What’s It Like to Be a Consultant?

by   |  August 23, 2014

Deloitte LogoHave you ever wondered what it’s like to be a business consultant?   If you are considering business consulting as a career, you will appreciate the insights I gained from attending Deloitte’s Consulting Early Connections at Darden this August.

Deloitte graciously granted me permission to share my notes from the event in which they educated us eager young MBA students on what it’s like to be a consultant.


The stated purpose of the consulting early connections event, ergo the content of this article, is to “Learn what consultants actually do, how projects and project teams work, hypothesis-based consulting, storyboarding, and key core skills consultants use.”

Part I: Introduction to Consulting

What Is Consulting?

Consulting is a service industry in which its practitioners provide advice to those running a business.   Consultants may work individually on certain projects, but it is also common to be put in teams of varying sizes.   Assignments are often called “engagements”.

Why Companies Hire Consultants

  • Skills & knowledge outside of client’s competency
  • External objectivity when faced with tough choices
  • Project delivery support to augment productivity
  • Innovative perspective

How Consultants Add Value

  • Address most complex challenges
  • Develop executable strategies
  • Drive positive operational change
  • Transfer knowledge & skills
  • “We suggest you do this” à make proposals & suggestions
  • Give internal support for one side or another à help resolve disputes, encourage cohesion

In sum, consultants help clients decide what to do and how to do it.   Consulting teams seek to help businesses carry out these plans and continue achieving great outcomes.

There was much discussion on reading and writing industry white papers, which is a big part of the job.   A constant challenge as a consultant is to remain objective.   When contention arises it becomes especially crucial to negotiate among the relevant parties involved.

How to Establish Trust and Credibility

Consultants rarely (if ever) give their clients one single solution to a problem.   Very often they will explain several alternatives, presenting them as “Option 1, Option 2, Option 3,” and so forth.

The best way for a consultant to establish credibility is through the work he or she has done.   New consultants build their reputation through new engagements.   A consultant once told me, “No reputation is better than a bad one.”   How you handle each engagement determines who will want to work with you in the future.

Sometimes a client will want the same consultants for implementation as the company hired for the suggestion phase of an engagement.   In such cases, the consulting team recommends the client to make a quick decision.   Since consultants travel so frequently to new client engagements, it is unlikely for any given client to have the same team unless that client chooses to go straight into implementation after a suggestion.

Variety of Work Engagements

One appealing aspect of a career in consulting is the variety of work that one has to choose from.   Consultants work in many different industries and functions.   The chart below is my recreation of the types of consulting engagements Deloitte consultants perform.   You’ll notice I put starts on the areas that interest me most.

Consulting Chart

How Firms Pick Consultants

When selecting a consultant or consulting team for a new engagement, there are several attributes a firm considers:

  • Depth & breadth of capabilities
  • Number of consultants
  • Industries served
  • Ownership (public vs. private)
  • Leverage model (partner to staff ratio)
  • Local vs. national staffing model
  • Frequency / length of travel
  • Firm culture

What Consulting Firm is Best for You?

There are many things to think about when choosing which consulting firm is the best fit for you.   There is no easy answer to this, but Deloitte offered the following tips for MBA students:

  • Talk to other MBA students and professors, do online research, talk to your MBA Career Development Center, perform informational interviews ““ OBVIOUSLY!
  • Notice how companies talk about themselves. This indicates their culture and lifestyle
  • See what types of projects they highlight
  • Seek out training and mentorship programs for MBAs
  • Take note of what type of work you would do and the people you’d work with

Learn More about Consulting Careers

If you’d like to learn more about what consultants do, I have an upcoming post on the hypothesis-based consulting method.   Stay tuned for Part II . . .

More on: Business, Career Paths, Insights, MBA
About the Author:

Mimi West is a consummate entrepreneur, brand and marketing expert. This retired opera singer and Founder of My Dream Teacher is now pursuing her MBA at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business Administration. You can follower her on Twitter: @MimiGuynnWest.
Publshed: August 23, 2014  | 
You might also enjoy...
How Does Impact Investing Work? Insights from Darden's Impact Investing Conference
5 Survival Tips for MBA Moms and Families
What Keeps You Going? Insights from Darden's Global Conference