Thursday, February 4, 2010

The importance of being selfish

As I recover from the rigours of the business school app process (no news yet, but I will update you once I know), I have begun putting together my thoughts on how the process has affected me. Its not finished yet, but in the meantime, find below some thoughts that recently coalesced while “mentoring” a junior colleague.

Talking to a colleague the other day, it struck me that one of they key things you need to learn in a consulting firm is that you need to be at least a little selfish to survive. As an incoming grad, its easy to kowtow to whatever everyone wants, especially when its partner doing the asking. “Need help with that? Sure, I am free”. Those words would escape my mouth all too frequently in my first couple of years. In the fullness of time however, I realized that no one was going to look after my time, or care about how many hours I worked, except me. So I started being a little selfish. If I was already working on something, and was asked to help out on something else, I was guarded in my reply, always checking I could fit it in without totally destroying my work life balance. Same was true on projects – I started out trying to work on everything, and now focus narrowly on my area.

I think the initial “everything to everyone” behaviour is common for consultants, perhaps as an artifact of how we are tossed, fresh from university, into a fast paced, high pressure work environment, and told that the only thing that matters is your work. The insecure overachiever type so common in consulting immediately interprets this as an order to do as much as possible, and hence the somewhat destructive work cycle of consulting begins.

If I have any advice for junior consultants, its this – think strategically about how much work you accept. Sometimes, for the good of your career, you have to accept doing work that takes you through the night and weekends (usually to build goodwill / relationships). Nine times out of ten, a politely worded “I am at capacity right now”, or “I am already doing two things for partner X”, will help you manage your workload. As I said above, no one is really looking out for your sanity except you – so keep an eye on it, and be selfish.


  1. Truer words have seldom been spoken

  2. Being selfish is right, but you also need to play it strategically ... there are times when you have to say "yes" whether you are working for three partners or not - not just to build goodwill but also being a team player ... having said that most of the time when i say "yes", i usually willingly do it for the team (except when i was shafted in canberra - your fav post)

    i agree though there not everyone is going to take care of you in the appraisal or have enough time for your business school essay (even if someone has promised it) ... so look after yourself is the right thing ...

  3. i am going to be shafted whether i am being selfish or not in this current project -- 4 weeks ultra high burned, no seniors covered, tough problem to solve ... perhaps i am not smart enough that's all

  4. I think the other strategy that works is to delay your response to an open question by the JM / Partner to get a job done. Just wait those crucial 2-3 seconds for the fresh-faced eager graduate to jump in and offer to do the task. Works like a charm.

    Plus, and this is definitely selfish, you don't want to discourage the grads from doing too much - often times the only thing that saves you from doing work is that someone else does it. It's not going to be the partner so it's either you or the grad.

  5. where is the next entry? You haven't updated this blog for a long time!

  6. Well said Re: young grads.
    I'm in that position myself, only it's my manager who throws work at me at a rate of knots. I was on the verge of handing in my notice when I decided to actually talk to my careers guide about it. I was told to just stick up for myself and so long as I wasn't rude, I'd be supported.
    I now don't take on any of that "extra" work, I keep overtime to a minimum and refuse to work weekends. I get the feeling this is going to be damaging to my oh so precious "networking" but I really don't care. Ah well.
    I'm very selfish about my free time. I'm glad that I'm not the only person out there thinking it. Cheers!

  7. apologies team - I will be back in business shortly. No real excuse except for writing burnout after B-school apps.

    Thanks for the comments

  8. That's very nice definition of selfish. Thanks for sharing. Keep it up.
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