The daily work of a management consultant includes gathering data and insights (through research, surveys, interviews), running analyses, making PowerPoint presentations, and pitching solutions to the clients. The job involves a lot of travelling, and long hours are the norm.
Before You Read
Lots of my readers are curious about what a day in the life a consultant looks like, so here’s my best shot at answering that question.
However, do keep in mind that there’s no “typical day” for management consultants – our work varies daily, and it’s allocated on a workstream basis. Additionally, reading this “day-in-the-life” description won’t give you the best picture of the management consulting industry job. You should check out these articles – their format allows a much better overall view and more insights:
With that out of the way, let’s walk with me through a consultant’s day.
4:30 – 6:30
If it is Monday, chances are I have to get up really early to catch the plane to wherever my client is. It can be half around the globe, but it’s fine, I have get used to it. If it’s not Monday or the client is in town, lucky me, I get to sleep a little bit more before waking up and doing my super basic morning routine. I tend to multi-task by checking emails during my morning routine. By the time I touch my laptop on the taxi ride, I would already know exactly what I would write for those replies.
7:00 – 7:30
Grab any taxi I can find and head to pick up my colleagues or EM if they stay on my route to work.In most of my projects, I always volunteer to pick up the EM. That’s a nice way to get to know the EM personally and get a little bit more time with him for problem-solving and coaching. If he sleeps on the ride, I may turn on the laptop, typing out those email replies.
When still having time, I read documents or just go through my calendar to see how I can best plan my day. Breakfast is a hit or miss. If I have extra time, I will grab some along the way. If not, a cup of coffee will do me good! What is life as a consultant without a good, large-sized cup of coffee?
8:00 – 8:30
Arrive at the client’s site. The first thing to do is to come and say hello to the Project Manager of the client, then head to the project room. He’s the most important contact point throughout the project that I really need to have a good relationship with.
When the whole team has checked in, we typically have a quick discussion of where we are in the project, what the client’s current feedbacks are, what must be completed today, and main deliverables progress, etc. The meeting is relatively short, usually no more than 15 minutes. Once everyone is clear, our working day officially starts! That meeting is just a way for the whole team to be aware of each other’s status, but most consultants are always very clear about their own deliverables for the day even before the meeting
Now, looking at the detailed “to-do” list for the day, I highlight those that I can’t 100% control, meaning those that depend on the clients, on the support team, etc. The more “outside resources” a task need, the more priority I have to give it. I often make a series of calls/emails to all my external contact points that I need for the day/week.
For this particular day, I really need to finish up the questionnaire list for the Early Warning System tool I am in charge of. The SME CEO is out for the rest of the week. I must get an interview with him today. So first thing of the day, I give the SME CEO’s assistant a call. The schedule is set! 4 p.m
There are couple items I need to be ready before the interview. The local research team has already sent me some rough collections of questionnaire the night before. I think their job is done and this is where I start. I need to sort through all of those and come up with a more structured and clean sheet, with clear groups and purposes. After that, the translation team will work on my version. Based on my experience of working with them, they can finish this volume in less than 2 hours. So I “book their capacity” in advance from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., leaving myself another hour, just in case. That means I have the whole morning in my own process. It shouldn’t be that hard. Perhaps I will have time for other running tasks.
9:15 – 11:00
It’s time to shut down all other communications and put my headphone on. Even though I don’t listen to any music, that’s one effective way for people not to disrupt my workflow. I focus 100% of my energy on the questionnaire list.
Like any other consulting tasks, there are always things that are not going your way. The research team has missed out an entire session while duplicated on others. Fortunately, I already asked the industry research team about those missing pieces of information 2 days ago. (In McKinsey, you have 3 types of research teams: local, industry, and function). Their deadline has not come yet, but hopefully, they have something. I gave them a call and luckily got some materials on the missing session.
Finally! I finish the questionnaire list and send to the translation team ahead of time. They have other things on their hand and decline working on my task before the booked schedule from 1 p.m. I agree and turn back to my desk working on the ORG structure of my assigned department, feeling decently comfortable.
Lunch break! Not having been eating properly for the last couple days, I decide to have a nice lunch that day. I join the EM and 2 other team members going to the most decent coffee shop on the building. I update the EM about the current status of the questionnaire. Everything is on track. Not much to talk about.
My phone rings. The SME CEO’s assistant is calling. My heart drops a beat. Something must be wrong! If you joined consulting, you would know that phone calls usually associate with bad things. People rarely call you to tell good news. It’s always something that needs attention or your work.
I pick up the phone and the assistant says the CEO would not be available on the original timeslot. She asks me to reschedule it to 1:30 p.m. I immediately run through a few scenarios and possible solutions on my head. “Would after 5 p.m. work?”, I ask. “How about 2 p.m.?”, I try again. Nothing seems to work.
Change of plan! Leaving the lunch table just 60% finished, I walk straight to the project room, giving a call to the translation team on the way. I always treat the support team with respect so fortunately, I do win their heart. In situations like these, it’s important that they are willing to drop their own lunch to help. They did!
But even with that, they only have just a bit more than 1 hour. So I erase my consultant status and jump in to translate with them. With me joining the team and sit right next to them, the pace and quality are vastly increasing. Tricky words and concepts are sorted by right away.
Entertaining as this description might be, it is by no means an all-around view of the management consulting job. So if you really want to learn about management consulting, open this article below and make sure to read it after finishing this one!
I come to the SME CEO office with the questionnaire nice and ready. He apologizes for the change of schedule, not knowing how much trouble he caused me. The interview goes well. I’ve got ton of insights and further contacts from him.
I make a series of calls to all contacts provided by the SME CEO. Some are happy to give me their thoughts through emails; some agree to meet up for brief interviews.
My mood is sky high. A little bump actually does me good. I have accomplished quite a lot and it isn’t even 3 p.m. yet. On the good momentum, I jump back to the Org work and keep rolling.
The process though follows the same principle: planning far ahead and prioritizing on tasks that I can’t control. So, afternoon task involves cleaning out the enormous inbox piled up, sending out requests, checking sub-output of various support teams, or giving feedback.
After that, I probably sit down and finish up all the work on my to-do list that day, which can be some data gathering, number crunching, calling industry experts for insights, or syndicating with clients.
At times, the Engagement Director (ED) may pay the team a visit for some Problem Solving sessions. We discuss what the client demands, what is done well, what is not, and what is missing. Sometimes, especially when the clients give unpleasant feedbacks, you may expect to completely adjust your work. There’s no time to complain about it because after all, consultants are hired for their competency and flexibility when solving ANY problem that may arise. Normally, the EM conducts and leads those Problem Solving sessions with EDs. But when the discussion is detailed, we are there to shed granular insights.
At the end of consulting working hours, the team is often regrouped for reporting. We update our progress, summarize overall findings, hand in whatever is required to be finished, and get assigned the next pieces of work.
3. Evening Routine
Normal people’s work stops at around 17:00 or 18:00, and there’s absolutely no work in the evening. But hey, remember, you are living a life as a consultant. Forget your personal life, at least on weekdays.
Team dinner! This is the precious time to network and know your team players better. On most dinners, we have about half of the team.
We head back to our hotel room for a quick shower. Some consultants who manage their time super well can squeeze in an hour for exercise. But I am just not one of them. I usually reward myself 30 minutes of relaxing and clearing personal tasks.
The rest of the evening is often spent completing a bunch of work before the next morning. I know that many of the support teams are in different time zones, so I usually take advantage of this by sending requests or feedback before sleeping, hopefully getting something next morning.
I often call it a night at around 0:00 – 0:30, but honestly, bedtime is not fixed at all. It really depends on how much work you have and how productive you are. We just have to try our best for some extra sleep because tomorrow will be another busy day.
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