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by Vault Consulting Editors | March 10, 2009

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Management consulting can be challenging and rewarding, and a great starting point for your career. During your tenure, you'll face many different issues concerning strategy and organization, as well as dealing with the operational area.

Most projects are completed, more or less, over several months and involve a team of consultants as well as staff from the client firm, the client's experts. No two projects are identical, so you can't use a "cookie cutter" approach. This means that you'll have to quickly orient yourself and come up with a creative and feasible solution to the problem based on factual analyses. Given that most projects are of a multidisciplinary nature, you'll build up an extensive network of specialists in various sectors, for example logistics, corporate finance, e-commerce, etc. The project-based environment of typical consulting engagements, the range of projects and the enormous pool of talent with which you interact on a daily basis, all create this unique environment with an enormous learning curve. The diversity provided within a strategy consulting firm allows you to build a broad set of functional skills, while also gaining industry expertise.

Having said all this, it's not difficult to imagine that most people who join a strategy consulting firm normally leave within a couple of years. Most will be aware of the so-called up-or-out policy that is common in some of the leading strategy consulting companies. Many will find employment in an entirely different field than external consulting. The consulting profession can offer a rewarding career, however, it cannot typically be classified as a sustainable career in and of itself. But it does prepare most people for a series of excellent post-consulting career opportunities. I am, therefore, hesitant to call strategy consulting a long-term career opportunity.

At most strategy consulting firms you will have an impact. The purpose of the work is to positively and permanently improve the performance of your clients' firms. This determination to help your client to succeed goes beyond a professional obligation and becomes more a personal commitment. You'll play a central role in achieving this impact from day one. You'll find yourself consistently encouraged and supported in your personal and professional development through - among other things - training and personal coaching by personnel at various levels within your organization. They will also offer you a wide range of options that will form the building blocks of the rest of your career.

From your very first day as a consultant at a strategy consulting firm, you'll be working on a team approaching matters that are of overriding importance to the senior management of leading companies and you'll help clients achieve visible results. The firm will provide you with the tools you need to develop your career as quickly as possible. Your supervisors will encourage you to work on your personal and professional development and, in most cases, the pace is limited only by your own performance. The further you take your career at the firm, the more you will become involved in its leadership, from recruitment to accumulating knowledge, and in its strategy and organization.

Given these challenges during your time in strategy consulting, you'll grasp the purpose of helping your clients to succeed and make this your personal commitment rather than a professional obligation when you consult with senior management of leading companies. The trust, knowledge, skills and leadership will automatically become "final products" of this purpose.

A good way to test whether or not you're still interested and challenged by a career in strategy consulting is to ask yourself each year, "Is it still serving this purpose?" If the answer to this question is "Yes," you still feel the need to help clients to succeed beyond a professional obligation. However, if it isn't affirmative, more than likely you've gotten everything out of being a strategy consultant and it's time to try your luck in any of the challenging post-consulting career opportunities in the marketplace.

Heico Wesselius is a Vault management consulting expert.

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