Author: Yves Hellemans
Why I strongly recommend you to start your career in consulting – by Yves Hellemans
Graduating from a business or STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education can be a double-edged sword. You will have recruiters of all kinds of companies willing to go to any length to hire you. However, along with an abundance of career options comes choice overload. This results in a very complex decision process, because you can never predict what a job will be like as long as you haven’t started. I like to believe that starting your career in consulting is the silver bullet to this first world problem.
I won’t bore you with the usual “n reasons why consulting is the best way to kick-start your career”, as we all know them: a steep learning curve, working in a wide range of industries, in a variety of functional areas, encountering different cultures, solving company-wide, complex, strategic questions, exposure to C-level, and so on.
Instead, I’d like to illustrate why I recommend graduates to become a consultant by sharing some of my personal experiences over the past 2 years during which I worked on 6 different projects.
Being a consultant is all about change
1. Become used to versatility
Versatility will be your new stability, change will be your new status quo. The world has become VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) and it will only move further in this direction. Societies, technologies and habits change faster than ever and this trend is guaranteed to continue. Take a second to think about what a typical job looked like 45 years ago, and then try to imagine how drastically your environment and career will change over the coming 45 years.
Being a consultant is all about change – if no change was needed, why would any company hire a consultant? In every project, you are the driver of change instead of the one undergoing it. In all of my projects, my purpose has been to introduce a new process, system, structure and/or strategy. If there is one thing I learned during my career as a consultant, it is to act as a chameleon that experiences change as its natural habitat. I am convinced this will increase my shots at staying ahead of the ruthless curve of change.
2. Cherry pick your favorite habits
A second thing I love about consulting is the number of different people you meet and work together with in such a short amount of time. Not only do you form a team with other fellow consultants, you also work with and for numerous people at the client side. Every person I meet, I see as an opportunity to learn from. This does not mean at all I try to copy every behavior, method or working ethic I encounter. Instead, I tend to cherry pick the elements I admire and apply them in in my daily life, both professional and personal. During one of my first projects, developing a strategic growth plan in the healthcare sector, I learned the tremendous importance of well-structured project management, and I have been applying those learnings ever since in everything I do. During one of my last projects running an operations excellence program for a logistics company, I had the chance of gaining experience in data analysis and storytelling from my client, who had a strong background in top tier management consulting.
3. Develop your commercial skills
Another aspect I really enjoy in my job is the opportunity to develop my commercial skills. Evidently, your primary task set is to complete your (part of the) project and produce the agreed upon deliverables. Still, what many people might not realize is that as a consultant you are directly facing your client a considerable amount of your time. This entails a substantial effort in client relationship management, adding an extra dimension to your project: next to delivering the required deliverables, you’re responsible for making – and keeping – your client happy. You can also play a critical role in cross selling and deep selling, in other words spotting client needs and bringing additional colleagues on board of your project or selling completely new projects. After only one year of working, I sold my first project to my former client, which gave me an enormous satisfaction.