Taking Action: What I Wish I Knew Before Going Into Consulting
Like many students, the trajectory of my university life and career is ever so impressionable, leading us to scramble for the best opportunities to earn outstanding accolades and achievements, hoping to increase our chances of securing our dream job offers. But maybe it isn’t necessary to go through the struggle of getting caught up in this rat race against one another. “Is what I’m doing enough?”, you may often ask. Maybe all it takes is seeking the right answers to our many questions. After all, what do students know about the real consulting world?
Nigel Pereira, Strategy Consultant at Accenture
With all these questions in mind, I sat down with Nigel Pereira, an operations analyst turned strategy consultant at Accenture, for his insights into the consulting space and his advice for students entering a career in consulting. Back in Nigel’s university days, he was also concerned about the opportunities he could achieve. It was more of a matter of “being open to taking things that come your way,” he affirmed with a warm smile, remaining poised as ever. Well-versed in the consulting world, Nigel offers valuable lessons for those aspiring to excel in this competitive field as he stresses, “As all consulting is,
It's about a demand and supply curve.
It’s about growing your specialty,” likening the economics we learn in classes to understanding the value of working on ourselves to cater to the demands of the industry.
Considering Accenture works on multiple projects together, you’re part of client work and internal activities, how do you think these aspects complement each other?
Building a successful team requires constant engagement with the social aspects of robust team collaboration. “There’s a lot of tangibles to social engagement; culture, well-being, a sense of belonging – which is extremely important,” as Nigel emphasises the core of connecting with the team he’s working with. “From the business perspective, it’s important that all the time is spent on your client first, and then anything beyond that is built into the social engagements and collaborating - it’s all about value-added work and work-life balance.” While completing tasks at work is a given priority, encouraging social participation in being part of a team is also key to improving teamwork and culture.
To think of it, university assignments and projects are somewhat a reflection of the bigger society’s value-added work and work-life balance. University is a great time to be fostering connections with your peers in classes or extracurriculars, especially if you’re often collaborating in teams with them. Yet, work must definitely come first, otherwise, it's likely students skimp on the quality of their work as opposed to value-adding it with the connections they’ve built. A relatable analogy Nigel posits: “If you don’t manage time well, you’ll be pulling longer hours closer to the deadline.”
How does connecting with your peers contribute to your overall growth as a professional consultant?
“If you’re talking to the right people, at the right place and time, you get to meet some really awesome and amazing people that not only inspire you but truly drive value across the business.”
Nigel enthusiastically spoke about how much he enjoyed going to work and seeing his colleagues around him also looking forward to going to work. As someone socially involved in the office, Nigel’s network expanded tremendously as he had the chance to meet people from different business units that he might not have otherwise encountered.
A testament to actively taking the opportunity to connect with other like-minded individuals, Nigel represents how students can similarly seek out university programs as a means to invest in themselves. This could include attending workshops, participating in case competitions, or joining consulting clubs. On top of building on our skill sets, these outlets allow students like you and me to further expand our network.
Speaking of getting involved and developing your network, how has this networking or self-study played a role in your consulting journey? What have you learnt in the process?
Both networking and self-study have always been integral components in consulting, with self-study extending beyond formal education. “It’s not about doing a master's or diploma concurrently while you're working. Self-study could be as simple as being up to date with the tech trends that are happening, reading about Gen AI and LLMs, what's happening in the geopolitical scene or the stock market.”
“Understand what you can do day to day.”
Whilst Nigel is at the stage of his career where he prioritises information over tech upskilling, he stresses the importance of upskilling oneself in various ways, particularly in personal, career, and technology areas. Nigel’s peers are often stacked with Google certificates and other qualifications. However, simply more than collecting these certifications, the consulting space is constantly evolving such that it is ever so paramount for individuals to recognise how continuous learning value adds to their credentials as ideal, skilled workers. Nigel ties in understanding consulting as a supply and demand again, describing how consultants are allocated towards their preferred projects and referencing it to what upskilling truly embodies: picking the best people for each project. Inspiringly enough with an air of enlightenment, Nigel affirmed, “If you are relevant, have the right technological skills, the right people skills, and are in the right place at the right time, opportunities unfold themselves too.”
Like consulting, we may not have the freedom to select our projects for university. However, the same concept applies in picking who we want in our project – the most qualified and hardworking individual or someone who lacks the skill sets required and puts in little effort to improve themselves? As Nigel asserts the value of upskilling, “When it comes to project consulting work, maybe you don’t want to go for the shiny core projects, but you want to be front of mind when it comes to them for sure.”
Nevertheless, upskilling isn’t all about getting certificates. Knowing what’s relevant, incorporating what we’ve learned into our skill sets, and sharing our knowledge with those we’re interacting with daily is also essential as university students. “It's an obvious pick when you have all these credentials under your belt, the people skills, and emotional intelligence.”
On the topic of upskilling and knowing what the industry needs, are there any industry-specific trends or emerging technologies that new students should familiarise themselves with before entering the field?
“Businesses want to implement Gen AI, don't get me wrong. However, Gen AI is still exploratory as it is stable. Big corporations like certainty and credentials, they like seeing the SAPs of the world – a system that's been tried and tested, it has the latency capabilities.”
Keeping the talks of a recession 6 – 12 months ago in mind, it is imperative for companies to only be investing in projects that would guarantee a positive ROI in the current market. Companies and programs like Google Cloud, SAP, Salesforce, Jira, and Confluence, as Nigel listed, have “a reputation in the market for being able to deliver on output time and time again.”
Given the prevalence of Gen AI around us in the long term, it is indispensable to familiarise ourselves with the tools involved in leveraging technology, for Nigel suggests keeping updated with technology as a means of investing in oneself. “Depending on which market unit you’re in, there are different trends you want to read up on.” Touching on current and future possibilities, Nigel adds, what are some things we can do immediately and in the near future?
What recommendations would you offer students without a technical background in consulting?
The demand for technological roles has skyrocketed over the past few years. In such a competitive job market, fearing that we could potentially lose out to other tech moguls is a cause for concern for many. Nigel preaches a sort of common mantra in advising students on how they could increase their chances of securing a role:
1. Be yourself. Recruiters are trying to understand if the candidate they’re interviewing can collaborate with them and in a team environment for who they usually are.
“Getting a role is as much as you are choosing them as it is them choosing you, being yourself facilitates that process.”
2. Know your value and know what you bring to the table. Being able to articulate oneself and bring an insightful opinion is often a powerful asset.
3. Know why you’re there and articulate it. There is often a clear distinction between applicants who’ve submitted a blanket application versus someone who understands why they are applying for a certain role by asking the necessary questions regarding the role.
For students looking to transition from university to the consulting industry, what steps do you recommend they make to stand out as potential candidates?
In addition to genuine self-expression, Nigel highlights the importance of self-discovery. He implores listening and trusting oneself as an essential part of understanding the type of person and learner one is as firms are not concerned with purely the right answers.
“It's about how you get to that answer, how you can justify, how you can rationalise, and what the why is.”
Considering and understanding diverse opinions is also an essential part of communication when working with others. Nigel compares the skills involved in working in a group setting both in university and the corporate world. In university, it’s common for students to want to score well and work with their friends without being challenged. However, a more common sight in corporate requires people to work with others with different ideas and values. Nigel poetically inquires, “In those situations, how do you circumvent the conversation on the seas, to get to an output where all the stakeholders and parties are happy?”
Looking ahead, we have a long way ahead of us to navigate the ins and outs of navigating the tumultuous journey university life has to offer before we step into the working world. While the road ahead seems daunting at first glance, many, including Nigel, have been in my position before. His experiences serve as a source of reassurance and inspiration - a reminder that the challenges ahead of pursuing our dream jobs are not insurmountable. Sharing his wisdom and expertise in the consulting world, Nigel couldn’t have put it into simpler terms, “know your value, know what you bring to the table, and be able to articulate that.”