Consulting is something I'd always been curious to try but wary about because of the lifestyle and inconsistency. I'd always been told that it's physically demanding because consultants are expected to travel up to 100%, which in business, implies Monday-Thursday on the client site and Friday at the home office. On the other hand, mentors and panelists have shared that consulting is great for entry-level professionals because of the opportunity to learn a lot very quickly - varying roles in varying industries.
However, like anything new, there's a lot to discover once you're on the actual job. During the time I was a design consultant at IBM iX, I observed many elements that make consulting truly different from any other line of business. Below, I present 5 things I wish I knew about consulting.
1. It's all about utilization
As soon as I returned from orientation, I had a project waiting for me. I was one of the lucky ones who didn't have to wait on the bench cold-emailing internal IBMers for work or doing mini, un-billable internal work. Being billable is an advantage in consulting because it means that you're productive and a client is paying for your time. Prolonged un-productivity may lead to termination.
2. The job search never really ends
There are some really cool projects and unexciting projects. The key to get on a cool project is to know people who can vouch for you. In consulting, it seems that there's a constant need of networking, resume submissions, and nonstop high-level performance because that's how you get noticed. There's even an internal portal where consultants go to browse for openings and apply. Even though I had a full-time, salary position, I didn't necessarily feel job secured because a client project doesn't last forever.
3. Your network will dictate your projects
Nearly my entire studio was on a particular project engagement. Since I was new to the company, it was determined that I also be on the same project engagement. On my first week in San Francisco, an associate partner visited from NYC and before he did, one of the studio managers told one of my colleagues (who is the same band as me) to use that opportunity to network. That colleague was on the bench and was looking for a project. Essentially, project opportunities revolve around who you know and who they know.
4. The client is always right... for the most part
Just like in a customer services role where the customer is always right, in consulting, the client is always right. No matter how you may disagree with a process, decision, or request, you have to do what the client says. For example, if a client came up to a designer and asked them to change all of the fonts to a different size, the designer will have to do it, no questions asked.
5. The bench is not as bad as it seems
Many of my peers who entered IBM with me were not as fortunate to have a project waiting for them upon returning from orientation. A few of them grew frustrated out of lack of direction, boredom, and stagnancy. However, I also grew to meet a few people who couldn't wait to be benched because of how much they disliked their project. The bench is an opportunity to refine skills, rejuvenuate, and reevaluate your goals.
Each person's experience is unique, and I can't guarantee that my observations of consulting will be consistent and align with others'. I also recognize that IBM consulting may be very different from another company's. I don't intend to generalize consulting, but only hope to share my authentic experience as I've been asked by fellow peers and mentees. If you're interested in learning more about my consulting, IBM, or IBM consulting experience, feel free to reach out!