Many of my coaching clients always ask me: What’s the difference between consulting and a regular job, and what is expected? These are great questions and it really depends on the sector and your interests and ambitions. Here’s my take on consulting overall and specific deciding factors you’ll need to consider if it’s the right career path for you.
Consultants typically get paid more than regular employees, because it’s assumed you bring a certain level of experience or knowledge to the table. If you travel, you’ll receive a stipend for your travel and housing expenses (hotel, transportation, food, etc). Most companies use the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) per diem rate. This gives you an idea the stipend amount or refund you’ll receive for each trip. Great way to save up! If you can, stay at your parents, find a cheap place to park your personal belongings, and fly everywhere and anywhere for work.
Work Hours & Travel Requirements
Most consulting companies serving the private sector require about 80% travel, nationally or internationally depending on the company’s client locations. Usually, a consultant will fly out Sunday night/Monday morning work throughout the week, travel back on Thursday, and work remotely on Friday. Thereby, Friday nights and Saturdays are your only “weekend time”. Consultants typically work long hours under stressful client deadlines. Work hard, play hard, is a popular motto in the consulting world. Happy Hours are popular amongst this industry. It’s also a great way to network! Typically, private sector projects are short-term, ranging from a few weeks to a few months; whereas, the public sector could have projects that take several months to years.
There is definitely more stability as an employee than a consultant. There are more unforeseen/dependent circumstances in consulting. Consulting work is based on client work, meaning, if your client doesn’t have work for you, then you aren’t billable to that client and the firm loses money. Some firms let you go right away, 2 weeks, or sometimes months. Largely, it depends on how you spend your time on “the bench” (non-billable hours) but some other factors apply too. Companies are less likely to let an employee go because work is slow (unless that’s a forecast trend for the out-years). Employees are typically let go for more performance reasons, and other times, for budget constraints.
Gaining Experience, Fast!
The biggest attraction to consulting is the accelerated speed in which you gain experience. By working with different teams, with different clients, and in different locations, it forces you to get out of your comfort zone, and acquire new skills. Consulting is a great gateway to figure out what you like and don’t like on the job. Most consulting companies have internship programs, so I would encourage you to research this option.
In summary, if you are willing and eager to travel, consulting is a great way to gain experience with a diverse set of teams and clients. Plus, it’ll give you the opportunity to save money since you typically receive generous stipends. If you are interested in consulting, but are turned off by the travel requirements, you may want to consider consulting companies that serve a specific region, as well as, look into companies that focus on public sector clients. They tend to be located in one location, so you are less likely to travel. Another point to add, if you like helping others, analyzing, and solving problems, you might have what it takes to be a great consultant!