Don't Believe the FOMO: Despite the Hype, Consulting is NOT the Career for Everyone

By James Boyers, LBS Class of 2019 Booth Exchange Student

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If you kept a keen eye on the Winter Garden over the past month, you would have noticed the hordes of students, in various stages of anxiety, relief and disappointment during the latest round of consulting recruiting. For some, now is a time of elation, secure in their connections with firms. For others, the lunch and coffee chats, corporate conversations, boxed lunch-n-learns have so far failed to yield a gig. For anyone in the latter bracket, this is for you. While consulting can be a great career if you want to work hard, learn fast, and experience what lies beyond the door of the Admirals lounge (lukewarm food and middling wine, IMO), consulting is not for everyone. Here’s some thoughts on why you might want to look elsewhere.  

1. You value agency over advising

The consultant is an advisor, not an actor. The role of a consultant is to diagnose a problem presented by the client, identify options, test those options and recommend a course of action. Delivering those recommendations is the responsibility of the client. A consultant may be incentivized if the client does realizes improvements from the recommendations, but it remains the responsibility of the client to see them through. If you are someone who wants to have immediate accountability for growing a team, an idea, a product, or a firm, then consulting may not be for you.  

2. You value a work life balance  

The consultant has limited control over his or her life. The industry is beholden to client demands, but at least post-MBA, new consultants are beholden to an ambitious director’s demands. It is not uncommon to be told on a Friday that you need to be on the other side of the country on Monday, and you need to be there each week for the next three months. This can have grave impacts for relationships and interests outside of work. Even on a home project, it can be challenging to maintain more than a few close relationships, as weekends become about catching up on sleep and dealing with a persistently large laundry pile. If you have significant people in your life who you like coming home to each night, or even a outdoor exercise regime you enjoy (it’s hard to take a bike in carry on) then consulting may not be for you.

3. You want to do your own thing

The consultant works with large corporates. Often, with large corporates who are facing significant problems. In this way, the consultant learns an enormous amount about what not to do in business rather than what to do. If you have an ambition to start your own business, there may not be much you can learn in consulting that will help you when or if you do strike out on your own. The architecture to support your own endeavors at Booth is more robust than the support or learning you would get in a consulting firm. If you want to do your own thing, get out there and do it. Consulting is not for you.