How to start off your Management Consulting Career

I recently worked on a project with a few new hires they asked me what I thought were things they could do to start their time at the firm in the right direction. It’s a great question, and I spent some time thinking and writing down some thoughts because of the importance of this topic. (For the sake of this article, this is meant primarily for those starting at big consulting firms)

I’m inclined to believe that you wouldn’t enter the consulting industry if you didn’t know anything about it or if it didn’t interest you. But you need to understand first and foremost at the core of the value proposition and structure of a consulting firm. Consulting firms (generally speaking) do not own any assets — their assets are their people. So while tech companies pour R&D dollars into potential new products, Consulting firms pour dollars into investing in their people. So here is what you can do to start investing in yourself:

  • Understand the Firm: The very first thing you can do is to make sense of the firm, the people and how things generally operate. Learning this institutional knowledge is simple on paper but due to the size and complexity can sometimes be very difficult. This isn’t meant to be a plug to brainwash you, but to help you gain an asset that will pay dividends down the road. The more you can understand and articulate how the firm works, the better you can understand how to use it to your advantage.
  • Learn how to Learn: To stay relevant and trusted in a fast-moving industry you need to continuously build new skills so you can stay ahead of the curve. “Learning how to learn” is critical for being able to understand new concepts, skills, industries and capabilities in a short amount of time. Start by taking time to find the resources that will help you learn and build skills quickly. It can be anything from finding information sources (ex: websites, Twitter, etc) or to more advanced and formal learning such as online or in-person courses. Over the course of your consulting career, you’ll be constantly asked to learn new skills. The quicker you can get good at this and develop methods and tools to do this, the better off you’ll be in the long run.
  • Read Frequently: As a consultant, you will be constantly asked about your opinion and you’ll have to frequently share that with others. One of the best ways to have an informed opinion and to develop opinions and perspectives is to read and to read frequently. Read things that are directly related to the issue that your client is trying to solve. Read what’s going on in your client’s industry. Read things that are not directly related to either of those but are of interest as sometimes there are opportunities to spot connections from the related and unrelated. Most importantly, develop some sort of system that works for you which has a combination of resources that you continuously read and go to for information and insights.
  • Think ahead: In addition to solving the challenge your client has put in front of you, a good consultant also needs to be one step ahead of where their client might go next. You never know what your client might need, but if you can anticipate their challenges and gain the knowledge or insight on how to help them think through the challenge you will become an incredible asset to your client and potentially identify further opportunities for yourself and the firm. Reading frequently will help you think ahead, and serve as a great mechanism for helping your client spot problems and opportunities before they come to you for them.
  • Develop your Brand: Identifying the topics and capabilities you want to develop expertise in and building those capabilities is what will help build your reputation in the firm. If you need help figuring out your brand, answer this: If someone in the firm were to email you asking for help, what would you want to be known for? You may know the answer to that question yet, and that is okay. Start with thinking about your past skills and experiences along with what is in front of you for your current project and role and do your best to “own” those topics. You may not be known as an expert immediately, but that will change over time as you grow your knowledge and experiences. And that brand will evolve over time, as you learn and grow yourself.
  • Be resourceful: As important as it is to be knowledgeable and insightful, it’s impossible to know everything. That’s where knowing how to find the right answer or knowing the people who can find the right answer becomes critical to consulting. Taking the time to build true relationships with the people you meet when you work at the firm and then cultivating those relationships through digital and in-person means will be incredibly helpful over the time of your career here. There will be lots of times when you will need to call upon help from others and having those relationships will help you find the right people at the right time. Additionally, the tools and mechanisms you use to build these relationships will help you throughout the rest of your life, personally and professionally.

Consulting is a knowledge and serviced based business. Your value as a consultant is equivalent to the sum of your knowledge and your experiences. What you do to develop both knowledge and experience starts with you.

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Why, how, and where I learn about tech

Recently, I was having a conversation about what work was going to look like in 5–10–15 years. In the middle of our conversation, I shared with him some insights from some new research about how certain skills and attitudes can help employees evolve and thrive as times change and evolve.

After I shared that piece of information, he said to me, “ You’re a tech consultant. That has nothing to do with your day job. How the hell did you know that?” Without trying to sound like a humblebrag, I said, honestly, “I just read a lot….it helps me learn.”

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It sounded like a silly answer, mostly because I think we take something like reading for granted because many of us have been doing it for so long. In all seriousness, a lot of my best ideas come from what I learn when I read. And while I’ve written about my desire to read books previously, I also spend a lot of time across various mediums trying to sharpen my knowledge on particular topics or be exposed to new ideas and ways of thinking.

As a knowledge worker in a digital world, I like to think of the value that I bring as the sum of my knowledge and experiences. The more I increase each component the more value I can provide. Experience comes through working, and honestly, time. But knowledge can come in so many forms, one of them happens to be reading.

After we finished the conversation, it got me thinking that I’d love to know how others consume knowledge for the sake of learning, so much so that I’ve asked a few friends/colleagues to map out where and how they consume digital content. To ensure I’m contributing, I also decided to write out how consume content, who I get it from, and where I find it. So without any further ado, here is what mine looks like.

Some background: I work in consulting but with a technology bend. I like to think I am on the outside (but adjacent) to the tech industry. As such, a lot of what I read is tech related. Having said that, I’m a firm believer that technology impacts everyone, so even if you don’t work in tech, many of the things I list below could be of value to you.

Digital Tools & Apps

I rely on a number of media content apps/sites to get information. Furthermore, I also rely on a number of aggregators/curators to help me find the best information. Here are some of my favorites

Medium  — I like to read Medium at night. I find lots of thoughtful and reflective essays on a variety of topics that get me to think and stretch my mind. This tends to slant towards tech (and startups) but you can really find anything.

FlipBoard  — I follow a number of different media outlets who have setup boards and check this daily to get up to speed on particular sites. Furthermore, you can also set it up on tags (ex: startups)

LinkedIn Pulse  — I’ll check this once a day to get a pulse (sorry, too easy) of what people are reading and sharing about on LinkedIn. It’s usually fairly good at spotting trends or popular articles.

Pocket  — I think Pocket is for storing and saving content when you don’t have time to read something. It catalogues and stores what you save and even recommends articles based on what you save.

Nuzzel  — One of my favorites. I integrate this with my Twitter and it allows me to see the tweets/content that are shared the most from my Followers. It’s a great way for me to see what’s most popular amongst my followers. There’s also some features that allow you to sort by time (8, 16, 24 hours)

Quibb — A community of thinkers and intellectuals (mostly tech-minded) that share and engage in interesting content/articles. I typically find things here that I don’t find anywhere else.

E-Mail Newsletters

E-mail is still one of the most effective engagement channels probably because of people like me. Here are a few that I tend to read multiple times a week.

CBInsights — I love the data and insights they share. I also laugh at least once every time I read Anand’s email.

Mattermark  — Similar to CB Insights, great content and data. I especially like the curated content that they share from Operators and Investors.

VC’s

There are a lot of great VC’s who blog and share content. This list doesn’t do it justice but here are a few of my favorites

Hunter Walk — Hunter is always sharing interesting content, responding to peers/friends and championing startups he backs. When he does share his insights they are always very thoughtful and concise. His Five Question series on his blog has great guests and he asks really thoughtful questions. Plus he just comes off as a likeable and affable guy.

Mark Suster — Mark does a great job of spelling out things as they are and giving his honest and thoughtful assessment. I’m not a VC, but I enjoy reading what he has to say because it really gives me a lens of what it’s like to be one. Also, similar to Hunter, he’s got a really diverse background (entrepreneur, consultant, VC) so it adds a lot of credibility to his thoughts.

Tomasz Tunguz — Tomasz has some of the most insightful posts, usually accompanied by rigorous analysis and data.

Blogs

For regular/consistent content on topics of interest, here are a few places that I check frequently.

Farnham Street — One of the more insightful and intellectually stimulating blogs out there. I have to moderate my reading of this one so my brain doesn’t go on information overload

Stratechery — Ben Thompson’s content on strategy & technology is top-notch and very insightful.

First Round Review — FRR’s content is top-notch. This is an awesome place to get a deep dive on a particular business topic from an experienced tech executive. The content is not only interesting but incredibly informative.

Conclusion

For those of you who also consume a lot of content I’d love to hear what you use and where you go to in order to learn new ideas. With so much great content out there it is hard to fully know if what you are looking at is really the best so I’d love to see what others think.

For Additional Reading

So you want to learn more about startups– Benjamin Hoffman

The Easy Way to Learn Hard Stuff-Per Harald Borgen

On Building a Daily Habit of Continuous Learning– Andrew Savikas

The Ultimate Guide to learning anything faster– Sean Kim

The Most Important Responsibility as a Boss? Radical Candor

One of the aspects of my job that I enjoy is the managing others. I’m fortunate to have had this opportunity inside and outside of the work environment. Before business school, I took on responsibility in managing others and I’ve held a bevvy of positions in undergrad and grad school as a leader and manager and have always tried to be the best version of a manager that I would want for myself.

One of my mantras of which I try to practice is to deliver honest feedback in a way that shows compassion and care for others. Jeff Weiner calls this managing compassionately, and Kim  Scott calls this radical candor. In a recent interview with First Round Review (Sidenote: I highly encourage you to start reading FRR) outlined her approach to managing and leading at companies like Google and Apple. Her mission: “Create bullshit free zones where people love their work and working together.”

Throughout the article, Kim articulates her approach to managing teams, and in her own words, “The single most important thing a boss can do, is focus on guidance: giving it, receiving it, and encouraging it.”

The kind of feedback she is referring to is radical candor. To illustrate her point, Scott recounts an interaction with Sheryl Sandberg, where Sheryl initially asked Scott if she wanted some professional help with her presentation skills. It wasn’t until Sandberg said, “‘You know, Kim, I can tell I’m not really getting through to you. I’m going to have to be clearer here. When you say um every third word, it makes you sound stupid.’” It worked – Scott heard the message loud and clear, and signed up for the speaking coach.

At many points in our lives, the phrase “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all” is appropriate for maintaining civility and respect, but when it comes to managing others and delivering feedback it’s not very helpful.

So, how can you actually practice radical candor in a way that’s not only effective, but that doesn’t hurt or offend the people that work for you?

 

1) Give a Damn – Scott recounts that part of the reason why she took what Sheryl said to heart was because she knew that Sheryl cared about personally and professionally, and demonstrated it through both actions and words. When you make it known through your actions and words that you care for your people, they’ll be more likely to understand what you’re saying is for their own good, and not meant personally.

2) Make it Accepted and Expected – One of Scott’s biggest mistakes was not delivering radical candor towards a team member until it was too late. This team member was very nice but not good at his job, and was impacting the entire team. Scott realized she was being unfair to the rest of her team, and when she finally sat down this team member to fire him, all he could muster in return was “Why didn’t anyone tell me?’ To avoid this, you need to create a culture and environment where radical feedback is not only accepted but also expected. Getting honest feedback, especially negative feedback may not be easy to handle, but it should not come as a surprise.

3) Do it everyday – Just like inculcating a positive habit, the key to ingraining radical candor in your work environment is consistency. Scott urges managers to not only practice radical feedback everyday, but to create a reinforcement mechanism so others understand the importance of it’s nature. She says, ““Get a couple of stickers, one color for praise and one color for criticism, and ask people to put stickers where they think your last interaction was on the graph. You’ll be surprised how clear people will be with you about their reactions to the kind of guidance you’re giving them.”

 

Scott says, “I would argue that criticizing your employees when they screw up is not just your job, it’s actually your moral obligation. If you’re like me and believe Scott’s point, trying out radical candor with your team is worth a shot.