This post has been long due actually, but got delayed because of various other important (and unimportant) things that I got myself into. It’s placement season, and as per things go in IIT Bombay, we sign JAFs (Job Application Forms) to apply for jobs. I have quite the flair for doing things that defy rational thought, and don’t make sense to anyone else. But, I always remember when I do such a thing. One of those things was when I signed a JAF for this consulting firm, which I shall not name here. And that’s because the placement body might have a rule saying I can’t do that. Or they might come up with it when they read this post, if they do at all. So let’s call this company Suits and Sheets (for reasons that will soon be clear). For the record, I never wanted to join a consulting firm, ever. I don’t even like the kind of stuff they do.
So why did I sign the JAF in the first place then? In my defense, I don’t remember signing it. Which strongly suggests that I was either possessed or intoxicated when it happened. In any case, the big consulting companies are known to shortlist very specific kinds of students. In fact, most consulting firms have shortlisted nearly the same set of people till now. Happens every year. And I’m not one of them. So when I was told Suits and Sheets had shortlisted me (although for a slightly different profile than the normal one), it was a shock, and not even a pleasant one. I had no idea how it happened, and still don’t. I had despised these companies forever, so being associated with one like this didn’t really suit my image.
Then I was told the company was going to treat the shortlisted people to a dinner at a five star hotel. Free dinner won’t hurt, I thought. And I was going to use this dinner for gluttony and to get to know more about what these companies really do. And then really, who misses free dinner at a five star hotel? The dinner was supposed to get us to meet company people (read: suited up gentleman adept at throwing jargon that doesn’t make an iota of difference to the world), interact with them and generally have a good time. I did all three, and as a conclusion, here’s why I would don’t want to do a job in one of these companies:
What they do. What do they really do?
So from what I gathered, what these firms do is not much more than fitting data and parameters into known models, and then optimizing. For instance, a company. This kind of job isn’t pretty hard to do, and companies probably come to consultants only because they either don’t have time themselves, or enough people. Otherwise any half-intelligent person with a reasonable background can get that done.
Like consider this problem: A global packaged goods company saw that their profit were lower compared to their competitors. As a remedy, the CEO directed the CPO (Chief Procurement Officer) to find cost reduction strategies. The CPO did not know where to start and he asked Suits and Sheets for help, gave them some annual account details. How would you go about the spend assessment process and what spend profiles can you create to provide a good visibility to the CPO [is that kind of language really needed?]. What cost reduction strategies can you recommend? [I'd say shut the company down]
What is to be also noted is that they don’t really care about optimal solutions to their problems. Any reduction in cost, or any additional profit, however small is just fine. After that, the scale and magnitude of the projects makes it look big. I mean that you bring about a 2-3% cost reduction, and just because the project has so much money in itself, this amounts to $50 million saved. That’s big money in absolute terms, but looking at it, you might not have done much that’s non-trivial. And then company X also pays you for helping them do what they could easily have figured out by themselves. Being research oriented and a math person, I don’t see how I can put up with this low-on-curiosity attitude. To quote someone from Suits and Sheets from the dinner
We don’t know what algorithm is used for the optimization. Actually, we don’t even care, as long as it works.
Very disappointing. And they’re not even fun. They said football was boring. And they were being too formal. I mean, when you’re done talking on a table, and want to break for dinner, you break for dinner. You don’t wait trying to cook up conversations just so that you look engrossed in your discussion. That’s like putting up a mask. Besides, these companies only provide analysis reports, aren’t liable for ensuring long term success of projects. And what prevents them from selling the same kind of stuff to multiple companies as “custom solutions”?
Don’t want to be playing with excel sheets all day
How is all of the above done? By designing complex systems? Coding? No, by playing around with numbers in excel sheets. I don’t have to explain to you why that is a stupid thing to do as a job, all day. My CS major and Math minor deserve better than that.
Well I love suits. A good suit is probably the sexiest dress out there. But no, I don’t want to look good all day, at the cost of comfort. They say you have to look presentable when you interact with clients. Maybe, but I can’t live in an environment where they think every client will be grossed out by sight of my legs in shorts. They’re immature to think that formal wear shows you’re serious about your work. I bet I can get more done by making my own choices. Besides, as Ravi says, “how can the mind be expected to function freely if the body is not given a reasonable amount of freedom?”.
We continually engage our expertise to formulate backward-compatible meta-services that are focussed on synergizing the market positioning of enterprising quality vectors in niche markets and intellectual portals for client-centric and supply-chain efficient corporate deliverables.
Does it make any difference to anyone? Not to me, not to you, not to hungry kids in Africa, not to cash-rich Manchester City, not even to the clients of Suits and Sheets. The senior officials were good at doing this – throwing bullshit as if it were pearls of wisdom from Master Yoda. But bullshit nevertheless. No wonder companies pay so much to consultants. Actually, I’m good at bullshit, but it probably doesn’t sound much like wisdom.
A lot of what they say sounds like generic disconnected solutions, and might not necessarily be relevant to the specific problem. And they get to charge a lot of money for that. Not bad, but certainly not what I want to be known for.
There are better things to do anyway
I’d much rather be a student for a few more years.
That said, there’s only one thing good about this job – you get to travel a lot. You travel to new cities for projects that last a few months. New project, new city. But the whole deal isn’t enticing enough.
In the end, just to make it clear, I have nothing against consulting firms or people who work for them. It’s just that I don’t appreciate that kind of job. After all, it must take skill to con big corporations and charge them so much for doing what they could do themselves. If this offends you already, then I’m pleased I didn’t write everything I wanted do.
1. I guess Suits and Sheets makes sense now.
2. The food wasn’t that good after all. I’ve had better buffets.
3. Being at a place with no expectations, and where you’re not trying to look good has its advantages. It is directly correlated to the proportion of starters you consume.
EDIT (September 9, 2012): I have been feeling for quite a while that this post was immature owing to the sweeping generalizations I made, and how I let my initial biases do the writing for me. While I still wish to stick with lots of the above ideas in a milder form, I can’t comment much unless I know more about management consulting. I still believe I wouldn’t want to do it, but the diction of this post misrepresents my usually mild stand towards this.