Many who are new to the working world arrive there from a path that has been shaped by many "guides." These include high school counselors, college career services professionals, and even parental input into career options and choices. Once you've landed that all-important first "real" job, however, all of that help can dry up; at that point, your career development is down to you, and you alone. In this post, L.E.K. Consulting's Rose L. provides four ways that new consultants can ensure that they are building their skills and taking steps to advance their careers. The good news: her advice applies for employees across a variety of other industries too!
1. Take 5 Minutes
Most firms have an extensive review process that will provide you with an objective view of your progress. At L.E.K., this includes a review of your performance after each case, along with a semiannual summary review. At first, feedback can be flustering. Many first-year Associates straight from undergrad can't remember the last time they received a "B," and many PhDs have been the best at what they do for years (so what if only three people in the world do similar work?). It may help to view each case as a clean slate—new team, new questions and new opportunities.
Invest the time at the beginning of each case to reflect on your recent reviews (you can spare 5 minutes!). Do you need additional practice at a particular skill? Have you been encouraged to undertake a new challenge for the first time? Choose one or two specific areas to personally focus on.
2. Face Your Weaknesses Head On
Given the wide variety of work in consulting, you'll inevitably find some aspects of your job that don't come naturally. While your neighbor may be an Excel whiz, she may be less comfortable with primary research. You may crank out beautiful slides but require additional time to develop a model methodology. If you struggled with a particular aspect of your last case, step one is to try again! Don't avoid this aspect of your new case, as tempting as it may be.
A little humility can reveal supportive colleagues, who in return get to practice their coaching and management skills while they share their expertise. This could mean a team member sitting down with you to provide tips on structuring a financial model, reading over a client email to help you polish your language, or engaging in deeper explanations of edits and suggestions.
3. Speak Up
At L.E.K., each team member is given the opportunity to name "one new thing" that they would like to experience at the outset of a new case. If you get a similar opportunity, speak up! Development needs often translate naturally into this process, and you don't need a formal program in place to ask to participate in an aspect of a case that is new or is in an area where you'd like to improve. For example, request to write an interview guide, help "blank" a portion of the presentation (create PowerPoint slides that outline your hypotheses and future analysis) or build a more complex analysis tool. Work with your manager and team to carve out these opportunities.
Don't simply fall back on your strengths, even though this may feel more comfortable and seem most efficient for the team. Consulting firms expect and reward employees for stretching themselves. Your performance will be evaluated along objective standards that change constantly during your tenure, and reaching for a productive "one new thing" on each case will help keep you on track.
4. Lunch with Your Mentor
Many consulting firms like L.E.K. have a career development coach (CDC) program, where you are assigned an official mentor in a more senior position who remains a constant presence throughout your career. Regardless of whether you have an official program, seek out a mentor who can provide you with a long-term and objective perspective. Your mentor may play formal and informal roles in your development. During summary reviews at L.E.K., your CDC will give input and participate in the delivery of your review. Between cases, you can schedule informal check-ins with your mentor (who doesn't enjoy lunch!) during which you can discuss everything from case specifics to long-term aspirations.
Don't expect your mentor to track every review and tell you exactly where to focus on a case-by-case basis. That's your job. But you can bounce ideas and questions off of your mentor, which can include "What do you see as the pros and cons of getting an MBA?" or "What's the typical timing for promotion to the next level?" They have the experience and perspective to guide you – and all you have to do is make a lunch reservation.
Your firm wants you to succeed and will give you the opportunities, feedback and support that you need to excel. Take advantage by investing time in self-reflection, pushing yourself on your weaknesses and being proactive about your short- and long-term career development. Good luck!
This post was adapted from L.E.K. Consulting’s L.E.K. Advisor blog, which is an interactive resource for undergraduate, MBA and PhD candidates interested in pursuing a career in management consulting. The L.E.K. Advisor acts as a voice for the L.E.K. brand and also features contributions from L.E.K. employees who share their “real-world” perspectives about the management consulting industry and life inside L.E.K. Check it out at http://ask.lek.com/.
To learn more about the firm, also check out Vault's L.E.K. Consulting profile.