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HOW TO BE A CONSULTANT WITHOUT FEELING LIKE A FISH OUT OF WATER

03 June 2020
By Constance Hager & Gwendoline LE-HUU, Grande Ecole Programme Students Audencia Business School

What comes to your mind when you hear the word “consultant”? A know-it all who has no personal life, travels all the time and earns a lot for doing pretty much nothing. Do you think that someone who wants to pursue a career in consulting cannot escape this fate? Well, consultancy is a wide ocean with big firms competing like sharks and little fish, small consulting firms, trying to find their way through. Rather than consultants preferring either to swim with sharks or with little fish, what matters the most is that they swim in the water at the right temperature. At the beginning of her career, Clémentine Kromwell swam with sharks at a multinational management and technology consulting firm but quickly realized that she swims better at Exeis Conseil with the little fish in warm water, a smaller consulting firm. However, how do consultants know if they are swimming in the right water among the right species?

 

THE HUNT: MISSIONS YOU ARE CRAVING FOR

 

Consulting missions can cover a wide variety of fields and all consultants are required to work on different types of missions throughout their careers. While you may think that projects are imposed on consultants, they actually have a say in the missions they want to work on. Clémentine Kromwell, who is currently a Consultant in Management & Organization at Exeis Conseil in Nantes, France, explains that, “there is a mentor system, which exists in any consulting firm.”As a consultant, you can speak to your mentor about the missions you wish to work on, they  will then try their best to take them into account. It is also important to highlight the fact that a mission can evolve, grow and expand. Consultants may find themselves working on a project which evolves in a direction that no longer inspires them. “In this case, you can change missions,” adds Clémentine Kromwell. Thus, consultants can choose their meal: enjoy planktons like improving the IT system of a department for a client, or hunt a tuna by integrating a digital transformation within a company. Both are enjoyable, but the taste is subjective.

 

THE WATER: A CORPORATE CULTURE THAT RESONATES IN YOU

 

Each consulting firm has its unique corporate culture with its own values and employees embodying them. A consulting firm can support projects beyond their business scope, which enables employees to be fulfilled outside of their consulting missions. For example, Exeis Conseil gives Clémentine Kromwell the opportunity to advise young startups once a year. Indeed, Exeis Conseil’s values resonated with her, which allowed her to “feel fulfilled working in a supportive and stimulating environment that suits [her].” At her former large consultancy, Clémentine’s work habits did not meet her needs; she did not enjoy evolving in a stressful environment in which working long hours is the norm. She understood that the corporate culture is key when you work in a consulting firm because it has a direct impact on your personal satisfaction as consultants may have long working hours. Therefore, consultants need to be sure they are swimming in water that keeps them alive. Simply trying to swim on the surface is not  enough in order to feel complete in their work atmosphere.

 

THE FISH BANK: A TEAM THAT BRINGS THE BEST OUT OF YOU

 

The value of consulting firms is embedded in the highly skilled and talented consultants the firm recruits. Thus, in order to deliver value those consultants have to be part of a team, creating synergies together. Teamwork is key in consulting. An imbalance in the group work provokes less efficient work, a lack of communication and an unhealthy work atmosphere. For instance, a lack of gender equity in a team can create competitiveness and tensions. Clémentine experienced it when she worked in a heterogeneous team, composed mostly of women, at her former consultancy. This contributed to her dissatisfaction within the company. Now, working for Exeis Conseil, she admits that the dynamism of her project groups helped her to feel fulfilled in her work. When consultants swim with the right group, the hunt is more successful: more efficiency, better quality and greater satisfaction.

 

THE FLOW: A CAREER PATH YOU CREATE

 

Even though the consultant career path is mostly mapped out, consultants can choose the direction they want to set their career in. It is true that many young consultants start their career because they do not really know which professional career they should take, but they are drawn to learn a lot in a short amount of time. In some cases, consultants work to climb the ladder within the consulting firm, starting as a junior and ending as a partner, whereas others decide to leave in order to work for one of their clients. Clémentine knew for herself that she wanted to remain a consultant but changing company was necessary for her fulfillment. She now says that leaving Exeis Conseil for another consulting firm is not in her future plans but that working for a client might be an option in 5 years, if she no longer wants to work in consultancy. Therefore, consultants can choose to swim with the current by growing inside the firm or against it by working for a client: what matters is that they follow their instinct.

 

All in all, graduates aspiring to start a career in consulting have to be aware of their freedom in the world of consulting. What is at stake is finding the right match: missions, values, team and career path need to be aligned with what the individual is seeking. Consultants can become experts, always looking for the next challenge, who live for and through their work. However, they can also find their own work-life balance working for a consulting firm with less pressure. The most important thing is that consultants hunt in the right water within the right fish bank and always follow their flow.


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