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.

Monday, January 11, 2010

A Brief Interlude

I hope you all had a great holiday season - I have been mired in B-school apps, and hence all my writing energy has been diverted away from the blog. Normal transmission will resume next week, but in the meantime, please enjoy the fruits of my MBA research - also a nice illustration of why I didn't pursue law :)