Here's What Consultants Actually Do All Day

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Feb. 9 2014 6:45 AM

Here's What Consultants Actually Do All Day

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You have to wake up pretty early in the morning to get paid consultant money.

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

This post originally appeared in Business Insider.

Alison Griswold Alison Griswold

Alison Griswold is a Slate staff writer covering business and economics.

Consulting is one of the most nebulous fields out there. The big firms—Bain, McKinsey, Deloitte, and others—are well known, but few people seem to have a basic understanding of what, exactly, it is that consultants do all day. To find out, we talked to Tim Tierney, a third-year consultant at Deloitte in Boston, who took us through his typical Monday schedule:

4:30 a.m. — Wake up and head to the airport.
Tierney takes a cab or a car depending on what's easier. Deloitte covers all transportation expenses while he's on the road.

6:30 a.m. — Catch the flight.
Usually the Monday morning flights are at 6:30 or 7 a.m.

9:00 a.m. — Flight lands, hop in a car to get to the client.

10:30 a.m. — Arrive at office, get coffee, and start work.
Tierney says he spends the first few hours on site making "multiple coffee runs," sifting through weekend emails, and reviewing material before meeting the client.

1:30 p.m. — Break for a half-hour lunch.
Lunch can be hit-or-miss depending on where you're working. "I was on a project in Columbus, Ga., at this bank, and Columbus is in the middle of absolutely nowhere," Tierney said. "So we're going to fried chicken places, and that's the only option."

2:00 p.m. — Begin the day's meetings.
From 2 to 4 p.m., Tierney says he'd meet with the client to get a better understanding of their job and their company. He calls these "walkthroughs" and says they give you the "nuts and bolts" of the project.

4:00 p.m. — Catch up on emails again and meet with the team manager.
Consultants spend the next few hours reviewing what they've learned, making sure they understand the client, and coming up with a game plan. When they're not doing that, Tierney says, they're busy preparing PowerPoint slides and fixing details like font size in existing presentations.

7:00 p.m. — Grab drinks and dinner.
Assuming he's not swamped with a project (and needs to eat at the office), Tierney says he and the team will usually go out for drinks and dinner on Deloitte's dime. "That's always fun, especially if you're on a good team," he says.

8:00 p.m. — Head back to the hotel.
On a normal night, Tierney gets back to the hotel around 8 and tries to find a gym. If he has a rental car, he also sometimes drives around the area looking for a movie theater or something fun to do.

Rest of the night — Do a bit more work, and then get some sleep.
Most consultants will log on and do another hour or so of work back at the hotel, Tierney says. That includes checking emails, fixing proposals, and doing some internal stuff that Deloitte calls "partner development work." He tries to get six hours of sleep before getting up to do it all over again.

In general, consulting involves working on team projects to resolve problems (management, financial or other) for clients. Projects tend to last three to four weeks, and because they're typically conducted on-site, consultants are on the road for most of the week. Some firms, like Deloitte, allow employees to work from home on Fridays.

Tierney got his job at Deloitte after graduating from Boston College in 2011, landing a starting salary of $60,000. He routinely travels all over the country to work with clients. Overall, it's a travel- and hotel-heavy lifestyle. Tierney says he spent so much time on the road his first year that he didn't even bother to find an apartment in Boston.

Because consultants have to fly home for the weekend, Deloitte and many other firms will also allow employees to take the amount of money their ticket home costs and put it toward a trip anywhere else. Last year, Tierney says he used that allowance to fly to France for the Monaco Grand Prix and to Milan for the city's fashion week.

That's the glamorous side of consulting. The day-to-day itself is far less exciting.