6 challenges of working as a consultant (and how to overcome them)

In my last post, I talked about the challenges of working in the consulting industry. Many of these challenges, such as a bad project, a difficult client, or a tough team, are things that all consultants struggle with at some point in their career. Like any profession, consulting is not for everyone, but for those who are still interested I want to offer some insight into how consultants work through these challenges or take a different perspective in order to make the best of a difficult situation.


Bad Project – Every consultant has a bad project come up at some point in their career. Not all things in life can be rainbows and butterflies and that surely is true in consulting.The good news? Most projects have a finite time period – whether its 1 month, 6 weeks, or 6 months the end eventually comes, and the bad project ends.

Difficult Client – Not every client is going to agree with you, or bend over backwards to help you. This can be challenging, because you do need their cooperation to make things happen. Winning over a difficult client is not easy, but considering most consultants choose the profession because they like working with people it truly tests and strengthens your skillset in building relationships with others, which has benefits for both your personal and professional life.


Tough Team – You won’t always love everyone you work with, but sometimes your time just isn’t great. In most cases, there’s a reason why the people on your team were chosen to work for your company, and it’s generally because they have a skillsetthat adds value. Despite the difficulty, or how you might view your teammates, focusing on identifying their capabilities and using them to execute the task at hand can help you work through your chemistry struggles. At the end of the day, its about delivery and execution, and while you may not always get along with your teammates, people generally respect good work and results.


Curveballs – Things change in consulting – it’s just a part of the industry. You’re ability to adapt to the change will help you successfully navigate the consulting industry. While these curveballs may seem challenging, uncomfortable, and in some cases, unfair, they provide opportunities to build new skills, take on new responsibilities, and demonstrate your creativity.


Demanding Travel – This one is tough, because sometimes, there’s nothing positive about a redeye to New York or flying each week to the middle of nowhere. However, I will say this: in general, it looks like the industry is trying to cut back on travel whenever the client will allow it. This may mean you don’t have to fly every week or perhaps you’ll get one week off per month which can make a big difference. Finally, if you’re stuck with flying every week, at least there are the miles!


Not being able to make personal plans. Ever. – Again, not too optimistic answers to this one, as not being able to see your friends or make normal plans is pretty tough. I will say this. First, if you like what you’re doing, and doing a lot of it, odds are that it means you are truly enjoying how you are spending the majority of your week, and that surely isn’t a bad thing. Secondly, and this especially goes for those who are traveling every week – your team in consulting is everything, and if you have a good team that you spend a lot of time with you can quickly develop some great relationships. Surely, this won’t replace the friends you can’t see back home, but I think you will find it will make the time spent working together more worthwhile.


Bottom Line: These challenges can be tough to deal with, and in the moment, may seem overwhelming or even insurmountable. However, I really believe that attitude makes a difference, and each challenge does present an opportunity. Yes, it will be difficult – it may even suck. But, if you can look for the opportunity or potential benefit and focus on diligently working on mastering the challenge each and every day, I think you will find that even the challenging and difficult moments will yield benefits and improvements.

6 Challenges of working as a consultant


I’ve been fielding a lot of informational interviews lately with undergraduate and graduate students who are interested in consulting. I enjoy these conversations and helping students along their career search journey.


Inevitably, students (rightfully) will ask a question about the challenges working in the consulting industry. I’ve compiled a list of challenges that consultants often encounter in their career. This list is by no means exhaustive, so please feel free to share your additional ones.


Bad Project – Not all projects are amazing. Furthermore, while some projects can sound sexy (Strategy, M&A, etc.) there are lots of challenges and difficulties that can derail even the coolest sounding projects. Companies don’t pay firms a lot of money to solve easy problems, they pay them to solve complex and challenging ones. Projects can be bad for lots of reasons. Tight timelines, unreasonable demands, not enough resources, and the list goes on. If you work in this industry long enough, you’ll be guaranteed to have one.


Difficult Client –Clients are investing lots of money into consultants to solve difficult problems. As such, they demand results and progress, regardless of its reasonable or rationale. At some point, you’ll have a client who despite the circumstances and constraints is incredibly unreasonable or irrational with their demands. Despite this, you’ll have to figure out how to best meet and exceed their expectations, even if it seems unreasonable.


Tough Team – Hopefully, you end up at a firm where you fit in with the culture and around people whom you like and respect. While many firms put care and thought into assembling project teams, you’re not going to like or work well with every single person you meet.


Curveballs – Things change quickly in consulting. M&A Team Lead role you signed up for suddenly changes to you being the entire team. The role where you thought you were managing five resources only has 3 resources due to the project budget. Curveballs and changes are routine in this job


Demanding Travel – For most consultants, travel is a part of the job. While policies differ firm to firm (local, regional, national) there is always the chance that you get stuck with a travel schedule that stinks. Maybe it’s because you have to go to North Dakota for 6 months. Maybe you’re doing cross-country flights with redeye’s back on Saturday mornings. Or, maybe you have to fly out Sunday nights. At the end of the day, consultants go where the business (see $$) is, and if the $$ is in North Dakota, you’ll be headed there shortly.


Not being able to make personal plans. Ever. – If you’re traveling Monday-Thursday it can be hard to make plans during the week. Furthermore, I’m sure you want to go home for Thanksgiving to see your family, but since you don’t know where your next project is going to be its hard to know where to book your flight home. The uncertainty and unpredictability of consulting can make it difficult to make personal plans (see live a normal life) It can make the most normal of things (ex: scheduling a doctor’s appointment) a truly difficult task.


Here’s the thing: Every job has its ups and downs. Similar to picking a significant other, picking a job is like means taking the best and worst of your selection. Sure, some of these scenarios are crappy, but if you can navigate through these situations (and make the best of them) there’s a high likelihood you’ll enjoy the profession.


Furthermore, the nature of consulting is temporary – you’re on a project for x amount of weeks and months and then you move onto the next one. The good news is that if you encounter any of these challenges there is always an end in sight. The next project serves as an opportunity for a fresh start. If you do this long enough, I’m confident there will be more good memories than bad ones. In my next post, I’ll examine some ways to manage these situations.