It has now been about 3 months since I started work as a strategy consultant in the U.S. Compared to having the same job in Europe many things are the same, many things are different – looking back at the first 12 weeks, here’s the ‘typical’ week.
The week starts at Sunday night, sadly. I review my agenda for next week, check my flight, iron my shirts, and pack my garment bag. Packing for work is easy as dressing for work is easy.
At 4.15am the alarm goes off. I quickly get up as I don’t want to disturb Sarah, who is sleeping peacefully at my side. 20 minutes later I hop into a taxi and by 5am I arrive at Reagan National Airport. Security takes only 10 minutes, and by 5.20am I am sitting next to the gate with my McDonalds oatmeal for breakfast. I open my laptop and answer some first e-mails that came in last night.
7.30am: New York City, LaGuardia airport. Together with a colleague I jump in an Uber. Traffic in NYC is terrible as always. As we expect to spend over an hour in the car, we fire up our laptops. Over the internal messaging system we connect with colleagues that are starting up their week elsewhere. I check in with my manager, ask him if his favorite football team finally won this weekend, and plan the rest of today.
Around 8.30am we get into the office. The first 2 hours are spent answering e-mails and checking in with people from the client – a big company in financial services. Around noon we head out for lunch. We grab a Mexican salad that we will eat at our desks.
The rest of the day is spent preparing for tomorrow’s steering committee – a meeting in which we report on last week’s progress and present new findings. Most of the time I am processing feedback from a variety of internal stakeholders.
Around 7.30pm I head to the hotel, a relatively small and cozy one, with very friendly personnel, exactly how I like it. I hate overly fancy hotels – they tend to be filled up with people that find themselves overly fancy as well. Of course it is a hotel that is part of a chain – one of the biggest perks of being a consultant is earning hotel points and air miles.
I order room service and open my laptop again. After eating my dinner I work on the presentation for tomorrow, send it to my team for review, and head over to the gym. While on the bike I call Sarah. Back in the room I process the feedback I received from teammates, and I sent the presentation out to the attendants. Midnight is lights out.
I walk to the client’s office, about 10 blocks from my hotel. Along the way I drink my Soylent breakfast to save time and calories. I arrive around 8am and spend an hour catching up on e-mails and sending out a list of action items for today.
The steering committee meeting with the client goes well. No surprises this time.
We use UberEATS to order lunch, and again eat at our desks. It is one of the few things I hate about working in the US: eating at your desk. Everybody does it because they want to keep working – or at least pretend to do so. It really soils up your workplace, your laptop and mouse in particular. And it totally doesn’t save you any time – you pick up a fork, eat a bite, put the fork down, work for 2 minutes, and the process repeats itself. I refuse to do it – even at my desk I just take 10 minutes to eat.
In the afternoon – or “in the PM” as I have been told to abbreviate it – we prepare for an interview that will take place at the end of the day. We decide what we want to get out of the interview, formulate questions accordingly, and divide roles (good cop, bad cop lead interviewer, note taker). The interview takes forever – this time we are interviewing someone who is clearly willing to talk.
In the evening we have a team dinner in the Nolita (“NOrth of Little ITAly”) area. Dinner starts off with a way-too-expensive bottle of red wine. Three hours of dining follow, during which my colleagues discuss and argue about the pros and cons of different hotel and airline loyalty programs – for literally 90% of the time. When appetizers arrive my mind has long wandered off – I am daydreaming of our upcoming honeymoon in Argentina.
After a cocktail at a bar close to the restaurant, I arrive at the hotel around 11pm. I force myself into the gym for a swift 25-minute workout. After a shower I type up the minutes of the interview and send them out to the interviewee as well as my colleague interviewer.
My agenda is clear for Wednesday morning. On Youtube I select a compilation of Hans Zimmer soundtracks and I open up the financial model I had started working on last week. For the next few hours my fingers fly over the keyboard, only interrupted by a short break to get a coffee.
Around 2pm I realize I totally forgot about lunch, but I am glowing with pride. My model is done. 10 minutes later my mood crashes. One of the financial controllers of the client tells me I have used a wrong input table. Shit – it will cost me 2-3 hours to fix this, and I promised it would be done today. And I still haven’t eaten. To make things worse, my manager calls urging me to join a conference call, to help him with a proposal (a document that is sent to a potential client to sell our services) that is due at midnight.
I walk outside to grab a quick, soggy sandwich from a local deli, and dial into the conference call. A number of people is already chatting, including a number of partners (i.e. the people you want to impress). When I am asked for my opinion on what approach to use, I try to unmute my phone. Of course, the phone stalls – and I spend the next 20 seconds listening to colleagues awkwardly speculating on why I left the call, until my phone decides it is finally time to relieve me of my misery, and it starts working again.
Back at my workstation I am stressed out – how to do all this, and it’s already almost 4pm! 4pm? Conference call! I totally forgot about the conference call that we would have with a representative of our client. We need the client’s input to develop a new market model, but it is a sensitive topic as they failed to create that very model themselves. It was one of the reasons we were called in in the first place. Thank God I only have to take notes.
I get online and find a message in my inbox from my colleague, who is supposed to lead the call. He is at the airport and his phone died – if I can run this afternoon’s conference call? I quickly gather my thoughts and, a few minutes later, open the conference call. We are meeting with a peer-level “POC” (point of contact) as we feel we are not ready to talk to the director just yet. When my peer calls in, however, he indicates that he is “on speaker” in a room, and that his director is there as well, who in turn brought along 3 of his data managers. Shit – I am not supposed to talk to guys that high up!
I decide to press on and introduce the agenda. When I am halfway introducing myself, there is a loud BEEP!, indicating that someone joined the call. “Hello, who joined?, I ask. Another data manager that was invited along by the director. I announce who else is in the call, and once more introduce the agenda. BEEP! “Hello, who joined?” Another data manager, this one clearly calling from a loud place (“Mute, please!”). I once again introduce the agenda. Halfway the first agenda point… BEEP! My colleague – his phone started working again. I feel like hitting the red phone button. Somehow I don’t press it. I once more introduce everyone, and try to continue.
45 minutes later I hang up. UGH. Proposal. Financial model. Dinner. My head spins – this is not working. I open a new document and make a list. I list what needs to be done and order them, with the most important and urgent items at the top.
Around midnight, sitting at the desk in my hotel room, I take a last zip of cold coffee. I once more look through the documents, attach them to an e-mail, and hit “send”. In bed I read the news on my phone. I know I should go to sleep but it is like an addiction. I check the Economist, CNN, and GeenStijl – before I know it is 1.30am.
Thursday morning I spend talking to a number of people about my financial model. During the afternoon I update our action item list and answer some e-mails. Before we know it is 4pm, and time to head to the airport.
At the airport and on the flight I prepare a short update for my manager on what happened today and on what I plan to do tomorrow. Around 7pm I land in D.C., and around 8pm I arrive at home. I dump my shirts in the laundry and sit down at the dinner table – Sarah, my angle, prepared a candlelit dinner.
We talk to each other for a while, excited that it is almost weekend. I quickly head down to the gym in our apartment building. Having showered, I am ready to sleep.
Throughout the world, Friday is the day for consultants to come back to your office. Almost every week you’re working for a client at their location from Monday until Thursday, but Friday is not about the client. It is the day to reconnect with your colleagues, to do the trainings you need to do, to take care of “your expenses” (i.e. file for reimbursements for the costs you made while travelling), and to do you “internal work” (i.e. the work that is not billable, but that helps to build the firm, such as hosting events, creating tools and materials for everyone to use at their clients, or interviewing potential new colleagues). Most awkwardly, Friday is supposed to be used to “network.”
During lunch I head over to a nearby mall. Together with two colleagues, I take a group of 4 new colleagues out to lunch. They joined the firm earlier this week, and we try to help them settle in and to answer any questions they might have. They don’t know it yet, but if they manage to stay at the firm for 4-5 years, it means that they will have been there longer than half of their colleagues.
At 1pm I have a training in Advanced Storyboarding, which aims to teach us how to build PowerPoint slides taking into account the specific message you want to deliver, and the audience it is meant for. Having had a tough week it is hard to keep focused. As almost all our trainings are facilitated by senior colleagues, I particularly like the parts where they share their best and worst experiences while working for the client. Today is no different.
At 3pm I have a conference call with one of our clients, who has some questions about my model. An hour later we have a conference call with our team closing the week, and at 5.00pm I slam my laptop shut: Happy Hour! I head over to the bar and open a bottle of what feels like a well deserved beer.