Skip to Main Content
by Vault Consulting Editors | May 06, 2009


Often in the recruiting process, whether it be in an information session, interview or job fair, you will hear those terribly useless words, "It depends," when asking about general experiences at a consulting firm. "It depends on what?" you ask, hoping to gain some clarity to aid your company selection. Unfortunately, the answers too often fail to get you the knowledge you need to make the best decision.

Understandably, with dozens of industries and practice areas combined with the nearly infinite variety of clients and hundreds of thousands of potential co-workers, experiences in the consulting field may vary considerably from person to person. However, understanding a typical experience is vital for choosing to go into the consulting industry and then selecting a firm.

The following is the start of a regular series in which I would like to relate my experience working for a major consulting firm for the past two years, since graduating from the Kelley School of Business’s Masters of Information Systems program at Indiana University and Miami University’s undergraduate business school. Since then, I have been working as a supply chain consultant in the distribution industry. Hopefully, this column will help prospective consultants to answer those same questions I had before I started.

Life on the Beach: Part 1

For the past two years, I have been staffed on a major scale SAP software implementation for a Fortune 500 consumer packaged goods company. I worked from 40 to 76 hours a week, at various odd hours (and shifts even), traveled to every odd corner of the Midwest and saw more factory tours than the Food Network's Follow that Food. I’m Platinum on both Hilton and Priority Club hotels, having stayed around 200 nights with them last year, and who knows how many flights—which was more than enough for a free round trip to China. I was extended on this project at least a dozen times from the original one-month estimate, and was part of five different teams within the project. I became ingrained in the project so much that I almost felt "native." I recently said my goodbyes to my friends and colleagues; they bought me a few drinks and United Airlines sent me on my way home.

But now I am "on the beach" (also referred to as the bench), the consulting terminology for in between projects. I have been on the bench twice before, once when first starting and once when switching roles. In this economy, you can bet I'm not the only one in this boat. Frankly, it would take The Freedom of the Seas to hold us all. Life on the beach is like being unemployed but you still get a paycheck (at least for a while), and you can still pick up girls with your business card. Yes, it could be the actual beach, but my Thinkpad is not sand resistant and the 3G signal is not strong enough to make it past the volleyball courts.

Different companies have distinct philosophies for bench time in regards to the quantity of resources they want on hand for potential projects (and your resulting likelihood to be on the bench), where you are expected to be, and what they expect from you administratively and productively. As is everything, these factors are always evolving, finding new ways to keep you busy. And you thought busy work was just for students!

If you find yourself on the beach, don’t let fear set in. The next few posts will provide details about life on the beach. Stay tuned!

-Posted by Taylor O'Neal


Filed Under: Consulting