Three Important Reasons NOT To Do Consulting

You Don’t See Many Articles Telling This Side of The Story

The unstated uniform of consultants — blue-and-pink striped socks.

At a recent conversation, I asked someone, “Why do you want to get into consulting?”. There were the usual suspects — it was prestigious, fast-paced, and exits were great, yada yada yada.

Those are all fairly valid, I reasoned. But the thing is, everyone wants them.

And meanwhile, no one talks about why they might REALLY dislike consulting.

Consulting, at the end of the day, is still a specific profession. That means that, like all other professions, some people will like it, and some people will hate it.

It is important that people enamored with the glamor of it dig into the reasons NOT to do consulting, and get a balanced viewpoint.

If you don’t like coding, then you can’t be a software developer. If you hate finance, you can’t be a banker. But it isn’t immediately clear what sort of person would NOT be the right fit for consulting, whose associates touch many industries, learn many skills, and get a ton of perks to boot.

So instead of affirming the glory of consulting, I pointed out 3 things that he might not like about it. These are experiences from my own time in the industry and from talking to current and ex-consultants.

1. You are beholden to the client.

This is the top-quoted “minus” by current and ex-consultants by far. Consulting is wholly client-focused. Most of what consultants do is to make their clients happy. And that means 3 regular annoyances:

  • Uncomfortable Lifestyle Changes. Expect to switch up your lifestyle for the worse — lots of flying, lots of late nights. Consultants built the 3–4–5 model because colocating with the client sped up the project lifecycle. And if the client needs something done right now, you’ll have to drop everything to do it.
  • Dealing with Politics. Of course, every company (and even startups!) has politics. What’s worse in this case is your status as an outsider. It adds a layer of humans to navigate, and you’re generally not trusted as much as someone within the corporation. In the most extreme cases, consultants are sometimes brought in to untangle these dangerous political rivalries. That is not fun at all.
  • A Lack of Ownership. When all is said and done, the client has the final say. That could mean that they follow through with the solution and succeed. But often, that could also mean that they follow up with a weak implementation, or that they don’t take your recommendation at all. That feeling of not owning your own solution is frustrating.

2. Better Optionality

Building Knowledge Expertise

On knowledge expertise, a consulting gig is ideal for someone who’s not ready to commit. It exposes you to many industries and businesses. However, if you already know where you want to be, 2 years of consulting turns into a huge opportunity cost.

For example, if you eat, sleep, and sweat fashion retail, your ideal job is probably something in the fashion retail space. 2 years of not being embedded there can lead to missed networks, opportunities, and learnings of the ins-and-outs of that world.

Building Skill Expertise

On skill expertise, consulting is harder to beat. You get drilled on a couple of key skills in every single project for 2 years. I’ve heard of many consultants whose way of problem-solving was refined through the consulting furnace. Just read this personal testimony.

Nevertheless, in this day and age, many paths have established themselves as paths of incredible learning. You could do investment banking, private equity, hedge funds, venture capital, join a startup, found a startup, start a small business, or even travel the world. No one is better than the other. Look at the set of skills each path focuses on, and the pace that you would have to run at, to find your right fit.

3. Focusing Too Much on the 5%

A well-known phrase goes like this: “5% of the challenge is building the strategy; 95% of it is execution”. It rings true to me and has been confirmed by numerous top-level executives (see here and here).

In consulting, your whole focus becomes the 5%. All the skills and knowledge you gain is to build a winning strategy. And the strategy is undoubtedly important — without it, there is no 95%. But my personal take is that your growth in execution stagnates, and you don’t walk away with any “building” stories.

Just today, I saw peers on my Newsfeed talking about their amazing experience building the new Kindle, or running a Techweek conference. Being in consulting, I simply cannot expect to build or run new things the way they do.

If any of these irks you, don’t worry. Consultants regularly grapple with one or two or these pet peeves. But if you can’t stomach most of them, or feel very strongly about them, take a step back. There might be other paths best suited for you.

I found these two articles here and here that also gave some useful viewpoints on the profession, go check them out!

Like or hate consulting? Let’s carry on the conversation.

Email:, Twitter: @bryancai91

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