Day in the life of a management consultant (client version)

Day in the life of a management consultant doing client work

*following is a quick excerpt of a “typical” day as a management/strategy consultant on a project with heavy client interaction*

From a recruiting perspective, you should take away the following:

  • The days are shorter than in investment banking (12-14 hr days average, with spikes up to 16 hrs for particularly busy periods)
  • While they’re shorter, there’s no real “downtime”. In investment banking, you may go hours, even half a day of waiting for this piece of data or that review from the associate/VP. In management consulting, you’re always working – you typically have one big project and many smaller tasks running in parallel
  • Projects like the one below, you live and breathe with the client team. This means lot of meetings, lots of “production” of memos/slides/etc, an opportunity to build meaningful professional relationships and often to “manage” client teams to help you get the job done
  • You work REALLY closely with your team. Expect to check-in with your manager at least once daily if not 4 or 5 times (for internships, its even higher), and since 80% of the time you work in one room with the entire team, you’re always “on-call” and constantly interacting with other team members and your manager
  • Now on to the day!

    Background – I am on a 4-member team (manager and 3 associates). We are staffed on an operations turnaround project with a focus on personnel (read: reward the best employees, train the average ones, and develop systems to remove or improve the underperformers). Client headquarters and main operations are located in the same city, a 4 hour flight from New York.

    7:30am – Hotel alarm wakes me, I automatically reach for the Blackberry. The Production team has emailed me with Powerpoint slides I sent them last night. Breathe sight of relief as this means I won’t have to spend 2 hours this morning before team meeting getting my client presentation slides ready.

    7:45am – as I’m getting ready, blackberry buzzes. Manager says he’ll be 15 minutes late this morning. The team usually meets in the hotel lobby to share a taxi to the client (client is particularly cost-conscious on this project). I contemplate going back to sleep, until I look at my work shirts. All are wrinkled, and v-neck sweaters are at the hotel dry cleaners. No extra sleep for me.

    8:15am – shirt is ironed, laptop bag is packed. Meet team in hotel lobby and we pile into the taxi for the client. In taxi, everyone is reading the WSJ or busily scrolling through their blackberries. Manager asks collectively if we’re ready for the client meeting at 2pm, I silently nod my head in agreement.

    8:45am – arrive at client headquarters. We spend most of our time in the client’s satellite office (the bulk of our project is focused there) but this, our monthly progress checkpoint, requires us to be at headquarters.

    9:30am - we’ve settled into our office for the day, a nondescript conference room on the 10th floor. Everyone’s a little nervous but also excited – the CEO’s secretary has just confirmed the CEO’s attendance at today’s meeting. I do a quick scan of my emails and open the attachment from the Production team. Thankfully most looks good – there are the usual typos, missing footnotes, and weird alignment issues to fix – but could have been much worse.

    10:30am - I’ve fixed all the minor issues with my part of the presentation, or “the deck”. Print out 4 copies to share with team as we aim to do a quick review at noon. I let the manager know.

    10:31am - I can now focus on cleaning out my enormous inbox piled up from the last few days of focusing on this presentation. It’s littered with: emails from ex-teammates asking me questions about work I had done on past projects; surveys and questionnaires sent by firm HR, recruiting, and various other groups (and boy are there a lot of these); random forwards from friends and other analysts

    12:00pm - team meeting starts. The main partner on our team is dialing-in (stuck in Toronto for a different client meeting). Minor confusion as we seem to be on the wrong dialcode. Turns out our team secretary has changed everyone to a new dialcode but partner was still using the old one. Problem fixed.

    12:30pm - the two other associates have finished running team through their slides and analyses. Only one tough question from partner so far. Manager has seen our material a thousand times so no surprises from him. It’s my turn to present. I carefully run them through the slides, making sure to highlight the “so-whats”, the really interesting anecdotes from the client that reinforce my conclusions, and leave time at end for questhe tions. There are none – partner has small nit on the source for a particular chart – I realize I left out the footnote. Dang.

    1pm - team meeting ends. Partner wraps up by mentioning that the senior client had some questions recently about scope being too narrow (ie, we’re not doing enough), and has scheduled a late afternoon call with the broader team (read: more partners) to hammer out this issue post-progress review. I twitch nervously in my chair wondering if this means workload will increase.

    1:30pm - we’re at team lunch, and have invited some of the client team from the satellite office. Through the last 8 weeks we’ve built strong working relationships with the 4 member client team – and through forced socializing have gotten to know them on a quasi-personal level as well. Chipotle burritos done, we head back to the office to prepare for the meeting.

    2pm – client meeting starts. I’m still mentally reviewing my slides – even though I’m not leading the presentation, I know I’ll be called on if anyone has questions about the data, the methodology, etc

    2:10pm - CEO enters room. Everyone’s attention is immediately focused on her. She smiles, shakes each of our hands – I briefly wonder if she’ll ask me how old I am as she shakes mine. But no – they’re too professional for that, even though it’s probably one of the first questions on her mind. Her VP (and our senior client lead) tells her that we’ve worked together very closely these last 2 months, and have a lot of interesting findings to share today. Everyone smiles nervously.

    2:45pm - manager is leading CEO through one of my slides. The CEO – who to this point has largely been silent – points at a graph and says, “wow, is this really the improvement you’ve been seeing? And were the initial performance numbers consistent across all employees?” Everyone rotates their heads toward me. My time to shine. I look down to make sure I’m seeing the same thing she does, and then quickly share facts and figures that by now I’m reciting in my sleep. (“Yes, this is the improvement – 300% over priors based on pilot with 10% of the workforce; No, initial performance numbers were not consistent across all employees but 80% fell with a plus/minus 5 point range”). Manager flashes a relieved smile and our attention once again returns to the CEO. She nods in silence.

    3pm - meeting over! CEO seems happy with our findings. Mentions to partner on phone (with whom she’s worked several times before) that once again, he found an excellent team, and she’d been hearing great things all along from senior client lead. CEO says she looks forward to seeing where we’ll be by project end (in 4 weeks time). Manager is beaming.

    3:15pm - after politely saying farewells, our team heads to our original team room for a post-meeting debrief. Upon dialing in, partner thanks all of us and mentions the scope issue discussion call at 4pm.

    4:00pm - scope issue discussion call with 3 partners and team begins. Manager spends next hour in increasing frustration as partners cannot agree on anything – how to address the scope issue, which client to address it with, what our recommendation should be. Finally, two of the partners have to drop off for another meeting. Finally, the lead partner (who we’ve been working closely with) stays behind on the call, and tells us that he’ll circle-back with the other 2 partners to try and reach consensus. He’ll circle-back with the manager to sort out the details. We return to our laptops.

    5:30pm - receive large email attachment from client team. It’s new employee performance data gathered from this quarter. They wanted to share the latest with me so it can reflect in the model we’ve built. I look through the data – it’s a mess. Quarter of employees are missing from the sheet, data is improperly formatted and different attributes are combined in one cell. This is going to take hours to clean-up with a variety of Excel functions. I resolve to work on it later tonight and tomorrow.

    6pm – manager packs up and suggests we go home early. It’s been a long but successful day – plus tomorrow, we have a busy schedule packed with client interviews (we’re trying to gather more qualitative insights to further reinforce the data findings).

    6:15pm – we all pile into a taxi back for the hotel. Two associates are on the phone with significant others. Manager is having a catch-up call with our partner. I put on my iPod, and plan out my night – which will include the gym, room service dinner, and several hours spent cleaning and incorporating the new data in time for tomorrow.

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    • http://None Luis R. Villegas H.

      Hello, Kevin Gao.

      There seems to be a minor mistake in the narration “Day in the life of a management consultant”:

      At 8:15 am, manager asks collectively if they are ready for the client meeting at 1 pm. But the client meeting was held at 2 pm, not 1 pm. So, either there was a change which was not mentioned in the narration or it is a little typing mistake.

      Best regards,

      Luis R. Villegas H.
      LVVL1000 (at) hotmail.com
      Mexico.

    • kgao

      Luis – thanks for the catch. It’s been fixed. Also – please think of this as more “indicative” as opposed to precise. I didn’t keep logs throughout my work days so this is a recall to the best of my abilities of a “typical” (if there is such a thing) day in the life.

      Appreciate your feedback and careful read! Take care.

    • http://None Luis R. Villegas H.

      Do not worry, Kevin. It’s an excellent job!

    • Tejas Deshmukh

      Hey Kevin,

      Good description of the day in life of a consultant.

      I enjoyed it. You have nicely highlighted all the feelings of a consultant.

      Thanks,
      Tejas

    • kgao

      Thanks Tejas. I hope your life isn’t much worse than the 6-7pm + a few hours of hotel work :)

    • ahembeea

      This is one of the most useful websites I have found so far. Though I wonder why I couldn’t get here earlier, I’m still in time as I’m about to head to a graduate school soon and visiting your website is going to be a daily exercise (and a healthy one I’m sure!) until I’m done reading with all your posts. Thanks! This is just the kind of site I had been searching for all along.

    • Kevin

      ahembeea,

      I really appreciate your comment. Don’t hesitate if you have any feedback or questions about posts and topics. Cheers.

    • Jana

      I had a sense of déjà vu when I read this. It was the story of my life as a BCG associate.

    • Kevin

      Jana, I’m glad we’re hitting on the right themes! Let me know if you’d be interested in guest-posting and/or being interviewed. Hope all is well – I assume you’re no longer with BCG.

    • Usha

      Great article! Describes exactly how it is to be a consultant. I wish I found this website earlier – very useful! About two years ago I was contemplating banking vs consulting, I ended up in consulting and quite happy with my decision!

    • Kevin

      Thanks Usha – if you don’t mind my asking, where are you working today? Please stay in touch.

    • Alejandro Carranza

      I really likied the article, but I actually have a couple of questions:

      What would be the expieriece and the age of this consultant. Does he has a MBA from a top program or he is a college grad?

      Also, how do the Consulting Firms see the MBA grad or the MSc grad, especifically in Management Science and Engineering?

      Thank you for your answers!

      Alejandro

    • Matt Kyker

      Kevin Gao,

      I’m 17 years old and am in the extensive/frustrating process of figuring out what I want to do with the rest of my life. I’m almost certain that business is the way to go for me. But I can’t really choose or get my head around exactly the career choice that would make me happy for the rest of my life.(I know I’m young and haven’t even started college or had any real experience to have a grasp on anything in the field but out of curiousity…) I can’t afford Ivy League schools for undergrad but will most likely go to The University of Tennessee(Knox.), a pretty good business school and play my cards at NYU for grad. Back on subject, what, if you don’t mind me asking, made you want to be a management consultant? Do you enjoy what you do? How is your family life? Do you recommend it to others?

    • http://TED Ted

      Kevin,
      If someone graduates with a Bachelor’s Degree in something other than business, what are their chances of even getting an interview with top firms? What about getting the job? What is the consensus among hiring management consultants…do they want a business undergraduate or are they looking more for talents, accomplishments (athletic, academic, etc.), how you work with others and past leadership positions? If the latter is acceptable, are there specific majors that are especially impressive (ie. statistics vs. facilities management, psychology vs. english, engineering vs. business finance)?

    • http://cornerstone.com Kevin Chen

      Fellow Kevin,

      Great summary – I apologize for being so nitpicky (you and I would call it being great with attention to detail), but I think you should finish describing the rest of your day in detail….number of hours you worked in the hotel, when you slept, etc. etc. That way we know exactly how much free time you had, and we can each individually decide how much to distribute between sleep and personal time. It might just seem a little deceiving leaving off the day at 6:15pm….

      Thanks!

    • http://cornerstone.com Kevin Chen

      Just to clarify, I guess I ask for more detail about that typical day because I work in economic consulting, and that is very similar to the typical day in economic consulting (I worked on a client site not too long ago), but I am sure that in my industry we work less hours than management consulting.

      To give a better picture about the typical life of the consultant, can you describe your week a little more? Weekend work happens quite often? Does it happen often that you can take work back to your hotel, or does it happen more often that you work until 11pm-midnight at the client site?

      Just asking b/c I definitely am considering management consulting in the future.

      Thanks!

    • Karthikeyan

      Kevin,

      Thanks for the intriguing insight. I am planning on to do my MBA, specializing in management consultant. Your post has increased my interest towards manag. consuting.

      Thanks
      Karthik

    • Abdi

      Hi Kevin,

      I’m an MBA student of the University of Manchester, UK. I was really passionate about being a strategic consultancy. However, recently I have found out that as a consultant, I will have a very hard life. Is it as harsh as it is said? Do you have any idea of the lives of the other specialization in MBA ?(i.e. enterpreneurs, general managers, investment bankers, energy sector, and so forth)

    • Guest

      Hahahaha, nice summary. It mirrored my life two months back. Very accurate description thanks. The funny thing, I thought this was so cool back in college. Now I’m tired of the travel.

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    • Erich1357

      I don’t want to sound lazy but… are the 12 hour days common at the analyst/junior level or are they just kind of standard in the industry?  I could see pulling these kinds of hours when I was still 23 and single, but now I’m 30 and my wife and I are considering having a family soon.  Are the 60 hour work weeks just something you have to accept about the consulting industry?

    • Confidential…

      Here is my life with one of the big 4 consulting firms…

      1. Start my day 7:30 am….read the newspaper/coffee
      2. 8:30 am leave for office – for 20 minutes on BB checking emails/other developments/phone calls….
      3. Reach office at 9am – login to phone service, check emails/respond, , look at what needs to get done today from the list made previous night, grab another cup of coffee
      4. 10 am – review with team on on-going projects ( usually leading two or three projects at the same time)
      5. 11 am – call up clients to provide them the updates on the engagement…
      6. 11:30 to 12 – do administrative tasks (expense reports, time sheets, check project costs, re-aligning time to team members, updating project timelines…
      12: check in with the director on upcoming pitches/proposals…we usually do 3 proposals a week.
      12:30 – find an approach/methodology for a pitch lets say ” market entry into hotel business”….either I work on it or assign a consultant or  a-con to help me with the proposal…
      1:00 lunch – 15 minutes , and then followed by coffee , yes 3rd cup…
      1:30 back on the desk for another project review of another on-going projects….which would last few hours…

      4:00pm – one of the client is coming in and there is a project update delivery due…review the presentation, analysis etc….get the admin folks to set-up snacks/tea etc.. also grab another cup of coffee = 4th cup

      7:00-pm – client leaves with expectation of all changes discussed to be delivered in the morning, for the next two hours work on the changes…

      9:00- pm – back to the proposal review which apparently needs to go out tonight since boss has decided to take the red eye flight to meet the potential client tomorrow morning…an hour of review.

      Between 7 and 9 , find time with the team members to get a snack from the office cafeteria…probably 15 minutes gone…

      10 pm- send the proposal out to the boss, send the presentation out to the client…
      10:15 to 10:30 – make a list of things to do for the next day and what needs to get done….
      10:30 pm – close shop and reach home at 11 pm…take a shower, eat dinner, 12 ish…
      12 am – check office emails for any last minutes messages/emergencies…
      12:30 am – off to bed…

      This is a normal day…on a average 12 hours/day and including weekends if the project deadlines are near

      Tough day is usually 16 to 18 hours day which happens at least once a week if some deliverable is due or team is trying to find solutions to client problem…

      In between all this we are suppose to call up potential leads for business as well…on-going BD work, calling up some old clients that you have done business with to see how is it going….

      There are also days/weeks when we are on the road…those get even worse – constant travel….
       

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    • Kristie

      Hello,

      I’m a first year undergraduate student and I’m really interested in becoming a management consultant. One thing that makes me hesitant, do you have any time for a family life with this career? 

      Thanks!

    • jennyrae

      Thanks for posting – in classic consulting lingo, it depends. If you view family life as dinner at 6 every night of the week, it’s unlikely – you’ll be on the road, working late (sometimes for long stretches), and you’ll put in an occasional weekend. You might even get called in from vacation – but it won’t be every vacation. At the end of the day, it depends on the firm, your seniority (you have more choices the higher up you are) and your career trajectory.

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    • Clint

      Fresh out of college and no industry experience. Maybe industry experience should be a prerequisite before becoming a consultant

    • mcguest

      Hello Kevin,
      I have 14 yrs experience, 12 yrs in IT, 2 yrs in prod marketing. Graduated with MBA in 2011 from Kellogg. How can I break into MC with this background ? what are my typical challenges ? Also can you pls. point me to any MC firms (boutique is fine) less insistent on travel as I cannot do a 100% travel each week.
      Would appreciate your comments and suggestions. Thanks in advance!

    • jennyrae

      Thanks for commenting! Maybe we should do a comparative post on different types of consultants and their standard days…

    • jennyrae

      Absolutely. It won’t be every week, but unfortunately you won’t necessarily know which weeks and, at least for the first few years at the firm, nights and weekends could be common. A 60-hour work week is the average. While some may be 40 and some 80, you won’t have any control over that.

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    • ddfdx

      I don’t see 12-14 hours here. It’s basically a slightly extended 9 to 5. Arrive at work at 8:45, leave at 6:15.

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    • kool

      Dude do you call this life, i mean what will you do with extra dollars in your pocket when you have not time to spend the same.

    • guest

      Big 4 consulting typically doesn’t qualify for management consulting, wrong website.

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