I was never “destined” to work in consulting. Honestly, for most of my life I was fixated on working in politics. So how did I become a Principal at L.E.K. Consulting? This is a fun story.
I spent most of my youth (including up to 75% of my time at the University of California Berkeley) thinking I was going into politics. My dream job was becoming a campaign manager for a national political campaign. So, while I was in college, I volunteered for mayoral campaigns, worked at City Hall, and did different programs within cities to get closer to politics. Then, as a junior in college, I earned an internship at the press office at the Department of State in Washington, D.C. At the time, I thought to myself, “This is the ultimate goal.” In reality … it was fine. This experience revealed to me that the thing I imagined myself doing for the rest of my life was always going to be “just fine.” I learned a lot about the inner workings of life in D.C., and it opened my eyes to the fact that this profession just wasn’t for me. I returned to California a little lost, but with a new sense of possibility.
It was my brother who posed the question, “Have you ever thought about going into consulting?” He assured me I could be good at it: “You brainstorm, you problem-solve, you travel and you talk a lot,” he told me. That sounded like something I could do.
I started my consulting career fresh out of undergrad, at a small consulting firm. After a few years, I went to business school, graduated and had to have this conversation with myself all over again. What did I want to do with my life?
This question was a bit easier to answer after my years as a consultant. A lot of people looking at the job market after college don’t know exactly what they want to do or what they’re good at. Consulting allows you to shop around. It’s for the people who know they’re smart, know they can solve a problem, but aren’t exactly sure where they want to land. At the core, when you first start out in consulting, it gives you so many more options. As an associate, you’ll get an ample variety of casework that helps you parse out what you’re interested in. You will also work on different teams, in different industries, with different challenges. It is a great training ground to make you a better professional and to help you figure out what you like and (sometimes more importantly) what you don’t like. For me, something might seem interesting until I do a project on it, and then I think, “Nope! Not for me. Next!”
There are very few industries that allow you to test things out the way consulting does. Similarly, there aren’t many industries where your role changes so quickly; thus, your responsibilities and vantage point change with it. For example, the things I’ve done as an Associate, Consultant, Manager and Principal have all been very different. I’m constantly evolving, stretching and growing toward that next step. That constant growth contributes to soft skill development as well. Soft skills can be described as your professionalism, adaptability, communication, and teamwork. Constantly changing teams, roles and industries makes you more amenable to working with all different types of people in evolving environments. These skills are so important, and they’re hard to refine so early in your career. You’re working with four to five different bosses per project and seven to eight different teams per year. Learning to work with that many different types of people is so good for you as a professional. How did I learn to become a manager? I picked and mimicked the best qualities from the many managers I’ve had.
When I first started out in consulting, people would ask me if I was ready for the hours and demands of the job. It’s true that consulting is intense, but there are a lot of pros in this industry people don’t often talk about. For instance, there’s a lot more flexibility than people tend to consider. One example of that is I take very long vacations — three to four weeks at a time. Not a lot of jobs will allow you to take three weeks off work twice a year. Not only that, but I also went to Australia as a manager and worked there for nine months! People also don’t consider the professional gains you can make early in your career. By the time you’re in your late 20s, you could be a senior-level manager with 60% of the firm reporting to you. Another pro of the industry is the level of intellectualism around you. There’s a level of rigor, intensity and intellectual curiosity in consulting that is unmatched. Is that scary sometimes? Absolutely! But more importantly, it makes you a better thinker. Your colleagues’ ability to process information at such a rapid speed is something you often don’t see in other areas of your life. These highly intelligent people will be your peers, your bosses and your friends.
Ultimately, it’s important to enjoy and respect the people you work with in consulting because you will spend a lot of time together. When I think back to my toughest, most arduous cases — yes, I remember they were hard, but I barely recall the intensity of it. What I do remember in great detail is having some of my best days and nights with the most amazing, capable people. The times when we laughed until we almost cried — those are the things we reminisce about.
Looking back 10-plus years later, I’m glad I ended up in consulting. I landed in an exciting, dynamic career, and I couldn’t have asked for a smarter, more amazing group of friends to go through the journey with.