Who is a management consulting career for?

24 September 2014

Starting as a management consultant is like trying a new sport for the first time: muscles you didn’t know about get sore. From there, they get stronger and stronger and ultimately prove to be extremely useful.

I spent four years with McKinsey in Boston. During my time there, I experienced a deep transformation of my skill-set and observed similar transformations among my junior colleagues.

I became much better at communicating, persuading clients, approaching business situations confidently and organizing my work. I got used to tackling complex problems, being comfortable with partial information, developing early hypotheses and finding the quickest path to a resolution. I learned how to run a meeting, tell a story, and make a powerful argument. I had to work with sometimes difficult clients and to understand how to read people, diffuse hostility and get things done. And obviously I learned how to be really productive because I always had a lot on my plate!

I left McKinsey to start InnerSquare, a firm that specializes in placing experienced professionals with top tier management consultancies. This is my second entrepreneurial experience. I still have a lot to learn, but I feel much better equipped and more confident I’ll succeed this time around. I owe this confidence and ability entirely to the skills I developed as a management consultant.

I recommend consulting to any business-minded young professional who believes he or she still has a few muscles to stretch.

That said, management consulting has the reputation of being a very demanding career, and many potential candidates wonder if they have the personality to succeed and enjoy the work.

I have a view on this question. At McKinsey I was involved in recruiting and temporarily played the role of Professional Development Manager for the Boston Office. As such, I participated in performance discussions and “Up or Out” decisions.

I saw people with very different personalities become successful consultants. Some extrovert, and some introvert. Some detail-oriented, others focused on the big picture. Some neatly organized, others with a more chaotic style who somehow  miraculously always fell on their feet!

However I have noticed that most consultants tend to be rational individuals who don’t let politics get in the way of the right answer. They are well-rounded professionals with strong problem solving and interpersonal abilities. They also set a high bar for themselves in everything they do and have a passion for self-improvement.

Finally, the consultants who most enjoy the work tend to be those with boundless energy who are obsessed by solving the problems they face. You know that sparky child who can’t stay in one place for more than 3 minutes, never wants to go to bed, always asks “why?” and has an opinion about everything – well, she has a great career ahead of her.