stead. Is it worth it though for the best part of your twenties and thirties: I would say, on balance, no. The money is not that great at the levels below partner and you could earn may be 80% of that wage working for a big 4 firm, where the work is easier, the people are far friendlier and hours more bearable.


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#4 RE: Strategy consulting: is it that bad?
15/01/2010 10:06

Mr Cool to Very experienced consultant (#2)

I agree with Very Exp Consultant, but would add...

MC firms often oversell their "global presence" to clients, which means that when they win a (e.g.) telco engagement in Boston, they have to fly their only 4 telco experts from (e.g.) London. Client having bought into the global presence of the firm is surprised at lack of local expertise and refuses to pay travel time as billable. To preserve billing hours, the consultants then have to add non-billable travel time on top of already high billable time.

MC firms also oversell the "we've done this before". Consultants then arrive who have not individually "done this before" and then have to work twice as quickly/hard as normal to meet expectations.

This is not just found in strategy consulting, but in all consulting, inlcudign IT and system integration. I think it is worse in strategy consulting because the engagements are shorter (no gentle ramp up during the Req Gathering/Scoping phase) and the day rates are so much higher.

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#5 RE: Strategy consulting: is it that bad?
15/01/2010 10:10

Mr Cool to Mr Cool (#4)

Good point on the money ZB,

Traditionally when clients approached me to join them on a permanent basis at the end of a consulting gig, I'd say "that would be great, I earn X"

They'd fall off their chair.

Lately, they've started saying "we could get pretty close to that"

When you consider quality of life and career progression (and enjoyment of your work) I think the gap between consulting and "client" employment has narrowed considerably in the last 10 years, UNLESS you make it to partner.

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#6 RE: Strategy consulting: is it that bad?
15/01/2010 10:47

Very experienced consultant to Mr Cool (#5)

Also, I forgot to mention the point about "exit options".

Basically, even the exit options are over-rated.

You would not believe the number of supposed "Tier 1 strategy headhunters" who have looked at me as if I'm a dip5hit when I've mentioned some of the MBBB companies I've worked for in the past. They seem to think that "Big 4" and household names like "Accenture" for instance is "better" than the likes of "Boston Consulting Group" (oh you worked in Boston for a while did you? are they a fairly big company?).

Outside of strategy consulting, nobody seems to appreciate the calibre of the company you work/worked for. I guess that says it all really.

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#7 RE: Strategy consulting: is it that bad?
15/01/2010 11:32

D to Very experienced consultant (#6)

I would disagree somewhat about the exit options.

I think the reason that many people stay as long as they do is because they need to do the time to develop the exit options. Decent headhunters know who the good firms are and what people moving out of consulting should be looking for. I agree there are many that have no idea, but you can tell them a mile off.

One upside of consulting not mentioned above is that you learn a few skills, that are not necessarily even commercial, that will stand you in good stead if you want to hit the ground running in industry. Attention to detail, presentation of work, doing in two days what industry expects to take a week etc, are all things that you will take away from a few years in consulting that many/most people in industry just don't really have to the same degree. It's not as important as atually being good at your job, but they are all quick wins when you move into a new environment

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#8 RE: Strategy consulting: is it that bad?
15/01/2010 14:02

MBB to D (#7)

I would say that one of the main reasons why people join strategy consulting firms is ‘career progression’, which is directly related to exit options.

As a person with a technical degree I either had the option of going into industry directly after graduating, at relatively good pay but slow progression, or join a consulting company. The later would hopefully accelerate my career progression so that when I do eventually leave consulting I will not only have more options of where I can work but I will also potentially join a company at a much higher level than I would have if I had joined it at the graduate level.

I am willing to sacrifice several years of pain (4-5 probably) to make things easier for me in the long run.

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#9 RE: Strategy consulting: is it that bad?
15/01/2010 14:46

Mike to MBB (#8)

Thank you all for those very insightful comments.

It seems that, based on the comments above, strategy consulting might be worth the sacrifices/pain for a few years at the junior level, provided that you are then able to move towards a decent industry job (assuming you don’t want to make partner).

Regarding the latter, would you say that being at MBB v tier 2 strategy consultants (this is excluding the Big 4 + ACN) makes a significant difference at finding that job? I recall a McKinsey recruiter recently going on about how all their Business Analysts find great jobs after 2-3 years and that this is almost guaranteed (apparently they didn’t even have any trouble over the last two years), although I note from “very experienced consultant” that even MBB might not always be fully appreciated some headhunters.

Thanks again.


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#10 RE: Strategy consulting: is it that bad?
15/01/2010 15:05

Very experienced consultant to Mike (#9)

From my experiences and those of people I know, if you go to apply for a job and say you worked for "McKinsey", a lot of people (and I'm including in this a lot of senior FTSE 100 types) will say "Who is Mackenzie???". If you say you worked for "Bain", they are quite likely to say "Bain who"? If you say you worked for "Boston Consulting Group" they are quite likely to think you did a few years in the USA. If you say you worked for "Booz & Co" they may well walk away thinking you've got a drink problem.

Basically, the MBBB brand is almost entirely non-recognised amongst people who are 'outside of the know'.

If however you say you worked for BP, Proctor and Gamble, heck even Tesco, somehow you gain the 'instant credibility' of the big name brand.

Particularly at the junior levels, the experience you gain during a spell in consultancy just doesn't seem to get any recognition these days.

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#11 RE: Strategy consulting: is it that bad?
15/01/2010 16:13

Tony Restell ( to Very experienced consultant (#10)

Countering the view of "Very experienced consultant", I would argue that i) most Board members and ii) all senior executives involved in Strategy at FTSE 100 firms will be very well aware of the MBBB firms and will have worked with them extensively.

Many of these senior executives are MBBB alumni themselves, or are MBAs having been to top schools where many of their peers will have gone into MBBB firms.

I would accept that within the wider realm of these FTSE businesses, executives are less likely to be well versed in who the MBBB are and therefore the value of an MBBB background on one's CV is correspondingly less. But if you want to progress from strategy consulting into a strategic role in industry then the people you'll be wanting to impress will be the very people who do value MBBB.

I can think of headhunters who work exclusively for FTSE 100 organisations (and really prominent ones at that)... who are charged with hiring purely from the ex-strategy consulting space. From the remits they work on, I can say without hesitation that in the pockets of FTSE organisations where MBBB brands are known, their alumni are really prized as potential hires.

Tony Restell

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#12 RE: Strategy consulting: is it that bad?
15/01/2010 16:46

D to Tony Restell ( (#11)

I entirely disagree with very experienced consultant on his/her last post.

In my experience, everyone that may be interviewing ex-consulting candidates for the typical post-consulting roles in industry knows exactly which firms are which

It seems that his/her experience, and that of the people he/she knows, is diametrically opposite to my own experience and that of my own friends

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#13 RE: Strategy consulting: is it that bad?
15/01/2010 17:05

DCF to D (#12)

Oh Tony... so long out of consulting and you still use silly words like "space"...

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#14 RE: Strategy consulting: is it that bad?
15/01/2010 17:46

Tony Restell ( to DCF (#13)

DCF - well guess it would be fair to say I'm still pretty immersed in the consulting world even if not actually out consulting myself, so there's bound to be some consulting-speak rubbing off on me!

Have a good weekend

Tony Restell

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#15 RE: Strategy consulting: is it that bad?
15/01/2010 20:30

Mike to Tony Restell ( (#14)

Thanks again for such great responses - really insightful!

For those who say that a strategy consulting experience will be recognised by FTSE100 companies (or at least the relevant people in the companies), to what extent would you say that working in MBBB v a Tier-2 strategy consulting firm (again, I am excluding Big-4 and ACN from the latter) significantly increases your chances of getting a plum (for lack of a better word) industry job in a FTSE100 company?



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#16 RE: Strategy consulting: is it that bad?
15/01/2010 21:07

Mr Tickle to Mr Cool (#5)

Mr Cool must have been working in government or manufacturing all these years if clients were struggling to meet his salary.

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#17 RE: Strategy consulting: is it that bad?
17/01/2010 23:19

Mr Cool to Mr Tickle (#16)

LOL Mr Tickle,

Apply that fine analytical mind and consider the alternative.

I did ONCE do some work for an NGO that reported to the DWP though...

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#18 RE: Strategy consulting: is it that bad?
18/01/2010 12:22

Tony Restell ( to Mike (#15)

Mike - in brief answer to your subsequent question, the main downside of joining a less well known strategy firm is that the door-opening potential of having that firm on your CV is much more hit and miss. The brands are much less likely to be known (extensively) outside the set of clients that the firm has served.

In terms of the calibre of the projects you'll be working on, they are likely to be very comparable - both in terms of the client names and also the scope of the projects. Equally the calibre of the people you'll be working alongside and the exposure you'll have to senior figures within client organisations is likely to be very similar.

It's a consideration for sure, but not as great as you might think.

Tony Restell

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