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Advice / Career Paths / Exploring Careers

A Sneak Peek Inside the Life of a Consultant

As a consultant, one of the questions I get asked most is, “What exactly do you do all day?”

While I can assure you that there is never a typical day in the life of a consultant, I’ve decided to offer a sneak peek into how many of my days have looked over the course of the last few years. Consultants are lucky to experience a lot of variety and a jam-packed and exciting day almost every day—but it’s also not the easiest lifestyle, and it’s certainly not for everybody.

So, if you’re thinking about becoming a consultant, read on for a glimpse into a day in the life of one—and see if it could be the life for you.

5:30 AM: Wake Up and Commute

It’s Monday morning, which means you’ll be making your way to the client site. Sometimes you’ll be working locally and can just head to the office, but often you will be boarding a flight and heading to your client’s office in another city—that is, after grabbing your suitcase (pre-packed from the night before, of course) and scanning your email for any important project emails you may need to address before you leave.

6 AM: Coffee, Check-In, and Fly Out

With priorities in mind, you grab your first of many coffees for the day and head through security, breezing right through (thanks to your priority status and the fact that you’ve done this routine every week for the last few months). You quickly board your plane and head off to the client site, editing PowerPoints and Excel files as you go.

9 AM: Land and Head to the Client Site

If your team is all coming from the same place, you may share a taxi or rent a car, but typically you’ll jump in a cab (on the company’s expense, of course) and head to the client’s office. As usual, you scan your phone for any emails you may have missed while in the air and check your RSS app for any breaking business news.

9:30 AM: Check Emails

Once you get to the client site, you will head to your project room. Sometimes this can be an office or cubicle the client has provided you, but it can also be a boardroom reserved for you and your project members to work. While you wait for your team members to arrive you respond to emails—answering questions from your manager or client, sending out documents people have requested from you, and maybe even enjoying the occasional funny cat GIF.

10 AM: Project Check-In

Once your project team has arrived—typically three or four other people—you will quickly check in to discuss upcoming meetings, deliverables, and how you are progressing against your timelines. You may meet with a more senior lead to discuss risks or present any materials, in addition to providing a status report on the project. (What’s a typical project? You may be giving suggestions for how to implement cost cutting measures, providing advice to your client on how to enter a new market, or reviewing your client’s processes for efficiency.)

10:30 AM: Client Check-In

After you finish checking in with your project team and lead, you stop by your client’s office to say “good morning” and let them know you’ve arrived. The person you’re reporting to will either be the overall client sponsor (typically C-Level or VP), or someone you are working with directly (a director or manager level). You’ll also chat about any joint meetings you may need to prepare for or any deliverables the company can expect for the upcoming week.

11 AM: Grind

Around this time will be your first opportunity to actually sit down and start working. Because your day is jam-packed, you need to get the most out of these couple hours and do as much work as you can, so throw on some headphones and zone out into the land of PowerPoints and Excel data. While your client may get an hour-long lunch break, you’ll probably want the time to work, so look forward to running down to the nearest food court, grabbing a quick lunch, and bringing it back up to eat while you crank away.

2 PM: Client Meetings

Client meetings make up a very important part of day-to-day work, and you can expect at least one every day. During these meetings, you’ll usually review deliverables you have made or gather inputs to help create your future materials. Typically, these meetings will be run by your team, but as an entry-level consultant, your job may be to share your screen or take notes while a more senior consultant presents. No matter what your role, though, it’s important to be on point: In addition to your direct team, a more extended group of clients or your key client contact will be there.

4 PM: Debrief and Plan

After your client meetings, you will meet with your project team to share what you learned and delegate any new work. You’ll probably also come up with an action plan for the rest of the week.

4:30 PM: Afternoon Venti

The second half of the day is kind of just the beginning, so it’s time to grab another coffee to give you the fuel needed for the evening (I usually opt for the large).

5 PM: Grind

Once the client has departed and gone home, you can really get some work done. You will work in the project room creating your deliverables and talking with your project team about your findings. It’s not atypical for consultants to work (much) past when their client counterparts do, but after-hours proves to be one of the most productive times of the day.

7 PM: Client or Project Dinner

After you’ve created more Excel and PowerPoint files than you’d like to admit, you will join either your client or project team for dinner. This is a great opportunity to let some of your stress melt away and get to know the folks you’re working with a little better!

10 PM: Head Home

“Home” is a loose term in consulting—more than likely, you’ll head to your hotel at this point. If you still happen to have some energy, you may go for a much-needed workout or decompress while watching some Netflix.

11 PM: Check Emails and Grind

Late evening is one of my favorite times to work and is usually my last push for really getting some materials made. You may need to create something for an early morning meeting or just want to get ahead, but this is a good time to catch up on emails and fit in your last bit of work.

Midnight: Sleep!

While it can be tempting to keep cranking at this point, if you’re diligent you will go to bed and rest up for the rest of the long and exciting days to come!

With days like these, finding balance is important, whether it’s squeezing in a workout, zoning out for a few minutes of meditation in the cab, or treating yourself to a glass of wine at the airport. Being a consultant can be a hard life, but if you thrive on working hard, being busy, and having a ton of variety in your professional life, then this is certainly the life for you.

Photo of consultants courtesy of Shutterstock.