Before joining the Capgemini Consultant Development Community (CDC) in September, I had built up preconceptions (good, bad and ugly) of what consulting entails and what to expect as a graduate. Four months down the line, it’s safe to say that I have debunked some of the myths and preconceptions and have a more grounded understanding of the profession and role of associate consultant. By no means am I claiming to have all the answers and I’m not even going to attempt to delineate what a management consultant does – to which I would provide the seemingly favourite answer, ‘it depends’. My aim is simply to reflect on a handful of expectations prior to joining Capgemini Consulting and to portray how my reality compares.
First preconception – uncertainty is a given in consulting and flexibility is a requirement. It didn’t take long to confirm this. My first two weeks (induction) were as expected – the focus was on absorbing information and learning about key consulting tools. As the days went by, I became increasingly apprehensive of what was to come. I naively expected a full briefing and an overwhelming number of client documents to study before commencing on a project. However, by the second weekend I was still in the dark about where I would be and what I would be doing on Monday morning. Sure enough, I received a phone call on Saturday informing me that I would be based in Swindon (home of the magic roundabout and steam museum) for the next few months. I was also told that I would be working on a transformation programme in a Utilities company – everything about this was unfamiliar to me. In the first month, I found myself managing the project plan, RAID log (a tool to record risks, assumptions, issues and dependencies) and action log. By the next I was analysing data, developing innovative solutions to problems and presenting my findings. My point is that since joining I have had to constantly adapt and be as flexible as possible with my aptitude, time and work style. But this is what attracted me to consulting in the first place – it’s fast-paced, dynamic and a great way to gain expertise in a wide range of areas.
Second preconception – consultants work crazy hours. There is some truth to this. There is no doubt that consulting is not a typical 9 to 5 job, yet the exact working hours tend to differ across industries, projects and roles. My current project, for example, is generally quite demanding for a number of reasons, including tight deadlines and periods of heightened project activity. Nevertheless, there is still a large amount of variation in hours depending on project commitments. Some days I will be out of the office before 18:00, but I still log on and do another few hours of work back at the hotel – usually an opportunity to do some Capgemini work (internal activities ran by CDCers to support the business). Other times I may be working on client site till late into the evening, as is often the case when a deadline draws near – this has its perks, such as a cheeky Dominos from time to time. In a nutshell, consultants work late when work requires it, but it’s not expected every night of the week. My philosophy is to work hard during the week so that when the weekend comes I can fully enjoy my time, relax and recharge. In terms of travelling and working away from home, the CDC tries to enforce a policy of coming back to the office on Fridays. Although I am usually on client site five days a week, I try to visit the Holborn office at least once a month to catch up with fellow CDCers and the wider Capgemini team, and generally to have some fun!
Third preconception – associate consultants work ‘behind the scenes’ to support more experienced consultants. This is far from the truth. On joining the CDC, I fully expected to be working in the background, shadowing or supporting colleagues, at least for the first few months. In reality, I have been placed in the thick of the action since the very first day of my billable role. In my first role as a PMO (Project Management Office) analyst, not only was I in charge of tracking the key risks and issues of the project but I also consolidated workstream plans into forming a single, cohesive picture and utilised this to monitor progress. In my second role, having built trust and respect, I was provided with further responsibility which involved engaging with client members on a daily basis. I now own a number of tactical initiatives, for which I have taken responsibility to identify information sources, gather and analyse data, develop recommendations, and present findings. The learning opportunities are endless as each day is different and poses new challenges and obstacles that I must overcome. Although it can be quite daunting at times (especially given I knew very little about the industry beforehand), I have come to realise that I’m not expected to have all the answers. What is important is to bring all of my energy, for example by suggesting ideas and to show curiosity by asking questions and constantly challenging things. It is also extremely reassuring to be surrounded by a vast support network, and true to the value of ‘team spirit’ I have been able to reach out for guidance within Capgemini when needed. In summary, there are so many opportunities available, but things aren’t always going to be given to you on a plate. I have learnt that it is in your own hands and if you are open minded, proactive and do a good job you will be rewarded with additional responsibility.
It has been a rollercoaster ride so far, but despite numerous challenges, I can honestly say that I have learnt something new every day and am constantly developing key skills. What have I learnt from my experience as a CDCer to date? Well lots of things, but following my discussion above, I would say 1) “move with the cheese and enjoy it” (Spencer Johnson), 2) work hard, play hard, 3) be positive and proactive.