When I began interviewing with companies during my senior year of college, it was important for me to find a company that had a good culture. I had an outgoing personality and liked to have fun. I wanted a corporate culture that closely matched my personality.
I interviewed with consulting firms and other business organizations. I was lucky to find a consulting firm for my first job that had the culture I was looking for. After a few weeks of orientation, I came back to the office for a couple more weeks, waiting for an assignment. I had some time to develop some relationships with people in our office. Some of them were in the office full-time (overhead), while some of the people were consultants like me waiting to get their next assignment.
It didn’t take long before I was placed on a project at a local bank. I would be working with one other consultant on this project. I was excited and a little nervous. I was going to be client-facing and taking the train to downtown Chicago from the suburbs – the proverbial Man in the Grey Flannel Suit.
It took a few weeks, but the novelty of being at the client wore off a little. I still enjoyed the work. But I realized that I felt some isolation from the activity back at my consulting firm’s office.
I’d get an occasional email or phone call from someone at the office. They might fill me in on what was going on, but it wasn’t the same as being there. I really felt like I was at a disadvantage because I was out of the loop.
The firm I worked for did a good job of holding regular meetings at the office to keep people up to date on the projects we were working on and how things were going on the business end. They also had an occasional party at the branch manager’s house to get us all together. This helped to keep people connected and reduce the feeling of isolation.
When I finished my project, I went back to the office and was officially “on the bench.” I was in a holding pattern, waiting for my next assignment. I found that to be an uneasy feeling too. I realized that the firm was paying me my salary, but I wasn’t working at a billable client to bring revenue in.
I also realized that except for the people in the office that represented overhead, the people I was bonding with was a new group of people. All the other friends I had made were out at clients and there was a new set of people on the bench.
Within a few weeks, I was assigned to a new project with a different group of consultants. Over time, I came to realize that, unlike the traditional business where you go to the same office every day and work with the same people, consulting was about going from project to project and working with a different group of people each time.
I learned to get over the separation anxiety. It wasn’t nearly as bad as the anxiety of not being billable. As I made friends within the firm, we developed a network where we communicated to each other about the goings on within the office and at different client projects.
Then on the rare occasions when we stopped in at the office to drop off an expense report, it was like a reunion meeting back up with friends and former teammates.
One of the things I’ve always liked about consulting is the variety of working at different locations with different teams every few months. In order to have that benefit, you have to get over the separation anxiety of not being in the consulting office.
Have you ever experienced the consulting downside of separation anxiety? How did you get over it?
If you would like to learn more about working in consulting, get Lew’s book Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting at Amazon.com
As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.