Dear Mentor:

Are consulting firms honest about the 3-4-5 rule for travel?

You have an informative and interesting series of questions going on in the Dear Mentor: column on Case Interview Strategy, Case Interview Tactics, and Consulting Lifestyle. I am hoping that you would answer another question on the lifestyle of consulting. Most consulting firms visiting the B-school [business school] emphasize the 3/4/5 arrangement for travel. It is not clear from your answer last week whether the actual consulting lifestyle practices the "advertisement" of 3/4/5. I would like to hear your response to the "truth in advertising."

Hype-or-Reality, Chicago, IL, USA

Dear Hype-or-Reality:

For those who may not be aware of what 3/4/5 means, let us explain that first. It is a short hand for saying: 3 nights away from home, 4 days on client site, and 5 days of work -- every week.

We like to assure you that 3/4/5 does indeed figure in the reality of consulting lifestyle. Most consulting firms have realized that quality of life does matter, and that the firms need to be more responsive to the consultants' personal needs. Regardless, long work hours remain the hallmark of consulting.

To understand a little better how 3/4/5 actually works in practice, we need to understand how the consulting industry works. Here is the ranking of priorities in consulting industry: 1. Client needs; 2. Firm's needs; and 3. Consultant needs. Many would say that in reality Priority 2 is really Priority 1 but, to say so, is not good for public relations. You get the point -- your lifestyle is not the first priority, regardless of what you are told.

In consulting, you are expected to deliver the highest quality results, on time, every time. You are an intelligent individual. You can figure out what happens when the needs of an engagement conflict with the 3/4/5 promise. By 3/4/5, the firm means that it would encourage you to manage your work in such a way that 3/4/5 is possible. But it does not mean, you can sacrifice the goals of a consulting engagement because you have been "promised" the 3/4/5 arrangement. So, 3/4/5 does not mean a promise, it means a philosophy. The truth is in between the two extremes of 3/4/5 being always possible to 3/4/5 being never possible. You should ask probing questions to understand how a firm actually practices 3/4/5 and how often its consultants are successful in practicing it. We would not believe any firm that says that 3/4/5 is always the case.

The 3/4/5 jargon reminds us of another situation, that of part-time executive. Either you are an executive or you are part-time, but you can not be both -- for an executive needs to produce results, and time is not a variable that figures in. Similarly, consulting firms give rewards for results, not for effort. If it takes greater effort to produce desired results than 3/4/5 can accommodate, then you are out of luck.

Beyond the 3/4/5, we would also like you to keep in mind that the work week may not always be 5 days. If you walked into the offices of a consulting firm on Saturday, chances are that you will find some, if not many, consultants working. Some prestigious consulting firms are proud of the culture where consultants show up for work on Saturday mornings and do some group activity in the afternoon, like playing basketball, volleyball, etc. While the group activity may be fun, your 6th day of the week is indirectly committed to work. In such environments, consultants show up on Saturdays to "keep up with the Joneses," even without any real needs of the work.

Consulting is a very rewarding profession for professional growth. It does demand personal sacrifices. No doubt, the consulting industry has made significant strides towards 3/4/5, but it is not the rule; it is instead a guiding philosophy. The decision of choosing whether to work in consulting is of course yours. Keep gathering information, as you are, before you make your decision.

Good luck!

Dear Mentor: Mainpage More Questions and Answers


   Search Help

Tell a friend about this webpage!