Advice from experienced consultants to get ahead of the game
For those who have passed rigorous application rounds and win that offer from consulting firms, big congrats! Take enough pride in yourself for winning the offer, but don’t forget just yet: Real challenges are actually awaiting at these firms’ threshold.
How to best present yourself on the first day to work? What to prepare for the first client meeting to be fruitful? This article is here to help you make the most out of each and every consulting experience – from your very first shot.
The first day to work as a consultant
The notion of Day-One can make your heart pound: you’re under the pressure of impressing your colleagues, standing out among the batch, or proactively networking with seniors. It holds true that there are several extra miles that you, an enthusiastic newbie, should take. But stressing out is unnecessary. First-day is just another day, if you know what’s waiting for you and prepare accordingly.
What to expect?
First day at work is more about listening attentively, rather than showcasing your assets.
You’ll get through mostly on-boarding processes, like HR paperwork and IT set up. The only occasions that you can actually make use of is probably:
1. When you get introduced to the key personnel, and
2. In the training sessions
Paperwork and IT set-up might sound trivial, and indeed it is: Signing contracts, fingerprint set-up, receiving company’s laptop, etc – nothing challenging here. However, that’s not a reason to underestimate these tasks and let loose. Instead, maintain the high-achieving mindset of consultants and finish them neatly and fast: small details count. Carefully fill in the HR papers so not to ask for a second one, take notice of IT instructions to set up your laptop without help, and wisely use your spare time to observe. Now if you want to make some extra impressions, check out below.
New consultant pro-tips
#1. The right attitude
As mentioned, the first day, even the first weeks of your job would be mainly about listening and observing. Be a sponge, squeeze in the office’s culture: understand the mechanics, the decision-making processes, how people are working with each other, and so on. Watch and learn, because people don’t expect rookies to make a revolution so early. They expect you to catch up with their pace, which, in this fast-paced, high-achieving environment, is already a challenge.
That said, a proactive and winning fashion must be presented, rather than merely passive listening. Anyhow, the attitude with which you first bring to the office is important: it’s the most visible, and it sets the tone for your new chapter here at consulting firms.
- Be curious, show your desire to learn, ask in-depth questions
- Project good vibes and strong energy
- Be friendly and respectful to everybody: not only high-level consultants but all your peers, junior consultants, support teams, etc.
- Patience, humility, and sincerity is needed. Don’t try hard to fake-it or anything. Don’t strike up conversations with everybody if you don’t feel comfortable. You have plenty of time to fit in and figure out the right mentality at work. So no rush, and be yourself!
#2. Be presentable
Your appearance speaks much volume about your personality and your working style. You want to appear neat and tidy, polished and well-groomed. It signals that you’re professional, dedicated, and thoughtful, and it makes you feel good about yourself too!
- Choose an outfit that is sleek and tailor: Suit and tie for men, while a dressy suit is a safe option for women.
- Classic accessories: think leather watches, handbags or briefcases, and simple jewelry.
- PRO-TIP: stay calm but friendly and welcoming – putting on a smile is simple yet effective to show your positive attitude and winning fashion.
#3. Reach out to an acquaintance / Do an elevator pitch to key personnel
As part of the HR processes, your batch will be guided through an office tour, and get introduced to the key personnel. Most rookies would just shyly nod at associates, managers, or partners. They think that only junior consultants are approachable.
But that’s not true; you can always go an extra mile.
Start the conversation with upper-level consultants, especially PMs and PDs. They are the ones who make staffing decisions in projects, hiring only potential superstar consultants they’re impressed with.
Now, if you have done some research about the office, or have had informational interviews before, you’re having advantages:
- Reach out to consultants you networked with before: drop by and say “Hi”. Show appreciation and the enthusiasm of a newbie eager to learn. Share a bit about the areas you’re aspiring. If you’re lucky, they would somehow help you get staffed to a project in that area, or refer you to an expert of the field. Either way, you’re increasing your chance to get more exposure and learning opportunities in the office.
Keep quiet, you’re just one of them rookies. But a quick confident introduction changes the game: now you’re that rookie guy expertised in Finance and experienced in the Sell-side before. I’ll not be surprised if a PM hires you into his Banking project the next day.
- If, through research, you found out specific experts that you want to develop connections with, prepare an elevator pitch. You can utilize lunch time or other idle time to make acquaintance with them and discuss your shared interests.
Remember, however, that any step you take to reach out to people must align with my first tip about the right attitude: Be patient, sincere, and humble. No one likes a bragging big-mouth, or some fake friendliness. Reach out to people with your earnest urge to learn and contribute.
And don’t forget to stay friendly with your peers and junior consultants too! They’re your ally!
The first client meeting
Working with clients is one major part of any project. They’re the primary source of data and insights you need, in order to solve those complicated C-level problems. First client meeting is one important occasion in that it sets the scene for future collaboration between your team and the client’s team.
What to expect?
The cycle of a project goes from Diagnosis, to Strategy, and wrapped up with Implementation. Depending on when you get hired into the project, your first client meeting can fall anywhere in this spectrum.
If the project is in its initial phase of diagnosing the problem
then your work is mostly for understanding the structure and dynamics of the organization. You’d do a lot of data crunching and staff interviews by this time.
Tilting towards the Implementation phase of the project
your work is more about working with the client’s team to apply strategies into real work. The tricky part is to convince them to work for you and follow your plan.
Whatever the purpose of the meeting, there’s one thing unchanged (most of the time):
The client’s team is not always gonna be cooperative from the start.
At the end of the day, you’re just bringing more work to their table, adding up the piles of paper already high in their office.
And so, there’s more reason making the first meeting important: to show enough of your friendliness to make them like to work with you, but also enough professionalism and authority to get them work efficiently for you.
#1. Build credibility
There are several things to do to make you more credible and respectable in the eyes of clients from the first meeting:
Know your client and your responsibility inside-out
Do your research thoroughly and beforehand. As consultants, we’re expected to understand the client more than they do. Getting familiar with a sheer amount of knowledge of a company: its position, its strategic goals, and its current pain points, etc. is not easy. But don’t freak out – we have plenty of resources to munch on: the internal knowledge database (so-called PD at McKinsey), publishes on the Internet, independent reports,… – let’s start with that. We even have a massive network of experts in various fields to untangle any complexity – but use them wisely!
The more you know your stuff, the more firm you can be when expressing your opinion in front of the client, and that’s a plus point for your credibility.
- That includes anticipating clients’ needs and questions beforehand, so that you can confidently propose an optimal solution in the meeting.
- You can also prepare some key questions to ask them, in order to yield the data and insights you need to plug in the issue tree.
- Make sure logistics are well-prepared too. Double check on the slides, the documents you’ll hand the client. Preparing a meeting brochure with a clear agenda would also leave impressions of your thoughtfulness.
One key principle that gets you further in consulting firms is to do what’s supposed to do, more than what’ve been told to do
#2. Befriend key contact points
During the project, you’d be introduced and working with some key contact points at the client’s site. They’re the ambassador, the bridge through which you need to get to resources you need. There is no one way to manage people, it’s usually depending on your personality. But I figured out the best way is to befriend them: to know them personally. Utilize the lunch time, or casual conversations.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that you’re playing politics or anything. It’s just, to achieve a win – win situation, we have to know each other’s needs and wants and expectations. Once you know you’re working towards the same goal, say, to increase work efficiency (so that this specific staff can go home earlier), everything would be a bit easier.
#3. Appear in a winning fashion – but not putting the client in the losing position
Consultants are hired for their excellent interpersonal skills and analytical ability, so show exactly that to your client. Appear in your best shape and always have a game plan in the palm of your hand. Be respectable, but respect others too. It’s not just because someone is always doing the same paperwork not-as-cool-as-your-work that you underestimate them.
You’re knowing everything, but at the same time, knowing very little.