Consulting may be the most misunderstood profession in the world. People loosely associate it with business, with financial success, but if you press the average person they’d have no idea what a consultant does, or what makes a good consultant.
This isn’t their fault—there’s hardly anything written on the subject. It’s just sort of assumed that if you want to be a consultant, you’ll figure out what you need to know.
That’s not good enough.
Too many young people pursue a career in consulting even though they’re a terrible fit for the profession because they simply don’t know what to expect. Conversely, many young people who would make amazing consultants never consider the field because it’s just not on their radar.
I’ve written this article as a first step for anyone curious about consulting. All of the questions below will serve to gauge how well you’d fit as a consultant, starting with:
1. Does High-Risk, High-Reward Work Excite You?
As a consultant, there is no “good enough.” Clients are typically paying quite a bit of money for you to solve a problem their entire team couldn’t. You’re either the hero who solved their problem, or you’re the chump with the bad ideas.
2. Do You Learn Best Under The Gun?
Deadlines are a consultant’s life. You have to figure out the landscapes of entire industries, dive deep into your client’s data, and find a solution quickly. For a lot of people, this is a nightmare, but for good consultants, this is the ideal way to learn.
3. Do You Need To Feed The Analytical And Emotional Sides Of Your Brain?
A lot of people need strictly analytical or strictly emotional work. They either want to manage relationships, or they want to crunch numbers. Being one-note doesn’t work for a consultant.
Your job is to empathize with your client, understand their problem on a deep level, and analyze all available data to produce a solution. It’s a blend of emotional and analytical work that is great for some, but terrible for many.
4. Can You Handle The Shifting Sands Of Creative Problem Solving?
Creative problem solving is a tricky proposition, especially for consultants. You’re balancing various personalities and data points, all while trying to solve a problem no one else could. That delicate balance means even your best laid plans will have wrenches thrown in them, and you need to be able to adapt on the fly without getting worn down.
5. Are You Comfortable On Your Own And With A Team?
Being a consultant means a lot of time spent alone. Pouring over notes is rarely a team sport. But consultants also have to be able to work as part of a team—and not just any team, but a team of incredibly intelligent people.
If you’re someone who is inspired by colleagues, but can also work independently, then great. If not, consulting is going to be a real challenge for you.
6. Do You Want To Travel Nonstop?
Take any red-eye flight from a major airport, and you’re guaranteed to see consultants. Not all consultancies have to travel, some focus on specific areas, but for the most part being a consultant means logging an insane amount of air miles.
Good news if you want to see the world, bad news if you’re scared of flying.
7. Are You Willing To Sacrifice For Professional And Financial Growth?
There are part-time workers, full-time workers, and consultants. This job requires another level of commitment that some people aren’t up for, especially in the early years.
The upside is you’ll climb higher and faster than you would in an industry position, and you’ll be able to make more money than you would elsewhere. The downside is you won’t be joining many book clubs.
If you answered no to two or more of those questions, the consulting world probably isn’t the best fit for you. Even only one ‘no’ can make it difficult. Fair? Maybe not. But then again, the very characteristics that make consulting difficult are what makes it attractive to many people.
Conversely, if the questions above excite and energize you, then consulting is definitely worth a closer look.