Hey, what's up, everyone?! My name is Cameron Galbraith and I am a consultant living and working in New York City. I started my consulting career with KPMG Advisory back in July so I've been in the role for about three months now. I am in the financial services risk group and my team helps banks, fintechs, insurance companies, and investment advisors maintain regulatory and consumer compliance. I have learned a ton in the last three months, BUT there are certainly some things that I wish I knew before starting my career back in July. So, I wanted to write this article for those of you who are either considering going into a career in consulting or maybe you've already accepted a role and are just preparing for your upcoming start date.
Before we get into the article make sure to subscribe to my YouTube channel! I post two videos every single week and all of my videos are targeted toward helping you live your best life! So… with that being said let's get into what I wish I knew before I started my career in consulting.
1. Your engagements can be very long (6+ months)
The first thing I wish I knew before starting in July is that some engagements can be pretty long. Typically when people think of consulting they think every engagement is around six weeks and moves very quickly. While this certainly is the case for some engagements, this by no means is the industry standard.
Oftentimes the length of your engagement is dependent on the group or the industry that you're covering (financial services, healthcare, etc.). The engagement I'm currently working on started at the beginning of this year and it initially was supposed to end by the end of the year. BUT, it looks like it's going to be extended a few months into 2023. In the end, it really all comes down to what the nature of the engagement is and the scope of the work that your team is doing.
Some engagements are surface-level and only require so much in terms of time and resources, but others can require a full transformation, which obviously can take some time. Rome wasn't built in a day and therefore a company can't expect to have a full transformation in a matter of two weeks. Although the timeframe of engagements may be longer than is commonly expected, as a consultant you still get much more exposure to different companies and projects than an average industry professional, but just don't expect all this to come short-term.
2. The work you do will be extremely niche
The second thing I wish I knew is that your work can be extremely niche depending on the industry group that you are placed on. It's important to remember that a lot of the time when your firm gets hired it is because the client has already tried to resolve the issue internally- but failed. This means that the issues your team is hired to solve are typically highly complex and require some alternative thinking. The issues are never simple fixes because if they were the client probably would have already handled them by now instead of paying millions of dollars to have someone else do it for them.
This means that a lot of what you're doing wasn't necessarily taught in your business school classes. So much of what you do is simply working as part of a team and using frameworks to approach the problems in a systematic manner. This means that the work that you do can be pretty hard to explain to your friends and family when they ask what you do, and is also why there is an overall confusion in the world about what exactly consultants do.
3. Your hours won’t always be bad
The third thing is something I'm very fortunate to have learned and really wish I knew going into my career - and that is that the hours are not always super long, which provides for a good work-life balance. For context, my engagement has me billing 40 hours each week to the client. This means that my team's expectation of me is that I work 40 hours a week.
Fortunately, KPMG really does emphasize billing the hours that you work, even if it is above the set hours for that week. This is something I understand is pretty different at other firms. They may have you bill 40 hours, but realistically you worked sixty.
So far I'd say my work week is right around 40 hours, give or take a few hours depending on the week. This means that I'm able to have a pretty great work-life balance. I'm still able to have time after work in the evenings to pursue other things. This is absolutely huge for me as I obviously have my YouTube channel which takes up a good amount of time. I also spend about 1-2 hours every day studying for the GMAT. Additionally, I live in New York City and I want to take advantage of all the opportunities that are out there, which is pretty hard to do if you're stuck in the office all night.
I went into consulting thinking that I would be sacrificing my free time and that I'd be working non-stop- so I've been very pleasantly surprised to find that this hasn't been the case as of yet (knock on wood of course). But, similar to the length of your engagement, it does kind of all come down to the engagement and the team that you're on.
4. You are expected to add value and contribute from the get-go
The final thing I wish I knew before starting my career is that you really are expected to add value and contribute to your team right from the beginning. In full honesty, I went into my job thinking that I would be given a few months to kind of ease my way into the engagement and have some time before I was expected to contribute or have any real significant responsibilities. I knew the nature of consulting is that you are expected to learn a lot on the job and assumed you really can't be expected to know much starting your career coming in from undergrad.
While this is still true, the reality of the situation was far different. Yes, the first week or so after I was staffed was slow due to waiting for approvals, access and onboarding on the client side. But once that was done and I was given all the access that I needed I was really off to the races.
I was pretty fortunate (or unfortunate depending on how you look at it) to be the only associate on my team for the first two months of the project. This means that the people I was interacting with on a daily basis were seniors and knew their stuff a lot more than me. Because I was the only associate, I was given a lot of responsibilities and tasks that the seniors didn't really want to do but still had very significant impacts on the engagement. These tasks included taking meeting minutes for the client calls, creating and distributing meeting decks and materials, as well as a ton of internal team tasks that I simply can't even explain.
So, although I'm only three months in, I've already had a lot of client interaction and because of that, I've seen my communication skills improve drastically. I have to say that knowing that I'm adding value and actually contributing to the engagement makes me feel way more fulfilled than just being someone who happens to be on the calls and doesn't really do much. I'm in a completely different spot now than I expected myself to be when I first started. I really do have a lot of ownership on my engagement, and although this is my first job out of college and just five months ago I was still stressing about exams in college, I do feel that I am a full-on consultant and it's a great feeling.
So, those are four things that I wish I knew before starting my career in consulting. Were these things that you already knew, and I was just aloof? Even if you did know some of these things, I do hope that this article provided a bit more clarity as to the expectations that you can have for the first few months of your career in consulting. As always if you have any questions at all you can reach out to me on Instagram or LinkedIn, I'd love to help you out. Also, I have to plug the Morning Brew- the best daily business newsletter. I've read it every day for the last four years and it has helped me so much in my career. Finally, with all this being said I'll talk to y’all in the next post!