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The Reality of Work-Life Balance at BCG, Bain and McKinsey

You’ve probably heard that a job in consulting at one of the top firms is no walk in the park.

In this article, we outline what work-life balance is really like, and how it compares to other top professions.

The reality

First, let’s paint a clear picture of what a typical work schedule is like for a consultant. The hours are long. 9am-9pm is typically the ‘core hours’ with variation on either side. There’s no 1-hour lunch break included in there, although you might take an hour in the evening to get dinner or travel in a taxi to a hotel.

Added to the volume of hours is the travel time. If you need to be on client site by 9-10am on Monday morning and the client is in a different area of the country (or different country/state entirely!) then this makes for a very early start on a Monday.

The reality travel and working hours vary significantly among offices. Travel is most prevalent in the US, where consultants often criss-cross the country. Working hours are the longest in Southern Europe, Asia and Latin America. So make sure to speak with the current consultants at the firm and office where you’re applying.

Overall, working hours are often far more intense than a ‘normal’ job. There is always more to do than the hours allow, things can change rapidly on client site and the team is often under a lot of pressure one way or another.

In addition to your project work, you’re encouraged (and sometimes evaluated on) your contribution outside of client work, which means extracurriculars involving anything from contributing to an office initiative, a piece of research, recruiting, or supporting a proposal to a new client.

So yes, things can get very, very busy.

Why it might not be as bad as you think

However, it might not be as challenging as you think.

Many consultants can still find time to go to the gym almost every day (although that might require sacrificing some sleep!). Teams try to avoid the need to work on weekends, and there are a number of ways you can build in long-term breaks to recover from intense project work.

For example, when you’re not staffed on a project, you’re considered to be on the ‘beach’ or ‘bench’, and here you’ll often be doing random bits of work internally to support the office and other teams, which means the hours and intensity reduces.

You can also take long leaves of absence for an extended holiday or personal commitments. Office retreats and week-long trainings are baked into your year, and these are often fun times to relax, learn and make more connections within the firm.

Some consultancies and local offices have encouraged teams to implement a ‘one night a week off’ policy which allows consultants to have time for their personal interests or to rest.

It’s definitely better than at other top professions

As a lawyer, doctor or investment banker, you’re likely to find yourself on call 24/7 including weekends, and consequently, have very little control over your lifestyle. You’re also likely to be working on multiple clients at a time so you’ll have to juggle clashing priorities.

As a consultant, you have a lot more control. You’re not on call for your clients and because the consulting team sets the project plans, big milestones and meetings are known long in advance. You have your own workstream that you manage yourself and you only have one client, so 100% of your focus is on one problem, which creates more efficiency in your work.

So when you put the consulting lifestyle into the context of other top professions, it begins to look rather appealing!  

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