Whether you're just starting out in the analytics field or are considering a change, it can be difficult to know what type of job you would be happy in. Should you follow the leader and go corporate, go with your heart in the public sector, take the leap and go solo, or do that weird thing and become a consultant?
I've worked in the public, private, and consulting sectors and have found that all of them feel very distinct from one another. Every company is different, but I've compiled a few reflection questions that might help you steer toward your ideal fit.
So assuming you have the hard skills to do analytics work, here are 6 questions you can ask yourself before applying for that consulting job.
1. Am I looking to work in a variety of industries, using a variety of skills?
Consulting is for those who love variety. It's as simple as that. No matter the size of your firm, it's almost guaranteed that you will work on projects in completely different industries. This is a big draw for would-be-consultants, and something that keeps a lot of seasoned consultants in the game. Bottom line: If it is fun for you to learn how different types of businesses tick, consulting will keep you interested, growing, and learning.
Variety also applies to your skillsets. As consultants, we're expected to be on the cutting edge of technology, best practices, and key issues. The best consultants I know are the ones who consider themselves 'lifelong learners'. You're a specialist in data viz, but you can talk about some engineering and cloud warehousing. You prefer Alteryx, but learn some R to meet your client's needs.
Being in a consulting firm allows you to do all that without having to change employers every three to five years. Key tip: Look for a firm that allows you professional development time and budget (like DataDrive does)! But if you want to be a career-long expert in marketing analytics, or transform data science's use in healthcare, consider internal analyst roles in your preferred industry.
(Psst...If you're looking for a lot of variety, a smaller firm might be better for you. They're more likely to remain nimble in their offerings, while bigger firms can provide opportunities for longer-term placements and heavier lifts. Get an idea of the length and type of engagements your prospective employer gets, and make sure it matches up with your desires.)
2. Do I enjoy translating my work to a non-technical audience?
Analytics consultants are both translators and executors. We build the product using our deep technical knowledge, but we do a lot of interpreting in the process. Some clients have a technical background and are able to nerd out with you. But more often than not, they'll be lost as soon as you start talking about regressions and filter actions.
Analytics consultants often have to translate the users' needs into technical solutions, and then back again. This means you're able to explain your complex model or simplify your user interface so a non-technical audience can understand it, trust it, use it, and teach it to others. Without that ability to translate, non-technical audiences (read: basically any exec or front-line worker who might be using your self-service BI tool) will completely ignore that awesome dashboard you spent so much time perfecting.
If you LOVE doing the translating, helping 'regular' people understand complex concepts, you will love analytics consulting. If that sounds boring or menial, consider a deeper, internally-facing technical role.
3. Do I enjoy building relationships with clients and helping them along the data-driven path?
Client interaction is a huge part of consulting. I've worked in technical jobs before, housed in an IT department where my socialization bucket ran a bit dry. Now, I have both a steady and fun team of DataDrivers and a diverse group of clients to work with.
But it's not all fun and games. I often see that people-challenges, not technical challenges, cause the most pain for consultants. Sometimes we have to tell the client things they don't want to hear; sometimes they tell us things we don't want to hear. We may be privy to messy internal politics or dirty laundry.
Consultants are uniquely positioned as neutral problem solvers. We may get opportunities to kindly call out issues that client teams have been whispering about for years (depends on the client). It just sounds different coming from someone with no stake in the team’s politics. Oftentimes those tough conversations become an opportunity to unlock a key blocker for the client and are pivotal to creating better outcomes for the project.
If you're willing to navigate client relationships with grace and leadership, you will do well in consulting.
4. Am I a decent project manager?
Short and sweet, you will have to do some project management for yourself, your fellow consultants, and your clients during your engagements. You may get lucky and be on a project with a great PM, but more often than not we have to flex our PM skills to keep the client on track, keep ourselves accountable, and ensure we are checking in and meeting the right goals. Be ready to flex this muscle as a consultant.
5. Do I want someone else to find projects for me?
If you enjoy (and are successful at) finding your own projects, selling your own work, managing the entire business, and having infinite flexibility, start your own venture. This has been incredibly exciting for a number of my friends. But the key driver for getting out of a solo venture has typically been the project-sourcing aspect. So if you want the solo experience but don't want to have to worry about finding the next project (thanks Luke), check out firms that offer flexibility over what type of projects you work on and still have that startup-vibe. Just know you may have to work on some projects that you wouldn't normally seek out.
6. Am I willing to let go of my ego, and instead put on humility, curiosity, and determination?
As a consultant, it's easy to feel like you have to come into a project knowing all the answers and solutions. You can't admit that you don't know something, haven't heard of it, or need to look into it. That is a slippery (and normal) slope to fall down and is, in fact, a guaranteed cause of imposter syndrome!
No matter how expert you are, there are simply things you won't know going into a project. Accept it, rather than putting on a show of being the almighty savior. An ego-based mindset will make you miserable and may blind you to pitfalls and creative solutions for your clients.
To truly enjoy the ups and downs of consulting life, you must be willing to let go of your ego ("I have all the answers") and instead embrace humility to acknowledge the inherent unknowns, curiosity to ask and learn about them, and determination to reach the best possible solutions. (For more on this, read Getting Naked.)
You don't have to have all the right answers, you just have to be willing to do whatever it takes to get the answers right. Clients will see and appreciate your authenticity, and you will feel much more genuinely you. Because in the right industry, you are enough.
This shedding of ego (and embracing of vulnerability) is both painful and rewarding. The best consultants embrace it; the ones who don't burn out.
Is consulting right for you? That's up to you to determine.
Remember: career success isn't about prestige or money. It's about living a life that lets you play on your natural strengths while still challenging you in areas you'd like to grow.
Will I be in consulting forever? Heck no. But in this role at this company, I have found my stride with my strengths, growth areas, relationships, and skills that will propel me forward for the rest of my career, wherever it takes me. My answers to the 6 questions above is a "HECK YES." This is a phenomenal fit, and I hope it fits for a long time.
So if you're considering making a move, I hope these questions help you tease out if consulting might be the right fit for you.
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