7 myths about consulting in a reality check

There are numerous myths in the consulting industry, some of which contain a kernel of truth. For example, consultants often work more than 40 hours per week, but usually have control over their project selection and experience fluctuations in workload depending on the project cycle. The dress code depends on the client and has loosened since the coronavirus pandemic, and although the project manager plays an important role, they act more as a coach than a micromanager. After all, the first project is not decisive for the entire career, the home office location is important for visibility and networking, and consultants do not necessarily have to be generalists, but can specialize in certain areas.

Myths about life as a consultant are now circulating on the Internet, among students and in society as a whole. From a very high workload within projects to the dress code, there are many myths. And although these stories are often embellished, they always contain a bit of truth.

Below are some of the most common myths I’ve personally been asked about to date, and my truth about what it’s really like to work as a consultant.

1. Die Arbeitszeiten sind weiter über dem Durchschnitt von 40 Stunden und unberechenbar

It depends. With this statement, of course, you have to look at who is being compared here. Yes – consulting sometimes involves more work than medium-sized companies or corporations. Nevertheless, the objectives and schedules of the consulting projects are usually calculated well in advance, so that a certain degree of predictability is possible. My experience is that you work more than 40 hours a week on average, but there are strong fluctuations depending on the project cycle and weekends are usually free.

2. Sie haben keine Kontrolle darüber, in welche Projekte Sie gesteckt werden

Wrong. One of the first conversations I had when I started consulting was with one of our partners about what kind of projects I would like to be involved in. The only two restrictions were that I was initially assigned to a project with more people (to acclimatize myself) and the projects were limited in number, as the company had to win them first (especially at the beginning of the corona pandemic, there was a certain amount of uncertainty among customers).

3. Der Dresscode ist sehr streng

Partly correct. The dress code depends very much on the customer. As a management consultant, you spend a significant part of the week on site with the client. Customer contact usually means that you should dress more formally. This situation has changed radically since the coronavirus pandemic and the corresponding reduction in customer appointments on site. Since April 2020, I have only been on site with customers occasionally, which naturally makes the dress code a little more flexible. Nevertheless, you should always be well dressed, even when working from home.

4. Sie sind der Gnade Ihres Projektleiters ausgeliefert

Partly wrong. Your project manager is more like a coach. The role of the project manager is usually less about micromanaging and more about ensuring that each consultant has an independent silo of work that they can complete to a high standard. The only exception is that the project manager is sometimes a bottleneck. Especially when you are waiting for your own work to be checked.

5. Ihr erstes Projekt bestimmt Ihre gesamte Zukunft

Wrong. Your first project will definitely build a reputation, but the beauty of consulting is that you will work with many different teams. Even if you don’t immediately find a superior with whom you really get on well, you will be given many more opportunities. There’s no one who works well with everyone, so don’t feel bad if your first project isn’t what you thought it would be – it’s not the end of the world.

6. Ihr Home-Office-Standort ist irrelevant

Conditional yes. During the coronavirus pandemic in particular, there have been more reports of workers moving from the city to the countryside because it offers a better quality of life at a lower price. This advantage is of course undeniable. Nevertheless, it is particularly important in consulting to be visible internally. You should network and show initiative. These opportunities often arise in the office. However, if your home office is now several hours away, the inhibition threshold and the effort to be visible on site is higher and you have to find other ways to be active (e.g. digital coffee).

7. Sie müssen Generalist sein

Wrong. It definitely depends on your personal preferences. If you know what you are specifically interested in before you enter the recruitment process, try to focus your attention and effort on the companies that focus on your desired area. Internally, there are also different areas in almost every consultancy that you can focus on. Here, too, you can communicate your preferences to your line manager. The latter will take these into account as far as possible.

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