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Five myths about the management consulting industry

Despite being a popular career choice, there are a number of misconceptions about management consulting and the role of a management consultant. In this article, we address five of the most commonly-held beliefs about the industry and explore how much truth there is in each idea.

Myth 1: Management consultants only work with the CEO of a company

In reality, it would be extremely difficult for management consultants to complete a project successfully for a client by working solely with the CEO.

Consulting project teams – which usually consist of Partners, Junior Partners, a Project Manager and Analysts/Associates – work hand-in-hand with multiple people at different levels of the organization to craft their recommendations collaboratively. Consultants may also need to work with others within the organization in other ways, either to interview them or obtain data for their analyses.

The Partners in the project team – and the Senior Partners who cover the client – usually own and manage a relationship with the CEO to ensure alignment and satisfaction with the team’s work. However, they do not work exclusively with the CEO. Partners and Senior Partners also build close relationships with the other stakeholders in the client’s management team who are connected to the project.

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Myth 2: Management consultants live and travel like rock stars

It is generally thought that consultants are living the dream life: flying business class, staying in glamorous hotels and eating exotic cuisine at the firm’s expense. While this can often be true, it’s certainly not always the case. Clients are sometimes located in industrial estates outside of secondary cities, where the food and accommodation options can be far from appealing.

And even at its most glamorous, the consulting life has its drawbacks. The excitement of a weekly travel schedule can easily wear off after a couple of projects, and consultants can find it tough to strike a healthy work-life balance. This can take a toll on their physical and mental health, as well as their relationships and family life. While aspects of the lifestyle may be enjoyable at times, many would prefer a home-cooked meal and a night in their own bed.

Myth 3: Management consulting firms have highly competitive cultures

Top management consulting firms are among the most selective companies in the world, with only about 1% of applicants receiving a job offer. While this naturally adds a degree of competition to the process of applying for a role, there is no place for rivalry among consultants.

To ensure the very best outcome for their clients, management consulting firms work hard to ensure that their working culture is not competitive but, instead, highly collaborative and supportive. Consultants work in dedicated project teams, which means they are all focused on the same result – the success of the project – and work closely together to ensure that they achieve this outcome. The success or failure of the project reflects on the team as a whole, so everyone naturally wants everyone else to succeed.

When it comes to the promotion process at top consulting firms, consultants are not pitted against one another, as some might imagine. Instead, promotions are based on merit and each person is evaluated individually against a set of metrics and promoted accordingly. There is no limit to the number of promotions that might be available, so there is no element of competition among consultants for progression – at least until Partner election.

Myth 4: Management consultants only tell you what you already know

While there is some truth to the idea that consultants tell clients what they already know, this isn’t the whole story. When clients invite consultants to help them solve their most pressing business problems, they typically have an idea of the drivers at work from the outset.

Consultants use a data-driven approach to analyze the problem and test different hypotheses, including those formulated by the client. While this activity typically confirms some of the client’s ideas, it can also disprove others and unearth additional insights.

Consultants bring expertise to the table that the client hasn’t mastered, synthesizing all their contributions to form a robust recommendation that the client could not have generated with the same degree of confidence. It’s one of the many reasons why consulting firms tend to command very high fees.

Myth 5: Management consultants apply ‘cookie-cutter’ solutions

Top consulting firms work on similar types of problems frequently and develop frameworks to approach these problems consistently and efficiently for multiple clients. However, no two solutions are the same. Because top consulting firms develop their recommendations in close collaboration with the client – often working with people within the organization to do so – their solutions are always highly tailored to the client’s specific needs and situation.

If a career in management consulting sounds like it might be right for you, you can learn more in our complete guide to the management consulting industry.

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