Being a consultant in strategy has always created interest from students and those from others consulting industries. Strategy is a long-term plan for a company which includes goals and objectives to reach in order to make the company viable and profitable. That is why, being able to recommend new strategies in order to make a company successful attracts future consultants. In addition, you have to deal with top management and try to convince and satisfy them with your recommendations which is a real challenge as a junior consultant. However, this is the most prestigious branch of consulting, but also the most demanding one. We often hear about these demanding environments, but what is it really like?
Our interviewee wishes to remain anonymous. We are going to call her Léa. She graduated from a prestigious Parisian Business School and has integrated a strategy consulting firm focused on the digital sector. She is going to lift the veil on what to expect in terms of workload when you are willing to join a strategy consulting firm.
Differentiate TOP strategy consultancies and other strategy consulting firms
It is essential to differentiate consulting firms because of their working conditions which can be totally different. First, you have the top 3 also know as MBB composed of: Boston Consulting Group (BCG), McKinsey & Company, and Bain. They are considered to be the most prestigious consultancies in the world. They are extremely selective during the recruitment process. Recruitment rate is around 1%, according to Lea. This selection is part of the virtuous circle they succeed to establish.
However, being hired in one of these consultancies has a price in terms of work-life balance that we will discuss later. On the other hand, you have the big four composed of PWC, EY, Deloitte and KPMG. They have the same characteristics as the top 3, but to a lesser extent. Each of them has a strategy branch which is really appreciated by business and engineering students. Léa mentioned that the top 3 can be considered as old school working methods whereas the big four can be considered as the new school.
"By strategizing, you won't have a social life"
It is well known that in this type of consultancy the pace of work is intense. Generally, those who call for a strategy mission are top managers of multinationals. They have short time deadlines, and highly rigorous expectations. This is usually the reason why it is intense and why they appeal to the best consultants. However, today we are observing a change in trends between the “Old school” and the “New School”; whereas it was normal to finish working everyday after midnight, it is no longer the case.
Why do we have such a picture of the work intensity of strategy consultants?
In fact, the intensity of the work depends on two factors, as Léa explained. The first one is the time factor. "If your client needs recommendations in 1 month because it has to be presented to the board, you are not going to tell him to postpone his meeting."The second is the resource factor. For example, if the deadline is due in 2 months, and you have no additional work resources (meaning consultants), you must inevitably speed up your work pace and extend your hours. What is more, this myth of the strategy consultant who has no time for himself, and who sacrifices his personal life for the benefit of his work, is generally imagined in the biggest firms, especially the top 3. And, in this type of firm, Léa mentioned that the method applied is the 80/20. It means that 80% of the work is done in 20% of the time. Inevitably, it leads to a high working intensity.
"Strategy consulting isn't horrible, I don't know what you've heard about it."
Of course, the work of consultants manages to be bearable in two different ways:
Good staffing management means that a consultant is not going to be staffed on two hardcore missions in a row. The leverage is "a little bit of the firm's internal decision making process." The firm may increase the number of consultants on the engagement, but this will lead to greater consulting fees. Knowing that partners are often paid based on the performance and profitability of their commitment, they do not always want to break their margin to increase staff. However, staffing more consultants can be pointless. Indeed, more staff doesn't mean better productivity. To go faster, you have to be able to parallel the tasks. You need to know that to increase the number of people, the tasks must be completely independent and or parallelizable. Staffing too many consultants on a mission is useless: it is more of a hassle than anything else.
Staffing management is designed so that consultants are not overwhelmed every day. However, they are still very busy and it is not a nuisance in itself to work so late because they do not have bandwidth, and do not realize how late it can be. Besides, if your work is finished at 6pm you can leave, and you are not forced to stay because others stay.
“No one in strategy consulting works until 3am for a year, there's no such thing!”