What is a management consultant?

Management consultants help businesses solve complex problems. This could include reconsidering their strategy, increasing financial performance, improving operations, or some other aspect of their business.

Consultants typically work with a client for a fixed period of time and work at the client’s office. Once they have finished their engagement, they move onto the next client, which could be in a different industry and/or in a different city.

What is the life of a consultant like?

Working in such a highly competitive and fast-paced industry has a number of advantages and disadvantages.

Perks of being a consultant

  • Salary: Consulting is one of the highest-paid jobs worldwide and fresh undergraduates make over $100,000 annually, while MBA-holders start at $200,000. 
  • Sponsorship: Top consulting firms will sponsor their staff to pursue MBAs as prestigious universities.
  • Travel: If you’re an extrovert, look no further. Being a management consultant at a top firm will sweep you into business class to far-off cities, staying at fancy hotels, and dining at nice restaurants.
  • Connections: You’ll meet many smart, talented and ambitious individuals, both at your firm and at the client. 
  • Opportunities: You’ll have the opportunity to work with senior business leaders, and across industries and geographies. 

Challenges of being a consultant

  • Stubborn clients: Clients can be difficult. They might have irrational demands but, as a consultant, it’s your place to appease them and figure out how to satisfy everyone. Your attitude matters, because clients who are impressed by your ability translate into long-term customers.
  • Lousy projects: Not all projects are stimulating. Sometimes, you do grunt work for companies – they wouldn’t be paying you if it was always smooth sailing. A project can be draining for many reasons; it’s either seemingly unsolvable, lengthy, lacking resources or just plain boring.
  • Minimal personal time: Constant commuting, long hours, and the unpredictability of your project make it difficult to plan personal time. It can be difficult to schedule brunches, dates, or time for your children. 

A typical consultant’s schedule

Each client and project is different, so there’s no standard schedule for consultants. But here’s an example of what a consulting day might look like:

5-6 am: Wake Up

It’s Monday morning, and if your client is remote, then you’ll have a plane to catch. There isn’t much room for a morning routine. Multitasking is your best friend – checking emails at breakfast, drinking coffee while you hail a cab. Luckily, if a client is local, you have an extra hour or so on your hands. 

6:30-9 am: Commute

Take a cab to the airport. This is when you reply to your emails and plan your to-do list for the day. Once you’ve boarded the plane, use this time to edit your presentations or prep for meetings. After landing, contact your team with an update and head to the client’s office. 

9 am: Prepare for client meeting

Ideally, this is when you reach your workspace. Once your team arrives (hopefully no late-comers!), you discuss the outline of the project and your goals for the meeting at 9:30am. 

9:30 am: Client meeting

You’re probably working with a company representative, such as a VP. You discuss their vision for the project and the expectations of your team. Explain the possibilities and any deliverables they can expect by the end of the project.

10:30 am: Work

Once you and the client are aligned, you have a few hours to buckle down and grind. If you’re a Business Analyst, this might mean preparing PowerPoint decks or building Excel models. If you’re a Manager, this might mean planning workstreams. Focus is key, so weed out any distractions.

1-1:30 pm: Lunch

Consultants don’t have a lot of time for meals, especially with tight deadlines. Get ready to order a snack in or run out for a quick sandwich. 

1:30-2:30 pm: Client meeting

You have a meeting with another client stakeholder. You share early thoughts on the project and get their perspective. 

2:30-5 pm: Debrief and continue work

You update your team on the client meetings and work together on planning for the project. Your team can also use this time to work on any PowerPoint decks or Excel models.

6-8 pm: Socialize

You’ll generally eat out with your case team. This is a great opportunity to get to know the people you’re working with and blow off a little steam at the end of the day.

8-10 pm: Unwind

After a taxing day, return to your hotel to relax a little. Some people try to fit in a quick workout or relax in front of the TV. This time is also used for checking and following up any emails.

How many hours do consultants work?

While this varies by firms and nature of clientele, you’ll be working at least 40 hours a week. Big 4 firms (Deloitte, KPMG, EY and PwC) average 40-50 hours per week, whereas MBB firms average closer to 60 hours per week.

Work-life balance as a consultant

What causes poor work-life balance?

There are a number of causes of poor work-life balance:

  • Clients: Some clients are notorious for working consultants hard. It could be that their company or industry has a work-hard culture, or it could be that they simply don’t respect consultant’s time.
  • Nature of the project: Killer projects at McKinsey are often “01” projects. “01” indicates that this is the first-ever engagement with that client. Because the Partners want to win ongoing work, they are more willing to push the case team to work longer hours and ensure the client is happy.
  • Location: Some locations have a harder working culture than others, particularly international cities, such as New York or London.

How to address poor work-life balance?

The best ways to address poor work-life balance include:

  • Prioritize: Always focus on the highest ROI work. It’s more likely that your manager will allow less-important tasks to wait until the next day.
  • Manage upwards: Discuss capacity, boundaries, and client outcomes with your manager. Think of creative ways to reduce capacity and workload, while still delivering client impact.
  • Be more productive: It’s not always the fault of the workload. Think about ways that you can deliver more work and a shorter amount of time.

And some advice from another consultants: