What is Consulting?

What is Consulting



As the fifth largest industry that members of the Armed Forces enter into after their military service, Consulting must offer a strong appeal to Veterans. But what exactly is it?

 As Kristen Sproat Colley put it:

 “At its core, consulting is about coming up with optimal solutions for messy and complex problems.  We generally know the approximate problem and then we do an in-depth analysis to figure out the root of the problem. We then come up with different courses of action to solve those problems through evidence and data. We make those recommendations to decision makers within the organization. The whole process is actually quite similar to the military planning process.”

As you’ll see in the Interview section, because of the need to solve complex problems in a variety of situations, the application and interview process for Management Consulting can be extremely demanding as a result. When I spoke with Blake Lindsay, he described it this way:

“We develop long-term long-standing relationships with big, major clients – all of the largest companies in the world. And we help them to solve their biggest problems, and help guide them through changes in markets and industries, weather storms, and set strategic direction that allows them to continue to succeed in the way that they always have.”

This can be one of the more rewarding aspects of a career in Management Consulting – you are constantly at the cutting-edge of business, working with the highest caliber companies on their toughest challenges. In this sense, it seems like an equivalent “tip of the spear” scenario, but in the civilian business sector.

When I asked Trevor Miller, he spoke to how his view of consulting has changed the more he has been involved in it:

“That’s a great question that I thought I knew the answer to but now that I’m here doing it every day, my perspective has evolved. At the most basic level, a management consultant is an advisor. The role that you take as an advisor can vary significantly in terms of function or industry. But generally speaking, Bain focuses on helping clients with strategy level questions. If you’re making a military analogy, you’re talking about strategy planning. These are plans that have the potential to be implemented over several years but could have even longer time horizons. They’re generally thorny issues, which is a reason why consultants are brought in. There are many cases where it helps to get a third party’s point of view. So that’s what we do – we take a very data driven look at an issue and then provide recommendations for ways forward. Sometimes, we’ll help them action it but really they are set up to be able to do that themselves.”

Tom Spahn had an interesting view on Management Consulting, as he worked as an attorney prior to starting at McKinsey and Company. As he contrasted the two career paths, he really appreciated the creativity that he associates with consulting work:

“With consulting quite often it is a wide-open problem. A company asks you to solve Problem X and they brought you in because they may not have been able to solve it themselves, because it is the most difficult problem. And you have carte blanche to propose a solution and come up with an answer that satisfies the need.”

While many Veterans may not recognize it, there have undoubtedly been circumstances in the military that use a consulting-style approach. When I was serving on the USS Alaska as the Damage Control Assistant, I was tasked with overhauling our equipment defect management system. In retrospect, I realize that this was essentially a consulting project:

  1. I had to meet with key stakeholder on the crew to better understand the problem. 

  2. I had to identify what was causing the problem and come up with solutions. 

  3. I had to present my findings to our Captain and senior leaders. 

  4. And then I had to sell the solution to our crew and help them implement it. 

Seeing one’s military experience in this light may help you understand that Management Consulting is not as unfamiliar as one might initially think. And, as we’ll learn in the Interview section, being able to explain one’s military background through the lens of consulting will be essential to getting the job.

Now that we’ve discussed what it is to be a Management Consultant, let’s zoom in and see what this translates to on a day-to-day and week-to-week basis.