Thursday, March 26, 2009

So now you think you know what you are doing ..

So, onto the next level – Senior Consultant (SC). In some ways, this one of the better places to be in a consulting firm. For your tenure, the pay is pretty good, the responsibility is nowhere near as much as higher levels, and you have been around long enough that you have a real identity with the firm. This last is more important than you might think – having a reputation at a professional services firm is crucial if you want to progress. By rep I don’t mean “check out Joe Blogs, he is a real ladies man”, but instead “Joe Blogs is the go to guy for customer segmentation models”. Yes, its not as cool, but it is how you get staffed on good projects, and where you are staffed is an important determinant of how well you do. Many a good worker has been screwed because they got staffed on a series of projects that didn’t let them “tick the boxes”.

Anyway, as an SC, you will almost immediately see a difference in the way seniors treat you. Even though the management model is pretty light touch even for newly minted consultants, it becomes even more so for SCs. You have been around for a few years, so people will start to only give you vague directions, and leave it to you to make some consulting magic happen. Hopefully you know enough to get things done – if not learn fast! Depending on the size of the team, you will be leading workstreams, or at the very least sizeable chunks of independent work.

Your soft skills will also need to be used quite often – even more than as a consultant, you will have your own clients to look after, either managing them or as direct relationships. Just as it is for anyone senior, you have to keep them happy. One technique I have found useful is to try and help them with something non project related that you have expertise in – I often find helping them out with Excel related issues is a great way to build credibility and trust.

Of course, keeping the client happy is the minimum requirement – you also need to make life easy for the engagement manager, and live up to the high standards set at a consulting firm. The rule is, always know the background to everything you do – be able to answer all the questions, even if the number that is being queried comes from the client. I don’t know is the absolute worst thing you can say. Also, make sure you raise issues quickly and transparently. Asking for help sourcing some benchmarks two weeks before a steering committee is much much better than not having them the day before.

Once you are an SC for a little while, its time to start thinking about business school. I will be a writing a post on why I want to go to business school (and where) in the near future, but for the SC job description, lets just say that it is an almost expected part of your career progression. You go away as an SC, and magically come back as an Associate. Therefore, you should be thinking about the process, what you need to do, and whether or not you want to go. 

Next post in this series will be on Associates. 

Monday, March 16, 2009

Fresh Meat

So I have just rolled off a lightning engagement of 3 weeks – fair bit of work, but the client was happy, my job manager was happy, and when the partners paid attention, they were happy. It got me thinking as to how the consulting role differs between levels – how is a grad’s job different from a case manager?, and so on throughout the levels. So here it is, the Consultant Insider’s guide to consulting levels. I will separate them into different posts as it might get a bit long.

For the purposes of this outline, I will use the following terminology – its not common across firms, so I have constructed an amalgam. Consultant will refer to wet behind the ears undergraduate hires. Senior Consultants are the promoted version of these – usually two years in. For MBA hires, or promoted SCs, I am going to use the term Associate. After this, the next stop is Engagement Manager, Principal then Partner. Ok – onto what they actually do. 


As mentioned above, this bright eyed individual will come in straight from an undergrad degree. After a rigourous screening process (it really is – I participated in one last night – but more on that in another post), these kids are typically very smart, highly motivated, and after having gone through the interview process, actually have a decent personality – the really nerdy back room types get knocked back in an interview.

So what do we get these eager beavers to do? Well, when staffed, the ultimate first job a consultant does is baselining. This is essentially simple excel data cleansing and modeling, to give the rest of the team a good data source from which to prove and disprove their hypotheses. This is a relatively thankless job. You will be blamed for every error in the client’s data, team mates will bother you for updates before you are ready, and then blame you when the interim versions change. Stick with it though – a good baseline is an absolute necessity on most consulting projects. It also gives you a good appreciation for the basics of excel and possibly excel’s most important function – Pivot Tables. For an explanation – see this post by the Consultant Ninja.

That isn’t the only thing we ask newbies to do of course. New consultants start the long road to death by PowerPoint by getting successively larger sections of decks to create. When you start, we won’t ask to write many ages by yourself, but you have to learn fast. Interviews with competitors or client staff are another popular task – we might get you to come along to take notes, or more likely conduct them yourself. There may be more advanced modeling too, but I will expand on that in my Senior Consultant post.

Ultimately however, your job as a consultant is twofold – make your job manager’s life easy (give him or her some leverage), and when the odd senior person deigns to notice you, speak up and get noticed. New consultants have to be on senior peoples’ radars, else staffing becomes difficult.

Does anyone have any other thoughts on the job of a newly minted grad consultant?

I will post later on SCs.

Innovative Presentation Tool

Not strictly consulting related, but I came across this very cool site - Wordle . It takes any text or blog link you want, and converts in into a picture, with the most frequently words appearing as the largest. Its a pretty interesting idea, and has the potential to be quite useful - if for nothing else than for highlighting consulting buzz words. Here is the Consulting Insider blog to date using Wordle - Picture.

Enjoy - its fun to play with

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Project Schedules ...

So it turns out I shouldn't have started a blog while on the beach. I had forgotten in three short weeks how demanding a case can be. I am in the beautiful city of Melbourne, and all I have seen is my hotel room, the client, the office and the 10m walk between the hotel and the office. Bad habits, but on a short (2 1/2 week) project when its 2 partners, 1 part time case manager and the lowly grunt (thats me), work takes priority. I have been having some good thoughts on hierarchy and managing upwards - will share with you all soon.