Day In The Life Of A Management Consultant (Client Version)

Following is a quick excerpt of a “typical” day in the life of 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, it’s 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 smartphone. 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, smartphone¬†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 smartphones. 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 questions. 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.

Think this could be or will be you soon? Want to knock it out of the park? Contact us to learn what it takes to excel. Learn about the skills you need to succeed and shine as well as tips and tricks to ace your first 3 months of your career as a management consultant.

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