While reading through “born to be riled” by Jeremy Clarkson, the fabulous motoring journalist and presenter of BBC’s “Top Gear” (the best show about cars – ever. Period. Even girls love it. It’s the best going show on all of BBC… nuff said. Now where was I?) … right: reading this book, which is a collection of Clarkson’s newspaper columns, I came across a very interesting tidbit:
“I’m often asked what qualifications you need to work on Top Gear, and I’ve always given the same advice. Like cars by all means, but love writing. Love it so much that you do it to relax. See the new Alfa or whatever as nothing more than a tool on which your prose can be based.”
Let this sink in for a second. This is a guy who gets to drive the newest, fastest, most exciting cars in the world in the most exciting, remote, fun and crazy locations in the world, and is paid for it. But his message is not “boy, you got to be a complete petrolhead to be fit for this job” – he says that you really need to love writing, the journalists’ basic process, so much that you do it for relaxing, to be fit for that job.
With consultants, I think, it is a similar story.
There’s the consultant’s lifestyle. Although of course not as glamorous as often depicted, there is a lot to it, especially for the young and eager types out there. You travel a lot – in fact the airplane is your bus and the taxi is your bike. You sleep in fancy hotels. You wear a dark suit. You get to meet the top management of large corporations – and they even pay you really good money for all that exciting stuff.
If your motivation to be a consultant is to lead the lifestyle (of course, only thinking about the shiny advantages), then you might not make it far. Or become quite miserable fairly fast. Probably both.
Here’s the inside scoop: Consulting, at the entry level that I (can) talk about, is all about the basics. You don’t get paid for looking posh. You get paid for doing a lot of work, under often less-then-perfect constraints (like… time). This work entails hell of a lot of research, analysis and synthesis of data – what other people sometimes call “gruntwork”. I call it crunching. You’ll have to sift through thousands of pages in search of one key figure. You’ll need to take an unsorted mess of data, throw it up in the air, and catch it in wonderfully organized, storylined, factchecked, approved and finetuned Powerpoint charts. There is nothing fancy about the work. It can be tedious. Yet, this is what you are mostly measured by. What you do to help a project succeed, your firm and your clients.
Jeremy has it right. He tells us that only when you are good at the basic tasks of your job, then you can hit it off. I, for myself, don’t love every data deep-dive that I have to make. I don’t love spending hour after hour in Powerpoint (though I trade Excel for Powerpoint at any time. I loathe Excel, powerful as it may be). So I don’t expect you to do it. But I do absolutely believe that you cannot be a good consultant (as I said, in the junior’s ranks) without being comfortable with it, and the more enjoyment you get out of it, the merrier.
For all of those contemplating the move into consulting, this means you should think about the actual WORK you’ll be doing at least as much and as seriously as you do think about the perks you’ll have.
As a closing remark, this posting has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that I, after a year in consulting, find it almost comforting to work in Powerpoint. I sometimes get so much fun out of making good slides that I am scared of myself. That is a totally unrelated issue, and I am dealing well with it, thank you very much.Read More
This is something I learnt from a friend in the industry who had to deal with a client situation gone bad, and on a small scale, also something that experience has taught me many times.
When things get tough, keep notes of what is going on, so when the sh** hits the fan, you can back up what you say.
While everything is humming along, you might be taking the occasional note – scribbling “mail report to Ted” on a piece of paper that is your impromptu ToDo-List for the afternoon, for example, or putting yourself a reminder in Outlook. When the project gets in crunch-mode (i.e., you are under stress, and everybody else is), though, many people stop keeping notes. And when in real trouble (e.g., the customer is angry because a deadline was missed, there was a misunderstanding, you are accused of having stolen their lunchbags), people stop taking notes altogether and fall back to reactive-mode.
This is a bad thing. The worse the situation get, the more accurate your notes need to be. I am not talking about prose here. This is not a hidden procrastinators’ heaven. I am talking about keeping a logbook, on paper preferably. Here’s why:
- Under stress, you might forget something you needed to remember. Keep it in a list. Mark it done when it is done. It gives you security, and it makes you reliable.
- When a colleague tells you something that might be important later, like “the customer always spells easy as ‘eaZZy’. They like it that way. Please stick to this in all documents” , note it down. Otherwise, it is forgotten after five minutes, and only gets back to you in the night when the final presentation needs to be sent to the client.
- Note done what you agreed on with your team members and the customer. For meetings, there are meeting minutes (hopefully!), but for the quick 30-second call to confirm a fact, there might not be. Write down who you talked to, when, and what was talked about / agreed upon. This is a life saver. It is a much better thing to say “Bob, I am sorry that you expected me to make the analysis until today, but in our call on wednesday afternoon last week we agreed that it would have no real added value and decided to not include it” than “Bob, are you sure this was still in scope? I am sure we talked about that and agreed not to do the analysis sometime in the past!”
- When you sense that big trouble is ahead – lets say, the customer has been irate and angry for a week and threatens to call the whole deal off, and you think that your Vice President might not be amused at all – you might want to go even further and note more details down, like the delivery of documents and who was on the client site when. Of course, this borders on paranoia… as I said, when big trouble is ahead. Especially when things get really tough and you go into litigation (this does happen, unfortunately), you better know what was said and done.
I know. You have your ToDo-List in Outlook. Or in a textfile. Still – Keep a little logbook. Treat yourself with one of those fabled Moleskines, if you want. Write. Things. Down – and the worse the project gets, the more you should jot down. It will save your precious behind sooner than later.Read More