Entering the industry, a view from inside

By Mike. August 1st, 2010. Posted in Your career No Comments »

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Here at Consultive we are keen to unearth what other people think about consulting. We have interviewed Steve, a new entrant into the consulting industry. He is a management graduate who has been in his current role for a year, following several years of working abroad as a project manager. He works for the consulting team of a large UK based engineering company.

What interested you in consulting in the first place?
Wow, that’s a tough question. I think it was the diversity of work entailed which enticed me into consulting. The ability to work on many different projects and use your skills to help other companies to improve the use of assets they already have. Also to leave them the legacy of the skills you have taught them once you finish. The financial incentive isn’t bad either… I also liked the chance to work in a range of different industries, it seemed like quite an exciting career path.
When looking for your new job, what criteria did you have in mind?
Obviously salary, but I believe consulting has a fairly stable salary structure when it comes to graduates so I wasn’t too worried. Apart from that, the previous clients and contracts they had been involved with.
Why were previous clients and contracts important to you?
Ethical reasons really. Do they have a green conscious, what sort of work do they carry out, that kind of thing. I also looked for companies with an international presence. Also related to the track record, they had to have the ability to streamline and an important consideration was also the Major Consultant of the Year award. I also wanted a strong HR department.
How could you tell the quality of their HR department?
They have a gold, silver and bronze award in HR.
How do you go about finding that out?
By asking around and talking to previous clients. I know that my current employer has a gold award, although it was silver when I applied.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
Its cutting edge nature. Producing solutions you know are very new and unique. I also really enjoy working closely with clients, and the diversity of the people I get to meet as well as the team around me.
What do you enjoy least?
Charging rates to clients, having to charge every little piece of my time to a job. There is also the pressure of delivery dates and it can be difficult when there are expectations that we have all the answers.
What is the most important thing you have learnt from you job so far?
Time management.
How does that affect your work?
Balancing multiple projects but still delivering on time. The fact that your delivery deadlines can have a major effect on other people’s work, basically that they will have to wait for you if you start to run late. You have to see the bigger picture. A great consulting cliche for you [laughs].
What were your first few days like?
Intense. Lots and lots of information and very little time to digest it. Having received all the information I was expected to sit in front of a client and have all the answers a week or two later. You are expected to be a little like a sponge, absorbing the information instantly and having it to hand on a project. It is a challenge which I really enjoy. If you don’t want a challenge, this isn’t really the industry for you.
Can you take me through an average day?
My day starts with the checking of emails received from senior management which are often sent at ridiculous hours. Several courtesy calls to clients to catch up, check everything is okay and find out if there are any problems. The remainder of the day will be made up with several meetings, which will revolve around strategy, new clients, existing clients, plus risks and issues around current projects.
The day always ends with the fun of reporting back to people who need to know, predominantly senior management.
How do you find working away from home?
Like anybody, I think working away from home is tough, but it is something you do get used to as long as you can see a light at the end of the tunnel. It’s not as much fun as you imagine it might be at first, living out of a suitcase loses its appeal after a while.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
In five years I think I’ll be in a very similar level the same company, although people tend to think they will get higher than they actually will in a short space of time. I believe I will have improved my skills.
And in ten years?
Perhaps a change of industry, doing a higher level role, maybe even having started my own company. I hope to be using the skills and knowledge I have learnt over the last ten years. The important thing is to have an aim and to pursue it.
How do you deal with the long hours and the stress that this type of work brings?
Long hours aren’t good for anybody. Obviously there may be a time when you have to work long hours at some point during your career. If this happens consistently over a sustained period then there may be a problem with your project or your team. If you are struggling, there is probably a reason and someone else may be able to help. You may find it better for your health and your career to switch to a different project. In terms of stress, your personal life can have a big impact. I find that eating well and exercising help, looking after yourself makes dealing with problems at work that bit easier.
How have you built your brand within your company?
Consistently seeking work on projects that link directly to my skills. Surrounding myself with people of a similar mentality and beliefs. Always being polite to the people I don’t agree with.
Why look after the people who are ‘not on your side’?
You never know when you might need their help in the future. Just because you don’t agree with them on a point doesn’t mean they are not correct. Keeping up good relations and building a network of contacts is very important in this industry.
Do you have a mentor?
Yes. A very good one, but am always on the look out for others [laughs].
What is your opinion on having a mentor at work?
I think it’s very important to have a mentor and that they are not in your team. They don’t have to be vastly experienced or someone who can directly improve your career, just someone who can offer you advice, an impartial shoulder to lean on. They can even be from a different company.
How did you go about getting your own mentor?
My company’s HR department were very good at setting me up with one when I joined, although networking events seem to be a good place to find them too. Some people even have clients as mentors. I believe other firms also have a more informal ‘buddy’ system, but don’t know how well it works. I guess as long as you have someone you can ask questions of you are doing OK.
What piece of advice would you give to others joining the consulting industry?
Think creatively. Never be afraid to speak your mind or ask questions to seek clarification. Most importantly, always look right. Present yourself in the most professional manner possible. Anyone paying for your time will expect you to look the part and behave accordingly. Don’t bulls**t. No one likes to be lied to.

Thank you very much for your time Steve, we wish you all the best in your consulting career.

Photo courtesy of ethanhickerson

This article was written by: Mike

Mike is based in London as a Managing Consultant for Espion, a BSI professional services company. He covers a range of activities including overseeing organisational development within the UK & international markets, maintaining existing client relationships and developing business opportunities as well as defining and developing service driven strategy for the UK operating unit. He also occasionally does some pentesting.

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