Contrary to popular belief, there is more to a management consultant’s work than attending meetings and making presentations. Behind the scenes, the job of a consultant is highly competitive and equally rewarding.
A consultant’s typical day is very demanding. In most cases, their day does not end when most professionals clock out for work. Furthermore, many consultants sacrifice their sleep and weekends when there are loads of tasks that need to be done.
Most consultants are already prepared for the hectic professional lifestyle (more on this later). However, over time the work can take its toll without proper breaks or care. Below goes in depth about the various tasks that management consultants face on a regular basis.
Junior analysts or associates spend most of their time supporting the project manager and partner. More often than not, this is spent taking gathering relevant, sufficient data and research. Although the task sounds menial, it is an essential step in the consulting process. Without the right supporting information, the client could encounter heavy unforeseen risks in the future.
Research isn’t as simple as browsing the Internet for background information. Junior analysts are sometimes required to dig into the company archive, or look for specific data at the request of the project manager. If they have to interview employees within the client’s company, they must workout a schedule to get the task done.
Another part of the research that can be time consuming is data analysis. By the time the gathered information reaches the project manager or head consultant, it is usually compiled and arranged. Irrelevant data is tossed and hidden. Therefore, sifting through piles of information must be done thoroughly to make sure that nothing is missed.
A junior analyst’s day doesn’t stop at collecting data. He or she also works on power point slides, which again are key in every successful presentation. This part of an associate’s day may not be exactly spent inside the office. This could be done during off hours, at home, or in a café. In most cases, a consultant slowly builds a presentation whenever there is free time throughout the day.
Meetings and Problem Solving Sessions
Holding meetings with clients for interviews and data extraction can take up a large part of a consultant’s day. This time isn’t all that productive. Taking the client’s or interviewee’s schedule into consideration, a consultant could spend a bit of time in the day waiting for scheduled appointments, and rescheduling to make ends meet (if needed). During this waiting period, a consultant is multi-tasking and using the time wisely by working on other tasks for the day. It is important to remember that a client’s workday usually ends at normal office hours (around 5:00 pm). As a result, consultants are forced to work around their schedule and spend their own personal tasks either before or after normal office hours.
It’s no secret that consultants work in teams. Task allocation is a big factor that makes them highly effective in their line of work. A vital part in a consultant’s day is spent with his or her team, making sure everything is in order. Because everyone in the team is immersed in his or her own daily tasks, finding time to make this happen can be frustrating.
If a consultant is “stuck” or having a difficult time finding solutions to key concerns, other members of the team can pitch in to help. From another aspect, extracting new insights on how to fix problems is another reason why daily meetings are held regularly. Project managers who guide the other consultants in problem solving and critical thinking oversee such meetings.
After Office Hours
As mentioned earlier, a client’s time is limited. Hence, a consultant must maximize the small window of time they have with their client. This means that meetings are priority over tasks that can be done when the client is not available. After office hours, a consultant is limited in sources when it comes to collecting information from key individuals, offices and offline archives.
During this time, a consultant looks over the work that was completed in the day and plans for the next steps to come. As simple as this sounds, a consultant must take previous components and connect the information to the new data gathered. If the new information is in conflict with the tasks scheduled out for the week, then it’s back to the drawing board.
After office hours is also spent cleaning up data. Ideally, presentations, information and graphs submitted to a consultant are cleaned up nicely. This is not the case all the time, as everyone else on the team or in the firm is also busy with other tasks. If the employee roster submitted (for example) is missing half of the list, a consultant may need to go back and rectify this issue. Small changes to a presentation such as alignment or missing facts are additional tasks that a consultant must look over during this time.
Networking During Off Hours
A large part of a consultant career relies on networking. It is important to take note that not all of this is done during office hours. The difficult aspect of networking for consultants is making time to socialize and attend events. Moreover, mustering up the energy to be sharp during such networking sessions can be discouraging after a long work week.
Building connections doesn’t stop with other fellow consultants in the industry. Some clients prefer to discuss findings over dinner or over a drink in a lounge. Consultants would need to set time aside for such meetings outside the office and ensure that they cater to the preferences of the client.
Alternatively, some consultants choose to do their networking online. This means using social media to stay in touch with their connections. An advantage of maintaining one’s network online is that it can be done anywhere. Popular professional social media platforms such as LinkedIn have their own application, which allows professionals to tend to their network in between meetings, before going to sleep, or while waiting for a delayed flight.
When a consultant has to travel to see the client or carry out tasks, their schedule heavily relies on multi-tasking. The time spent sitting inside a terminal or airport lobby is devoted to preparation for meetings and checking for updates. This is because the window that a consultant has with a client is constricted, especially if one has to travel far to reach the office. With that being said, one is forced to make the most out of the commitment by prioritizing time with the client and the company.
A consultant will, in most cases, wake up from the hotel and go directly to the client’s office. Time will be spent speaking to members of the staff, conducting interviews and presenting findings. After the day is over, the consultant goes back to the hotel and reports to the firm, and prepares for the rest of the day or week, depending on how long he or she will be in the client’s general location.
What About Personal Time?
Pockets of personal time away from work to go to the gym, spend time with family or even do the groceries, are very scarce in the life of busy consultants. With 12 hour work days, consultants usually make time for personal commitments either all at once at the end of the week, or little by little on a daily basis.
One of the biggest complaints that consultants have about their line of work is lack of personal time. As a result, many hit a point where their personal life has been compromised so much that they feel that it is a reason to leave the industry or switch careers. Because a consultant’s daily schedule is never constant, consistently making time for a specific commitment on a weekly or monthly basis can be nearly impossible.
Many consultants who have been in the industry for a while rely on flexible time and commitments to maintain the balance of life and work. While this hectic lifestyle may not sound appealing, many feel that the rewards of high compensation, benefits and a fulfilling career are worth the time, effort and hard work.
To conclude, there is no “typical” day for consultants. Unlike in other professions where days become predictable and monotonous, consulting is the exact opposite of those types of careers. Based on the details of a consultant’s daily tasks, time management is extremely important due to outside factors such as client’s schedules and the output of other team members.
In general, a consultant spends large amounts of time in meetings with clients and analyzing data. Priority becomes a factor when traveling and managing professional commitments, including family, networking and health. While it is possible to become accustomed to the hectic lifestyle of a consultant, it is a better idea to bring in balance to prevent stress and burnouts.