Consulting is one of those career lines whose reality goes unnoticed under the gleam of luxury associated with it. There’s a lot more to consulting than 5-star hotels, or international tours which are merely a facet of the career. If you’re looking to make a career as a consultant, here’s all you need to know.
So precisely, what consulting is all about? How is the life of a consultant? Let’s hear it from Mr. Chaahat Khattar; who has been a consultant for more than six years. We asked him some common questions, and here are the responses.
Chaahat is a consultant by profession and a traveler by passion. He has been working with central and state governments in India and abroad assisting them in policy implementation and strategic initiatives. He is an MBA and an Harvard alum who has over 100 articles on economics and finance to his name. He is an avid traveler, cyclist and technocrat.
Q1. How’d you define the life of a consultant?
Having spent more than half a decade purely in consulting, to speak freely everything which a person generally doesn’t like, including, artificial food at the airport, traveling all the time, home becomes a stopover or weekend getaway, late workings are no more complaints, but mundane collectively make the life of a consultant.
But that is the choice we’ve made ourselves. When I had my interview with the Partner of my service line, this was the first thing he said, that this a choice which you’re making, nobody is forcing you to accept consultancy as a profession. But if you’re getting into this profession, it’s absolutely what you’re opting for yourself, and your career ambition should be to become a Partner and if it is not, then don’t waste any time into this profession.
To be very honest, personally speaking, it has been a very rewarding journey so far. On a lighter note, I’ve been single all through last 5-6 years, and the only responsibility I had was towards myself, to grow professionally, to work for the firm and make my parents proud.
Being a consultant is very exciting and full of networking; you get to meet new people, you get to go on new projects and solve real-life problems every day. I was a tax consultant initially, but then I realized that I’m not meant for a typical desk job for too long, so I moved into core government consulting which involves a lot of traveling. I’ve been blessed and lucky to have traveled to other countries and different states which significantly helped my growth both professionally and personally.
The best part about consulting is that there’s no limit to your growth and you are the one in the driver’s seat. You can choose to be aggressive, you can also choose to have a good work-life balance. Of course, being aggressive pays off well.
Q2. How would you define the work culture at a consultancy?
The basic foundation of work culture in the consulting industry is, undoubtedly, being ambitious.
Everyone who comes here is ambitious or rather becomes ambitious once he or she joins this field, there’re a lot of people who join from industry or come directly from college, much like me and they really don’t know what they’re getting into.
So this entire consulting ball game is all about being ambitious if you’re not ambitious, then it’s slightly difficult for you. Because ultimately, then you’ll start questioning your existence or ultimate goal of being there in this profession.
So accordingly the work culture is defined in this way itself, that you’ll find a lot of competition, and you’ll find a lot of ways wherein you may think that something is not right or correct as per you.
But given the fact that consulting is a service industry and there are thousands of people involved, you are bound to sell yourself and have not one but multiple competitive advantages to excel.
The work culture in consulting is also about mutual learning. Everyone is having some or the other strength, you can learn from one another. And at the same time, if you want to take it the other way around, you might get envious and jealous.
So it’s all up to you how you see work culture as you can see it as something enriching or rewarding or you can see it in a negative light as well. But to make the most out of it, one must keep learning from every experience and every person.
And speaking from an overall perspective, it’s a work culture which fosters a lot of thought process, because you have to be very professional with the client and come up with new ideas, so the overall culture demands you to be very proactive and to have some problem-solving skills at the same time.
Q3. How did you make your career as a consultant?
I joined my firm right after my college and to be very honest I did not know, which stream or which line of business I was joining. I was very delighted with the fact that I was joining KPMG.
So I didn’t think too much about it, I just took it up, and of course, I did not have any idea about the field I was joining. But eventually, say fast forward one year, I became a part of this whole industry in which I was into.
And when I decided to go for my masters, it was very difficult for me to leave my firm, so after pursuing my masters, I came back and had ever since been part of this organization.
So far I have had an interesting journey working in different streams, with different bosses, in different work cultures, and at different locations.
But overall it has been like I said, a very enriching one for me. I have given everything that I could to this firm, and I am always indebted to the opportunities, rewards, and recognition the firm has bestowed upon me so far.
Q4. How’s the career growth in the field?
As I mentioned initially itself, the sky’s the limit in the consultancy industry, so career progression is very fast, but it all depends on how much you want to take. If you have the ability to give your days and nights to industry and if you’re very very ambitious, this is the line to be actually in.
There’re plenty of growth ladders which you can take, you can move to different segment, you can move to a different line of business, and within the same line of business, you can develop your expertise and specializations. This is the best field to grow if you’re ambitious and want to grow up the ladder of success fast.
Q5. What was the most interesting project you’ve worked on?
My most interesting project was in Saudi Arabia where I was stationed for five months.
We worked very closely with the government there in terms of revamping one of their key corporations. That project was unique in many senses; one of course work was absolutely amazing because we were transforming something in a nation where transformations are not considered to be very easy. I had the absolute different experience in Saudi Arabia; the people were so very courteous, we had an absolutely normal life as well as a life full of challenges every single day.
When we went there, of course, much like many people we had our inhibition. We were looking up to how Saudi Arabia will greet us, however, that was the best engagement both from a personal and professional point of view, and I made a lot of good friends locally as well within the team which went to Saudi from India. And also the clientele there respected us, gave us full freedom and, in fact, let us represent them at different levels, also allowed us to travel.
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Q6. Any tips for the people willing to make a career in consultancy?
See like I said it’s a choice we all make, nobody is forcing you to join the consultancy industry. It is very challenging, let me put it that way, and there are a lot of ambitious people, there’s a lot of traveling involved, the client can be as good as you can think of and as bad as you can think of.
We’ve to be hospitable to our client no matter what, and for anyone who wants to join consulting must understand that your initial years will be the key decisive factors.
You have to set expectations for yourself very low, for the firm and client you have to keep them very high. You have to keep aside your ego, as it is very important to ensure that your client gets happy, and you deliver your best.
My key fundamental has been that don’t put over expectations in the mind of the client, set the expectations right, try to deliver beyond the expectations that will be good for yourself and as well as your client.
Just be fair and just be truthful to your job and work as hard as possible and the sky is the limit for you. If you’re not ambitious of becoming a partner, don’t waste your time in the consultancy industry.
Q7. What misconceptions people have about the consulting industry?
A lot of people think that the consulting industry is all about being fancy; they’ll be staying in a 5-star hotel and having everything, that’s not the case actually. That might be a case for a specific engagement but let us understand every engagement is different from others.
There might be a client who might be paying you millions of dollars, or there might be a client who might pay you thousands of dollars.
Ultimately you’re a consultant, you don’t know which engagement you’ll be entering in; every engagement is different from the other, all you should focus upon is delivering your best at the engagement.
Consultancy is not about living a luxurious life; it’s all about having a happy client at the end of the day. And as much as you deliver well, then you don’t have to worry about small integrities.
Another misconception people have is that consulting involves a lot of politics, a lot of dirty games around, that is not the case actually; see the best part about consulting is that your work is very dynamic, your client changes, your team changes, your boss changes, your reporting people change, so in that way the situation is so dynamic that you don’t get really bored.
So while there might be some politics in some field for a period of time, it’s all up to you to get away from it; you can always choose a different engagement, you can always choose a different team, that’s the flexibility consulting brings to you, which other industries might not offer.
But if you want a stable growth, you don’t want to travel much; consulting does allow that, though it will have a trade-off. You can’t have both; that you want growth and don’t want to sacrifice on something. There will be some tradeoffs involved, there will be some hardships involved, but that all gets remunerated by way of rewarding and recognition.
Q8. Anything you’d like to add.
Consulting has helped me become a better and much more independent human over time. It is a service industry and at the end of the day what really matters is to have a happy client. The industry has helped me become self-dependent to both handle projects independently and to even travel solo big time. You can pursue your dreams; you can pursue what you want to do if you have a happy client.
So just like everything in life; the grandeur of consultancy comes at a price, you can’t have it without putting in the hard work and sacrifices.
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