Working in management consultancy has for decades been eye marked as one of the favourite work-destinations for students and professionals. The sector is commonly associated with prestigious and high-impact assignments, high salaries, international travel and luxury treatment. But whether you heard these stories from friends, alumni or even consider the TV-serie House of Lies a source of truth, there’s a good chance you’ve been mislead. Sure, some myths hold an ounce of truth, but others are just plain fiction. Consultancy.uk presents an overview of the common myths consultants get asked about, and the truth about what it’s really like living the consultant life.
1. My Client, the CEO
Many people believe that management consultants exclusively work with the executive team and are buddy buddy with the CEOs of major organizations—meaning they’ve pretty much struck gold when it comes to industry contacts. While this can be true for select projects, or as you get more senior within the organization, this isn’t generally the reality for most of us.
More often, you will be working with VP or manager-level clients on a day-to-day basis. Of course, this is not something to turn your nose up at! Even though they’re not in the C-suite, these contacts can still be incredible additions to your network. Plus, you can expect your clients today to become the executives of the future, so getting close to them now could really pay off down the road.
2. Rock Star Living
Everyone has a picture of consultants who travel the world, take first-class flights, eat at five-star restaurants, and general live a pretty glamorous lifestyle, all on the firm’s expense. While this is in part true—you rack up a good deal of frequent flyer miles and do get nice steak dinners on occasion—there are some realities to add to this picture.
While you might imagine being whisked off to the W in New York or seeing major metropolises around the globe, you’ll more likely be sitting in a two-star hotel in a small town you’ve never heard of with a Big Mac being the closest thing you’ll get to steak in a 100-mile radius. Add the countless hours of Excel spreadsheet creation while squished into a middle seat on the plane and absurdly early morning flights—and you might not exactly feel like you spent the last week lounging by the pool.
3. Burning the Midnight Oil
There’s a common belief that consultants work crazy hours—and might even get to see the sun rise twice before getting some shut-eye. Again, there is some truth to this: There are definitely projects that require a lot of extra hours in the office, but in my experience, you’ll usually get home before midnight, even on the most intense of projects.
One of the great things about consulting is that you change projects often, so even if you are working late hours, it will likely be short term and not the norm throughout your consulting career. Yes, consulting is a work-hard play-hard environment, but definitely not as bad as the myths allude to.
4. Survival of the Fittest
Another common myth is that consulting firms are cutthroat and uber-competitive. While it is true that most firms adopt an “up or out” policy—meaning you either get promoted or you need to leave the company—and you will be surrounded by people who are just as ambitious and talented as you are, there is more to the story.
The truth is, “up or out” is not designed to get rid of good people; it is primarily a mechanism to ensure people don’t stay in the career if they are not a fit. If you produce high-quality work, work well in a team, and love consulting, then you don’t have much to fear. And, because your peers are as ambitious and talented as you are, you will find some really great friends who are eerily similar to you and who provide you with a support network to succeed. While each firm (and even each office location) has a unique culture, and some may have more tendencies to live up to this legend than others, it is more fiction than fact.
5. Tell You the Time
A myth that you may face throughout your career is that consultants “Steal your watch and tell you the time”—meaning that consultants provide advice that some believe clients already know. This myth is the farthest from the truth.
Consultants solve some of the toughest questions for the biggest companies globally, questions that often clients cannot solve. (Why else would they hire us?) These are often questions for which no “watch” exists, so we have to put in countless hours to find the right data, analyze that data, and then turn it into something that can directly help the client. The amount of thinking, passion, and pure work effort can yield some pretty amazing results, and I am constantly amazed at the value my peers provide to their clients.
This article was originally published by Alex Nut, a Management Consultant at Accenture, on the American business platform Forbes.com. Nut has worked across a number of industries and functional areas helping clients solve some of their largest and most important challenges.