What Consulting Will Not Teach You

Consulting will teach you quite a bit. It will teach you how to deal with people of all makes and models and will teach you how to truly make things happen with your words. But for all of its positives, the consulting world promises to teach a lot that it did not teach me, and that I know many of my consulting peers still struggle with.

Consulting will not teach you what you really want to do. Many potential consultants - myself included - come into the consulting world uncertain about what they want to do with their lives. Consulting promises exposure to a breadth of experiences that no other industry can possibly match. You’ll serve clients of all shapes and sizes, you’ll work with wonderful people who have so much to teach you, and you’ll certainly have a stack of work experience to show off on your resume. But all of this choice won’t imbue you with passion for any one particular thing. You have to find that on your own, and consulting makes it incredibly difficult to do so for many young people. If you’re struggling to make a decision about your future, consulting will not help you make that choice.

Consulting will not teach you how to build a perfect product for the perfect customers. Consultants are rarely brought on to do detailed user and market research and build the product that will serve those users in that market. It’s more common to see one firm brought in to do the market research, neatly packaged in a branded report, followed by a second firm that will devise an “action plan” based on the parts of the report that the client liked, followed by a third firm that will actually build the thing at the lowest cost possible. In no universe is this the most effective way to build a product that makes customers happy.

Consulting will not teach you how to do things on the cheap. There are two types of contracts major consulting firms go after. The first type is driven by legal, regulatory, or compliance-based requirements that will cause giant businesses massive financial pain if they don’t follow the rules. Consulting contracts of this nature are predicated on the notion that it’s far more valuable to pay them a million dollars than risk a fifty-million dollar fine. If the final bill goes up to two million dollars for consulting services, it’s still worth it. The other type of contract comes up with the million dollars could potentially save fifty million or generate an additional fifty million dollars in sales.. and again, if the final bill creeps up an extra half million or so, no problem. This is not a recipe for learning how to do things in a lean, efficient manner. You are playing with sums of money so large that they’re beyond the ken of most mortals.

Consulting will not teach you how to build a business. Consulting will have you swimming in business, to be sure, but you’ll be swimming in businesses that have already been built. They’ve already sorted through their growing pains and can afford to call you up for consulting services. (Now, I should caveat this point. Consulting will present you with a lot of wrong ways to do things, and this knowledge will serve you well when you confront similar situations in a new enterprise.) There is nothing that will teach you how to build a business like actually building a business, and there is nothing that will teach you about building a team like actually building a team.

Ultimately, a gig in consulting will not teach you how to actually be a software engineer or hospital manager or any of the numerous professionals you will support. You are like a grad student who started helping the basketball team and suddenly wound up as an assistant coach, but you are not on the court yourself and you are not the head coach calling the plays. Consulting is an excellent profession! But if you’re hungry to have the responsibility and the consequences of starting and growing a real business, consulting will not satisfy that itch. If you’re struggling to make your mind up about your life and hoping that consulting will help you sort through it, you are likely to be disappointed. You have to jump straight into the world and take a risk - an experience that consulting cannot give you.