What They Don't Tell You Starting In Consulting
Updated: May 15
For engineers starting their first job or two, the situation they walk into in consulting can have a substantial impact on their long-term career.
The people - your manager, the technical leaders you get connected with, the culture - all of that definitely influences your experience.
But what I want to talk about today is the work you get to do. Because the work you get to do can set the stage for your expertise.
In consulting, we "live and die" by the work we're able to win.
Of course we try to predict what work/projects we will win, but we're not always right. And situations can change at the drop of a hat as a result of things outside our control. For example, a sudden economic downturn could mean our client's capital budget is frozen, resulting in a delayed or cancelled project.
What that means for early career engineers is when you are interviewing to work for a consulting firm - which is to say a company that provides services in the form of designs and advisory, like AECOM, Arcadis, Jacobs, Carollo Engineers, Black & Veatch, Stantec or any number of other smaller regional firms out there... - you should definitely ask questions in your interviews about the work they have in house that you will get to participate on.
What types projects has the team recently won that I can expect to work on?
Do you consider these large or small projects?
What projects are the team most hoping to win in the near term?
Who will be the primary technical mentors a new engineer would work with?
Can I meet them?
(Then ask those technical people):
What is your philosophy on technical mentorship?
In your opinion, who has been one of your most successful mentees? What did they do different from other engineers that helped them excel?
What situations helped you grow most as an engineer?
If the team loses a project you're expecting to win, what is the plan to keep staff busy/billable?
What you're trying to understand are things like - will you be working on one huge project for one client, or will you be working on lots of smaller projects pieced together? Are there many technical expert resources to tap into or just a few?
And the crux of this is - will the types of projects this team has (or are positioned to win) set the metaphorical foundation for the career you are looking to have?
A good project with good technical mentors can accelerate a consulting engineering career early. The opposite can create challenges. Not insurmountable challenges; plenty of engineers pivot in their careers. But if you can learn important information before walking into a job situation, you could very well be doing your future self a favor.
Ask the questions and know what you're walking into.