What is a typical day like for a consultant? Well, one thing’s for certain—no two days are the same. Management consultants are no-nonsense, objective-oriented go-getters. Their knowledge and experience are highly valued across many industries. Because they carry many responsibilities on their shoulders, their day-to-day lifestyle is packed with challenges and rewards.
Let’s begin by discussing some of the common rewards and benefits of a management consultant’s lifestyle.
Lifestyle Perks of a Consultant
Below are some perks management consultants enjoy:
Compensation in the elite consulting firms is very attractive compared to jobs in other industries. Consulting is a popular and potentially lucrative industry. In fact, an analysis from Harvard Business School reveals that the consulting industry in the U.S. alone generates around $100 billion in annual revenues. Many consultants earn a high and steady income—associates are likely to make a six figure salary or more.
Laptops and Smartphones
While this perk is not unique to management consulting, it’s pretty great nonetheless. Consultants are given a top-of-the-line corporate laptop and all sorts of related devices such as a wireless mouse, portable USB drives, etc.
Most firms also provide smartphones to their consultants and cover a significant percentage of the monthly phone bill. Some like this perk; others, not so much. While connectivity is a great benefit, it also means the inevitably frequent work-related updates.
If you’re the type of person who enjoys traveling, consulting offers plenty of opportunities to see the world. Most consulting firms, particularly the top ones, provide their consultants with business-class flights for long trips. The benefits of flying business class are obvious— better food, better service, and better seats. And that’s just for long domestic flights; when you travel international business class, the flight instantly becomes a vacation in itself.
Earning points is one of the best consulting perks. Because consultants travel on a regular basis, they earn points (free room upgrades, flight upgrades, priority access, etc.). From hotels, to car rentals, to flights, you’ll benefit from a variety of points programs; you may even rack up enough points to cover personal vacations.
Team Events and Team Dinners
Consulting projects are teamwork-intensive, so firms dedicate a great deal of money and energy into helping teams develop working chemistry and camaraderie. Planning and executing events may mean extra legwork for junior consultants, but it also means dining at some of the nicest restaurants in the city. And that’s just for team dinners; team-building activities usually consist of an entire day of fun!
Office Events and Off-site Training
In addition to team events, consulting firms place a great deal of importance on office camaraderie, which means plenty of company events. Consultants can expect regular office happy hours as well as sponsored meals, holiday parties, etc.
Moreover, off-site training events are common in the consulting industry. There are plenty of periodic weekend-long off-site conferences and training events. Regardless of which consulting firm you work for, several times a year you’ll get to attend weekend-long parties which are masquerading as training sessions or skill building workshops.
Challenges of a Consultant’s Lifestyle
Now that we’ve covered some of the rewards, let’s take a look at the challenges of a management consultant’s lifestyle.
Exhaustion Due to Demanding Hours
The physical effort in terms of working hours is demanding. Most consultants consider a 60-hour work week a normal schedule, and some even put in an 80-hour work week. As a consultant, you’ll have to work hard to meet the demands of the profession. Getting four hours of sleep in order to meet the deadlines of a particular consulting engagement is sometimes necessary, and although this isn’t always the case, you can expect to suffer from exhaustion on occasion.
The consulting industry is known to take a toll on a consultant’s personal and social life. Given the demanding hours, you may not be able to have breakfast with your kids or return home before they go to bed. In all likelihood, you may not be able to make any commitments in the evening outside of work. And even if you do, you better forewarn your family, significant other, or friends that your plans could change due to the immediate demands of your job.
The Work-life Balance Issue
Most recruiting presentations given by consulting firms include a lengthy section about work-life balance. The presentations showcase a consultant who has an overwhelming work schedule but still manages to spend time with family and friends. Do you also feel that this is a bit strange, as most industries don’t make such an effort to hard sell?
This pre-emptive sales pitch is a clue that your work-life balance will likely suffer. You’ll have to work long hours and endure stressful deadlines. You’ll also spend most of your time away from home. So despite what the sales pitch may try to tell you, a consulting career can take a toll on your personal relationships.
For young aspiring consultants, this isn’t a deal breaker. Many are willing to compromise their social lives for career advancement. However, as you get older, the sacrifices you make become greater.
Relationships and Consulting Lifestyle
A consultant’s lifestyle can be tough, and not just for the consultant, but for his or her friends, family, and relationships in general. Being away from home means missing out on a lot of important family events—birthday parties, impromptu lunches, anniversaries, and more. Your friends and family may feel like they’re not on your list of priorities because you don’t make time for them, or worse, they may stop inviting you to events all together.
Many consultants have troubled relationships because they’re inadvertently disconnecting from their personal lives because they’re tired. Although you’ll have the end of the week to spend with your friends or family, you may not want to make an effort to reach out because all you want to do is relax. That’s when relationships start to fade, and troubled relationships will negatively impact your happiness.
Maintaining Strong Relationships
Although the reality is that the demands of a consulting career may greatly affect your relationships, it’s still possible to maintain strong personal relationships while continuing to fulfill your consulting responsibilities. All you have to do is be proactive and deliberate about how you nurture and maintain these important relationships while finding ways to be more efficient.
Assess Your Relationships and Manage Changes
With any consulting project, you need to know where a company is, where it wants to go, and what is needed to develop a solid strategy. Your relationships should be no different. Accept the fact that things will change or have changed and assess what you can do about it.
Some of the initial questions you might want to reflect on include: Who do I need to see each week to feel connected or recharged? Who needs my attention the most? Who could I distance myself from?
A prestigious and demanding career means that your time at home will be limited, so understanding where you really want to spend your time can help keep your most valuable relationships in tact.
Consistently Find New Ways to Stay Connected
After you’ve identified your different groupings of friends, make an effort to look for new ways to foster the relationships. Determine how frequently you can connect with them and how you want to interact.
You’ll likely recognize that how often you keep in touch with someone might need to change, which is ok; after all, if you’re only home three days a week, you can’t possibly see all your closest friends and get everything done. That’s why you need to be aware of your inner circle—those who you really want and need to spend quality time with each week or every other week. For others, you may not be able to stay connected as regularly; however, as they say, if there’s a will, there’s a way. There are ways you can keep in touch without giving up all your time. You just have to be creative!
Some great ideas include:
|Set quick Skype dates||You can do this wherever you are, at your most convenient time! A quick Skype conversation can make someone feel that you still care about him or her.|
|Once-a-month dinner groups||This is a great idea because you can see multiple friends at the same time.|
|Five minute AIM/Yahoo/Skype break||In between meetings or at lunch you can say hi to someone you haven’t seen for awhile. A thoughtful “just checking in” message can definitely go a long way in maintaining healthy relationships.|
|Call or text to say hello on your way to or from work||If you find yourself really busy and constantly on the go, you can send a short text or make a quick call to someone on your way to work. Of course if you’re driving, you should use bluetooth technology.|
|Comment on Facebook updates||If you have the time to visit your social media accounts, particularly Facebook, use this as another opportunity to stay connected to your friends and family, especially those who aren’t part of your inner circle. Comment on their status, pictures, and other updates. This will show them that you’re interested in what’s happening with them.|
|Find ways to let your friends into your life||You can blog or tweet to let them know what you do. This will make them feel that you’re not becoming a complete stranger to them.|
|Good old fashion email||You may have forgotten that emails are not strictly for business purposes. You can send out short, personal emails to your friends to let them know you still care about them.|
Keep Yourself on Track
Yes, consultants get really busy and forget some important things once in a while. However, if you want to maintain a work-life balance, find ways to keep yourself on track. Schedule things on your calendar to serve as reminders. Being more organized will help you stay on track and your relationships will improve.
Tell Them What to Expect
You may have a solid plan, but the reality is that your plan can change due to the immediate demands of the job. It’s important to talk with your family, significant other, and friends about what they should expect. When people know what to expect, they won’t feel bad if you are unable to attend an event or when there is a sudden change of plans. Avoid messy misunderstandings. Explain that things may change which are beyond your control, and share how your consulting position greatly affects your lifestyle and what their relationship means to you.
Prove to Them That They Matter
What people perceive becomes their reality. If your friends and family perceive that you don’t have time for them, they’ll eventually write you off as not caring about them. What can you do to avoid this? In general, be proactive and never stop trying to prove to them that they do matter (even in your own little ways). Schedule standing events or take advantage of flexible travel and bring your loved ones with you one weekend. These things will reassure them that even if your work is demanding, making time for them is still a priority.
The lifestyle of a consultant is filled with challenges and rewards. To learn more about the pros and cons of the consulting profession and determine if it’s the right career choice for you, download our free career guide today.