The transition from school to a career in the consulting industry requires a quick learning curve to get up-to-speed on new ways of working, communicating, and developing ideas. For many campus hires, preconceived expectations of how their first few months in the workplace will progress are quickly altered as they begin working with unique clients, on new technologies, and in industries they have never been exposed to before. I know this was certainly the case for me!
I entered the workplace with expectations about how my courses in college would translate to my work in consulting, only to find my experience was quite different, and so much better than anticipated. With the help of my managers at West Monroe, I could reconcile my expectations and have a meaningful experience as an employee, as I learned how to thrive in a consulting environment.
To expedite the learning curve that other campus hires might face and ease their transition to consulting, in this post I lay out the mindset that I had upon entering the technology industry regarding technology, theory, and priorities and in each case how my experiences differed from –and surpassed—my expectations.
Coming from the world of academia, it was difficult for me to understand the difference between the newest tool and the right tool for the job. The excitement around emerging technologies for instance, may seem like a panacea for every “real world” use case. From my own experience, I was enchanted by the processing power of the Apache Hadoop technologies and was convinced that relational databases were surely on their way out. Many of my peers shared this view, but fortunately a brief conversation with a practice leader set us straight. He quickly combated our infatuation with “buzz-worthy technologies” saying, “Big data technologies are often like a dump truck, with great power and capabilities – but most times you really just need to drive a sedan (RDBMS’s). Each are fascinating technologies, but they have very different use cases.” I was fortunate enough to see this concept in practice, as a client of mine in the entertainment industry leveraged both technologies. By combining a Hadoop environment to store immense amounts data around social media interactions and a RDBMS which contained hotel stay information over time, they were able to add more complexity and precision to their price setting model.
An additional lesson which arose in the early days of my employment stemmed from the transition from the study of core theories in an academic setting to solving real world problems through the application of these concepts in the workplace. While beginning my employment, I would attempt to implement theoretical exercises from my courses in the workplace. The in-practice reality, with seemingly endless silos of data, conflicting validities, and missing fields created a significant learning curve. Fortunately, my managers greatly aided my adjustment around this disconnect, reminding me that while the procedure of in-class learning may not always be applicable, the problem-solving mindset and underlying concepts it conveys always are.
In the days before joining the workforce, I found myself mentally committed to performing at a high level individually, instead of focusing on what was best for my team. After years in school where grades and rankings define success, the prospect of a team-based environment can difficult be for campus hires to conceive. At West Monroe, I had managers that emphasized the value I could bring to my team from early on. I was brought into client meetings and collaborate spaces almost immediately, showing that by sharing a group focus I could bolster my business acumen while serving as an asset to the team. Allowing campus hires to get involved in a project as soon as possible diminishes this gap between the individual and the team, while increasing project clarity, and generating a sense of team “buy-in.”
When it comes to technology, theory, and priorities, new hires might face a quick learning curve when stepping into a career in consulting from college courses. My time at West Monroe proved that the best way to expedite this process and level-set on expectations is to continually communicate with your manager and have an open mind to learning new skills and approaches. Additionally, I gained a clear insight into the essential role that technology professionals play in facilitating business value, a lesson I would take into my budding career. So, to all my fellow campus hires, take the time to tell your manager what you are thinking and expecting; it will allow you to learn to thrive more quickly in a consulting environment and will help your team to achieve previously unimagined levels of success.