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What is the work-life balance like for consulting?

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Victoria’s Answer

Hi!

This is a great question! I would say overall plan for long hours during WFH or Travelling. There are other factors that play into the degree of work life balance.

Tenure
- if you are new it may be harder to set up boundaries on your time, you may be expected to be an "athlete" on your engagement

Project Type
- you could be staffed on a high burn project that has quick deadlines or you could be staffed on a slow burn project, either way there is an unspoken expectation that if you are on a slow burn project you should get involved with reinvest work or proposals

(This is written in context of pursuing consulting in a firm that specializes in that / corporate america)


Hi Victoria! Thank you so much for your answer - I really appreciate your help! Savannah G.

Hi Victoria, I thought your answer was spot on. I'm originally from the Syracuse area so was pleased to see your note. Live in Houston now and do miss the great restaurants in your area. Best, Steve S (Entergy) Steve Swisher

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Gloria’s Answer

Hi Savannah.

Work-life balance can be a challenge in any career field. You have gotten a lot of great advice from individuals here. I would offer that work-life balance is going to be something that you define for yourself.

I worked for an international company where I would often have to communicate with people who lived 12 time zones away. While I wasn't traveling to them, I had to take those calls. From 4am calls to London and 8pm calls to Sydney, my days were often not my own. What does balance look like here? It is about understanding your own limitations. Are you able to say no? Sometimes I had to say no to those meetings. It was difficult. It required asking people to take notes and share them with me. Or a peer of mine was also attending, we might take turns attending the calls and share information with each other. The extra effort allowed us to be able to do things like have dinner with the family or have a decent night's sleep. In addition, you should interact with your manager to determine how to flex your time. If I was up at 4am for a call, I would work out getting out of work at 2pm or 3pm so I wasn't working too long a day.

The other element of work-life balance is life. You should have one. Work should not be the central purpose of your life. You should have hobbies and prioritize relationships over work when it makes sense. I learned a bit later in my career that putting work first guarantees you nothing. I worked 80 hour weeks for an employer for 5 years and still got laid off. Work cannot be your central focus, not if you want to live a full life. That being said, being able to see the world as many consultants do, has its advantages. Go and see the sites when you are in a new city, instead of staying locked in a hotel room. Meet the local people and make connections beyond the work. When I traveled quite a bit, it was nice going into a hotel and being greeted by name, checking in with these road friends about their lives and their families.

Gloria

Gloria - wow, this is incredibly helpful. Thank you so much for all of the advice and for talking about some of your own experiences! I really appreciate it. Thank you again for the response! Savannah G.

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Lance’s Answer

Hi Savannah!

Work-Life balance is definitely a very hot topic in the world of consulting. Many people struggle with it even as an experienced consultant! Personally, I think the best way to maintain that work-life balance is to have a clear vision of what that balance looks like to you. Once you have set reasonable expectations for it, it will be easier for you to draw those lines to protect your personal time.

Now, in the world of consulting it's unfortunately not always possible to have a definitive line since we do not always work for a specified 8 hours a day. Some days will be a little shorter and some days will be way longer, it all depends on the project, the team and how you personally handle your workload. The best thing you can do is communicate with your team. For example, if you have an event that you absolutely do not want to miss, let your team know so you can figure out how to work around it and make time for that important personal event!

The largest challenge lately has been figuring out how to keep that work-life balance in the midst of work-from-home schedules every day. For me, setting up a clearly defined schedule for the day with my team is one way we manage this balance. Some days we will go much later than we anticipated if the project demands it, but we at least have that rough outline for the day so the borders between work and personal life are a bit clearer.

One last thing, don't be afraid to put that work phone away for a couple hours after the end of the day. It can be good to check and make sure there isn't anything critical that your team needs from you after you wrap up for the day, but you shouldn't be checking it overly frequently during your personal hours. Being able to put work out of mind is a huge part of maintaining that balance, but checking once or twice into the evening is a good way to remain responsible and balanced.

Best of luck to you and I hope this helps!

Lance - thank you so much for your answer and advice. This is actually quite helpful to me even right now as a student! I will definitely keep all of this in mind going into college and (hopefully) eventually into consulting! Again, I really appreciate you taking the time to write out such a helpful response. Savannah G.

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Shivam’s Answer

Hi!

Interesting question!

In my consulting experience we have adopted to the mentality of "work-life fit". It is more about your mindset on finding a balance between growth both personally and professionally. As part of the consulting experience, learning about particular subjects is also a part of your responsibility. Instead of viewing it as work you can shifting your mindset to view it as learning for your own personal development.

Another piece of advice I got from a managing partner at a consulting firm in the past was that work life balance is "scam" in your early career. Early on you want to focus as much as possible on learning as much as you can and becoming a valuable expert in your field absorbing anything and everything you can. The balance of work life will come naturally as you grow in your career and become a skilled expert!.

Cheers.

Hi Shivam! Thank you so much for your answer. This is all extremely helpful information and advice! I agree that mindset is super important - I'm actually in the middle of reading "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" in order to improve mine :) Thanks again! Savannah G.

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Steve’s Answer

Consulting is tough regarding work-life balance as usually they travel and are on the road 4 nights a week (Sun to Thurs), and all this being before CV-19 hit us. NOw the engagement is more remote and agile.

For the younger generation it can be fun to be working mobile, at first, and after marriage comes this could tend to place pressure on the relationship as the years on the road go on. This can be a first good job for graduates who are looking to secure their first professional job. As they grow in the various grade levels from Analyst, to Consultant, to Sr. Consultant to Director to Partner the travel mode might improve somewhat in the highest grade level.

Best to study each consultancy firm fully before signing on, and read the fine print of the percentage of travel required. Should you start with a smaller niche or diverse consultancy, versus a Tier 1 accounting type, your days on the road may be less in the niche firm.

Be assertive and make the best out of this journey.

Thank you, Steve! I appreciate your help! Savannah G.

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Justin’s Answer

I worked at a large consulting firm for several years straight out of college. In my experience, the work-life balance varied from project to project. I worked on some projects that were very high stress with tight deadlines and long hours. I worked on weekends at times. Sometimes multiple weekends in a row. However, I did work on some projects that had a reasonable work life balance, too.

In general, I'd say if it is important to you that you work a strict 40 hours (or less) week, then consulting (at least at a large firm) is probably not a good choice. If you are interested in consulting (and I think there are many reasons it's a great career choice), then I'd suggest a few things:

1. Be aware that there will be times when the work-life balance is out of whack
2. Set yourself up to be flexible.
3. Advocate for yourself. Everyone will have to work long hours sometimes, but there becomes a point where it's not sustainable or healthy. Communicate openly and clearly with your boss/team to try to get that balance right.

Thank you for the advice, Justin! This is extremely helpful. Savannah G.

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Brian’s Answer

There are a lot of long answers to this question. I want to provide a short, honest and to the point answer:

1. The big consulting firms are setup to grind their new consultants once they are hired. This means the expectations of long hours, lots of travel and high performance expectations
2. This (1) weeds out those that can't handle it or simply don't want to live that way and (2) gets a lot of work out of a relatively low paid employee
3. This isn't necessarily bad, however, I believe young professionals should be aware of this before they get into the inudstry.
4. If you do grind it out successfully for a few years you will have a solid career in front of you as it is backed by a big name on your resume.

Thank you, Brain! I really appreciate your honesty and will for sure keep these points in mind moving forward. Savannah G.

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Simeon’s Answer

Work-life balance is a large challenge for those in the consulting field. The pressure is to be on the job 24/7. You do meetings during the day, your work in the evenings, and use all of your meals as networking opportunities. People even brag to each other about how much they've sacrificed and how late they've stayed at the job. It's not an environment that is super friendly to work-life balance.

Thank you for your insight. Savannah G.

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Luigi’s Answer

Hi Savannah,
I would add that it plays a significant role also the geography where you are working. I have been working for different consulting firms across different countries (US, Europe, Middle and Far East). What I found is that work/life balance depends a lot on the discipline you are able to give to your life. You have deadlines that you have to meet so it may happen that you'll be working until late the night before some meetings. But what I found in US and Middle East vs. Europe and Far East is that your working life is much more integrated in your personal one. As long as you are able to deliver your results, you have the flexibility to manage your time independently, maybe going to the office in the morning, playing tennis in lunch break and then going on with your activities in the afternoon/ evening at home.
I've had several opportunities to move to a corporate job but actually this freedom that consulting gives me is something that made me remain in this field.

Best of luck!




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Rachael’s Answer

Hi Savannah,

Great question! You've received a lot of great advice on this question so far. "Work-life" balance can be a challenge in the consulting world. It depends on if you are on a project that requires travel or is local. Typically I had to travel (fly) for my clients Monday-Thursday so I was away from home quite a bit. Every situation is different! This may change due to COVID-19 as many companies have adapted to virtual/remote work.

However, like others have said, it is helpful to try to manage this yourself and set boundaries. There can be long hours but it's important to prioritize what's important to you or work with your engagement team on a plan.

Best of luck!

Hi Rachael! Thank you for the helpful advice :) Savannah G.

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Trevor’s Answer

A lot of great answers here already. I would just add that a lot of it is up to how you manage your work. If you can set boundaries well then you can maintain a healthy balance.

Thank you for the advice, Trevor! Savannah G.

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Ganesh’s Answer

As everyone before me mentioned, it is possible to have a good work life balance if you are able to set boundaries and work with the team around the timing aspect of the work. However that being said, the travel is an integral part of the consulting and if that's something that excites you, please look into this career.

At any point after a consulting career, if you feel you need to stay rooted to a city due to any number of reasons you can always switch to product companies which provide a more stable work environment.

Thank you for your answer! I am definitely very excited about the traveling aspect of consulting, but I really appreciate your advice for it that ever changes. Savannah G.

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Nina’s Answer

Hi Savannah,
In addition to the advice Victoria offered, I would also offer that consulting is usual for individuals that have a high level of expertise and experience. Many individuals shift to consulting as a personal or self-owned business once they've gained the necessary level of experience so that they can schedule work to fit their life. In a self-owned consulting business, you may be less likely to experience burnout, frequent travel, or other nuances because you would own your engagements and determine your work schedule. Like any self-owned business, this takes a lot of work up front to build trust with clients as well as your "brand". I hope this is helpful!

Nina recommends the following next steps:

Research linkedin to identify consultants that work in an industry that interests you - reach out to see if you can speak to them about their experiences.

Yes, this is very helpful! I appreciate this so much, thank you!! Savannah G.

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Sam’s Answer

Hello! The management/business consulting model changed drastically in 2020. My experience has been consultants traveling weekly and onsite at a client for 3 to 4 days during a week. Travel schedules depend on the consulting company and the client project (typically fly in on Monday and out on Friday). This has changed to 100% virtual consulting. This comes with changes when people work in different time zones. The key here addresses your concern of 24/7 access. You have to be able to shut things down and set away from your work to maintain the balance in your life.

Hi Sam - thank you for your answer/advice! That is a super good point on how COVID-19 has impacted this field. Savannah G.

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Spencer’s Answer

In addition to Victoria's answer, I'd say the workload also depends on the firm and industry. When I was working in consulting straight out of college, I found that my work-life balance was better than some of my friends who were working at different firms. Some firms tend to push their junior consultants to do more work, and from my experience, it seems that the projeect team and the company culture drove a lot of that.

Okay, that definitely makes sense. I hadn't thought about that! Thank you! Savannah G.

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Edward’s Answer

At the beginning of your career, you typically have numerous project, long hours and tons of work to get done on a variety of projects. The great part of this is the experience you gain. I highly recommend anyone with a business degree to go into consulting for at least 2-4 years. The experience you gain is invaluable. Prior to COVID, plan to be on the road 4 days a week, every week.

As you move up, the pressure changes. In order to make and maintain partnership, you need a book of business and client relationships to drive revenue long term. This can lead to extremely long hours and you have to put your client's first. This can put you at odds with a family life balance. Anecdotally, I have seen many partners in big consulting firms divorced or health problem more than in other careers. Of course, with that comes great rewards of being a successful partner.

Of course, there are lots of careers outside of the partner track, which would allow you the opportunity to have more balance. These roles are typically refereed to as director level.

Ultimately, the choice of work life balance. It is what you make it. But in my experience, the more successful partners lean towards the work side of the balance.


Thank you for such helpful and honest advice! Savannah G.

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Hassan’s Answer

Work life balance depends on the project you are staffed in, in sometimes you would have to work long hours and probably weekends to meet tight deadlines while in other projects deadlines would be more flexible. If you are thinking about getting into consulting i would suggest that you be more flexible and have an open mindset about working on weekends and long hours from time to time.
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Michel’s Answer

Honestly it is a very tough topic. Whether in normal state, where you have to travel most of the week, which might make you lose some family moments or in the current state in COVID where travel is restricted but the customer feels you're connected anyway so why not answer 24/7.

It's also more challenging when you're younger where partners and customers think you should always be open for their requests and that you're available whenever you're needed.

However, you are the one who sets the limit. You can set boundaries, like I need to be home for so and so. I will not be available to any communications after a certain hour. You get challenged but you can do it.

Yes, sometimes this comes at the cost of them comparing you to other people and preferring other people over you.But honestly the more people who take a stand, the easier we break this toxic mindset.
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Connor’s Answer

Savannah,

Consulting enables an active and flexible schedule. I have found that the hours are heavier than a typical 40 hour week. The bonus is that you are not doing the same thing everyday. You get to travel for part of the week sometimes, and sometimes you get to work from home. I love to be moving and changing. The lifestyle is not for everybody but I tried it out during my internship and loved it. I love seeing new places, trying new foods and restaurants when I am off work, and meeting people from around the globe.

I have found that work from home in consulting is just like college. College was a flexible schedule though sometimes it involved late nights or early mornings. The schedule is not boring. If you are someone that is good at getting the things you need to get done then it is a great fit because of the flexibility to do everything you need in a day around work.

The life balance part of traveling is hanging out with your Co-Workers and taking care of yourself when you are not on the client site. It allows you to really focus on your work because you are pulled out of the world for just a couple days of the week.
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Nate’s Answer

Hi Savannah,

Fantastic question, as I know it is a very important topic as it pertains to consulting. I will start by saying that consulting is a continuous demand on your time. Consulting is a more unique career path in that the time demands differ greatly throughout the week/month/year, creating a fairly unpredictable work-life in many situations. In consulting, you work on different initiatives on different clients, and often, the firm leadership you work under differs between projects. Often, the demands of the project, client, and team leadership will differ greatly between projects, where in some situations, you are provided a lighter workload that results in a 40-45 hour work-week, and in others, you can find yourself working 60-70 hours in a week with an infrequent weekend fire-drill.

On the more positive side, consulting firms are becoming a lot more progressive in how they manage and prevent burn-out among staff level employees. For instance, many firms offer additional incentives to use the paid time off (PTO) balance you have **earned** (e.g. a small cash bonus to use it). I have found that leadership on my projects have grown increasingly motivated to provide an environment for you to enjoy life away from work and enabling boundaries throughout your day (e.g. no meetings before 9am / after 6pm).

As far as how you can impact your own work-life balance, the key is being organized and proactive. The more control you take over how/when you get work done (and how effective it is), the more control you will have over your schedule. Of course there are horror stories of long nights/weekends, which will continue to exist, but the better you manage your own time (and manage upwards), the less frequent these will be.

Hope this helps and best of luck.
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Rishi’s Answer

Hi! I would say it depends on a lot of factors, which I know is not the most helpful answer. But when you are in consulting, factors just as the project you are on, where the company is currently in terms of company needs, and the type of work you are doing, can all impact how long the hours can be.

For example, if your client is in need of implementing a new software in the next two months, you might have some late nights trying to make sure the software is ready for implementation, the testing process goes smoothly, etc.

While on the other hand, if your client is stable and is more seeking for project management help to ensure a small project goes smoothly and within budget, this may be a smaller lift for yourself.

I would say the best mindset is to go into consulting with an open mind, because every scenario is different. I hope this helps you!

Thank you for the response, Rishi! This is very helpful and yes, I definitely understand how it would depend on a lot of factors. Thanks again for the help! Savannah G.

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