4 typical tasks of consulting analysts
There are many myths running around the internet about what entry level consultants actually do on the job. The most common – probably originating from other industries where this might be the case – is that they work only on mundane and simple tasks. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Once you are up to speed (within 2 weeks to 2 months tenure), analysts like you will do the core work of the project. Be aware that no one will have the knowledge about the content and insights into your work stream as you do. Since you are very deep in the topic, project managers and partners will come to you for information and discuss issues that will later be brought onto the CEOs desk.
While the content of your work might change depending on the client, scope and length of the project, generally, you will contribute by doing four main tasks on a daily/ weekly basis in an iterative manner (both within each step and the process as a whole):
- Gather data
- Analyze data
- Visualize results
- Present results
Gathering data. Much of your time will be spent on gathering data. This could be data you elicit from client interviews, field research, employee interviews, surveys, client databases, experts from your firm or some external data providers. Dealing with external data can often be outsourced by leveraging firm support resources to collect specific data for you. Other times, you need to interview external experts that you usually identify via external expert networks. Depending on the type of case and the problem you want to solve the data can be financial, production-related etc. It is important to specify the exact data needed and identify the right resources to collect it from. This can be a tedious and long process that often involves slow clients, insufficient or flawed data leading to many data pull iterations to get it right. Another important component is data cleaning to prepare it for analysis.
Analyze data. Next, you need to analyze the collected data to test hypotheses the team/ client has come up with to solve a particular problem of the client. Basic quantitative data is mostly modeled and analyzed in Excel or Alteryx, while more complex datasets are usually analyzed by dedicated firm support departments that work with statistics and programming or other advanced analytical means. Qualitative data is usually screened for commonalities and aggregated upwards. As an analyst, it will be you running the show. Larger analytical pieces are usually split and distributed across team members. In your analysis, you will usually work with assumptions that are discussed and aligned with the team, client and sometimes other experts. Data analysis is often interrupted by problem-solving sessions wher intermediate results and further analysis are discussed. Typical outcomes are financial forecasts, market predictions, business cases, operational improvement potentials, pricing improvements etc.
Visualize results. Thirdly, you need to visualize your analysis. This is mostly done in Microsoft PowerPoint. While in the beginning of your tenure, your project manager will often draft the output for you, however, as you progress you will produce full slide decks from start to finish with a coherent storyline. You will quickly learn what chart and word choice are best to deliver a particular message and make the key insight stand out. Additionally, firms such as McKinsey or BCG have global slide specialists that help you draft or improve/ polish slide production and final deliverables overnight. Working on the storyline and visualization is a highly iterative process. Since the slide deck is often they key deliverable of the project as well as the key means of communication and basis for discussion with the CEO, you will see many iterations at this stage. It is not uncommon to have a document for a CEO meeting with version number 60.
Present results. Lastly, you participate in client meetings to present and discuss results as well as align on next steps. Depending on the character of the meeting and your tenure, you will often have the chance to present your work to senior client leaders. Meetings with middle managers are often run fully by relatively junior business analysts and associates. In general, meetings are a useful opportunity to shine and demonstrate your work, but also to gauge any political constraints as well as get the senior client opinions.
Apart from project work, there are two more things new consultants should know about:
In between projects you may or may not spend some time “on the beach”. You will most likely help out with proposal preparation for new projects, remote support for another team, drive knowledge development, prepare a recruiting event or if you are lucky sit still and wait for your next project.
It is important to network internally. If you have identified a particular sector (e.g., automotive) or function (e.g., strategy) you will network, attend special events or trainings to get on the radar of the relevant staffing coordinators and partners for future projects.
- As said, the process is highly iterative until you reach the end of a project, meaning that within each step there are several iterations with the team, client, and other experts. However, even once the results have been presented in a working meeting with senior client leadership, new work and directions will come out and you start back at step one, gathering data.
- Overall, you will quickly learn and continuously take on more authority over the whole process. You can never relax because as soon as you are capable of doing one thing, your responsibility will increase. This forces you to grow and learn in a circle that consultants call “the continuous stretch”.