Whenever our coaches speak with consulting hopefuls, we often hear concerns about work-life fit: “How many hours will I work? Will I really travel 48 weeks per year? Will I ever have time to exercise? How can I maintain a relationship with my significant other? Will I ever have time to hang-out with friends?”
Believe me, I felt the same way when I was interviewing to become a consultant. Unfortunately, no one ever painted a clear picture for me of what the life is really like. To help you avoid this stressful situation, the next few paragraphs provide straight-talk, no-nonsense commentary on work-life fit in the demanding career that is management consulting.
Work-life fit comes down to two main factors: flexibility and predictability. These factors apply to any career, be it consulting or be it basket-weaving. If your schedule is flexible, you can work where you want, when you want. If your hours are predictable, you can better plan your personal life around work. So the question is, how flexible and predictable is consulting?
The answer will vary based on firm, project, and leadership. To some consultants, “flexibility” may mean the ability to leave the client site by 5pm for a yoga class and resume work after dinner. To others, it may mean the ability to dictate their travel schedule.
In terms of “predictability”, some may want to know that they will work 40 hours per week, no more and no less. Others may not care about workload as long as they can coach their daughter’s basketball team every Thursday evening.
As you navigate consulting recruiting this fall, consider asking the below questions to probe firms on their approach to work-life fit:
- Firm: What type of staffing model does the firm use: local deployment or global deployment? Is travel flexible (e.g. one week on, one week off), or does it follow a set schedule, such as four workdays on the client site? Does the firm focus on work-life fit at a national initiative level, or is it dictated by individual managers?
- Project: What types of services does the firm provide? Are projects typically high-burn or long-term? Is there a high degree of variation project-to-project? Note that pure-strategy engagements tend to be fast-paced, which may provide less work-life balance than other types of projects. The upside is that you’ll always be on a new learning curve!
- Leadership: What are the norms of acceptable behavior as set by project leadership? Is it OK to leave early once a week to have dinner with friends or exercise? Are there team rules for when emails should be sent (e.g. never after 11pm)? Do managers let the team leave the client site when the work is complete, or do they make the team stay late to impress the client? This last point is particularly important, as “client optics” often inhibit work-life balance. Hopefully, firm and project leadership at your target firm will discourage this kind of behavior.
In answering these questions, you will find that consulting is not a nine-to-five job. Expect an average of 50-60 hours per week, sometimes more. Granted, it’s not investment banking or medical residency, but you will work hard (often nights and weekends). However, you will work hard in any career that is simultaneously demanding and rewarding. Moreover, many top consulting firms actively support work-life fit by promoting flexibility and predictability. In fact, some firms even have adopted performance evaluation measures on such factors for senior leaders, who ultimately set and enforce the culture around work-life fit.
With that, I’d like to answer some of the more specific questions I’ve received about relationships, exercise, and loved ones:
- Relationships & Dating: Yes, as a consultant you can maintain a lasting relationship with your significant other, as long as he or she understands the demands of your job. Aim to make the most of your time together. The key is communication. If you’re single but searching, finding a relationship can be challenging but not impossible. Consultants love dating apps. When you meet someone, make plans further in advance, and set expectations on your availability during the week.
- Exercise: If exercise is important to you, make it a priority. That might mean waking-up early (I had a senior manager who did cross-fit every morning at 5:30 am) or skipping a team dinner to hit the gym (I managed to exercise at my favorite group fitness classes 3-4 times per week).
- Friends & Family: While you might miss the occasional happy hour with your friends from home, the truth is that most people are busy during the week whether they travel or not. From my experience, consulting actually allowed me to stay in touch with more friends and family than otherwise possible because I could easily visit them using my airline miles and hotel points. It’s a give and take.
For more insights on the consulting lifestyle, continue reading our blog. For case prep, behavioral interview practice, and resume review, sign-up for a session with our Consulting Interview Coaches today!