My top 10 reasons
In Hong Kong, the concept of management consulting as a career choice is rather unfamiliar to lots of students. Consulting is consistently one of the top choices for MBA students. And for good reasons.
Chances are you will get the “why you want to do consulting?” question at some point in the interview process. So you might as well start thinking about it now.
Without further adue, here is my top 10 reasons:
#1. You will learn different aspects of business and different industries
Your experience will vary with the size of the team, types of work, and industry. There are three major types of team structure in a consulting firm: industry, domain, and resource pool. What matters in a team structure is to know what experience is relatively constant and varied.
- Industry, e.g. FS: It means you will likely work for the same industry category, e.g. Financial Services Firms for different topics such as strategy, operation, organization, technology, etc.
- Domain, e.g. Strategy / Operation / Digital: It means you will likely work on the same domain for different industries
- Junior Resource Pool: Common in MBB. You join without any tag or alignment for a specific industry or domain. It means you will get to work with different sector team or domain team. After 2-3 years, you pick a team that wants you and that they have the headcount to hire you
Insider Tips: If you join a consulting firm and its HR talks to you about the functions, (e.g. Strategy), or offering (e.g. digital services), then your experience will be centered around these topics for different industries. Same for industry-based structure. The way resources are organized will play a big part in shaping your work environment.
The good thing about consulting is that, industry or domain, you will still learn a great variety from it. In my experience, I have never worked on the same topic twice. That’s why you will hear people say the learning curve in consulting is steep. Because as soon as you figure out how to build a business case, you are assigned to work on another topic in the next project.
#2. You will grow professionally in no time
Not because you are smarter, but because you simply have to. Consulting works require you to hit the ground running as fast as possible. You will be asked to help work on a research or analysis for a topic or industry that you have no experience in.
My first assignment was working on a proposal directly with a very experienced director. The experience was painful. The Director was used to reviewing 9 or 9.5 out of 10 in terms of quality. But there I was, a fresh graduate, producing 0.5 or 1 quality work. I still remember when he reviewed my work, the first thing he did was just flipping the slides up and down. And he would first question my format, then my content.
Insider Tips: There is a reason why professional organizations (e.g. investment banks and consulting firms) tend to hire individuals that are structured, organized, and well-groomed. And why structured communication is a key success factor in any individual case interview.
#3. You will develop the skills of the future
Consulting is in the industry of selling changes. Whether it is on a different strategy, different business model, different ways to deploying resources, or different technologies. We are in the business of changes. People are the ones that make changes happen. So, the saying goes, we are in the people business.
Change is a complex matter and requires complex problem solving skills. Complex problem solving skills is at the core of what consultants do. And according to the Economic Forum Complex Problem Solving Skill will still be the #1 skill in 2020 and is the only skill that remains #1 as it is in 2015. Also in the report summary, the number 1 barrier to change is “insufficient understanding of disruptive changes”.
It’s no secret that the banks are always thinking of how to fire people, e.g. replace them with robots. What’s next? Using blockchain to automate administrative works? Clients ask us this types of questions all the time. How do I disrupt my business before someone else does it? How do I use FinTech to reduce cost, provide better customer experience? So as consultants, our job is to educate, inform, and analyze these disruptive forces and help our clients make changes happen.
Insider Tips: There is a reason why in individual case interview, you will be asked questions like this: A) How big is X market? B) Profit dropped 30% in my business, what should I do? C) I’m thinking of buying company X, what do you think? Because that’s what our clients ask us on the spot all the time.
#4. You will learn 10 times faster
Variety is one of the few constants in consulting. When you are not on a project, you will work on proposals, thought leadership, or marketing materials. In your first year, you will be asked to do research, analysis, and synthesis on different topics. For example, I recently grabbed a first-year to help me work on a blockchain proposal in as little as 2 weeks. We have to learn the concepts and applications of blockchain from ground zero. Long story short, we won the project. And it’s amazing because the concept is still very new. How do we go from not knowing anything to being able to sell it to client?
We call this approach of acquiring of knowledge hypothesis-driven or “don’t boil the ocean”. I see many associates stuck in reading tens of thousands of pages in slides, documents, or books. Because they spent too much time boiling the ocean – trying to acquire too much general knowledge of a topic. They are working hard but not working smart. A smarter way to do it is to know 1) when you have enough basic information, 2) what are the hypothesis / framework / questions / problems you want to solve, and 3) find the information as needed without consuming the whole document / book.
Insider Tips: This is why if you open a case interview with “my hypothesis is that XYZ is so and so because of A, B, and C.” Your interviewer will look at you differently and know that you are initiated.
This is a matter of practice more than anything. And it’s also why consulting firms like to hire Masters or PhDs simply because they would have acquired this skill in their process of writing up their thesis.
The hard part of this skill, though, is in striking the balance between bottoms-up and top-down. Too much top-down, you don’t know what you are talking about – you are just saying what others are saying. Too much bottoms-up, you end up not getting anything done.
#5. You will work with great people
I wanted consulting because I wanted growth. In consulting, it’s all about growth – we are constantly growing the business, leaders, and our expertise. We do that by attracting good people. In consulting you are surrounded by awesome people and great leaders all the time. You will work with incredibly smart people or interesting people. You may find your colleague is a prodigy and was on news because of that. You may find your boss has built a company from scratch in his previous life. You will find people in all kinds of background such as law,investment banking, or corporate strategy. The good thing with working with awesome people is you will become one, too.
#6. You will work with great companies on interesting projects
You may be working on a growth strategy for a Software companies. You may be helping a Private Equity company with a Commercial Due Diligence. You may be helping a Entertainment player transform their HR & IT operations. You may be helping an Asian Bank expand their business in Greater China. You may be helping a fashion company rethink their channel strategy. You may be helping a top 3 insurance build a digital startup.
#7. You will get to travel around the world
Typically, for strategy types of work, it will occur in China because the market is still developing. For example, there is a post M&A project that would require traveling in different sites of the acquired companies to meet with their leadership team in China. In general, if you want to do strategy works, you will likely need to travel to China. Unless you get to work on Commercial Due Diligence type of work for FS clients. Then you can stay in Hong Kong.
For implementation-based type of work, it will have a higher chance to be based in developed countries such as European, UK, US, or Japan. For example, I had a colleague who was in London for 6 months for implementing a back office transformation project. I had a colleague who traveled to Taipei, Tokyo, Sydney, and Singapore for implementing a regional back-office consolidation project. I had a first-year who went to New York for 4 weeks for a finance process transformation project. In general, if you want to travel to anywhere but China, you will likely need to work on operation-centric type of works.
Insider Tips: Every consulting firm is different. And even if you ask your interviewer about the travel requirement, they would only be able to talk about their past experiences and would not be able to guarantee because of the nature of consulting is just so dynamic.
#8. You will get to boss around people… I mean, practice leadership
When you get to second or third year, you will be give chances to lead a junior member or intern. You will have opportunities to learn leadership by practicing it. In my case, I started leading in my first year. It was really good experience. Because I learned so much more about leadership – it’s really isn’t about bossing people. I was called out by a partner because I was a bit abusive to a junior for whatever reasons I had back then. It was not right. I’m really appreciative of the partner who took me into a room and talked me about that at great length. After that I was leading a team of 2 interns and 1 analyst for a project in my second year. In my third year I was already leading a 4-week market entry strategy project and led a team consisted of 3 analysts, 1 senior and 1 senior manager who acted as the relationship manager.
#9. You will build awesome networks
You will be working with the smart people, powerful brands, and great leaders around the world. Your colleagues will move to key positions in all kinds of places – Strategy VP of an investment bank, Head of Operation at an insurance company, Head of Strategy at a media company, Founder of a startup, Partners at another consulting firm, etc. You will also be working with C-levels. By the time you want to make a switch in your career, you will have 500 quality LinkedIn connections (In Hong Kong, it’s not as common as it is in the US for colleagues or clients to connect on LinkedIn as soon as they meet.)
#10. You will make a good living
Consulting won’t make you rich. In fact, I don’t think any JOB will. It takes around 7-8 years to make around HKD 1 million in base salary a year as an Engagement Manager at MBB or as a Senior Manager / Director at Big 4 Consulting / IT-based consulting firms (such as Accenture, IBM, HP). If you start your career at Big 4 consulting, you will be paid around HKD 15k month, with an increment of around 10k more per year. IT-based consulting firms pay around HKD 20k a month. MBB pays around HKD 30k a month. With 5 years of consulting experience, you will be making at least HKD 50k base salary per month in consulting. While it’s definitely not the best paying job in the world, the experience is definitely worth it.
#11. You will get an excellent revolving door
Management consulting is pretty cool and prestigious. You will notice an increased interested in your profile from LinkedIn in your second or third year. Your consulting experience also serves as an excellent revolving door for you to get to where you want and fall back to if in-house is too slow for you. Your exit opportunity will depend on the type of experience that you can get either be it vertical, domain, or geographical. Or you can use that experience to break into another professional environment, such as investment bank as an AVP or VP for strategy or PMO function.
If you are looking for something that’s more laid-back, then you can always consider strategy or operation role in industry. It takes 5-6 years to become a manager in consulting but if you start at the bottom in industry or government, it will take 7-8 years, if not longer, to reach that kind of height. Your consulting will save you some time there.
Career Tips HK:
I know I said top 10 reasons but it’s actually 11. And that’s what we do here at CareerTipsHK: we over deliver.
All of the above reasons will prepare you for the long run, whether you want to climb the career ladder in consulting, be comfortable with a middle management position at industry, or build your own business. What matters though is to know what you want in life – that’s the only way to get there. Many MBAs choose consulting because they haven’t figured out what they want yet. Consulting offers you a career path that allows you to think and know yourself better along the way. Either way you will get an opportunity to walk away – a little bit richer, a bit more experienced and probably – quite happy.
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