Is consulting a good career choice for me?

Too many career change aspirants think management consulting is a good career option after completing their MBA. And that’s what they write in their MBA application essays without trying to learn more about what it means to be a consultant. Not many ask themselves, “Is consulting really a good career option for me?”

Sudershan ‘Suds’ Tirumala (Regional Director, Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth) lifts the veil from one of the most misunderstood (and abused) career goals in MBA essays.
 


Is consulting really the right career option for you?

Top 10 MBA Admissions Officer - SudsNow, you’ve had an opportunity to evaluate the MBA plan, and figured out the business schools where you are a good fit, and more importantly, schools that are a good fit for you! Now you’re wondering about those bewildering essays that need to be written.

The thought “Why does the Admissions Committee have to make my already complicated life so difficult by asking me to come up with answers to these essays?” has likely flashed through your neurons every time you opened a new application.

Of course, being genuine is one of the most important things an applicant can do, while writing the essays. Applicants will be better served to state things as they are because if they make up stuff, they will stand exposed at the end of the process, which is definitely not going to get you where you want to go.

Even so, when Indian applicants are tackling the question on career plans in the short- and the long-term, there’s one career path that rears its head more often than not and that’s Management Consulting. As one can imagine, this is probably the most beaten-to-death career option that is bandied around by Indian applicants by far. They all talk about the same thing – get into consulting with MBB (this acronym is now as much part of business folklore as BRICS is, I guess).

Nota Bene: The following is as told by applicants. In so many words, it all can be summed up thus:

“I want to use the MBA as an opportunity to get into Management Consulting.”

“As a consultant, I will get to work on projects in various industries.”

“During my work on all these projects, I’ll learn structured thinking and frameworks.”

“By virtue of working on so many problems and in so many industries, I’ll know which industry I’ll fit in better.”

“I’ll use this insight and leverage my contacts to enter the industry that speaks to me. And then it’s all hunky dory.”

Indeed, there are those select few who actually mean what they say, and there are those fewer people who actually see themselves as consultants for the rest of their career. Still, how many of the candidates do you think actually give the above answers out of a passion for consulting? Or any other career path for that matter? Seriously. Think about it and come up with an answer in your own mind. Do you fall in that category?

For those that gave the above perfunctory response as sort of a text book answer, nothing overtly wrong with that either, since MBA, is after all, seen as a silver bullet, that shot-in-the-arm you need, to catapult you in your career.

But isn’t the point of going to a business school to actually figure out what that thing is, that interests you? The path you want to carve for yourself – the road you want to traverse that’s as unique as you – and use the two years in business school as the singular opportunity to propel you in that direction? That process of introspection had started when you were wondering about those essays that made you want to tear your hair out – those responses you so begrudgingly wrote during the application process.

For instance, candidates tend to view consulting as the fixer of all ills in companies of all shapes and sizes, the opportunity to hobnob with the executive leadership of a company, and the ticket to fly anywhere in the world for a three-day weekend after working super-hard for the first four days of the week.

How about the other side of the coin where you maybe churning out presentations without too much airtime with clients,and not getting the opportunity to spend time with family due to constant travel and thus putting an additional layer of stress on an already stressed out life?

Not just consulting. There’s always a flipside to any career path you take up. The question is have you taken the time to analyze the pros and cons and have you come to an honest conclusion about what is that career path that speaks to you the most?

For a moment, imagine you’re now an MBA grad who went to business school a couple of years back. Do you think your time in business school was well spent if you are in a situation where you’d be asking yourself the following questions today?

“I wish I had taken a lot more time during the MBA to think about things that really matter to me.”

“I would have been in a better position had I done what I’m truly passionate about, right after business school.”

“I should have talked to a lot of alumni and asked what, if anything, they would do if they had to relive their MBA experience.”

Well, my take is, applicants owe it to themselves to do a tremendous amount of introspection in any case, to write the essays. And then, not take short-cuts during the essay writing process based on your preconceived notions about any career path. Think about those inviolable aspects of your life you’re not going to compromise on. Think about what sort of work-life balance you want for yourself. Do an honest job of figuring out what it is that makes you tick.

Once you figure it out, hang on to it with dear life. That’s the “What I love” part. MBA is a degree that will enable you to get to the destination you’re seeking, so don’t worry too much about the logistics and the process of getting there – if you’re passionate about something, you’ll figure out a way to get there no matter where you are.

If that “something” is consulting, that’s fantastic. If that “something” is investment banking, all power to you. If that “something” is technology, you’ve thought it through. If that “something” is entrepreneurship, go full steam ahead. If that “something” is something else, figure that out now.

At least, you’ve given yourself the opportunity to think things through and commit yourself to becoming mentally ready to face for whatever it is, that any given career path is likely to throw at you. And now that you’ve made that decision, get going without further ado and make it big in that dream career you’ve identified.

Know that as you start the journey to live your dreams, your classmates, the faculty, the staff, the administrators, and the school’s alumni are rooting for you to succeed! What’s not to like about that?

Read these other articles written by Suds.


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Sudershan Tirumala //
Sudershan Tirumala

Suds’ association with the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth (an Ivy League university) as Regional Director has given him rich & unique insights about international & Indian applicants that very few admissions officers have. In an exclusive series for MBA Crystal Ball, he writes on a wide range of topics from MBA admissions to careers.

22 Comments

  1. Ambar says:

    How difficult it is for someone with 10 years of work ex to switch into consulting post MBA ?

    • Suds says:

      Hi Ambar,

      Thanks for the question. There are many who have been able to get into consulting – whether they were 2 years out of college or 10+ years out of college prior to starting their MBA.

      The question is not so much about what you’ve done and for how long prior to the MBA – obviously, that’s of good quality and you’ve shown good results that you can proudly showcase.

      It’s also about perseverance and how well you’re able to network with the companies. And it’s always a huge boost if you’re able to get admitted to a school where consulting companies come for recruiting. That way, opportunities for networking, help with preparation for interviews, etc. are laid out on a platter – half the battle has been fought for you already and you’re not left fending for yourself to try and get face time with the recruiters from consulting firms.

      Once you’re in front of the recruiter in an interview, it all boils down to how you’re able to tackle cases, how you’re able to demonstrate thinking in a structured manner, analytical thinking, thinking out-of-the-box, ability to ask the right questions, and synthesize the information given. At that point, you have as good a chance as anyone else to crack the interview process and get that coveted internship. Once you have the internship and you do a good job, you’re likely to come out of the internship with a full-time offer.

      The point of my post is to make people think before they jump into any career – so think hard and think critically. And if you still believe it’s the right thing for you, go all in.

      Hope that helps.

      Best,
      Suds.

  2. Ankit says:

    Hi, thanks for the wonderful article. I’ll be completing my graduation next year in business studies and want to join a management consulting firm. Could you please suggest names of a few firms that provide freshers with a good learning experience and what kind of graduate training programmes do they have? Thanks in advance.

    • Suds says:

      Ankit,

      Thanks for your comment and question. While this is not a forum to give career-related advice, I’m assuming you’re finishing up undergrad since you used the phrase “fresher.” I also assume you’re based in India. The Big Four (Deloitte, KPMG, E&Y, PwC) will give you an insight into consulting not only from a finance/accounting point-of-view but also broader outlook of operations, public sector, private sector, etc. Parthenon for education, IBM for technology, and of course, the big boys McKinsey, Bain, BCG for strategy and management consulting. They all have good training programs to teach you their frameworks and approach to problem solving.

      Hope that helps.

      Best,
      Suds.

  3. Ambar says:

    Thanks a lot Suds…Really helps where the dilemma is because of other factors wherein they play a role on your mind and make you think otherwise. This helps in getting clarity.

  4. Richard says:

    Thanks a lot for the wonderful article….I’m a mechanical engineer from India and hoping to land a management role in an engineering or energy company. What do you think should be my aim? Should I go for an mba right after my engineering program or should I gain work experience first? And which b-school in India is best suited for my goal? Thanks in advance….

    • Suds says:

      Hi Richard,

      Thanks for your comment. I honestly think the maximization of learning in an MBA only comes if you have prior work experience. That’s when you’re able to fully appreciate the concepts being taught in a class because you’re able to hark back to your experience and understand how you could have dealt with a situation better, etc.

      MBA isn’t only about running spreadsheets and developing strategies in isolation but working with people and making bigger and better things happen for everyone. Prior experience plus the MBA will help you be a better manager in every way.

      I find many Indians going for an MBA right after college just to get it done and not have to study ever again, which is a strategic mistake in my view. In fact, I’ve met with so many applicants who have back-to-back bachelor’s degree and MBA, and now want to do a second MBA a few years down the lane because they realize they didn’t gain much from the first MBA they did right after undergrad.

      Guess what? Many global schools don’t accept applicants who are looking to do a second MBA, so that’s another deterrent to getting that MBA in a huge hurry just to check the box, so to speak.

      As for your second question on which school is best for you, I’d point you to my earlier article on “fit” (the link to the “fit” blog is in the very first paragraph of this post) and let you figure out where you should pursue the MBA from. Hope that helps.

      Best,
      Suds.

  5. srinivas says:

    Before my query i would just like to brief you about me:

    I have been working with a startup company….. its basically a brand & strategy management consultant
    &
    My qualification is B.tech(IT) & MBA(Operations & Retail)
    ………
    i am calculative in making decision so i thought analytics & consulting is where i should step into & joined the company with a scope of learning new things about management consulting aspect but here i see a different circus all together i see no tools or technology been used to make decisions…..

    My Query is :
    1.Is there any such tools & Techniques where company could make decisions…. If So what are they…..(let me tell you after talking to one of my friend they recommended me to join for R Analytics course & VBA Course to which they added saying these tools helps management take decisions on aspects like predictive annual budgeting for advertisements,Forecasting sales )

    2.Was that am i wrong in selecting career under management consultant thinking that There would be certain tools to learn & explore

    Please Help with this query….

    • Suds says:

      Srinivas,

      Thanks for your note. Your’s is probably the most unique question I’ve seen on my posts regarding MBA admissions. I’m not sure if I’m fully equipped to answer your question, but will try my best.

      I’m of the opinion that tools and software go only so far in helping make a decision. At some point, the human intellect needs to take over and make sense of the data and extract information and come up with actionable items.

      I’m a fan of Excel for slicing and dicing data. Crystal Ball (not to be confused with MBA Crystal Ball!) is an excellent statistical analysis tool that plugs into Excel, lets you play with enormous amounts of data and draw meaningful conclusions. SAS is another industry-leading product that helps you extract business intelligence and allows you to use data analytics to influence strategy, etc. All said and done, it boils down to how the user interprets the data and identifies outcomes and next steps.

      I don’t think you’re wrong in doing whatever you’re doing, but you probably are under the wrong impression that you’re doing management consulting (based on your description, I don’t think you are). And it also seems you’re giving way too much importance to tools and expecting them to do your work for you. You likely need to recalibrate at your end, your goals, expectations, and if what you’re doing is not what you want to do, then figure out how you can get from where you are to where you want to be.

      Hope that helps.

      Best,
      Suds.

  6. Shayan Sarkar says:

    What does a person studying in a non–target MBA school have to do to get into the top consulting firms?From where do I start?I’m an engineering graduate with no work experience.

  7. Suds says:

    Hi Shayan,

    Thanks for your comment. Not sure what you mean by non-target MBA school – as in schools that are not a target for consulting firms? Before I give you my opinion, I urge you to do all the introspection necessary to figure out the career that speaks to you the most.

    It seems like you just graduated from engineering, so there’s plenty of time to get a few years of work experience under your belt and come to a conclusion on the possible career path. If consulting is the answer you hone in on, perfectly fine. But encouraging the readers to think about career options seriously is the whole point of this blog. Now to my opinion.

    I don’t think you should worry about target or non-target schools. This is something that’s more in the minds of applicants and not so much on part of the consulting companies. Sure, some schools have a larger number of alumni in consulting firms and some have smaller numbers. But the amount of work an aspirant has to do, to get into a consulting role isn’t in any way diminished and is not a function of the school one is studying in.

    You still have to network a lot, make a good impression through interactions, demonstrate mastery over solving cases, outline your approach in a concise and compelling manner and so on and so forth. So target school or not, consulting or not, specialization or not, your task is cut out. The good thing is you have time on your side.

    All the best!
    Suds.

  8. DP says:

    Hi,
    A beautifully written article. Thanks.
    I am a 28 year old surgeon with an MBBS and a post graduate degree with overall 5 years of clinical work experience. I have my Undergraduate degree from a premier med school in India with decent acads and horribly very minimal extra curriculars (I am a medical geek i guess) I have been recently pretty disenchanted with clinical practice and it is lacking the intellectual stimulation which it ought to have. Though I admit I do not have any business or management experience whatsoever, I have been getting more and more inclined toward a career switch into management consulting with focus on healthcare domain. Googling about this, I did find many doctors especially in the USA and UK who sucessfully made the switch. Looking through Mckinsey site, I found the firm actively recruits MD (doctor in medicine) in the US. Unfortunately, I wasnt able to personally communicate with any of these doctors at the firm.
    My question to you is what would be the best approach to make the switch. I am kind of looking at three options.( Please add upon any more options, you can think of..)
    1. Give Gmat, aim for an ivy league B-school. I would like to know your opinion regarding how would such a relatively unconventional profile stand in terms of bschool admission.
    2. Apply for a internship or analyst position in a consulting firm. Get some “hands on” experience of the business and consulting world. (I am not sure how difficult/easy it would be get into a consulting firm with my credentials)
    3. Work for sometime in a pharma or medical device startup as a clinician advisor to get some real experience in a more traditional business setting before I embark upon my B-school journey.
    Guess I am at the cusp of avg age for an mba in most bschools, would delaying it for latter two options be a good idea?
    Sorry for such a long question. Thanks a lot.

    • Suds says:

      Hi DP,

      Thanks for your comment and for your question. The following is just my opinion and you ask ten different people and they will all give different opinions. So treat it as just that – an opinion – and do what you think best suits you.

      I can only speak from my experience at Tuck. There were a handful of my own classmates who were from a medical background precisely as you described, and pursued their MBA to get into consulting or healthcare administration and successfully made that transition. You’ve also seen doctors that have done this, so the precedent is certainly there.

      What’s important is starting this moment, focusing on getting there and making it happen. I’d rate your options as 1, 3, and 2 in that order. Go full steam ahead with GMAT and do an awesome job in it since that will always stand you in good stead. And then communicate your story effectively to the Admissions Committee.

      This is not a plug for Tuck, and I’m not sure if it’s one of the schools you’re interested in, but I suggest you make use of Tuck Connections, which is an opportunity to request to be connected to a Tuckie who meets certain criteria that are important to you. You will eventually be connected to either a current student or an alum who will answer all your questions. From there you can branch out to other such individuals and get a sense of their accomplishments and how to go about the journey you’re embarking on.

      A bunch of Tuck events are coming up in India (look up Tuck events page) – you could sign up for whichever is convenient to you. Attending these will enable you to understand the school better and more importantly connect with alums as well as fellow applicants whom you can learn from.

      The above is from a GMAT/application perspective. I like the third option next which could be equally interesting. Not sure if your experience with the corporate entity will be that dramatically different (especially if you’re going to be seen as a sector expert which may limit your involvement in the broader business discussions), but it will give legitimacy to your aspirations of wanting to grow your career in different ways.

      The second option is my least favorite since the outcome is totally dependent on the needs of the consulting firms (making the assumption that these will be India-based positions) and you’ll be starting at ground zero since I’ll again assume you likely don’t have many personal connections in these firms.

      Some of the above assumptions could be completely wrong as well – you’re the best judge. Whatever you decide to do, good luck with your endeavors and hope to see you at one of the events if you do make up your mind on the MBA route.

      Best,
      Suds.

      • DP says:

        Hi Suds,
        Thanks a lot for the reply. Very much appreciated. It did clear a lot of things. I think Tuck connections is a fantastic idea. I shall definitely use it in the coming days. I would like to seek one clarification though. Were your doctor colleagues at Tuck with Indian medicine degrees or MDs from USA or elsewhere? It would be really great if you could connect me with one of them.
        You are very correct about your assumptions. I have no real contacts in any of the firms. So it is going to be difficult. About the third pathway, as you said, it will legitimise my aspirations and smoothen out my story of transition to the admissions community to some extent. But I am not sure if delaying the MBA is worth the price for the same.
        Hopefully, I am going to be able to decide on my path soon. I am looking forward to see you at the Tuck events.
        Thanks again. Cheers.

        • Suds says:

          DP,

          I was referring to Tuck Connections so you can go ahead and make your specifications clear about who you’d like to speak to. My classmates were non-Indian but that doesn’t mean much. I’d suggest you look at startup options alongside MBA so you’ll start gaining some traction. Who knows, if you get a good enough opportunity, maybe the MBA plans will fall by the wayside! See you in August.

          Best,
          Suds.

  9. Angelika says:

    Hi Suds,
    I have 16 years of experience in the IT Industry and currently working as Head, Deliveries with 100+ resources. As an individual, I give 200% in all departments of my life – professional as well as personal and tend to be very intense, focused and passionate. I am also very dynamic and enjoy challenges immensely. But because of the former reason, I feel a need to take off and refresh my mind and perspective very frequently (that is more frequently than a normal person), which I am not able to do in the usual corporate environment. Also, I regret not being around my family more often. (this maybe the normal situation for any working woman though). I wanted to know if management consultancy jobs can offer flexible working in terms of working in a project mode – that is to undertake a project and take time off before the next assignment. I would really love to work in this model as it will suit me as an individual. Can you please give your expert opinion on this, I would love to pursue IT management consultancy if this is feasible.
    By the way, I thought I might add that the last three years have been in a start up like environment, increasing revenue, margins and team size by xx. Been through expansion, financial crunch, cost cutting and optimization – the usual challenges.

    • Suds says:

      Hi Angelika,

      Thanks for your note. I very much appreciate the fact that you’re striving for work-life balance at this point in your career. I should state at the outset that I’m not the expert you’ve assumed I am, but I’ll share my opinion nevertheless. I don’t see why IT management consultancy shouldn’t give you the professional satisfaction as well as the personal time to recharge your batteries between projects. Of course, how this arrangement will be structured is something you’ll have to negotiate up front at the time of taking up the job so you and your hiring manager are clear on each other’s expectations. Once that understanding is there, you’re well on your way to achieving the balance you’re seeking.

      Maybe another thing to consider is internal consulting opportunities within IT companies, which will mean you’re still in a corporate environment, but are able to define your boundaries in a manner similar to a pure IT management consulting opportunity at a company such as IBM. Whichever approach you decide, believe that you’re on the cusp of achieving the harmony you’re striving for, between your professional career and personal responsibilities. Well begun is half done!

      Wish you all the best!
      Suds.

      • Angelika says:

        Thanks for your reply and sorry about getting your profile wrong! Missed it in the midst of pouring through the site. Indeed well begun is half done!

  10. Dhruv says:

    Hi Sudershan,

    Thank you for the wonderful article. I recently finished my undergrad and have been working as a seller in a tech firm. I’m exploring MBA options and Consulting as a potential career path and so far I believe I want to give it a shot. Is it possible for me to get into consulting before doing my MBA?

    • Suds says:

      Dhruv,

      Thanks for the comment and your question. There are many pre-MBA associates in consulting firms who go on to pursue MBA after the consulting stint. So yes, there are ways for you to get in front of the recruiting managers at these firms and get that exposure. You’re in sales, so get going with making that sale where you’re the product! Good luck with next steps.

      Best,
      Suds.

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