Pros and Cons of Consulting: Is It a Good Fit for You?

Pros and Cons of Consulting
Liz Kenny

Liz Kenny

Former McKinsey Consultant

Are you ready to dive headfirst into the dynamic world of consulting, where every day has new challenges and opportunities? Or are you hesitant, wondering if the constant travel and endless deadlines will turn your life into a whirlwind of spreadsheets and airports?

It’s important to understand the pros and cons of consulting before committing to this career.

In this article, we’ll discuss:

  • Pros and cons of management consulting on your working life, your lifestyle, and your post-consulting life
  • Candid stories from former consultants about their personal pros and cons of consulting

Let’s get started!

Working Life: What Your Day-to-Day Job Looks Like

Pro: Work On Interesting Business Problems

If you pursue consulting, you will most likely experience some awe that you get to work with a big-name client on a problem they can’t solve on their own. Most projects start off as unsolved mysteries. You and your team will work tirelessly to discover unknown insights, and craft recommendations that will impress your clients. Everyone will learn a lot and have the chance to share new insights with their team and the client. 

Insights from a Former Consultant: My biggest mistake was that when choosing my next project, I always prioritized the most interesting problems. Boy, did I learn a lot! 

I never worked on the same kind of project twice, and often, the projects were in specialties the firm had not worked in before. Because the firm and I were constantly in new territory, this took a lot out of me. I survived many late nights and last-minute presentation updates, more than I would have if I’d picked more straightforward projects. I learned that no matter the project, you will learn a lot, so there is no need to prioritize the most ‘flashy’ projects.

Team Working On an Interesting Project-Pros and Cons of Consulting

Pro: Work with Smart, Impressive People

You will encounter consultants with incredible and varied backgrounds. Everyone you meet will have done something fascinating to stand out–whether working for the Peace Corps before studying geopolitics at a prestigious university or dazzling everyone with how quickly they can do fast math or respond to tricky client push-back. 

Insights from a Former Consultant: I rarely worked with the same people more than once. I would have liked to develop deeper relationships with great colleagues.

Con: Easy to Feel Imposter Syndrome

You’ll be learning new things and surrounded by people who know what they’re doing. You may feel like you can’t cut it in consulting. It’s important to realize that there will be a steep learning curve in your first few months AND the first few weeks of every new project. 

Remember: everyone was in your shoes. The best senior consultants and partners will see what you’re struggling with and find a way to help you. Try to find a good mentor, such as a former manager or another consultant a few years more senior than you.

Feeling Imposter Syndrome-Pros and Cons of Consulting

Pro: Receive Great Training in Problem-Solving & Business Leadership

Every consulting firm says the training is great. And it’s true! You’ll be coached in time-tested methods to develop impressive solutions for your clients. You will also get regular feedback to help you improve both hard and soft skills. 

Once you’ve absorbed the mindset and key frameworks of a consultant, you will actually think differently. Some days, you may be able to read your manager’s mind! Everyone at your firm will be taught to solve problems using the same approaches. The final answers and insights may vary, but the team will work similarly. This makes the whole project (and you!) more effective and efficient. 

Insights from a Former Consultant: You will also get exposure to great leaders to see how they think. I once worked for a billionaire, and I was mesmerized by every idea he had and comments he made. Leaders view the world in a specific way. Soak it all up!

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Con: Deliver Under Tight Deadlines

A consulting hour is more productive than any other kind of hour. A consulting hour is jammed with so much work and so many different kinds of work that you will think your manager is joking when they tell you they want to see a draft slide by 2 PM. 

Your manager may seem demanding, but your deadline is just one tiny milestone in the slide deck delivery timeline. There will be rounds of feedback with you, the partners, and then clients. They will push you with aggressive deadlines to get into the groove with the team’s schedule.

Con: Work Daily Under Lots of Pressure

Consultants are often working on high-visibility projects with final presentations to C-suite executives. In nearly all client situations, the team needs to prove their worth. 

Sometimes, there’s just a general sense that the team costs a lot of money or there’s a lot riding on this project for the client. Other times, a client may be VERY unhappy with your firm, your partner, or just the fact that they have to pay anyone at all to solve this problem. Under those situations, there will be pressure to deliver above and beyond for the client. 

Even as a junior team member, you’re expected to bring something insightful to team discussions multiple times a week. And when you think you’ve completed your work, there will be a push to dive deeper or a tricky follow-up question to answer.

Woman Working Under Pressure-Pros and Cons of Consulting

Pro: Influence Major Change

If your team’s recommendations get approved, you’ll have been part of big changes at a company, ideally for the better.

Con: Can’t See the Impact of Your Work

Most likely, you will not be around to see your recommendations come to life, and you may never know if it was valuable to your client.

Lifestyle: Your Personal Life Outside of Consulting

Con: Work Long Hours

There may be several client meetings during the day that you may join or need to prep other consultants for, and then you’ll be able to crank out some real work in the evening. On most weeknights, your manager will load you up with a few hours of work after dinner.

Con: Less Predictability in Your Time

As a consultant, you are expected to deliver for clients. And that means being available whenever a client, the partner, or your manager needs you. It can be hard to make personal plans because you never know when you’re going to be asked to do something on short notice.

Insights from a Former Consultant: Many firms instill a culture of transparency and boundaries, within reason. For example, if you have an important doctor’s appointment, flag it to your manager as early as possible so that you can work around it. It is up to you to manage your client responsibilities and key personal plans. However, it is true that more casual plans, such as dinner with friends on a weeknight, are hard to plan.

Weighing Pros and Cons of Consulting Before Making a Decision

Con: Potential Risk of Burnout

Not every consultant will experience isolation and burnout, but I did! I only figured it out after I left consulting when my friends and family said I had disappeared. 

As a consultant, work becomes most of your day, and that’s not sustainable for most people. The pressure to be a high performer makes you feel like you have to work all the time to deliver the best to your clients. Setting solid boundaries is a good start to taking care of yourself while working this stressful job. 

Insights from a Former Consultant: Your weekdays are more tiring than the average job because of the high pressure and number of hours. I found I needed more time to recharge alone on Friday nights and weekends, which meant I wasn’t spending as much time with social plans. And my work week often started again on Sunday evening.

Pro: Enjoy Travel Perks

Depending on the project, you may travel a lot. Be sure to know the best rewards programs to earn points on consulting expenses.

Insights from a Former Consultant: Using my rewards from consulting travel, I was able to fund ritzy trips to Hawaii and Puerto Rico, and a few others.

New Opportunities for Ex-Conslutant - Pros and Cons of Consulting

Post-Consulting: Pros and Cons of Consulting Once You Leave

Pro: Consulting Opens A Lot of Doors

Having a top consulting company on your resume can open the door to more opportunities, especially if the hiring manager is a former consultant or knows the value of your experience. 

Insights from a Former Consultant: A mentor shared that he spent 2 years in consulting over a decade ago. However, every time he’s introduced at a speaking event, they proudly share that he is a former consultant, and current consultants from the firm approach him to connect.

Pro: Easily Build Credibility In (Most) New Situations

You will find that a lot of people have respect for consultants. They may seek you out to get advice because you bring such a different perspective.

Many business leaders want to know what a consultant thinks about their business and the challenges they are facing. They also have confidence that you will deliver high-quality work.

Easily Building Credibility-Pros and Cons of Consulting

Con: Keep Your Background Quiet In The Tech World

I had an engagement with a technology firm, and my client asked me not to share that I had worked in consulting. It was a first! Their firm had a distasteful view of consultants as too old school, too rigid, and not able to keep up with the firm’s agile approach to business.

That said, I was extended multiple times with this client, and they really valued my approach to problem-solving and executive storytelling, which I learned in consulting!

Con: Lower Pay in Industry Compared to Consulting

Consultants are paid well compared to jobs in the industry with similar years of experience. You may experience a decline in your disposable income once you leave consulting. However, you likely will get more time back in your personal life.

Summary of the Pros & Cons of Consulting

For me, consulting has been good in spurts. I’ve continued to consult over the years since I left McKinsey, and I still enjoy the thrill of an effective framework.

However, I take time in between projects to work on creative projects and travel. So consulting doesn’t have to be all or nothing–you can make your own path based on what works for you!As a bonus, here’s a summary of the pros and cons of consulting:

summary of the pros and cons of consulting

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In this article, we’ve covered:

  • The pros and cons of management consulting
  • How consulting impacts your personal life
  • The benefits consulting experience can have on the rest of your career

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